In The Current Issue:
This edition of the Northeast Ohio Journal of History features two articles focusing on nineteenth-century Ohio.
Andrew Preston’s “Finding the French Connection: Elizabeth Duncan and the Naming of Massillon, Ohio” challenges the conventional wisdom concerning how Massillon received its name, presenting a plausible alternative that centers on the life and experience of the town founder’s wife through the lens of scholarship on republican womanhood.
“Farmers, Woodland, Conservation Consciousness: The Lower Cuyahoga River Watershed, Ohio, 1865-1885” by John Henris is a case study of the shift in woodland management by Ohio farmers in the late 1800s. These changes defy practices expected from the mostly New-England-derived farming communities due to changes in technology and economics.
With this issue we are also introducing a new, more streamlined website. We hope this will make future editions easier to produce, and will be working to make all back issues readily available in the new format. As always, if you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact the editor at kkern @ uakron. edu.
By: Andrew Preston
On September 1, 1715, Jean-Baptiste Massillon delivered a heart-stopping eulogy for the late king of France, Louis XIV. He began with a simple declaration: “God alone is great my brethren.” Legend has it that as these words echoed through the basilica of Saint Denis, Massillon’s audience jumped to their feet in disbelief. The sheer audacity of a preacher who would diminish the king’s majesty at his own funeral compelled their unanimous rise. Or so the story goes. Such a man had risen from mediocre beginnings in France’s Provence region to become a preacher of wide renown at the turn of the eighteenth century. Two years after his famous funeral oration, Massillon was made the Bishop of Clermont. He was esteemed for his style, which was both eloquent and rational, and his delivery, which stirred the soul and “spoke to the heart.” Not one to pull his punches, Massillon’s sermons mainly dealt with issues of personal morality and social responsibility. Yet the preacher’s rhetorical genius and humble manner often enabled him to convey his piquant messages in ways that moved his listeners deeply without offending them.
It is a curious matter of fact that on another continent about a century after his death Massillon’s name would come to signify a burgeoning canal town in Northeast Ohio. Continue reading
By: John Henris
In the fall of 1878 John Kemery appropriated a portable steam sawmill to cut wood on the western uplands of the Cuyahoga Valley midway between the growing manufacturing cities of Akron and Cleveland, Ohio. Kemery was not a lumberman but a farmer by occupation who formed a corporation with the Bombgardner brothers, John and Israel, for the cutting of timber. Though farmers traditionally cut woodlots for supplemental income, the work of these three Richfield Township men struck a discordant tone. By 1879 the farm woodlots of large sections of the Cuyahoga Valley were disappearing as the pasturelands of the factory dairy system expanded in equal measure. The woodland they cut on this day was not theirs but consisted of fifty-five acres belonging to a Richfield Township dairy farmer named E.D. Hancock. The contract for the cutting of Hart’s woodlot originated with a third party, Ellis and Mack. Even the agricultural seasons were turned upside down, for farmers usually worked their woodlands during the winter months following fall harvests in September and October. John Kemery, it appeared, appropriated new technologies for the reduction of local woodlands in ways that increasingly distanced him from more traditional perceptions of land stewardship, sustainability, and the natural cadences of rural labor.
The experience of John Kemery similarly speaks to discordant themes in the narratives of both the history of conservation and the history of the Western Reserve. Recent environmental histories such as Robert McCullough’s The Landscape of Community and Richard Judd’s Common Lands, Common People place farmers and their rural communities at the forefront of the emergent conservation movement within nineteenth-century New England. Similarly, Robert Wheeler in “The Literature of the Western Reserve” has pointed out that a new generation of scholarship has revealed the complex cultural, political, and economic differences hidden beneath the cultural ties between New Connecticut and New England. Still, for many writers, the pastoral middle ground of the nineteenth-century Western Reserve validates an environmental and cultural homogeneity with New England. The meandering valley of the lower Cuyahoga, for example, was a mosaic of dairy farms, village commons, and patchwork woodlots by which the region might just as easily have been mistaken for the upper reaches of the Connecticut River. This study examines the confluence between agriculture, technology, and timber speculation in the Cuyahoga Valley and elucidates why farmers within the Western Reserve largely abandoned an ethic of woodland stewardship even as the state of Ohio was influential in the forestry movement and as their New England brethren were at the forefront of woodland conservation during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Continue reading