Born in North Adams, Massachusetts on December 23, 1778, Caleb Atwater graduated from Williams College in 1804. He moved to Circleville in about 1814 where he organized the city's first school board and served as postmaster and prosecuting attorney. His life and work as a teacher, minister, lawyer, legislator, and scholar greatly influenced early 19th-century Ohio. Upon arriving in Circleville, he became interested in local history and the nearby earthworks and in 1820 published his book Descriptions of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States, the first compilation of prehistoric remains in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Elected to the Ohio State Legislature in 1821, Atwater fervently supported canal construction. He also chaired Ohio's first board of school commissioners and was instrumental in passage of Ohio's Public School Law. For this, he has been called the "Father of Ohio's Common Schools."
The many writings of Caleb Atwater reveal that he was a man ahead of his time and with far reaching views. As one of three commissioners appointed by President Andrew Jackson in 1829 to negotiate a treaty with tribes at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, Atwater wrote a volume that gave a more insightful and fairer view of Native Americans than most writers of his time. In 1838, he published his History of Ohio, which provided early thoughts on conservation and ecology. Three years later, he wrote "An Essay on Education," which presented advanced views on music and education for women, pay standards for teachers, and equal education for men and women. Atwater's writings on geology, meteorology, archaeology, and history formed a catalyst in the scholarly ferment of the Ohio Valley, and scholars today are still intrigued by this eccentric and fascinating visionary.