Early Settlement

In the late 18th century, British colonial authorities prohibited settlement west and north of the Ohio River. However, frequent hunting and exploring expeditions on Indian land led to inevitable conflicts. 

Ohio was the edge of the wilderness in those days. Early explorers described the area as a "gloomy and fearsome place" (C.R. Dryer). Trees in the rich bottomlands were reported in huge proportions - Francois Michaux measured a sycamore at 47 feet in circumference four feet up on the stump. John James Audobon wrote of flocks of now extinct passenger pigeons so large that the sky would go dark when they passed overhead.

cabin of early settlerThe Northwest Ordinance of 1787 provided for the survey, sale, and development of the lands north and west of the Ohio River. Although there had been some white settlement in Ohio, these ordinances were a major step in opening Ohio and other lands to these pioneers. A group of investors formed the Ohio Company and purchased 1.5 million acres for survey, development, and re-sale. Marietta, the first settlement in the Northwest Territory was founded in 1788. Other early settlers were Revolutionary War soldiers who were given land grants in southeast Ohio.

The Treaty of Greenville (1795) defined the boundaries of Indian and white land in Ohio and encouraged new settlement in areas protected by the treaty. The treaty facilitated settlement far up the tributaries of the Ohio River and further opened up this area.

To further encourage settlement, Congress passed the Harrison Land Act in 1800 which enabled common people to purchase land in the Northwest Territory. The response was immediate. In 1803, the Ohio territory became eligible for statehood. Then, the population was 43,365, and 75 per cent of Ohio was owned by its residents.black_farmer.jpg (18826 bytes)

The earliest and heaviest settlement was in the southeastern part of the state, closest to Pennsylvania and Virginia - which provided most of the settlers. Early settlers were primarily of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish descent. By the 1820's, several thousand African Americans had settled in Ohio. Early slave laws discouraged black settlement. In spite of the severe fines and penalties imposed by these laws, Ohioans were quite active in aiding fugitive slaves on their journey north to freedom in Canada on the Underground Railroad network. A number of small black communities sprang up in southeastern Ohio and quite often served as "stations" along this network of safe houses.

man with plowhorse

As European Americans acquired land to settle, one of their first concerns was to clear the land of trees. The forest was an obstacle to be conquered. Legend holds the forest was so thick that a squirrel could travel from the Ohio River to Lake Erie without ever touching ground. Pioneers quickly began cutting down the trees, relying upon the forest to provide many of their basic needs. Lumber was used to build houses, barns, buildings, forts and fences. Trees were also used for firewood, first in the home and later to fuel industries. Vast areas of Ohio's forests were cleared to create farmland. Other than the area adjacent to the Ohio River, the hills of the Wayne were some of the last areas in Ohio to be settled. Southeastern Ohio's rocky slopes and narrow ridge-tops were hard toclear and the soil poor for farming.

picture of oxen pulling logs in the 1940s

portable sawmill cutting white oak lumber - operated by William Arbaugh on the Athens Ranger DistrictOhio's forests contained some of the finest hardwoods in the world, including black walnut, black cherry and white oak. In the early 1800s, the timber industry began cutting and exporting lumber from Ohio. At its peak in 1849, Ohio ranked fourth among the states in lumber production. But marketable trees were soon gone, and by 1920 virtually no areas were left uncut in Ohio. The cut-over lands sold for less than $1 per acre.

picture of men making charcoal

Much of the low-grade timber in Ohio's Hills Country was cut to make charcoal used in a variety of industries, including the iron industry of the Hanging Rock region. The process for making charcoal involved burning a pile of cordwood under a pile of dirt that reduced the amount of oxygen for the fire. The reduced oxygen meant the wood charred rather than burned. Here David and Floyd Malone remove charcoal from the pile and quickly cover the remaining wood with dirt in 1942. This pit has burned for seven days and is about one-third its original size.

The type of cutting that occurred in the 1800's had a profound effect on the composition of the present forest. The high quality trees were cut off first: black walnut, black cherry, and white oak. Later cuts removed most of the remaining trees. Those that remained were small or defective or of undesireable species. The areas were also often burned repeatedly.

Many of the early settlers were of Scotch-Irish descent who had routinely burned the heath in their homeland. Burning the land was a way of life, considered the right thing to do. It kept the sprouts and brush killed back, killed snakes, ticks, and other varmints and encouraged grass for their cattle to graze. Many also believed it killed fever germs that lurked in the woods. In some areas, there are people who still believe this today. Over a century of burning and grazing have taken their toll. Only the most resilient species of trees such as oak and hickory could withstand the repeated fires and are the hardiest survivors in our forests today.

More information is available on the Native Americans who lived here prior to settlement.

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https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wayne/about-forest/?cid=fsm9_006138