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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Old Time Swamps Of Miami Valley

Dallas Bogan on 6 September 2004
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's, The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Old Time Swamps Of Miami Valley And Their Effects On Early Settlements.

The Pioneer Found the Largest Pieces of Wet Lands on The Highlands and watersheds, And The Driest Ground on The Margins of The Streams--Swamps in Warren County.

September 10, 1908

In the early settlement of Ohio there were numerous swamps in places where no one today would suppose they could ever have existed.
Jacob Burnet, a young lawyer, went to Cincinnati to practice law in 1796, eight years after the town had been commenced, and he found a swamp or morass extending along the whole length of the town, which, it is believed, subjected the inhabitants during the summer and autumn months to attacks of ague and intermittent fever, and the first September as the young lawyer passed in the village he had one of these attacks at the hotel of Griffin Yeatman. Several years later Daniel Drake went to the town to study medicine and he found on its site in one place a low belt of wet ground which had been beaver ponds and were still annually filled with water, in another a pond from which the frogs gave regular concerts, and in front of Fort Washington another pond in which ducks and snipes were often shot.
The original site of Lebanon we would suppose was well drained by the branches of Turtlecreek flowing on two sides of it, and there was a steep bluff on the south side of the plat. Dr. Daniel Drake, who visited the place when it was a new town, thought its site was free from ponds, marshes and other public sources of disease, but A.H. Dunlevy says there were three pieces of wet and marshy ground on the original plat which he believed greatly contaminated the water of the wells in this, the oldest part of the town.
The fact is that little swamps, bogs and marshes were common in the whole country when it was new, and even in the Miami Valley which was perhaps as well drained as any area of equal extent in the state, there was scarcely a large farm without its swampy places. It is however, the swamps of large extent that we are to consider.

Swamps On the Highlands.

The earliest writers on the topography of Ohio mentioned what seemed to them the singular fact that the wettest and most marshy land was to be found on the highlands dividing the principal water courses, while the driest land lay along the margins of the streams. In the eastern states, they said, exactly the reverse of this was true. Later writers on the geology of Ohio have called attention to the same fact in stating that the highest lands in the state and the summits from which the streams flow in different directions are not so well drained as those on the lower lands and on the slopes. The divide between the valleys of two rivers is generally not a dry ridge but often level and wet ground. The engineers of the Ohio canal found three routes for a canal from Lake Erie to the Ohio, and on all three routes the summits afforded good facilities for reservoirs for supplying the canal with water in both directions.
Summit county, Ohio, got its name from having the highest land on the canal between the Ohio and the lake. Summit Lake was in this county and a part of its waters found their way to the St. Lawrence and a part to the Gulf of Mexico. On the divide which separates the tributaries of the Ohio from the streams which flow into Lake Erie are a large number of little lakes and marshes. Newbury-J.L.J.L. Newbury, of the Ohio Geological Survey, visited and mapped nearly one hundred of these little lakes within a circle of a radius of twenty miles from a point in Summit county. Some of the marshes and peat bogs in the region were formerly little lakes which have been filled up by a growth of vegetation. The peat in these marshes in some places has a depth of twenty or thirty feet.
Early in the last century the pioneer in traveling westward from Lebanon and crossing the water-shed between the Miami rivers, found this water-shed was an extensive piece of swampy ground belonging to the Shakers, and a part of the water falling upon it made its sluggish way into the Little Miami and a part into the Great Miami. Bogs and swamps and wet and miry land in the early settlement of the country were in fact characteristic of water-sheds which had any considerable breadth of surface.
A sufficient explanation of this fact which once seemed singular is perhaps to be found in the greater volume of water received by the land below the water- shed. The summit receives only the water which falls in rain upon it, while the lower portions of the slopes and the low lands on the margins of the streams receive the drainage of all the land lying above them. This greater accumulation of water is sufficient to wash away obstructions and to cut out channels which completely drain any ponds of swamps which have at one time been formed. The lower depressions would also be filled up by the material washed down from above and would thus cease to be ponds or swamps.

Effects of Swamps.

The swamps and ponds on the highlands were the sources of the streams and rivulets, and gave them a much more even stage of water thruout the year than they now have. They were also the source of many springs on the lower levels. Sluggish streams flowing from the wet grounds were half-choked by logs, fallen branches and leaves and roots of growing vegetation. The water from rain and melted snow was retained; being protected from speedy evaporation not only by the dense foliage but by a heavy coating of fallen leaves, and was discharged into slow running creeks and thence into the larger streams. It was possible to go in large canoes from the Ohio to Lake Erie by ascending one river and descending another with only a few miles of portage between the source of the rivers.
Before the forest were cleared many little flour and saw mills stood on small streams which furnished water-power for running them much of the year. The machinery of these mills was simple and inexpensive and the dams were easily constructed of logs and brush. While these mills could not have run all the year round, their owners were often farmers who could work on their farms during the dry seasons. These mills could not now be profitably run, not only because of the insufficient supply of water during the greater portion of the year but because the greater floods in times of heavy rains would make more expensive dams necessary.
The southeastern corner of Warren county is a part of an extended tract which takes in portions of four counties, Clinton, Warren, Clermont and Brown, the surface of which was in many places almost a dead level and which originally constituted an area of white oak swamps and was long known as "the swamps." Most of this land has been reclaimed but in times of abundant rains they are still wet lands, and in many places the water can be taken from them with nearly equal facility in different directions. The forest trees most commonly found on flat-lying tract were the swamp spanish oak, white oak, burr oak, swamp white oak, the red or swamp maple, the beech and the elm.
Rev. James Smith, who traveled from Williamsburg eastward to Chillicothe in 1797, long before this region was settled, described the country on the stream called White Oak, now in Brown county as "an amazing level and sometimes swampy country." It is worthy of notice that this level and swampy ground was not far from the Ohio and had an elevation of several hundred feet above that river, and the streams rising in this region have a rapid fall in reaching the Ohio.
An early writer on these wetlands in Clinton county says: "The swamp lands are invariably found at the head of water courses, and from their peculiar situations are easily reclaimed. It has generally been found that as the fallen timber and other obstructions are removed, these lands become fit for cultivation. In a reclaimed state they are inexhaustible in fertility."
Benjamin Morris, who came to Bethel in Clermont county in 1804, wrote in 1847 concerning the wetlands of Clermont county:
"When I first came the wet land of which there was a large proportion in the middle and northern part was considered almost worthless, but a great change in public opinion has taken place in relation to its value. At that time these lands were covered with water more than half the summer, and we called them 'slashes.' Now the water leaves the surface in the woods early in the spring. Forty years ago the evenings were cool as the sun went down. I have no recollection of warm nights for many years after I came, and their coolness was a matter of general remark among the emigrants from the old states. I believe it was owing to the immense forests that covered the country and shut out the rays of heat of the sun from the surface of the ground, and after sunset there was no warm earth to impart heat to the atmosphere."

