Popular Science Monthly/Volume 75/November 1909/Geographic Influences in the Development of Ohio




OHIO leads the states in its clay products, and its workable clays are practically inexhaustible. Ohio leads also in the number of presidents furnished the union, with unimpaired prospects for the future. Both ratings are consequences of geographic causes, as will appear in later discussion.

This state lies between 38° 27', and 41° 57' north latitude; it is bounded by the meridians reading 80° 34' and 84° 49'. For its width in latitude and its lack of great range in altitude, it has a marked range in mean annual temperature; in southern Ohio the mean annual range is 54°, while in northern Ohio it is 49°; its range in average temperature is about 40°. Lake Erie exerts an appreciable influence on climatic conditions for the northern part of the state.

The Ohio River bounds the state for 436 miles, and the lake shore I gives it 230 miles more of natural boundary. About one half of the! state line is artificial.

A rock section of the state gives in its lower half a predominance of limestone and shale formations; above this are wide-spread horizons of sandstone and conglomerate. These more resistant formations, belonging to the late Mississippian and early Pennsylvanian periods, are registered in the relief by a mild escarpment or cuesta sweeping to the south and west from the northeastern corner of the state. The northern and western parts consist of shale and limestone formations. There is slight relief particularly in the shale areas. The region of the limestone extends across the western portion of the state coinciding in longer axis with the orientation of the Cincinnati anticline. The drainage pattern resulting from this arching has given the west and southwest part of the state much more relief than would be the case with more horizontal strata.

The general dip of these formations is to the south and east. It is probable that the original consequent streams flowed in this direction. It would be futile, however, at the present time to attempt to sketch the drainage history of Ohio from the Pennsylvanian period, since which time the area has been continuously subject to stream work. Diastrophic movements have introduced some complexity. Several erosion cycles have been inaugurated, but there is evidence that few were normally terminated. The distribution of the Pennsylvanian formations coincides with the most irregular topography of the state. The average altitude is about 770 feet, and the range in altitude is approximately 1,100 feet.

The present watershed crosses the state from east to west, trending slightly to the south, at an altitude of about 1,100 feet. Drainage lines have divided the upland portion into north-south trending blocks progressively more widely spaced towards the west. These low tracts have been used by the canals and railroads connecting Lake Erie and Ohio River.

The larger part of Ohio is an almost completely severed portion of the Allegheny plateau, extending westward from the northwestern part of Pennsylvania like a great spit into the Mississippi lowlands; the broad valley of the Ohio resembles a bay between this spit and the f western slopes of the Appalachians. This somewhat peculiar relationship of topography is the combined result of drainage adjustments due to stratigraphy, and slight diastrophic movements.

Using natural boundary lines, it would be difficult to divide North America into many states. Where such lines do exist, they have not always been utilized. Lake and river, however, form over half the border of Ohio. In general, a water boundary is an asset to a commonwealth; it may be a protection from disputes, and a transit to trade. The reaction varies with other natural boundaries: high altitudes, sometimes barriers, may impose aloofness, or almost complete isolation, whereas water boundaries invite commercial relations. Geographically Ohio is the back door of the middle and north Atlantic states. This relationship has been of reciprocal value to both areas; as population became more and more dense in the early settlements, and knowledge of the broad lands across the Appalachians spread, a movement in that direction was natural. The easiest route for the more northern of the Atlantic states was through New York via the Mohawk valley, out and along Lake Erie; for the more southern states, through passes in the mountains. Possibly on account of the narrow coastal lands to the south, or possibly because of the greater enterprise there in watching the movements of the French, the southern routes were first explored, and the earliest movements into the Ohio valley came either by way of Pittsburg or by the course of the Cumberland road.

