MARKER … The Goll Woods Marker before it was unveiled, Nov. 17, 2018. (PHOTO BY JAMES PRUITT)
(Story originally appeared November 28th, 2018)
By: James Pruitt
Northwest Ohio’s last remaining section of old growth trees dating back 200-400 years, Goll Woods, just received another honor recently: An Ohio Historical Marker. The marker honors the family of Peter Goll, French immigrants to America in 1836 when he settled along the banks of the Tiffin River.
The marker also honors James Riley a surveyor who mapped out the area. Riley was a sea captain who, along with his crew, were captured by pirates and held as a slave in the Sahara in 1815. At the same time, Deputy Surveyor Benjamin Hough was in the Goll Woods. Riley’s ship had crashed and the crew taken captive.
Riley was held prisoner for many months later until he was ransomed by British diplomat William Wilshire. Riley returned to the United States and eventually settled in Northwest Ohio, There he founded the town of Willshire, where the streets bear the names of his crew. Riley became a deputy surveyor and survey the land around Goll Woods.
He wrote a book about his experiences, where he recalled he had thoughts of suicide. He knew down deep there was a purpose behind all his pain and he preserved. Later Abraham Lincoln said the book inspired him deeply. Goll Woods is about 320 acres and represents the last remnant of the forests of the Black Swamp.
The trees have seen Native Americans, early settlers and early surveyors. Thanks to the efforts of the Paul Goll family, they are still here today, Fulton County Surveyor Joseph Fenicle said during a brief ceremony at the unveiling of the marker.
Multiple surveying groups paid for the marker. Goll’s holdings grew from 80 to 600 acres. The land he owned has become a State Nature Preserve. The land is home the largest Bur, White and Chinquapin Oaks in the state of Ohio. This is the “least disturbed woodland to remain in extreme Northwestern Ohio.”
Also speaking at the event were Andy Verhoff from the Ohio History Connection. The story of Riley caused Verhoff to spend more time than normal on the marker. The time of slavery to his later life as a surveyor and then returning to the sea only to lose his life in accident, was a compelling tale.
Fenicle said Riley suffered greatly from his injuries suffered while being held as a slave and so he was shipped back to Connecticut for the sea’s restorative powers. Verhoff said this was the second marker he has worked on with Fenicle, the other being the Michigan Meridian marker.
Goll Woods is bisected by the meridian and is noted by two signs along the 0.8-mile Bur Oak Trail. Verhoff, a native of Ottawa County, was unaware of the existence of Goll Woods until he got the application for the marker. He spent so much time reading about Riley he was almost late getting the marker completed and proofed.
The marker program has been in existence since 1957 and totals around 1,700, Verhoff said. John Swearingen Jr., of the Fulton County Historical Society, called the marker a great tangible link for people who don’t know anything about the history of the area.
Ryan Schroeder from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, takes care of the property. He brought along some documents about the area. In 1836, Goll paid $1.25 an acre for the property, and didn’t clear cut the woods.
Coming from Europe, Schroeder postulated the family fresh from Europe was not eager to remove the trees. A manuscript of a thesis written about the woods in the 1940s spoke of elms and a bur oak with a 6-foot diameter.
Some the largest trees have been harvested, but Schroeder said many were not. After a few more facts about the woods were shared, someone said maybe it was time to unveil the sign.