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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Early Clearings On The Miamis

Dallas Bogan on 13 September 2004
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's book, "The Pioneer writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

November 15, 1923.

Prof. Wm. H. Venable in his Foot Prints of the Pioneers, says; "The Creator never planned on any portion of His globe a forest more magnificent than which clad the primeval hills and valleys of the Ohio basin" and perhaps in no part of the great woodland on both sides of the Ohio did nature wear a richer and more exuberant garb than in the Miami valley.
Early in the 19th century, Dr. Daniel Drake listed 103 species of trees and herbaceous plants native of the Miami woods, thirty of which rose to the height of sixty feet or more. This is a much larger number of species of trees than are to be found in the whole of Central Europe, in France or Great Britain. In most parts of the Miami country many kinds of valuable hardwood trees grew to a magnificent size. Grand as were these original forests, they greatly increased the difficulties of the early settlements. The giants of the forest stood as enemies of the settler to be felled by his ax.
An Englishman who made a stagecoach journey across Ohio as late as 1834 wrote that of all he saw he was most impressed with the native forest which still covered the greatest portion of the state, and which he saw in its pristine grandeur, tall, magnificent, boundless. He rode from Sandusky to Cincinnati, pressing through Marion, Delaware, Columbus, Springfield and Lebanon, and the clearings along the highway he traveled were doubtless more numerous than in most parts of the state, but all the cleared lands he saw was as nothing compared with the forest. He traveled days and nights chiefly thru the woods. Now he would see a woodsman's hut to the solitude, then a partly cleared farm, then a village, perhaps a county seat, and then he would ride mile after mile thru an unbroken forest.
Yet at this time Ohio had been settled over forty years and was a great and populous state. The forests of Ohio the Englishman thought were the noblest he had ever seen. He greatly admitted the stately oaks of the Miami country.

Clearing Land With the Ax.

The magnificent forest trees of the Miami country made the labor of opening a farm very great. It required far more labor to fell one large oak three feet in diameter than six or eight small trees one foot in diameter. After the large tree had fallen its many branches were to be cut off and gathered into piles and the trunk was to be divided into logs of such length as to be rolled into heaps and burned. A common method of clearing was to cut down the smaller trees and to deaden the larger ones by girdling them with the ax and to allow them to stand until they decayed and fell. This method delayed the final clearing of the land eight or ten years. In the early settlements there were both clearings and deadenings.
In the Miami country it often took the pioneer six or seven years to open a small farm in the woods and to build a better house than his first cabin of round logs. So great was the labor of clearing the land that long after Warren became well settled there was more wooded than cleared land in the county. In the 1840's my father's farm of 170 acres on the Montgomery pike was only half cleared of the forest.
The clearing land of its trees and burning the brush and logs greatly increased the value of the land even without a building upon it. The English traveler to whom I have referred wrote that in northern and central Ohio uncleared land was worth $2.50 per acre but a tract of five acres cleared and with a rail fence around it would cost $50.00.
Governor Jeremiah Morrow was one of the earliest settlers in Deerfield township, Warren county. He received deeds from John Cleves Symmes at three different dates, the price advancing with the times; in 1800, two hundred and ten acres at $1.50 per acre, in 1803, two hundred and twelve acres at $3.00 per acre, and in 1805 ninety acres at $4.00. In 1816 while he was a U.S. Senator he sold seventy acres well situated on the state road from Cincinnati to Chillicothe and near a fine mill on the Little Miami at $6.25 per acre. This seems a very low price for land on an important highway twenty-one miles from Cincinnati and in a settled community. The low price is explained by the fact that the land was without a clearing upon it.

A Curious Historical Fact.

In the Miami and Maumee valleys north of Piqua in the 1830's was an immense region of over two million acres densely wooded. Much of the soil was fertile but the land was level and in many places swampy, and good wagon roads over it were constructed with difficulty. Very little of this immense region had been cleared because the clearing away the forests cost $15 to $20 per acre. There was a market for wood to be used for fuel in the larger towns and for steamboats on Lake Erie but the cost of transportation was so great that little was hauled to any great distance.
In the 1830's the Miami canal was extended thru this region and this brought about a rapid clearing of the land. The canal boats by their cheap transportation caused a demand of the canal at $2.50 or $3.00 per cord. In this way much land covered with a heavy forest was made ready for the plow without cost to the owners.
Altho the early railroads used much wood for ties and bridges and fuel for locomotives, as late as 1867 the price of wood was about twice as high along the canal as along the railroads. The railroads, it is said, refused to carry wood to market because they wished to keep down the price of fuel along the line. The canal boats also would take on the wood at any point on the canal bank while the railroads would take it only at stations.
Thus it is claimed that the Miami and Erie canal did more to open up the great forest of Northwestern Ohio to cultivation than did the early railroads. The canal also opened up a market for products of the clearings other than fuel, such as lumber for building, staves, hoop poles, ashes, etc., all of which before had little value.

Modern Method.

As late as the 1880's, there was still to be seen the cutting down of extended forests in Northwestern Ohio in the region which had been known as Black Swamp. In 1886 when Henry Howe visited Paulding county to get materials for the second edition of his Historical Collections, he found little agriculture in the county and the people getting their living largely from the products of the forests and living with their families in shanties or cabins in the woods. They were engaged largely in get- ting out staves and hoops. There were fifteen or sixteen stave factories in the county. There were piles of logs and acres of staves. The charcoal furnaces also caused the clearing of much land, one establishment employing 250 hands, and cleared 1,000 acres in a year.
The portable saw mills and the use of cross-cut saws for sawing down trees made the clearing of the forest easy labor compared with that of the pioneer with his ax. A few men in three months would cut down the trees from one hundred acres and saw lumber at the rate of 6,000 feet a day. A single firm cleared 300 acres in less than a year and sawed 900,000 feet of lumber.
Today the land owner no longer pays to have his land cleared but he receives pay for clearing away the forest and the wooded tract is the most valuable part of the farm.

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This page created 13 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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