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BENJAMIN HANNA, HIS FAMILY AND HIS FORTUNE
The early settlers of Columbiana County entered into a natural inheritance as rich and varied as their own blood. Its situation on the Ohio River adjoining the border of Pennsylvania was favorable. Its natural resources were abundant and diversified. The northern part of the county was undulating and excellently adapted to cultivation. Its southern half was more rugged and broken, and was on the whole better adapted for grazing than for tillage. In 1840 it stood first among the counties of Ohio in the production of wool. Along the bottom lands on the water courses, sycamore, walnut, maple and chestnut trees flourished. On the tops of the hills grew an abundance of pine and spruce. Coal, iron ore, clay and quarries were all to be found of good quality and quantity. In short, the county was a smaller copy of the whole state and afforded the best of opportunities for a combined agricultural and industrial development.
New Lisbon was located in the southern part of the county in the township of Centre. Its site consists of a stretch of level or bottom land running east and west on the middle fork of the Little Beaver Creek. To the north is a long, high hill, once crowned with a deep forest, up the side of which the village gradually spread. West and south of the village there stretches a formidable group of steep hills, the summits of which afford many picturesque views of a broken landscape. The hill to the south is particularly precipitous, and from the abundance of evergreens on its sides, used to be known as Pine Hill. Its proximity to the village, its rocks and its woods naturally made it the favorite playground of the village boys.
When Benjamin Hanna settled in New Lisbon in 1814 he leased a house in the centre of the village, which he used both as a
store and as a residence. He did not in the beginning depend for his subsistence exclusively upon the shop. He also owned a farm on the hill to the north of the town, but in all probability the shop soon came to occupy all his time. A storekeeper in a village in the interior of Ohio in the year 1815 had his difficulties. Philadelphia was the most convenient point from New Lisbon for the purchase of stock — all of which had to be hauled the length of the state of Pennsylvania over barbarous roads by means of six- and eight-horse teams. The transportation of every hundred pounds of freight in this laborious fashion cost the merchant between $5 and $10 — the average rate being about 88.50; and it was probably about as difficult for a man to finance his business as it was for him to procure his stock. During the early years there was so little currency in the country that trade was usually a matter of barter, and if currency was used, the medium of exchange was generally deerskins.
For a generation and more the economic development of Ohio and the other pioneer states was at first hampered and then determined in its form and distribution by the available means of transportation. Difficult as it was for the merchant, the situation of the farmer was worse. His bulky products could not be transported to market, and in the beginning the best that he could do was to feed his grain to stock and drive the animals across the mountains to the seaboard. The expense of this way of obtaining some purchasing power from the land was too great to endure. The roads were gradually improved. The flat steamboat made transportation by the Ohio River accessible to many counties of the state. Local markets of some value were created. Nevertheless, these improvements affected different parts of the state unevenly, and they were not sufficient to dispose of the products of the farms without occasional spells of ruinous congestion and low prices. The losses and difficulties from which so many of the pioneers of Ohio suffered must be remembered as the explanation for their subsequent craze for internal improvements and the large amount of money wasted therein. The business life of a storekeeper like Benjamin Hanna was one long fight, first against the expense and delays of transportation, and then against the relatively better means of transportation which other parts of the state had obtained.
In the end he was, as we shall see, broken by the struggle, but he had nevertheless a long preliminary period of prosperity. Steamboat navigation of the Ohio River eased some of his difficulties, and the construction of the Cumberland Road a good many more. New Lisbon itself was prosperous, and he benefited from the increased purchasing and selling powers of his neighbors. New Lisbon became, indeed, one of the busiest and most popular markets in eastern Ohio. Kersey Hanna states that his father had customers who travelled fifty or sixty miles to do business at the store. A couple of much frequented roads crossed the village, and three lines of stages gathered and distributed passengers from every direction. A newspaper had been started in German as early as 1808, but later it was transformed into the Ohio Patriot, and under that name still survives. There was at that time no printing establishment in Cleveland, and legal notices were for a while sent all the way to New Lisbon for publication in the Patriot.
Half a dozen stray bits of testimony prove both the increasing prosperity of Benjamin Hanna and his importance among his fellow-townsmen. He soon dispensed with his rented house, and built for himself on the public square a two-story brick store and residence, the living rooms being separated from the shop only by a partition. Kersey Hanna was born in this building in 1824, and so was Mark Hanna thirteen years later. It is standing to-day, and is changed only by the addition of another story. After the incorporation of the village by a special act of the Legislature in 1825 the first board of officers was organized on May 10, 1826, in Benjamin Hanna's dwelling, and he was chosen to be one of the trustees. Joshua, his first son, apparently had something to do with the business. At all events, he made a trip to Philadelphia in 1829, presumably to purchase stock, and was authorized to obtain for the village a hand fire-engine. Later, when again in Philadelphia, he bought for $485.39 a much improved machine, and on his way back remained in Pittsburgh long enough to add a dozen leather fire buckets to the equipment of the town. Finally, when the Columbiana Bank of New Lisbon was revived in 1834 or 1835, after