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100 Years Ago


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Before the Canal

What is now Shelby County, Ohio, was a thickly forested area. The Great Miami River and many other streams coursed through it. Several tribes of Indians, principally the Miami and the Shawnee, lived and hunted here. The first settler was James Thatcher, who brought his family to this area around 1805. They settled in what is now Washington Township. Others, mostly of German, English, and Irish descent, followed over the next few years. These pioneers concentrated on clearing the land to raise at least enough food to sustain their families. Noted Ohio historian Harlan Hatcher's description certainly applied to Shelby County’s first pioneers: "Each family, or each little party, fought its way through the wilderness until it came to its assigned spot; and there, in the vast loneliness, perhaps twenty miles from the nearest neighbor...it chopped out its own hole in the forest, erected a cabin, planted a few acres of corn or wheat, and struggled to keep alive."

Within the first two decades after their arrival, many of the settlers had cleared sufficient land so that they could produce more crops than needed for their own use. Cash was needed to purchase equipment for farming and other living activities. Imported staples, such as coffee and salt, were very expensive. The only source for the sale of goods from the county before the canal was the port of New Orleans. There were no roads - only old Indian trails which were capable of carrying a horse and rider for a distance. Much of the county, especially the northern part, was composed of flat, wet ground which complicated the road building process.

The trip outside the county with goods for sale was an adventure. Flat-bottomed boats were filled with produce and polled down Loramie Creek and the Great Miami River all the way to Cincinnati, then down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Members of the Akin family, who settled in Washington Township, twice made this arduous trip, returning home once on foot, and the other time on a horse purchased along the way. Professional bandits often relieved the weary travelers of what money they did receive for their goods.  If the areas north of Dayton were going to be developed, a way had to be found to open them up to commercial activity.

forest reflected in lake SC before the canal

'Canal' segment written in December, 1998 by Rich Wallace

 

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