Farmers, Woodland, Conservation Consciousness: The Lower Cuyahoga River Watershed, Ohio, 1865-1885

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.[1. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 30 October 1878.]

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.[2. For woodland and conservation consciousness during the nineteenth-century change see, Robert McCullough, The Landscape of Community: A History of Communal Forests in New England, (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1995); Richard Judd, Common Lands, Common People: The Origins of Conservation in Northern New England, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997). For forests and the Holland Land Purchase of Western New York see, Charles Brooks, “Overrun With Bushes: Frontier Land Development and the Forest History of the Holland Purchase, 1800-1850,” Forest & Conservation History 39 (January 1995): 17-18, 21-22; Charles Brooks, Frontier Settlement and Market Revolution: The Holland Land Purchase (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), 14 -17, 50-53; For woodland in nineteenth-century Ohio see, Michael Williams, Americans and Their Forests: A Historical Geography, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 361-368. For the historiography of the Connecticut Western Reserve see, Robert Wheeler, “The Literature of the Western Reserve,” Ohio History 100 (Summer – Autumn 1991): 101 – 128.]

The roots of woodland conservation in Ohio began during the first decades of the nineteenth century with state legislation for the protection of timber resources on public lands. Even prior to statehood in 1803 territorial representative William Henry Harrison, for example, brought to the attention of Congress woodland destruction attributed to itinerant squatters and salt-makers on land comprising the Scioto Salt Reserve. In response, a Congressional resolution called for long-term leasing of the saline deposits to negate such damage and protect timber from itinerate salt-makers stating, “that these persons by a destructive waste of timber in the neighborhood of the springs are daily diminishing their value.”[3. Quoted in, Eugene Willard ed., A Standard History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio, Vol. 1, (The Lewis Publishing Company, 1916), 372.] When control of the Scioto Salt Reserve passed to Ohio’s jurisdiction in 1803 some of the earliest legislation provided for state oversight and protection of timber resources on public lands.[4. For protection of private woodlands and compensation for theft or destruction see, Salmon P. Chase, ed., The Statutes of Ohio and of the Northwest Territory, Adopted or Enacted From 1788 to 1833 Inclusive, Vol. 2, (Cincinnati, OH: Corey & Fairbank, 1835), 856, 861, 1204, 1347.] The Ohio legislature called for the agent at the Scioto works to “reserve any sugar trees or timber that may be necessary for the future uses of the state”[5. Chase, The Statutes of Ohio and of the Northwest Territory, Vol. 2, 830.] and fined any lessee “a sum not exceeding one hundred dollars” for cutting timber beyond the boundaries of assigned tracts or using timber for purposes other than the production of salt.[6. Salmon P. Chase, ed., The Statutes of Ohio and of the Northwest Territory, Adopted or Enacted From 1788 to 1833 Inclusive, Vol. 3, (Cincinnati, OH: Corey & Fairbank, 1835), 1948.] Similarly, the legislature recognized the need to protect woodland resources on state public lands set aside for the support of religion or for education by the Land Ordinance of 1785.[7. The Land Ordinance of 1785 set aside school lands while ministerial lands were stipulated in the sale of large private land tracts for the Ohio Company of Associates in 1787 and the Symmes Purchase in 1788. School Lands totaled 704,204 acres while ministerial lands constituted 43,525 acres.]

The Ohio legislature, for example, passed an act that called for any lessee to “be bound not to waste or destroy sugar trees or other timber” on township school lands.[8. Ohio General Assembly, Acts of the State of Ohio, Vol. 29, (1821), 492.]  Other acts stipulated a fine “not exceeding thirty dollars” for any individual who shall “cut, fell, bore or destroy any living tree standing or growing on any of the public school or ministerial lands in this state, not having first obtained license from the proper authority to do so.”[9. Chase, The Statutes of Ohio and of the Northwest Territory, Vol. 2, 896.] While the Ohio legislature invoked punitive fines for the protection of woodlands on public domains such as salt reserve, school, or ministerial lands, they also recognized that long-term leasing was the best means for managing forest resources. Though the Ohio legislature drafted much of what might be interpreted as early conservation law for public lands in Ohio, Western Reserve farmers were similarly aware of the potential for the abuse of woodlands and cognizant of the potential for future regional timber scarcity during the first half of the nineteenth century.

