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Great Black Swamp History

The Great Black Swamp, which covered approximately 1,500 square miles in Northwest Ohio and northeastern Indiana, formed as a result of the Wisconsin Glacier covering the land about 20,000 years ago. When the glacier retreated, it left a flattened surface covered with impermeable clay. Sand ridges were left behind that separated certain areas of the swamp from each other, and provided some higher ground. The area was also covered with dense forests. When the leaves from the trees and other plant material fell into the water, they decomposed and the water turned black. Thus the swamp became the Great Black Swamp. (To get an idea of what this area might have been like, plan a visit to Goll Woods State Nature Preserve, where a remnant of the swamp forest still remains.)

Letters and journals of settlers traveling through Ohio in the early 1800s talk about how they traveled on the fringes of the swamp, or went completely out of their way to avoid going through it. Several journals by soldiers who fought in the War of 1812 tell of the horrors associated with the swamp, including multitudes of mosquitoes and the resulting illness they produced that was called ague, but which we know as malaria.

Native Americans from all regions of Ohio had been forced into Northwest Ohio as a result of the Treaty of Greenville. They established their villages along the edges of the swamp, but used the swamp as a very fertile hunting ground. When the treaty was signed on August 3, 1795, the government promised this land to the Natives in perpetuity, because they could not foresee the area ever being inhabitable by potential settlers from Europe. Indeed, the area was the last area in Ohio to be settled.

In the 1830s settlers started to trickle into the area. The families who came to settle near Lauber Hill in 1834, most likely bought land in the area because it was relatively cheap. They worked for many years to clear and drain the land. The 1859 Ditching Law, passed by the Ohio Legislature, allowed County Commissioners to construct drainage ditches, if petitioned by one landowner who wanted it. It also allowed them to levy assessments on the landowners to recover the costs of construction. As a result, the draining of the swamp proceeded at a rapid pace, and by 1900, there were few remaining swampy areas in Northwest Ohio.


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