Discover History at Ohio Chautauqua’s 2019 Sites
This year Ohio Chautauqua: Modern Legends will be traveling across northern Ohio throughout the month of June. Residents and travelers alike may not be aware of the rich heritage that persists there and how common themes weave these stories together. If you attend Ohio Chautauqua, take the opportunity to travel locally and discover how this region helped shape Ohio.
Modern-day Defiance was once part a formidable ancient swamp whose moniker fueled its reputation. The Great Black Swamp stretched from the Sandusky River west to present day Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was dense with massive oak, ash, elm, and sycamore trees Before the land was cleared, drained, and used for thriving industry, General Anthony Wayne made his mark at Fort Defiance in 1794. Built at the confluence of the Maumee and Auglaize Rivers, Fort Defiance helped Wayne and his army secure victory against the Native American Confederacy — led by Chief Little Turtle and his partners, Tecumseh, Chief Blue Jacket, and Chief Buckongahela — during the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The 1795 Treaty of Greenville gave the U.S. a portion of the Northwest Territory and permitted Native Americans to hold claim to land west of the Cuyahoga River. Fort Defiance remained and was used again by General William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812, which ultimately secured all of the Ohio country. As settlers moved into northwestern Ohio, they cleared and drained virtually all of the swamp, making the land suitable for an agricultural industry that still persists today.
Ohio Chautauqua’s evening performances will be hosted at the Defiance Public Library.
If you travel from Defiance to Milan, you will start to notice that this region of the state has its own unique feel and lingering heritage. A 120-mile strip of land in northeast Ohio that extends west from the Pennsylvania boarder, shares roughly the same northern and southern parallels as Connecticut – which is by no accident. In 1662 the Connecticut Colony was chartered by Great Britain and described as extending west from Narraganset Bay to the South Sea, or the Pacific Ocean. At this time, no settler knew the true distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In 1786 the leaders of Connecticut agreed to cede their original land claim but reserved this small parcel along the southern shores of Lake Erie for their citizens. What is known as the Connecticut Western Reserve remained Connecticut’s holding until 1800. The westernmost 500,000 acres of the Reserve – known as the Firelands or Suffers’ Lands – were set aside as restitution for the state’s Revolutionary War veterans that lost their homes and possessions during the war.
Milan was founded in 1817 within the Firelands region and is home to a New England-esque town square, surrounded by small businesses, residences, and a nineteenth century town hall. Like other Western Reserve settlements, Milan quickly leveraged the benefits of Northern Ohio’s rich soil and mild climate to at one time boasted the second largest wheat export in the world. The village’s history of progress and innovation is most notably represented at Thomas Edison’s Birthplace and the Milan Museum, both located just blocks from their downtown historic district. Please take the time to enjoy Milan’s rich history and local offerings.
As you move beyond the Firelands and into Geauga County, you will likely come across signs promoting their local maple syrup. Following the Northwest Indian Wars and the designation of the Connecticut Western Reserve, settlers from New England slowly began moving into the region. Access to the Cuyahoga River brought settlers to the area and they soon found the means to support a familiar industry. Production of maple syrup proved bountiful in the area’s native maple trees, and New Englanders were able to sustain tradition in their new home.
Just as settlers brought tradition through industry, they also imported their distinct methods of town planning that shaped these small northern Ohio towns. A number of town squares still persist in Geauga County, and both Chardon and Burton’s town squares are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Travelers stopping in Geauga County should be sure to make their way to Century Village in Burton. Located at the south end of Burton’s historic town square, Century Village has a varied history of its own, with its beginnings dating back to a family reunion in 1873 where the vision of the Geauga County Historical Society first took shape. The founders set out to preserve the history of the county’s settlement and pioneer life in the nineteenth century.
Chautauqua’s final stop brings you to the eastern edges of the Western Reserve. Ephraim Quinby founded Warren in 1801. Just as other New England “transplants,” Warren’s landscape includes a central town square where the Trumbull County Courthouse, built in 1897, still stands. With the advent of canals and rail, Warren was at one time more prosperous than Cleveland, and its reputation brought migrants from regions around the country and immigrants from around the world. The Packard Electric Company was founded in Warren in 1890 and brought national recognition to the area’s electrical manufacturing and innovation capabilities. Lingering New England ideals remained strong in the area’s support for public education, civil rights, and women’s suffrage. During the 1800s, the National Women’s Suffrage Association headquarters was based out of Warren and prominent suffragette and Ohio native, Harriet Taylor Upton, served as their treasurer. Warren’s footprint on the history of the Western Reserve has been documented in heritage sites across the Mahoning Valley.
Warren’s Mahoning Avenue is home to “Millionaires’ Row,” a collection of nineteenth and twentieth century mansions, once belonging to the area’s most notable citizens, now serve as historic homes and museums open to the public. Be sure to visit the National Packard Museum and Harriet Taylor Upton House to learn how Warren left its mark on national history.