In 1837, for example, farmer M. Linley of Euclid, Ohio, wrote home to friends in New England that, “I have lived in this part of the country for 10 years, and from my own observation, and from information of those who have been here for thirty years or more, I am positive that when our forests are cut away, they do not sprout as they do in New England.” He continued, “We have no mountains, nor what may be called really poor land; it is all fit for grazing or the plough; consequently in a few years, wood and timber will become scarce.”[10. New England Farmer and Horticultural Register (Hereafter NEF&HR) 15 (17 May 1837): 358; NEF&HR 15 (February 1837): 246.] The editor of New England Farmer felt the issue of the sustainability of the propagation of woodland in Northeast Ohio serious. He cautioned, however, that Mr. Linley’s observations might be a “consequence of some incorrect management in the mode of cutting the primitive trees, native of the soil, when their reproduction is a desirable object,” rather than an indication of a more long-term trend toward the decline of Ohio woodlots.[11. NEF&HR 15 (24 May 1837): 366.]

The emergence of a local agricultural press in Ohio, with the publication of the Ohio Cultivator in Columbus in 1845 and the Ohio Farmer in Cleveland in 1856, placed farmers at the forefront of emergent issues of woodland conservation in the state during the antebellum period. Through the medium of these new print journals farmers debated the best seasons for cutting hardwoods for differing utilizations of the timber, the protection of woodland from livestock, woodland clearing, and the long-term management and sustainability of farm woodlots. In 1852, for example, one Muskingum County farmer confided, “the present generation has been engaged in one unceasing warfare upon the forests,” and “our prodigality will cause us great inconvenience, and result in serious evils to coming generations.”[12. Ohio Cultivator 8 (1 February 1852): 38.] In 1866, a year before Hosea Paul warned of the impending ecological crisis threatening Cuyahoga Valley woodlands, another Ohio farmer cautioned “the wood lot diminishes in size and not infrequently disappears altogether from the farm.” He proposed that fifteen acres was the minimum woodlot that would be self-sustaining, and then, only through “a system of regular cutting” and careful management.[13. For discussions of seasonal timber cutting see, Ohio Cultivator 6 (1 May 1852): 133; Ohio Cultivator 13 (15 February 1857): 51. For methods of clearing timberland see, Ohio Cultivator 15 (1 January 1857): 1; Ohio Cultivator 15 (15 February 1859): 54. For woodlot management see, Ohio Cultivator 22 (11, November 1866): 331.] 

Ohioans took a formative role in the national discussion over the emergent field of forestry during the second half of the nineteenth century. John Aston Warder, founder of the American Forestry Association, developed his theories on timber conservation and woodland sustainability by putting them into practice on his North Bend, Ohio, farm during the 1860s. Warder and his contemporary, George Perkins Marsh, are considered founders of the modern conservation and forestry movement in America. During this period the Cleveland-based agricultural journal the Ohio Farmer similarly took an active role in promoting forestry and preservation of woodlands. Articles appeared only sparingly during the late 1860s and 1870s but became so prominent during the 1880s that the Ohio Farmer encountered pushback from rural people who resented both the condescending tone toward common farmers and the legislative actions called for by many of the journal’s contributors. Agitation for a cohesive forest policy in Ohio, however, culminated with the First Annual Report of the Ohio State Forest Bureau in 1885, a sweeping document that examined soil erosion, drought, and decline in timber quality as associated with the reduction of Ohio woodlands and identified tax rates, industrialization, dairy specialization, and growing railroad infrastructure as placing new pressures on woodland sustainability. The report concluded that woodland in the Western Reserve of northeastern Ohio alone decreased at an astonishing rate from 40.3 percent of land area in 1853 to only 13.8 percent by 1883.[14. McCullough, The Landscape of Community, 98-99; Shaul Cohen, Planting Nature: Trees and the Manipulation of Environmental Stewardship in America, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004), 39; Harold Steen, The U.S. Forest Service: A History, (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, Centennial Edition, 2004), 9. First Annual Report of the Ohio State Forest Bureau, to the Governor of the State of Ohio, For the Year 1885 (Columbus, OH: The Westbote Co., State Printers, 1886), 68.]

