History of the Office of Sheriff

Col. Ebenezer SproatCol. Ebenezer Sproat

Until Ohio achieved statehood in 1803, the position of Sheriff was filled through appointments made at the pleasure of the Colonial Governor. The first Sheriff on record dates back to the days of the Northwest Territory shortly after the territory was established. On September 2, 1788 the first court of the Northwest Territory was established near the mouth of the Muskingham River. A procession was formed near where most of the early settlers resided and they marched up a path that had been cut and cleared through the forest to Campus Martis Hall. The procession was led by High Sheriff Col. Ebenezer Sproat, with his sword drawn, to the spot where the first court session was held. At the opening of the of the court session, after the Divine Blessing had been given by Rev. Dr. Cutler, Sheriff Sproat reclaimed with his solemn "O yes!" that "A court is opened for the administration of even-handed justice, to the poor as well to the rich, to the guilty and the innocent, without respect to persons, none to be punished without a trial by their peers."

Among the spectators of this solemn event was a large group of Native Americans consisting of some of the most powerful tribes in the Northwest Territory. The tribes witnessed the procession and were reportedly quite impressed with the solemn ceremony. They were especially impressed with the High Sheriff who led the procession with his drawn sword. They were also impressed with the Sheriff's commanding presence and fine physical proportions. Sheriff Sproat reportedly stood well over six foot tall and was in outstanding physical condition. They referred to Sheriff Sproat in their native tongue as "Hetuck" which translates to "Big Buckeye". That particular name was held in the highest esteem amongst the native people and was not bestowed upon someone in a light hearted manner. Col. Sproat from that day forward was often referred to by that name and it became a sort of nickname by which he was familiarly known by his associates. Some historians believe that this is the origins of the term "Buckeye" being used by to refer to citizens of the State of Ohio.

Today the current Buckeye State Sheriff's Association makes reference to Sheriff Sproat in the motto that affixed to today's marked patrol vehicles. On the rear of quarter panels of each vehicle is the B.S.S.A logo along with the words "FIRST TO SERVE SINCE 1788"

Since the early 1800's Ohio Sheriff's have been elected on the county level by the people they serve. By virtue of this process the office of Sheriff has become the oldest law enforcement position in the United States.

The first person elected to the office of sheriff in Preble County was Jacob Fudge in 1808. Prior to that date, the Sheriff of Butler County to the south and Montgomery County to the east handled legal matters in the area before the county was formed. Since that time there have been forty one elected Sheriff's in Preble County. The following is a list of the elected Sheriffs and the dates of their terms.

Preble County Sheriff's Throughout History

Name of SheriffYears Served
Jacob Fudge1808 to 1811
Paul Larsh1812 to 1813
Samuel Ward1814 to 1817
Paul Larsh1818 to 1821
John J. Hawkins1822 to 1825
John L. Dickey1826 to 1829
John P. Wilson1830 to 1831
John Quinn1832 to 1835
John L. Dickey1836 to 1839
George D. Hendrickson1840 to 1843
Lott Lee1844 to 1847
James Sampson1848 to 1851
John DeGroot1852 to 1855
William Bauer1856 to 1859
John R. Mcleaf1860 to 1863
Moses Nelson1864 to 1867
John H. Bostwick1868 to 1871
John Townsend1872 to 1875
William H. Snyder1876 to 1879
Court Corwin1880 to1883
Daniel Peters1884 to 1887
Will Waters1888 to 1891
James W Johnson
1892 to 1895
A.L. Borradaile
1896 to 1899
Barney W Huffman
1900 to 1907
W.S. Boner
1908 to 1911
Ed Werts
1912 to 1917
Court Taylor
1917 to 1918
George W Jones
1919 to 1923
C.R. Wehrley
1924 to 1924
Walter F. Cohee
1925 to 1926
Leo Davidson
1927 to 1928
Sam Welsh
1929 to 1933
John Fahrenholz
1934 to 1940
Malcolm H. Clear
1941 to 1944
Lon C. Galyean
1945 to 1948
Floyd E Spitler1961 to 1972
John J. Stover, Sr.
1961 to 1972
January M. Spitler
1973 to 1984
Paul R. Plaugher1985 to 1988
Larry J. Green
1989 to 1992
Thomas A. Hayes
1993 to 2003
Michael L. Simpson
2003 to Present

First Preble County Jail

The above is a sketch of the First Preble County Jail in service from 1808 to 1820. The sketch was drawn by local historian Seth S Schlotterbeck from detailed specifications found in the Commissioner's Journal from the time the building was constructed.