A gross classification of the factors in the development of any region is (1) internal and (2) external. The external include the boundary itself in case the region is a natural one; but geographic situation is frequently very important. When avenues of travel and traffic converge and pass through a state benefit follows. Advantage always comes from proximity to great centers of business or culture whence energy radiates. Contiguity to activity is an incentive to endeavor. We can scarcely find an area of the earth so void of possibilities as not to experience some stimulation from without. The internal factors in this development are generally obvious. Mineral wealth, energy-producing waterfalls, broad rich fields, varied uplands, a gently blending topography, constant rivers, and a range of climate, make a state [self-assertive. Ohio has never been conspicuous for mineral resources: in the early days relative importance might be granted its output of iron ore; the annual production of bituminous coal, while of great advantage to the state, has never been very large, and even now its rank is fourth; natural gas and petroleum have been of much importance to the state, but these resources are always temporary; the supply of clay was great enough even under partial exploitation to stimulate the manufacture of clay products in which the state will be apt to hold a permanent position; in the coarser abrasives, as grindstones and pulpstones, Ohio has always been a foremost producer; with the increasing use of concrete for structural work, greater importance will be given still other natural resources.

But the human responses to natural resources and to geographic environment vary with the people. The same inorganic conditions have elicited a variety of reactions under shifting populations; this variation may after all be the best testimony of geographic influences. Move a people into a different physiography and for some time they will still be the children of their former surroundings. Adaptation is slow, but the law is relentless.

When population becomes too dense for the economic development of a people, the more sturdy among them are the first to emigrate. With few exceptions the earlier settlers in the Ohio area represented the very best colonizing material of the seaboard states. These hardy volunteers in a contest with unbroken lands and unfriendly Indians led to the foundation of one of our most important commonwealths. Among them were not only yeomen, but the enlarged outlook of the land between the lake and the river attracted many of the best schoolmen of the thickly-settled parts. These pioneers not only cherished and perpetuated the place names of New England, but transplanted also the New England zeal for education. In testimony of this spirit among its founders, Ohio possesses more institutions of higher learning than any other state of the union. There was a time in the development of our frontiers when many centers of higher education were needed. Travel was difficult, money was scarce and barter to quite an extent entered into financing these primitive college courses; the colleges and seminaries in Ohio were once even more numerous than now. Advanced standards in education, by a process akin to natural selection, have eliminated many. But the cumulative results of about a century of opportunity for general culture must be reckoned among the assets of this state; its dozens of small colleges made it possible for thousands to obtain a training they otherwise would not have received. This inheritance of the better eastern culture, which was stimulated and nurtured by the natural advantages of the region their ancestors were geographically guided into for settlement, accounts for the position won by Ohioans in public life as well as in arts and letters.

The geographical development of any state is usually a complicated problem. Some light, however, is generally thrown on the question by accounting for its particular city that leads all other centers of population. Sometimes the metropolis shifts; if so, a geographic law is always involved. For several decades Ohio was an agricultural community, pure and simple. Wealth increased slowly because there were no ready markets for disposing of products. The first important outlet for farm products came with the introduction of steamboats on the Ohio River v in 1810. Naturally the river town that was the most accessible to the agricultural areas became the shipping port. Cincinnati was the earliest clearing house for products that Ohio had to sell. Buying and selling are correlative transactions. A ready market stimulated a desire for things that were counted luxuries in the primitive days, consequently Cincinnati became a manufacturing town, and ever since it has been the leading manufacturing city of Ohio.

Until recent years there has never been any doubt as to which city was the metropolis of Ohio. In the vicinity of what is now Cincinnati a settlement, the second in the state, was made in November, 1788; the next month another handful of men built their cabins on the north bank of the Ohio opposite the mouth of the Licking; this became Cincinnati, whose location assured its growth; on the river, the shipping facilities were considered excellent, and, buttressed by the river flats, the farming lands of the Miami valleys, their development into a city of trade and manufacturing, was speedy and permanent. Before the middle of last century it was stated that:

The trade of Cincinnati embraces the country from the Ohio to the lake, north and south; and from the Scioto to the Wabash, east and west. The Ohio River line, in Kentucky for fifty miles down, and as far up as the Virginia line, make their purchases here. Its manufactures are sent into the upper and lower Mississippi country.[1]

Cincinnati attained city rank in 1820; during the next decade it became the eighth city in size in the union; from 1830 to 1850 it ranked sixth; by 1880 it had dropped again to eighth place, and at the last census to the tenth place.

