Founder of local Unitarian society rests in Mound Cemetery

MARIETTA – A large obelisk marking the final resting place of Nahum Ward, his first and second wives and two of his children stands in Mound Cemetery, but it’s not the only – or even the most recognizable – reminder of the business and civic leader’s influence on Marietta.

It was Ward who formed the local Unitarian society in 1855 and paid for the construction of the Unitarian church that still stands today at Third and Putnam streets. He served as a treasurer of the Ohio Company, a mayor of Marietta and during his 48 years in the community had more than 100,000 acres of land in the region titled in his name.

Local historian Louise Zimmer described Ward as a “super-entrepreneur.”

“Nothing happened during his time period that he didn’t have a finger in,” she said.

Born in Shrewsbury, Mass., Ward was the grandson of Artemas Ward, who was appointed major general by the Continental Congress in 1775, second in command only to George Washington.

After schooling, working in his uncle’s store and running his own mercantile business in Massachusetts, Nahum Ward traveled to Marietta on horseback in 1809 and toured the land of the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory, according to Williams’ “History of Washington County.” After serving as a deputy sheriff in his home state, he returned to the Mid-Ohio Valley to stay in 1811 and became a land speculator.

Over 10 years, he amassed more than 37,000 acres of land in Washington, Morgan, Athens, Gallia, Lawrence and Meigs counties, Williams’ “History” reports. As a property owner, he did not just see to his own wealth but built up the community, said Devola resident Caroline Putnam, who began to study Ward after she and her husband came to Marietta in the late 1960s and joined the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, based at the church Ward built.

“He was a very good landlord,” Putnam said. “He put roads and built schoolhouses out in the country where the land was he was selling.”

Ward reportedly never brought a foreclosure suit against his tenants.

“If someone couldn’t pay … he gave them credit for all the improvements they’d made,” Putnam said.

Williams’ “History” says, “It was the theory of Mr. Ward that the best condition of the country was attained when the greatest number of people possessed secured homes, and so becoming fixed, had a permanent interest in the welfare of the community.”

Ward worked to bring new settlers into the area, although not always with the best of results. He convinced 175 people to immigrate from Scotland to the Barlow area, but when they arrived in 1823, they fell victim to a fever epidemic.

“He paid for the care of the Scots,” Putnam said.

Around 1835, Ward established the Village of Bonn in Salem Township for German settlers. He intended it to be a manufacturing center based around silk, but the venture did not meet with “remarkable success,” according to Williams’ “History.”

“The village of Bonn, of which very sanguine hopes were one time entertained, amounted to little more than a convenient trading place for the German settlers in Salem and the north part of Fearing (Township),” the book says.

Yet many properties Ward owned were successful, with Williams’ “History” noting his farms were easily distinguished by “fine buildings, neat fences, well-cut areas and general appearance of thrift.”

Ward was involved with many progressive causes of the day, and once offered, with two other men, to repay residents of Virginia if they would post the bond for three Ohio residents taken into Wood County after meeting six escaped slaves at the bank of the Ohio River.

He also served as host for visiting dignitaries of note, including the Marquis de Lafayette, who served with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War and helped secure French support for the colonies, in 1825, and former President John Quincy Adams in 1843.

Ward was elected mayor of Marietta in 1845 and served several years, notably introducing sidewalks and shade trees in the city, Williams’ “History” says.

In 1855, he established the Unitarian society, with some differing theological ideas than the other denominations prominent in the area. The cornerstone for the church was laid on July 2, 1855, and the structure dedicated June 4, 1857. Williams’ “History” says Ward spent at least $25,000 on the building.

“He sold it to the congregation, which (was) about five people, for a dollar,” Putnam said.

When Ward died in 1860, “he asked to be carried to the cemetery by the workmen who built the church,” she said.