In response, participants in agricultural societies and farmers’ clubs, as well as writers for agricultural journals, encouraged individual solutions to timber scarcity in Ohio. Some advocated for grassroots efforts, absent the backing of state legislation, and usually invoked a call for civic duty or reciprocity on the part of the farmer or, more pragmatically, elucidated the sound fiscal benefits of careful woodland management. Others under the direction of such men as John Warder looked toward legislation for the protection of Ohio woodlands. One survey in the First Annual Report of the Ohio State Forest Bureau, for example, specifically addressed the issue of taxation encouraging the destruction of woodland. Opponents argued that taxes on woodland were so high in many counties, and that wood was in such demand, that it practically forced farmers to cut down their trees. Ohioans adopted other legislative measures to conserve timber or encourage the propagation of hardwoods during this period; in 1883, new legislation called for a reduction of the road tax if individuals planted certain types of hardwoods along public roads. Proposed legislation on fencing was similarly designed to encourage timber conservation by encouraging farmers to transition from rail to plank fencing or even to adopt wire instead. In no region of Ohio in the decades following the Civil War, however, was anxiety about timber scarcity more resonant than in the Western Reserve.[15. Ohio Farmer 63 (24 February 1883): 135; Ohio Farmer 63 (10 March 1883): 170; Ohio Farmer 61 (27 May 1882): 358; First Annual Report of the Ohio State Forest Bureau, to the Governor of the State of Ohio, 279.]

The increasing tempo of woodland reduction in the dairy region of northeastern Ohio known as the Western Reserve particularly troubled farmers and foresters in the decades following the Civil War. Western Reserve forests were especially vulnerable to abuse on account of the region’s agricultural and industrial transitions. The demand for hardwoods for industry, construction, and domestic use increased exponentially as the population of the cities of Akron and Youngstown increased five fold from 1860 to 1880 and Cleveland added over 115,000 citizens during the same period. In the agricultural hinterlands of the Western Reserve, Geauga County farmers introduced the factory cheese system in 1862 from New York State, encouraging a new kind of agricultural specialization that placed additional pressures upon the woodland in the region on account of pasture expansion and the continued practice of woodland grazing. Concurrently, woodland conservation took on new import in the counties of Geauga, Portage, and Summit as farmers began specializing in maple sugar and syrup. Land elevations in that section of the Western Reserve coupled with the influence of Lake Erie created a maple-sugaring region rivaled only by the output of farmers in the state of Vermont, and Garrettsville, in Portage County, became the center of production by the early 1880s. During this period Cuyahoga Valley farmers faced the same pressures on local woodlands encountered by agriculturists across the Western Reserve.[16. For population statistics for Western Reserve cities of Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown see, George Knepper, Ohio and Its People, (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003), 494. For the introduction of the factory dairy system and an overview of Maple Sugaring in Western Reserve see, Robert Jones, History of Agriculture in Ohio to 1880, (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1983), 198 – 201, 244.]

In 1878, for example, one Boston Township resident confided, “the special ‘institution’ of Peninsula may be said to be lumbering, sawing, grinding, cheese-box making, [and] quarrying.” This observer of rural transformation, however, was not writing of the clear-cutting of the ancient white pine forests of the Michigan Peninsula or the native yellow pine barrens of the Georgia bottomlands. Rather, the timber fever that gripped the Cuyahoga River and it tributaries during the 1870s and 1880s was representative instead of the wholesale reduction of farm woodlots throughout northeastern Ohio. After the Civil War new technologies allowed local farmers to participate in the emergent timber economy of the region while simultaneously abandoning the more sustainable woodland practices of their fathers. Not all residents were comfortable with these transitions, and in 1867 Hosea Paul wrote of the emergent rural speculation in the timber economy of the Cuyahoga River Valley that, “the people of Northampton and Boston even are beginning to find out that their timber is not inexhaustible.”[17. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 6 February 1878; Hosea Paul Jr., “The Agriculture of Summit County,” in Twenty-Second Annual Report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture, With an Abstract of the Proceedings of the County Agricultural Societies: To the General Assembly of Ohio, For the Year 1867 (Columbus, OH: L.D. Myers & Bro., State Printers, 1868), Part II, 70-71.] After the Civil War the increasing voraciousness of the timber economy of the Western Reserve prompted contemporary concerns among farmers such as Hosea Paul and foresters such as John Warder that the current rate of deforestation in the region was unsustainable. Hosea Paul’s concerns, however, were not new in 1867 and Ohioans were cognizant of the finitude of timber resources while the region was still part of the Northwest Territory.