The greatness of Cincinnati and the assurance of even marvelous progress in the years to come was prophesied by the editor of the Toledo Blade, in 1841:

I venture the prediction that within one hundred years from this time, Cincinnati will be the greatest city in America; and by the year of our Lord, 2000, the greatest city in the world.[2]

This thought now sounds extravagant, but at that time there was ample reason for feeling sanguine about the future of Cincinnati. No one dreamed that railroads to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York would in a few years handle the commodities then passing through Cincinnati. Sir Charles Lyell visited this metropolis of Ohio in May, 1842; his explanation of the commercial basis of the city, and its culture is worth repeating:

The pork aristocracy of Cincinnati does not mean those innumerable pigs which walk at large about the streets, as if they owned the town, but a class of rich merchants, who have made their fortunes by killing annually, salting, and exporting, about 200,000 swine. There are, besides these, other wealthy proprietors, who have speculated successfully in land, which often rises rapidly as the population increases. The general civilization and refinement of the citizens is far greater than might have been looked for in a state founded so recently, owing to the great number of families which have come directly from the highly educated part of New England, and have settled there.[3]

However great may be the commercial initiative of frontier peoples, as an asset of the nation their value is largely contingent upon the means of trade and social intercourse. The construction of highways by governments was an old idea in Europe though not widely practised. In this country its advantages to the seaboard states appeared at once upon the drift of population into the trans-Appalachian region. After long agitation the federal government undertook the construction of a roadway westward from Cumberland on the Potomac River; the Chesapeake and Ohio canal later reached this point, and the road became a traffic-feeder to the canal. On the other side of the Ohio River, the government continued this highway across Ohio; this is known as the "national road." Its advantages were obvious, and were duly appreciated. Commodities that had usually passed down the Ohio River were seen on the wharves at Baltimore. News traveled more rapidly along this highway; residents along or near it were envied; the towns it passed through were enlivened; the equipages of aristocracy took this route through the state. Cambridge, Zanesville, Columbus and Springfield each owed something of their rating in that day to the advantage^ of their location on the national road.

The canal-digging fever struck Ohio shortly after its outbreak in Atlantic states. In 1817 its legislature considered the matter of constructing waterways; the subject came up regularly in the following years, culminating in 1825 in a law that commenced operations. In this same year Clinton's "ditch" tapped Lake Erie. The Ohioans, therefore, did not wait for proof positive of the advantages of improved waterways. The evidence was forthcoming had it been necessary, for at once after the Erie canal had wedded the lake and the ocean northern Ohio felt a new throb of commercial life. Lake trade was stimulated, harbors were improved, wharves and warehouses constructed; and prices advanced on all commodities that could be conveniently reached. The Ohio legislature had taken the initiative without these evidences. In seven years the Ohio canal, connecting Portsmouth on the river at the mouth of the Scioto with Cleveland on the lake, 306 miles long, was completed. The Miami canal joining Cincinnati and Toledo was commenced in the same year, reached Dayton in 1830,[4] but was not completed to the lake till 1845. Along either canal route trade activity shortly developed the sleepy villages into thrifty towns and cities. Later adjustments have left some of these places only a retrospect; the canal period was their heyday. Others, however, as Newark, Coshocton, Massillon, Akron, Hamilton, Troy and Defiance, have continued to prosper under the conditions incident to the transfer of shipping from the canals to railroads.