When the county was first organized and established the Sheriff would have to transport prisoners to Hamilton or Dayton to house inmates. This became a very tedious assignment due to the long distance involved as the only transportation of the day was by horse or horse drawn vehicles. At first the county tried to rent rooms from citizens to be used a jail but for obvious reasons this proved to be too difficult to find willing members of the community to use their private residence as a jail. Building a county jail became an absolute necessity so on June 24th 1808 the county

commissioners drew up the specifications for their first venture into a public building and authorized the clerk to advertise bids in the regional newspaper of the time "The Western Spy:" The jail building contract was "Cryed and Sold" on August 4th 1808 and John Banfill was awarded the contract for construction with his bid of $739. He was given until January 1st 1809 to have the construction completed. The contract was for the outside shell of the building and did not include finishing the interior of the jail. The newly constructed jail was located at the south east corner Main and Baron St. and stood on the south east corner of what today is the court house square. On December 5, 1808 Mr. Banfill turned the building over to the county commissioners and they immediately started proceedings to have the interior completed. Before the job was complete the jail received its first customer and Samuel Mitchell was hired to do a hurry up job on the jail door to keep the customer from walking away.

The guest was John Ladley from Newport Kentucky. Mr. Ladley was wanted by the Newport Kentucky authorities for wife beating, jail breaking, and horse stealing. Mr. Ladley had a reward posted for his return to Newport and county records indicate that the reward was a very large amount for the time. A total of $62 in fees was charged to the county in connection with guarding, feeding, and transporting Mr. Ladley during his incarceration in Preble County. The jail consisted of a two story rectangular shaped building. The outer walls were one foot thick constructed of stone donated by early pioneer William Bruce. The inner walls consisted of hewn logs approximately one foot thick as well. The grated windows were constructed of iron and were to be made of ½ inch by 2 ½ inch bars spaced 5 inches apart. Each room also had a chain and ring secured to a large stone placed in the floor to secure prisoners. The building was heated by a fireplace on each floor.The building also had indoor restrooms called "The Necessary" and were reportedly quite primitive. The jail was in service for twelve years until January 11th 1820 when it burned to the ground from unknown causes.

Second Preble County Jail

The above is a sketch of the second Preble County Jail in service from 1820 to 1838 Sketch by Seth S Schlotterbeck. The bid to build the second Preble County Jail was awarded to Samuel Ward on July 20th 1820 for his bid of $840. It should be noted that Samuel Ward was also the elected Sheriff of the county from

1814 to 1817 and during the construction was also the county treasurer. The build was full of controversy and a dispute over the plans and specifications of the building developed between the county commissioners and Mr. Ward. The final price paid for the building was decided upon by a referee with Mr. Ward being paid a final price of $200 in 1822. The building was later expanded and was quite substantial and served as the county jail until 1838. After the third jail was built the building was rented to George Hendrix for a short time and was razed approximately a year later.

Third Preble County Jail

The above is a sketch of the 3rd Preble County Jail drawn by Seth S Schlotterbeck. The jail was in service from 1838 to 1917. Bids for the third Preble County Jail were received by the county commissioners on March 7, 1838 and the winning bid was awarded to Marker S Morton for his bid of $6440 The plans called for the second floor to consist of prisoner and debtor's rooms and living quarters for the Sheriff underneath. This build was also quite controversial with delays and alleged omissions and alterations The job was finally completed in 1841.

Sheriffs Residence

The picture above is a photograph of the Sheriff's Residence built in 1874. The rear of the house is the 3rd Preble County Jail renovated when the new Sheriff's residence was built.

East Side of the Sheriffs Residence and Jail

The above picture is a photograph of the East side of the Sheriff's Residence and Jail In 1874 the commissioners took action to enlarge the jail quarters by building a residence for the Sheriff in front of the existing jail. The old jail was renovated and the ground floor which used to house the Sheriff or the jailer was turned into additional space for prisoners. The work was performed by M.S. Morton and E B. Nourse of Eaton at a cost of $8980 and the jail though frequently condemned by grand juries in later years; it remained in use as such until the current courthouse was built in 1918.

Preble County Courthouse

Current Preble County Courthouse and former Sheriff's Office and Jail.