The anxiety expressed over the sustainability of local woodlands by Paul in 1867 transcended township, county, or regional boundaries and became part of a national discussion concerning unprecedented deforestation and fears of a crisis in woodland sustainability during the 1870s. Across the northeastern states, in particular, critics from Massachusetts to Illinois decried the accelerating rate of woodland destruction attributed to the growth of cities, industry, railroad expansion, and demand for building materials for the settlement of the treeless Great Plains. Latent anxiety resulting from deforestation and questions of long-term woodland sustainability called farmers, foresters, and community leaders to action. Their work provided one of the foundational underpinnings for the conservation movement and resulted in the convening of forest congresses to address such issues as well as the organization of the first national forestry association in 1875.[18. Williams, Americans and Their Forests, 228-230.]

Located approximately halfway between Cleveland and Akron, the townships of Richfield and Boston in the lower Cuyahoga Valley provide an excellent location for examining farmers, conservation consciousness, and the woodland economy of the region between 1865 and 1885. Both townships experienced reductions in woodland as the factory dairy system expanded, while their central location between two urban centers and the construction of the Valley Railway encouraged timber speculation among farmers. During the nineteenth century the forest complexes of Boston and Richfield townships were more diverse than in other districts of the Western Reserve. On first and second bottoms along the Cuyahoga River, steep slopes and shaded washes encouraged a wide range of forest habitat. Eastern Boston Township forests consisted largely of Beech-Maple complexes and were more typical of the Western Reserve. Forests west of the Cuyahoga River Valley were more varied, consisting of mixed oak and beech maple stands. The eastern portion of Richfield Township was covered almost exclusively in oak, while the northern and western portions were covered with heavy tracts of maple, beech, ash, hickory, black and white walnut, and large oaks. Along the Cuyahoga River small stands of hemlock occupied sheltered ravines below bedrock ledges, though not in sufficient quantities to encourage a local tanning industry. The valley also contained a few stands of white pine along the river in Northfield Township in the aptly-named Pinery Narrows, just north of the Boston Township line and in Bath Township on the high hills bordering Yellow Creek.[19. Paul Sears, “The Natural Vegetation of Ohio,” The Ohio Journal of Science 25 (May 1925): 142-143; Jane Forsyth, “A Geologist Looks at the Natural Vegetation Map of Ohio,” The Ohio Journal of Science 70 (May 1970): 185; William Perrin, History of Summit County, With an Outline Sketch of Ohio, (Chicago, IL: Basken and Battey, 1881), 609; Barbara Manner and Robert Corbett, Environmental Atlas of the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, (Monroeville, PA: Surprise Valley Publications, 1980), 54, 69; Paul, “The Agriculture of Summit County,” 70 – 71.]

On the surface, at least, Boston and Richfield farmers maintained traditional woodland strategies after the Civil War even as timber acreage decreased substantially across the Western Reserve. In total number of acres Richfield and Boston farm woodlots remained remarkably stable during this period decreasing in size, on average, a single acre from 48.5 acres in 1850 to 47.5 acres in 1870. The percentage of farmland in wood, however, decreased nearly twenty five percent over the same period and declined by nearly fifty percent comparative to total farm acreage between 1870 and 1885. This disparity between the seeming stability in woodlot acreage and the decline in percentage of farmland can be accounted for by the increase in farm size as farmers embraced the new factory dairy system after 1867. In 1885 circular responses from Summit County in the First Annual Report of the Ohio State Forest Bureau similarly pointed to the agricultural and industrial economy of the region for the decline in timber, reporting that the most common causes for the reduction of woodland were “clearing for agricultural purposes,” “cutting for timber,” and “injuries by cattle and sheep.”[20. First Annual Report of the Ohio State Forest Bureau, to the Governor of the State of Ohio, For the Year 1885, 94; Williams found that, across Ohio, farmers reported that agricultural expansion was the cause of woodland reduction in 90 percent of counties statewide. See, Williams, Americans and Their Forests, 364.](See Table 1)

