In the surviving photo, Henry Fawcett stands at the door of the Pipesville post office — the only commercial building in evidence — as if waiting for something to happen.
Not much did. Except for the guy who used a carpenter's square to measure the diameter of the sun. But we'll get to him later.
In Knox County's first century, a number of clusters of houses were given post offices and names. Some of them grew into communities, while others flickered in and out of existence. Pipesville was one of the latter, though its name still graces the road that departs from Ohio 229, east of Gambier.
The intersection was the location of Pipesville, though you'd hardly guess it today. In days when the roads were narrow and not easily passable, smaller post offices were needed in rural areas. In the mid-1800s, farmers in central Harrison Township could pick up their mail at Wolf's post office, which judging by land records, was probably a little further south.
Wolf's post office was in business from 1844 to 1863. As many of these early post offices were simply operated by whatever local person was willing to take on the part-time job, they often ended when no one else wanted to do it.
After years with no postal access except by trekking to Bladensburg, the farmers of the township petitioned the U.S. Postmaster General to open a new location in Harrison Township. The USPS was obliging, and cast about for a suitable site — and postmaster.
It's a bit of a fluke that the office ended up named Pipesville, since most of the surrounding land — 100 acres — was owned by the Fawcett family. Only a small parcel at the intersection was owned by Warren Pipes, but he was the one who agreed to serve as postmaster, so Pipesville it was.
The new office was constructed and opened on Oct. 2, 1872. The building was built in an urban style, ready to adjoin any additional commercial buildings which might pop up in the new metropolis. As far as can be determined from the photograph and lay of the land, the post office sat on the northwest corner of the intersection of Pipesville Road and Ohio 229. The picket fence behind the post office marks where Pipesville Road approaches at an angle.
Pipesville is known as one of Knox County's ghost towns today, because the other commercial buildings never came. According to the 1896 plat map of the township, a grand total of four buildings stood just west of the intersection.
One was the post office, and one was the farmhouse seen in the photograph (no longer standing). The other two buildings are far enough back from the road to suggest that they, too, were residences. One is a farmhouse on the south side of 229 that still stands. There's little to suggest this was once a named place. And it didn't take Pipesville long to lose that status.
Today, the post office building is gone. After Warren Pipes passed on, his daughter Anna Bell Pipes became postmistress. She was reappointed to the post with her new married name in 1882, Fawcett.
The job then passed to her brother-in-law, John Fawcett, who did it until 1897, when George Lepley did the job for a spell before his appointment was mysteriously rescinded. John returned as postmaster until the office was shut down in 1902. Despite what the identification on the photograph says, Henry Fawcett was never the postmaster at Pipesville.
Henry was John's brother. They were the sons of an Irish immigrant named Ralph Fawcett, who followed cousins led to the Ohio frontier by Arthur Fawcett, who arrived in Philadelphia as early as 1804.
By 1810, Arthur had led the family to the recently formed Knox County, settling in Harrison Township. Arthur's daughter Mary got married to Ralph Fawcett, who appears to have been a distant cousin. It was their son Henry Johnston Fawcett who is seen in the picture, according to its identification. Henry married Anna Bell Pipes in 1882.
It is unknown whether the picture is from when Anna Bell was postmistress, or later, when Henry's brother John was postmaster. The picture could even conceivably be from after the post office was decommissioned. Henry lived until 1926.
The Pipesville Post Office was never a busy place. Which is not to say that nothing ever happened in Pipesville. There was a farmer living just south of the crossroads named William Albert Ulrey who, it turns out, had a number of patents filed with the U.S. Patent Office for inventions such as a spring motor and a sign holder.
Ulrey must have been mechanically gifted, because like many people born in the mid-1800s, his schooling only went through the eighth grade. But it is interesting to note that Ulrey, while listed as a farmer on census reports in the early 20th century, was able to retire and move into Mount Vernon in the 1920s. Perhaps he sold one of his inventions to provide a retirement nest egg.
We hope he wasn't the same Pipesville, Ohio, resident who wrote a letter to a New York newspaper in 1885 expounding upon his scientific observations. The unnamed resident's letter was shared nationwide by wire services, to the great amusement of readers everywhere. The alleged letter is claimed to have said:
“I measure the same way we measure the height of a tree while standing, and being about 3,000 miles north of the equator, by taking a spirit level and a carpenter's square, I find the distance of the sun just 3,000 miles from the equator, or, in other words, 3,000 miles from the earth. I also claim the earth is stationary, and the north pole is the center, and the sun, moon and stars travel around it. By my measure, the sun is 100 miles across the face.”
Is the letter genuine? In the late 1800s, exaggerations and outright fabrications were far more common than they are today, when it is easier for everyone to cross-check sources. So there's a chance the letter is an outright fake written by a bored editor who needed to fill up a couple inches of column space in the afternoon edition of his newspaper. But if it is, one wonders where he ever heard of Pipesville, Ohio.
If it is real, the letter writer evidently never shared any more of his brilliant insights, and no name was ever cited. Our corn-fed Einstein remains unknown.
And that was about it for Pipesville's big moment in the national spotlight. Many hamlets existed without every making national news, so I guess it's not bad for a place only officially on the books for about 30 years.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to grab my carpenter's square and go do some astronomy.