The Ohio canal, the course of which was controlled by other considerations than merely joining the river and the lake, makes an ascent of almost 500 feet. Its construction, relative to its length, was much more expensive than the Erie canal which ascends only 445 feet. The maintenance of the Ohio canal also involved greater expense. For this reason, with the extension of railroad lines in the state, we find that by 1856 the canals of Ohio ceased to earn running expenses.[5] During about twenty years, however, these canals were of great commercial importance to the contiguous parts of the state. Even upon the opening of the canal from Dresden to Cleveland the price of wheat advanced from $.25 to $1.00 per bushel.[6]

When we speak of railroads to-day we at once think of one or another of the great through lines. In the early days of railroad construction no one dreamed of even a trans-state road. Until recent years a through line always meant the consolidation of short independently owned segments. Local interest in railroad building in Ohio was lively from the start. Thrifty commercial relations emphasized the inadequacy of boating facilities. The efficiency of the Lake Erie and Erie canal route was not questioned, but there were few canals in Ohio to give access to the lake. The first steam road to operate in the state (1836) had one terminus on the lake at Toledo, the other being at Adrian, Mich. Sandusky had no canal, but by 1839 it completed several miles of a railroad, "The Mad River and Lake Erie," towards Dayton, which point it reached in 1844. Ohio capital and enthusiasm for railway construction were abundant, as shown by the fact that in 1837 forty-three railroad companies were organized by state charters.[7] Many of these roads were never built, but some of them have become the best lines in the state. By 1846 a road was completed from Cincinnati to Springfield, and by 1848 through steam connection was made between Cincinnati and Sandusky.[8] Columbus and Cleveland were connected in 1851, and during the same year a railroad was finished between Cleveland and Cincinnati.[9] The next year a line was opened from Cleveland to Pittsburg.

Geographically Ohio needed transverse railroads; the lake and the river were its natural thoroughfares to markets; the wide, fertile major valleys of the state trend north-south, and its products move almost by gravity to one outlet or the other. Ohioans, except the immigrant ancestors, never gave further thought to the "Appalachian Barrier"; heir commercial friends on the seabooard looked after building the east-west lines.

The rivalry of the Atlantic ports in establishing through railroad transportation to the Mississippi basin was thus an advantage to Ohio. The Hudson-Mohawk valley made the construction of a line a child's task for New York, but the Appalachians imposed on Baltimore and Philadelphia a herculanean undertaking; the former city early recognized the limitations of canals. A citizen of Baltimore in urging the undertaking said:

Baltimore lies two hundred miles nearer to the navigable waters of the West than New York, and about one hundred miles nearer to them than Philadelphia; to which may be added the important fact, that the easiest and by far the most practicable route through the ridge of mountains, which divides K the Atlantic from the western waters, is along the depression formed by the Potomac in its passage through them.[10]

In 1828 construction was commenced at Baltimore on a line headed for the Ohio valley, but twenty-five years elapsed before this destination was reached by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the difficulties of construction having been underestimated.

The next year, 1854, the Pennsylvania line reached Pittsburg, with which city Cleveland had been joined the preceding year. In 1852 a road was opened from Buffalo to Cleveland; the same year, one from Toledo to Chicago; and the next year through traffic was made possible from Buffalo to Chicago. In 1857 a road across southern Ohio and on to St. Louis was completed; this was practically a continuation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. By 1860 Ohio had what was considered in that day very ample railway facilities, a condition that contributed largely to the position the state at once took in manufacturing.

Ohio ranks fifth among the states in the gross value of its manufactured products. The state has always been quick in appreciating the demands of its trade environment. Its waterways, natural and artificial, before the period of steam roads, gave it an advantage. No state responded more promptly and effectively to the era of railroad construction. A study of the evolution of railways in this country shows that the network pattern first appeared in Ohio. Manufacturing is invariably stimulated by shipping facilities. Excellent transportation service for decades has been available for producers in this state. Furthermore, the geographic center of population, now in Indiana, has been in and near Ohio for sixty years. Convenience of raw material, accessibility of markets through shipping facilities for finished products, and stability in the supply of labor insured by a normal equilibrium between wages and the cost of reasonable living are essential conditions to a state's maintaining its rank in manufacturing.