Between 1850 and 1870 Cuyahoga Valley farmers produced supplementary income from their woodland by a number of methods. In 1870, for example, 24 farmers reported incomes averaging $313.95 from the sale of forest products. Fewer farmers produced maple sugar from their sugar bushes in 1870 than in 1850, though production increased from 199 pounds to over 261 pounds over the same period. Other farmers partook in the woodland economy of the region in ways unrecorded by census enumerators. Peninsula resident Frank Lander manufactured 175 sap buckets for the sugar season in 1878, while the Wilkinson family gathered round bolts of base wood and black maple for the production of toothpicks and cigar lighters in Cleveland. T.W. Francisco purchased hoop-poles from Richfield farmers, transporting them on the Ohio and Erie Canal to coopers in Cleveland and Akron. Woodland among Western Reserve farmers continued to be utilized as pasture, though many acknowledged the detrimental consequences from grazing ever-smaller woodlots. Overall, it appeared the local agricultural economy in 1870 produced surplus from woodland in the form of maple sugar, barrel staves, planks, and cordwood in much the same ways as it had in 1850.[21. The Summit County Beacon (Akron) 28 February 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 29 May 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 30 October 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 31 December 1879.]

Cuyahoga Valley Table 1

The experience of Boston resident George Stanford offers much insight into how Cuyahoga Valley farmers managed their woodlands between 1850 and 1870. Stanford reduced his woodland from 200 acres in 1850 to only 84 acres in 1870 but maintained traditional practices of timber gathering, woodland grazing while increasing his maple sugar production nearly fourfold on this decreasing acreage. In 1872 Stanford went to the woods with his team collecting logs for market and in May utilized the same area for woodland pasture. Stanford owned a broom-making machine supplementing the dairy and general agricultural income of his Boston farm as broomcorn grew particularly well on the alluvial Cuyahoga River bottoms of his lower till fields. The handles, however, were undoubtedly produced locally from wood gathered from his home woodlot. Stanford’s farm journal for 1872 presents a picture of increasingly intensive woodland use where more production was gleaned from fewer acres of timberlands that too often doubled as woodland pasture.[22. The Diaries of George Stanford, Peninsula Library and Historical Society, Peninsula, Ohio, (Hereafter Stanford Diaries PLHS), 11 January 1872, 24 May 1872; Non-Population Census Schedules for Ohio: Agricultural Returns for Boston Township, Summit County 1850, MF T1159 Roll 9; Non-Population Census Schedules for Ohio: Agricultural Returns for Boston Township, Summit County 1870, MF T1159 Roll 40.]

The pace of woodland decline on Stanford’s farm – and in the Cuyahoga Valley more generally – was largely tied to the emergence of the factory cheese system in the region during the 1860s. Expansion in meadow and pasture came almost exclusively through the clearing of woodlands. Stanford’s woodland strategies were representative of other valley farmers as the grass culture of the Western Reserve profoundly shaped the forests of the Cuyahoga Valley between 1840 and 1880. Critics could point to the connection between timber speculation for new urban markets and woodland decline; however, the grass culture of the Western Reserve exacerbated woodland reduction as well. During the pioneer period woodland grazing complemented the opening of new farmlands on the reserve. Farmers had access to timber that vastly exceeded their needs and livestock did well subsisting on the under-story of unimproved lands. After 1870 the continued practice of woodland grazing posed the most serious threat to the long-term sustainability of remaining woodlots on Western Reserve farms. Woodland grazing damaged the bark of young trees while cattle devoured young saplings essential for the natural reproduction of local woodlots. Even as the rate of deforestation stabilized by 1900, woodland grazing remained an important agricultural and ecological issue among Western Reserve farmers into the mid-decades of the twentieth century.[23. For persistence of woodland grazing in the Western Reserve see, Ohio Farmer 108 (23 September 1905): 221; Charles Dambach, “A Ten-Year Ecological Study of Adjoining Grazed and Ungrazed Woodlands in Northeastern Ohio,” Ecological Monographs, Vol. 14, No. 3, (July 1944), 258 – 260, 269 – 270; Stephen LaMar noted that, even in 1940, at least two thirds of woodland in the neighboring Western Reserve county of Portage was utilized as pasture. See, Stephen Le Mar, “An Agricultural Survey of Portage County,” Economic Geography, Vol. 19, No. 2, (April 1943): 158 – 159.]