The current courthouse was built in 1918 and the fourth floor of the courthouse was the Sheriff's residence and Jail and was used as a Jail until 1994. The Sheriff's Office was located in various parts of the courthouse throughout the years. The Sheriff's Office and Jail moved into our current building in 1994. At the time of the move the jail in the courthouse housed 23 prisoners and was originally designed to house 17 prisoners. From the outside of the building the only visible windows to the jail and the Sheriff's residence is on the back of the building. Today the entrance to the stairs is visible on the third floor of the courthouse. After the Jail and Sheriff's Office moved into the current building all evidence of the old cells were removed and the fourth floor is currently closed to the general public and is used for storage today.

Third Floor of the Preble County Courthouse Door

All that remains today is the door on the Third Floor of the Preble County Courthouse. The Door leads to a set of stairs that leads to the former Jail and Sheriff's Residence on the Fourth Floor of the Preble County Courthouse.

Group Photo 1959

The above photo is circa 1958.

Group Photo 1959 2

Top Row - Left to Right H. Waggoner, D. Unger, WM. Kessler, Sheriff Floyd Spitler, C. Houser, E Smith, F. Ball

Middle Left - Top to Bottom S Henn, L.E. Hapner, R.E. Stevenson

Middle Right - Top to Bottom L.F. Kitson, E Gitts, D.E. Fosdick

Bottom Row - Left to Right WE. Sweet, D.E. Groves, F.C. Stephen, K.S. House, B. Hobbs, M.D. Mowery

Petrol Vehicles with Petrolmen

Photo from left to right January Spitler, Charles Bud Leinbach, Larry Howell, Sheriff John Stover.

Petrol Vehicle Crash

This photo shows the scene of a reportedly fatal crash that occurred on U.S. 127 in the area of what today is the Preble County Landfill. The man standing on the left is Sheriff John Stover. The man on the right is unidentified and is apparently handcuffed. It is not known if the man caused the wreck or just happened to be with Sheriff Stover at the time of the crash. Sheriff Stover routinely took inmates from the jail with him while on patrol either as a reward for good behavior or to obtain information from them concerning other incidents that occurred in the county at the time. The tow truck in the back ground belonged to B and F Garage which is currently located on Wayne Avenue in the City of Eaton and still services the patrol cars the Sheriff's Office uses today.

Standing in front of Petrol Vehicle

From left to right Bill Kittle, Paul Plaugher Sr., Mark Lindloff, Wayne Simpson, Ron Hayes, Dane Brierly, Bob Davis, Bud Leinbach and Sheriff January Spitler. The photo is taken at the Preble County Fairgrounds and the photo shows the office standing in front of 1973 Plymouth Patrol Cars.

1978 Group Photo

First Row left to right: Larry Swihart, Tom Hayes, Sharon Spitler, Nan Markley, Bonnie Mowen, Julia Withrow, Bev Spitler, Jone Simpson, Linda Cross, Vicky McGinness, Mary Leinbach, Wayne Simpson, Bobby Lee, Mike Hartzler

Second Row left to right: Mikel Wellman, Athel Suman, Terry Snowden, Thomas Doran, Paul Plaugher Sr., Bill Kittle, Sheriff January Spitler, Bud Linebaugh, Al Toney, Kenny House, Bob Wysong, Jim Callaway, Chris Brower

Third Row left to right: Steve Pheanis, Dan Cross, Dane Brierly, Dave Lindloff, John Snyder, Dan Filburn, Bruce HawleyGHHa, Bill Dillman, Bud Young, John Leinbach, Tim Miller

Fourth Row left to right: Raymond Spence, Frank Ford, unknown,, Gene Broderick, Jerry Dearth, Bill Sweet Sr. Darrell Cottrell, Vic Stamper, Joe Wright, Marvin Mowen, George Petitt Jr.

This Photo dates to around 1978 though the exact year is unknown. The photograph is taken in front of the courthouse steps and shows John and Mary Leinbach. Mr. and Mrs. Leinbach were the last people to live in the Sheriff's Residence on the fourth floor next to the jail. Mrs. Leinbach was the Jail Matron. Mr. and Mrs. Leinbach are also the parents of Bud Leinbach.

Current Sheriffs Office and JailThe current Sheriff's Office and Jail for Preble County The Building opened officially in 1994 and houses 75 prisoners.

Current Group Photo