Retard Settlement.

The wet lands were slowly settled. There was great difficulty in making passable roads thru them. When they were so extensive the road could not be laid around them the only resource was to corduroy them. This was sometimes done with round logs laid transversely, later with logs split into two parts with the flat side upward. An important road passing from Cincinnati thru Columbia, Newtown, Williamsburg and Newmarket to Chillicothe encountered a swampy region. A traveler in 1809 said that it was remarkable for the deep swamp east of Williamsburg for two miles on the west side of White Oak creek.
When a well drained tract in the region of wet lands could be found it would first be occupied by emigrants, even if it was broken and rough land. The dreary and uninviting swamps were slowly reclaimed and settled. Large tracts embracing many thousand acres in the northern part of what is now Brown county and not far from the old town Williamsburg, which was long the principal town and county seat of Clermont county, remained a wilderness long after other portions of Brown and Clermont counties were well settled. Some of these lands were not even surveyed until 1838. The author of Green township in Brown county states that wild deer were shot in that township as late as 1848, and a few wild turkeys were still to be found in the township at the time of the writing of the history in 1882.
A good portion of Washington township, Warren county, consisted of swamp lands which long delayed the settlement. Squire Samuel Harris, in his history of this township, says that the highest lands of the township lie not far from its center and on this high land was a swamp called Sweet Gum Swamp. The waters from this swamp moved slowly northward by a sluggish stream into Flat Fork which empties into Caesar's creek. The Flat Fork swamps remained a wilderness until 1840 when the Harrises, John Hadley and John Wilkerson opened up farms upon it, and soon the land was found to compare favorably with any other in the township.
Harlan township when covered with the original forest held the largest body of flat and wet lands in this county. These wet lands caused the township to have a sparse population for many years after the organization of the county and long delayed the making of a good road thru it. The first road established by authority of law in the township was laid out in 1809 by the county commissioners, six years after the organization of the county. These wet lands, it was afterward found, could be easily reclaimed by clearing the forests and making artificially drained and proved among the most valuable and fertile in the township.
In my boyhood these level lands, tho they had largely been reclaimed, were still called "the swamps" on the west side of the Little Miami. In my sixteenth year I was riding on horseback over a dry and dusty road in Harlan township. I inquired of a farmer, "How far is it to the swamps?" "You are in them now," was the reply.

Shaker Swamps.

Before the construction of the Warren County Canal, the waters of Shaker Creek, flowing westward united with the waters of Miller's Run, which came in from the south. The two streams meeting on level ground, on the watershed between the two Miami Rivers, spread over a large tract of several hundred acres, which was known as Shaker Swamp. Thru this swamp, which was covered with woods and decaying logs and branches of fallen trees, the waters had no distinct channel, but tended toward the northwest and entered a branch of Dick's Creek thru which they flowed into the Great Miami. About 1825, the Shaker Society cut an artificial channel for Shaker Creek for the purpose of shortening the creek thru the lands of the society, and about 1835, the Warren County Canal was constructed along the eastern borders of the swamp.
At one time, it was proposed to convert the swamp into a reservoir for the purpose of feeding the canal, but this was never done. The waters of Shaker Creek were intercepted by the canal, into which it flowed from the east. On the west embankment of the canal, at the point of confluence, a waste-weir was constructed for the passage of the surplus water. The waste-weir was found not to answer the purpose intended in times of freshet, for the want of sufficient fall, and, eighteen months afterward, it was removed to a point a mile and a quarter farther north, whence the surplus water flowed into Dick's creek. Thenceforward so long as the canal was kept in operation, the waters of Shaker creek flowed into and were mingled with the waters of the canal.
About 1848, a breach was made in the west bank of the canal, not far from the waste-weir, which was never repaired, and about the same time the state abandoned the canal as one of its public works. After the abandonment of the canal the waters of Shaker Creek flowed along the line of the canal and were discharged thru the breach and overflowed in times of freshets, one or two hundred acres of land, which had not been overflown before the construction of the canal. Litigation thus rose, which was settled in the Supreme court of the state. The Supreme court held that the owners of land along the line of the canal had not the right to keep up its embankment for the purpose of diverting the waters of Shaker creek from their natural course, after the canal had been abandoned by the state. In later years, the bed of the canal has been utilized as a township ditch, established by the township trustees under the authority of law, for the purpose of discharging the water of the swamp and Shaker Creek into Dick's Creek. Nearly all the land formerly included in the swamp has been reclaimed.

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