The first blast furnace in Ohio was built in 1804 in Mahoning County. The number of furnaces gradually increased throughout the area of the Logan and Pottsville formations which contain the meager iron ore. Limestone is also quite liberally distributed in this same region. Charcoal was used in these furnaces for over two decades, after which coal slowly supplanted wood. Local demands for cooking stoves and other simple necessities stimulated the initial working of these ores. To some extent, the finished product was shipped outside the state. Ohio, ever since these early days, has continued to give an annual output of iron ore, but the supply ceased years ago to be of relative importance.

While fertility of soil insuring a cheap food-supply, and easy topography inviting modern transportation methods, and mobility of labor sustaining manufactories, are of prime importance to industrial growth, nevertheless environment has had much to do in the development of states. The environment here referred to involves the extent to which adjacent commonwealths have either responded to their physiography >r have made progress in spite of it. Up to the present time, however, ,' Ohio owes but little of its development to mere geographic situation. But extraneous influences will be of increasing importance in the commercial future of the state. I refer especially to the midway position that Ohio's lake ports occupy in reference to its own and the Appalachian coal fields, and the Superior iron areas. At the present time Ohio stands second only to Pennsylvania in its annual output of steel and iron products. If physiography is the arbiter, the southern shore of Lake Erie, before many years, will be the center of steel and iron production in this country.[11] The Pennsylvania center of this industry has a momentum and a capital investment that will enable it to stand out long against the logic of geography. Allied with this conservatism are the artificial combinations which tend always to restrain the development of new manufacturing centers. But such commercial egoism will in time recognize the greater advantage in conforming to geographic laws. In reference to a particular nation it is probable that ultimate stability will be reached in the industries concerned largely with the inorganic. After the resources of a country have been thoroughly exploited, equilibrium should come, and be disturbed only by responses made to world-wide influences of commerce. But in this country we are still far from stability in the localization of industries; for example, the center of shoe manufacturing has steadily progressed westward; flour milling left Baltimore for Rochester, and moved later to Minneapolis whence it promises to shift again before many years; slaughtering and meat packing, once centered at Cincinnati, later at Chicago, probably now centers west of the Mississippi.

But an almost equally important factor in the shifting of the steel industry is associated with shipping facilities for the finished products. In this respect, northern Ohio has even now an advantage. With the insured growth of New Orleans as a transfer port for marine cargoes a larger relative proportion of finished steel products will go southward.

The earliest effort in this country to facilitate transportation found expression, as already described, in highway construction. This movement was side-tracked when attention was given to canals and later to railroads. These larger needs, involving the final and longest haul for agricultural products, at least, so monopolized thought that we forgot the first step in the route between the farmer and consumer. Early last t century Ohio was given an object lesson in highway construction when I the national road from Wheeling, W. Va., crossed the central part of U the state. Ohio should have excellent roadways. The state now ranks first in the annual production of road-making limestone. This fact should exert an important influence in the future agricultural progress of the state.

The pasture lands of Ohio have always been important and even at the present time they constitute about one third of the area of the tilled lands. The eastern and southeastern parts of the state, the portion encompassed by the Pennsylvanian formations, contain relatively a larger amount of pasture lands. For several decades Ohio was the leading state in the production of wool. At the present time it still leads among the states outside of the ranching regions. Its rank is ninth in neat cattle, seventh in swine, and sixth in horses. Associated with its standing in live stock is the corollary fact that in Ohio slaughtering and meat packing is still the fourth industry, while in the whole country it ranks ninth in dairy products, and in the gross value of agricultural products it is third in the union.

The trend of scientific agriculture arising from the work of our colleges and from the federal department of agriculture indicates that there will be greater diversity in products as well as more stability in yield. The present marvelous output of the Mississippi basin is bound to be greatly increased. With the prospect of new markets through shorter hauls made possible by the Panama Canal route, and the improvement of waterways, supplementing the inadequate railroad facilities to New Orleans and other gulf ports, the Ohio River states will be stimulated as never before. The probable diversion of trade from the present great shipping ports on the Atlantic does not necessarily imply shrinkage in their business; it means a compliance with physiographic conditions that naturally divides the output of this great agricultural region, between the gulf and the ocean. A large part of the great interior looks to the gulf; geographically, it is a mediterranean country; such was its geologic origin. Its natural affiliations were aborted when the French were supplanted by the British. The history of commerce, the world over, shows how adjustments are inevitable so long as scientific progress is made in farming and manufacturing, and in transportation itself.

