March’s library display is about the Great Black Swamp and surrounding marshes, which are important to the history of this area of northwest Ohio. The Swamp was roughly the size of Connecticut before being drained. Virtually none of the Swamp is left.
Tom Rumer, author of Unearthing the Land: The Story of Ohio’s Scioto Marsh, is appearing at ONU in April. He is a native of Kenton, Ohio.
Earliest known photo of the Great Black Swamp
The landscape of northwest Ohio was formed by melting ice and the glacial lakes left behind in its wake. Because of the low gradient (3 feet fall per mile) to the northeast, the flat lacustrine plain evolved into a large swamp. A massive swamp forest with huge hardwoods, broken only sporadically with intermittent wet prairies and savannahs, dominated the landscape. Both prehistoric and historic Indians farmed the flood plains of the Maumee River and its tributaries: Auglaize, Tiffin, and Blanchard rivers. The geography of the swamp retarded major settlement up to the Civil War. The 1859 Ohio Ditch Law, a harbinger of drainage legislation nationally, created a cooperative system for individuals to petition county government to surface drain the area. Simultaneous to the surface drainage projects, a massive effort was underway timbering the former swamp forest. Virgin timber for the fleets of America and Europe, grade lumber for the farms and the emerging cities of the area, stave wood for the barrel and stave mills, and the left-over slabwood to fuel the hundreds of clay tile mill kilns dotting the counties of the swamp nearly denuded the landscape of these giant trees. The family-owned clay tile mills allowed underdrainage to transform the swamp into Ohio's most contiguously farmed and productive region.
The Scioto Marsh, located on SR 195 near McGuffey, was the largest of three extensive marsh areas in western Hardin County. It was formed in the low basins left by the last retreating glacier 10,000 years ago. It covered more than 16,000 acres and was thought to be a source of malaria by the early settlers. A drainage project was begun in 1859, and the remaining peat-ladened soil helped make this rich agricultural area.
The village of McGuffey was named for John McGuffey, who in the 1860s first attempted to drain the Scioto Marsh. McGuffey was once the center of the national onion trade due to the rich organic soil in the wetland.
Hog-Creek Marsh was located on SR 81, halfway between the villages of Ada and Dola. Comprising 8,000 acres of Brookston-Crosby soils, the marsh is named for Hog Creek which drains it. Once a shallow lake, cranberries, wild flags and grasses flourished here. Reclamation (1868) cost $13.00 per acre. Dredging was done by steam scow; lateral ditches were hand dug by spade. The original grade of 1/3" in 100' proved ineffective for onion, beets and potatoes. In 1949 restored drainage outlets breathed new life for today's soybean and corn agriculture.