Dr. Richard Hilliar was one of our early residents and landowners in Knox County. His name is remembered both for the community of Rich Hill and for our township that bears his name at the southwest corner of the county.
In 1796 the area of central Ohio was surveyed and set aside by the Federal government as Military Bounty land. Land warrants were issued in lieu of pay for service during the Revolutionary War. It is believed that the first white man to settle in what would become Knox County was Andy Craig in 1804. In 1805 Dr. Richard Hilliar arrived in Zanesville, then the state capitol, and purchased 1800 acres in central Ohio. This land was the southwest quarter of what would become one of four townships when Knox County was established in 1808; the townships were Wayne, Morgan, Union and Clinton. Dr. Hilliar settled in what is now Hilliar Township with his family in 1806. Three years later James and Jacob Houck and Joseph Jennings bought land from Dr. Hilliar and started Houck Settlement in the area of Dill Road and Route 3 & 36. Dr. Hilliar died in September 1811 and was buried in an unmarked grave southwest of his home.
The area was heavily timbered in all directions. Blazed and Indian trails and streams were used for travel. Means of convenient travel have always been an important aspect to development of any area. In 1809 the state determined to build two north-south roads, one from Newark through Mt. Vernon to Lake Erie, the other from Lancaster to Cuyahoga, as Columbus was not laid out until 1812. Water travel was also used via the Kokosing, Walhonding, Muskingum, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The nearest grist mill by trail was at Zanesville.
As other areas of Knox County developed there was a mill built in the Mt. Vernon area. In 1810 local residents requested the county commissioners to assist them in clearing and building a road from Dr. Hilliar’s farm to Douglas’ mill located north of where Mt. Vernon stands today. The request was turned down. In the same year settlers east of Mt. Liberty requested a road to the Mt. Vernon area which was granted. Local settlers, being accustomed to hardship and very determined, decided to build a road themselves to connect with the new county road east of Mt. Liberty. Conflict with native Indians slowed area growth until after the War of 1812. Until that time area settlers sought safety at the Perfect blockhouse, five miles west of Houck Settlement, where the widow Perfect and her six sons had a secure building. In 1815 that area became part of Miller township. In August, 1818, Hilliar Township was established. The first election in the new township was September 15, 1818. There were 18 voters who voted as a block, so as to give Hilliar Township more clout. In 1822 there were 12 votes cast in the township; 1832 had 40 voters. By 1840, Hilliar’s population was 1012.
May 10, 1819, the Court of Common Pleas allowed Hilliar Township a Justice of the Peace. Jacob Houck was elected to the position. In 1823 Milford Township was created and Hilliar Township became its present size. There were 8 post offices in the county in 1829, Houck Settlement being one of them.
As Columbus developed and became the capital, travel from the north and east passed through this area. As travel and freight increased there was a need for taverns, liveries and hotels. In 1829 the present day Route 3 & 36 was made a state road. Stage, freight and mail lines were established and competition for business began. Early travelers referred to the Hilliar Township stretch of the road as the “7 mile woods.” Between Mt. Vernon and Columbus horses were changed 3 times, at Centerburgh settlement, Sunbury and Blendon Corners (Westerville).
With these events area residents determined the need for a town at the cross roads of the township. Stephen Sutton and Jacob Houck surveyed and laid out what is now Centerburg in 1830. Three permanent marker stones were buried at the northeast corner of Lots 6, 17 and 27. The plat of the town was filed on December 22, 1834. The name of Centerburgh is said to have been chosen because it was the center of the township and the center of the state. Because of its location residents felt that Centerburgh might become the capital of the Buckeye state. Harvey Jones is one of the first recorded businessmen of Centerburgh, having a tavern, dry goods store and being postmaster.
The need for goods and services increased. In 1835 Jacob Houck built a sawmill on the north fork of the Licking Creek in the area of the present Memorial Park. Traces of the mill can be found today. Both grist and saw mills were built in the area in the following years. The forest in the area was mostly black walnut, so many of the buildings in the area are constructed from that lumber. Other businesses included shoe and harness making, blacksmiths, brick and tile, as well as hotels, doctors, bakers, groceries, barbers and millenary. Later there was a wagon factory, cabinet shop, hardware wholesale and other manufacturing.
In 1848, by state legislative action Knox County lost 3 western townships, South Bloomfield, Chester and Franklin, to Morrow County, leaving Hilliar as the lone original western township.