From the standpoint of agriculture, however, still another factor will be conspicuously influential before many years. Immigrants to this country in recent times have largely increased our urban population where employment without capital is found, chiefly in the manufacturing centers. A large percentage of these immigrants are farmers in training, and, as they accumulate money, they gravitate to the country. In the east especially these provident foreigners find no trouble in acquiring land because the natives are glad to get out of the country and into villages or cities, preferring to take their chances on earning as good a living there as they were accustomed to on the farm. The deserted farms in the east do not attest a serious impairment of the soil; they indicate an incapacity on the part of the original farmer to adjust himself to changing conditions in agriculture.

In nearly all parts of Ohio one may find holdings which afforded the original farmers a very doubtful living now yielding a constant profit under the tillage of immigrants. European methods of agriculture combined with ability to reef expenses to the vacillations of income make them successful. During the decade 1890-1900 the average size of a farm in Ohio was decreased 29.3 + per cent. Particularly in the northern part of the state, throughout the lake-plain belt, specialized and intensive agriculture is now common.

I believe that farming will continue to be one of Ohio's chief sources of wealth. Two thirds of its surface bears glacial soil which contains an abundant and various plant diet. Improved methods of preparing foods for distant markets, and the promise of these markets becoming more accessible through the River-Gulf-Panama Canal route will stimulate cultivation. The advantages of the Ohio River as a means of transportation elicited an early response. In 1794 regular trips, one in four weeks by keel sailboats, were begun between Cincinnati and Pittsburg;[12] this was only six years after the former city was founded. In 1801 a one-hundred-ton vessel for sea trade, built at Marietta, made its first trip down the river, loaded with produce;[13] this was the logical shipping route for the surplus products of southern Ohio.

As early as 1746, six hundred barrels of flour were shipped southward from the Wabash country.[14] French affiliation then dominated the Mississippi valley. The French observed the geography of this interior country in approaching it from either the St. Lawrence or the gulf. New Orleans should be a great port. Logically it is the doorway to nearly half of North America. The aggressive Briton built firmly to the north along the Atlantic; he built so well that it would have been folly to rearrange his structure upon falling heir to the rest of the continent. In extending the commercial structure inland he has not neglected even the slightest natural advantage. But after all, physiographically, the structure is somewhat awkward, and its maintenance expensive. In the organic world, man alone on occasion ignores physiography, but in time he finds it to his highest advantage to comply with the principles of topography. The gulf is the natural outlet of a large part of the Mississippi basin.

  1. Henry Howe, "Historical Collections of Ohio," Cincinnati, 1847, p. 221.
  2. J. W. Scott, quoted in Howe's "Historical Collections of Ohio," 1847, p. 221.
  3. "Travels in North America," New York, 1845, Vol. II., p. 61.
  4. The Ohio Gazetteer, Columbus, 1839, p. 528.
  5. Poor's "Manual of the Railways of the United States," 1881, p. xvii.
  6. Henry Howe, "Historical Collections of Ohio," Columbus, Vol. II., 1891, p. 325.
  7. Ohio Gazetteer, Columbus, 1839, pp. 531-33.
  8. Ohio Archeological and Historical Society Publications, Vol. IX., 1901, p. 190.
  9. Ibid., p. 190.
  10. "Philip E. Thomas, quoted in Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Third Series (1885), p. 99.
  11. W. M. Gregory, "The Industries of Cleveland, Ohio," Journal of Geography, Vol. VI. (1908), pp. 183-87, gives data on the magnitude of the steel industry at this one lake port.
  12. Henry Howe, "Historical Collections of Ohio," Cincinnati, 1847, p. 215.
  13. Ibid.
  14. B. A. Hinsdale, "The Old Northwest," 1889, p. 50.