The Trinity Lutheran Church in Delta was the site for the latest Ohio Genealogical Society meeting on Tuesday, April 11th. There were three special guests for this OGS meeting, one being Dorothy Martin, an OGS District Trustee, and the others were Sheri Freisner and Chris Lankenau of Sauder Village. Freisner and Lankenau were there to give a presentation on the history of the Black Swamp. The presentation started with them providing some history about Sauder Village and what it has to offer in relation to the Black Swamp era. The Black Swamp was the last portion of Ohio to be settled, stretching from east of Toledo to the Fort Wayne area. To entice people to move here the US government sold the land in this area for $1.25 an acre. In comparison, there have been reports of farm land in NW Ohio being sold for $9,000-$10,000 an acre today.
The first settlers were determined to get here because they knew of the fertile soil that was in this area. But travel to get to this area was not easy as the main road was littered with what they called mudholes. If your wagon became stuck in one of these, it could be 1-3 days before you could get out. As a result, travel at best was only about one mile per day. Early settlers also had tough decisions to make before starting their trip. While they didn’t have a lot of belongings, most of them had more then what would fit in their wagons, meaning they had to make decisions regarding what went with them and what stayed behind.
Upon arriving, the first order of business was to clear the swamp of its massive trees. After beginning the process of chopping down the trees, the settlers soon realized they were going to end up with much more wood then they ever imagined, plus they needed a faster process. That led them to burning the trees to clear the area faster. After the trees were cleared the next challenge was finding a way to drain the swamp. The first method that was employed was digging ditches to drain it, using a piece of equipment called a Buckeye Steam Ditcher. Since there were no rules or regulations for this, many disputes occurred because in some cases neighbors were draining their land onto neighbors who had already drained their property. This led to the implementation of ditch laws to help with the issues that emerged. In the 1860’s clay tiles began to be used for the drainage process. At the start, there were only about five tile factories in this area. By the 1870’s the number of tile companies had skyrocketed to nearly fifty in this area.
It was interesting to note the different species of animals that became extinct in this area after the clearing of the swamp. One was the passenger pigeon, with the last known one dying at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Probably more surprising was that deer actually were extinct in this area for a time, with them being declared extinct in 1909. The population was gradually brought back with the first deer hunting licenses being issued in the 1950’s.
Settlers used the help of the Native Americans when it came to finding ways to eat and drink. In general, these were very difficult times to live in with milk illness and swamp fever claiming many lives. But the settlers persevered thru all of this because they knew the opportunities that lied ahead in the area known as the Black Swamp.