Excerpts from “Town at the fork of the Rileys revisited,” Blufffton News Publishing and Printing Co, June 1986, for the Quasquicentennial.
There is always a reason why a town is started in a certain spot. Chicago grew because it commanded the northern-most route to the northwest around the Great Lakes; New York because of the harbor facilities and the Erie Canal; Cleveland because of its proximity to the coal in the south and the iron ore from the lake region.
The precise location of Bluffton probably is due to the fact that Joseph DeFord built his little grist mill along the Riley, and the precise location along the Riley was ascertained by the old Indian trail extending from Lima to Findlay.
One of the first written records of Bluffton was that produced by Alex Homes in May, 1819, as he began surveying this area. Surveys continued until a final survey was completed July 17, 1820, by James Riley. It is supposed that Riley Creek, originally known as Deer Creek by government surveyors, may have been named after him. The town was originally platted Shannon after Governor Wilson Shannon by Joseph DeFord in 1838. The first cabin was built in 1833 on North Main Street at Riley Street.
There were two distinct nationalities that were predominant in the Bluffton area – the English and the Swiss. There are early traces of the sprinkling of Irish and Prussion German which have almost disappeared from the roster of the citizenry.
The English element originally came from no one place, but emigrated in successive generations from New England, New York, and parts of Pennsylvania.
The Swiss element of the community came from groups and were affiliated by race, religion and family relationships. They came from Wayne and Holmes counties and some direct from Switzerland. They were mainly of German Swiss or Alsatian French. In religion, the Swiss were mostly Mennonites, but there were a considerable group of the German Reformed Church.
That there was quite an influential group of Irish here in pioneer times is evidenced by the names of the old village – Shannon – and Riley Creek. What few Germans there were, were traders and artisans. It was not until 1820 to 1840 that the pioneers began to come in such numbers as to make possible the clearing of forests, the drainage of swamps and the cultivation of the soil. This was the second great wave of immigration in the United States. The first extended from the Atlantic seaboard over the mountains into Eastern Ohio, following the river and the Great Lakes. The second surged into the Middle West and became the foundation of the present population and the present prosperity of this section.
* You can read much, much more about the history of our town in “The Town at the fork of the Rileys revisited” available at the Bluffton-Richland Public Library or at the Bluffton Town Hall.