Columnist recounts visit to Ohio in mid-1800s

Today we don’t think of Ohio as being “The West,” although it was 170 years ago. I have bound volumes of an Albany, N.Y. farm paper, called The Cultivator, from 1840 and 1841, that contain a series of Letters from the West. These were sent to the paper by a traveler from Onondaga County, New York who gave only the initials A.B.A.

The letters describe in great detail the countryside, farming practices and livestock of the area. Since he traveled through East Central Ohio, some of his comments may prove interesting to Rusty Iron readers. I’ll edit his words drastically, since he never failed to use several paragraphs where a sentence or two would have been enough.

Voyage

Early in October of 1840, Mr. A. boarded a steamboat, which he describes as “magnificent,” at Buffalo, N.Y., for the voyage to Cleveland. The boat contained ” … as pretty an assortment of freight as heart might desire to see. Pigs and poultry, dogs and cats, horses and asses, cattle and sheep, with a sprinkling of monkies (sic), bearded goats and caged singing birds.”

His fellow passengers were “Men, women and children from all quarters of the globe, jabbering as many different languages as nations they represent, and with complexions varying from the sooty African to the bronzed Indian to the fair beings of some northern clime.”

He tells us “Cleveland is certainly a handsome place, even in comparison with the beautiful towns of western New York. It stands on a sandy bluff and presents with its twin sister, Ohio City, on the opposite side of the Cuyahoga, rather an imposing appearance, as you enter the harbor.” He says that, as Cleveland is at the end of the Erie and Ohio Canal, the city is ” … a place … of extensive lake and inland commerce.”

Mr. A. visited several prosperous farmers and horse and cattle breeders near Cleveland, and commented favorably and at great length on the quality of one man’s team of ” … bay trotting fillies,” and another’s herd of Durham cattle. He was also impressed by the large number of Berkshire hogs in the area, and thought the crops good, ” … especially the roots and corn, (with) the ruta baga large and thick, it being the soil that it most delights in.”

The traveler ” … left Cleveland with regret (as) it possesses in the American one of the pleasantest and best regulated hotels that I know of in the west.” He remarks on ” … a glorious sunset here on the lake,” and ” … (he) absolutely reveled at Cleveland, in great juicy Clingstones (peaches), as large as (his) fist.”

Mr. A. left Cleveland and traveled south on the canal to Akron. He complains that between ” … the fertile bottoms of the Cuyahoga” and Akron, the high banks, thick forest and undergrowth along the canal kept him from seeing much of the countryside.

Akron

He arrived in Akron early in the morning and found it ” … situated on the summit of the canal, 395 feet above Lake Erie. Here the little Cuyahoga gives a considerable and never failing water power, inexhaustible mines of iron ore and the best of bituminous coal are found in the area. Akron has risen in a few short years, from a paltry place of a (few) log huts, to a manufacturing town of about 2,000 inhabitants, abounding in mills and furnaces.”

Since the canal boat would experience some delay in negotiating the 16 locks in Akron, A. decided to take a stroll through town. It was raining at the time, so ” … spreading a rude umbrella over my head, and rolling my pantaloons to the top of my boots, I trudged away. There are some fine buildings here, and a pretty view of the adjacent country from the hill back of the churches,” which country A. judged to be fertile and excellent for sheep.

Other cities

Soon, they were on their way south again and found ” … a more open and thicker settled country than we had before passed through.” They soon passed Massillon, “a fine flourishing town of about 3,000 inhabitants, (that) has almost entirely grown up, since the Ohio Canal was cut through. It is situated in what I was informed, is the best wheat district of the state, and abounding in water power, its mills have become celebrated at the East.”

Mr. A. mentions “the interesting German colony at Zoar,” and says that he intends to write more about it later, then “coasting along down the beautiful waters of the Tuscarawas, with now and then a pleasant village interchanged with an open forest, and a delightful farming country, crowned with numerous stacks of grain and hay, and glittering in tall cornfields.”

Eventually, the canal boat reached Newark, which ” … is not quite so showy and large a town as Massillon, but is much older and abounds in wealth, and from the fertile country that surrounds it, must ever continue to flourish and be one of the most important inland towns in Ohio.”

Corn crops

Mr. A. goes on, “It is not till we arrive at Lockbourne, that we fairly burst upon the wide rich bottoms of the Sciota, celebrated the country over for being the finest corn district to be found upon the face of the globe, and I must confess, as much as I had heard about it, I was absolutely amazed when rising a small eminence, I got a look around me.

“It was not exactly a sea, but it was a pretty fair lake of com spread out before me. There thought I, is feed for the public, and a glorious vision for anyone (worried) about starvation. Why a whole nation might come here to take a nibble, and there would be enough left to make a considerable husking, and as to pumpkins, they were as thick in the fields as stars in the skies.”

There are four or five subsequent letters from A.B.A., and I may write more of his travels in the future.

(Send suggestions, comments or questions to Sam Moore in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460-0038; or via e-mail to: editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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