Evidence suggesting that local farmers were faced with challenges brought about by woodland scarcity in the 1870s was not difficult to find. In 1867 Hosea Paul reported, for example, that large tracts of oak had recently resided in neighboring Portage Township but that “the barrel factory has disposed of most of it.” George Standard recorded in his personal journal that the wood needed for planking his new cow barn could not be found in his eighty-acre woodlot; he was forced to purchase the planking in Cleveland and have it delivered via the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1872. A few years later, speculation in valley woodland was so rampant that the demand for hardwoods led to more overt acts of destruction as when The Summit County Beacon reported that, “Some persons went into James Lockard Sr.’s woods and ‘girdled 14 of his best oak trees’” in February of 1880.[24. Paul, “The Agriculture of Summit County;” Stanford Diaries, PLHS, 2-3 July 1872. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 11 February 1880.]

Farmers were not the only architects of the transformation of the woodlands of the Cuyahoga Valley in the decades following the Civil War. A number of companies in the townships of Richfield and Boston harvested local woodlots for the production of staves, hoops, board lumber, cheese boxes, and square timber for local consumption or for extra-local markets in Akron, Cleveland, and beyond. During the winter of 1873-1874, for example, the firm of Wood & McNeil produced 725,000 feet of lumber, 25,000 railroad ties, and 5,000 fence posts. Another Peninsula based firm, C.L. Newell & Co., owned a large mill along the Ohio and Erie Canal and operated portable sawmills in woodlands as needed. C.L. Newell & Co. employed more than twelve teams and fifty men to bring timber out of woodlots in Boston and Richfield Township, using the Ohio and Erie Canal to ship 1-2 boatloads of lumber to market in Cleveland each day, and began sending lumber to Cleveland via the Valley Railway after it opened in 1880.[25. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 14 January 1875; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 6 February 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 5 November 1879; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 4 February 1880.]

In 1879 the Cleveland Rolling Mills awarded Wood & McNeil a contract to provide 500,000 feet of oak plank. Wood & McNeil hoped to honor the contract by clearing woodlands throughout the townships of Boston, Richfield, and Bath during the winter of 1879-1880. If filled, this one contract alone would require more local timber than the entire production of Boston Township mills a decade earlier, and twice the average amount of wood annually consumed in the township’s three canal boatyards during the past ten years. Wood and McNeil operated a number of portable sawmills moving them from farm to farm in Richfield and Boston Township. To complete the Cleveland Rolling Mills contract, for example, Wood and McNeil moved their portable sawmills from Isiah Humphrey’s Richfield farm to John Congers’ “west woods” in neighboring Boston Township during the winter of 1879 and 1880. [26. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 5 November 1879; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 12 November 1879; Paul, “The Agriculture of Summit County,” 70; Non-Population Census Schedules for Ohio: Industry Returns for Boston Township, Summit County 1870, MF T1159 Roll 48.]

The clearing of Farnum’s Wood, however, was perhaps the most palpable expression of the new timber economy that emerged along the Cuyahoga River during the 1870s and 1880s. Everett Farnum, one of the early settlers of Richfield Township, accrued an estate of 2,200 acres north and east of the township center during the first half of the nineteenth century. By 1870 census enumerators listed 700 of Farnum’s 2,500-acre estate as woodland. One Richfield resident described Farnum’s woodlot as a place “were reigned primeval solitude tenanted only by the squirrel and raccoon the woodpecker and the owl, but which today is a living hive of industry, resounding with the sound of the axe and the saw, varied by the crash of the falling monarchs of the forest.”[27. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 26 June 1878.] In 1874 an ice storm heavily damaged Farnum’s wood and the downed trees fueled the rapidly growing timber economy of the region into the 1880s. A number of timber interests, including C.L. Newell & Co., were awarded contracts for clearing over seven hundred acres of Farnum’s woodland between 1878 and 1880. By 1879 the scale of activities in Farnum’s Wood reached such a fevered pitch that several portable mills were erected and a temporary lumber camp established for both woodsmen and their teams. Nearly 1,500 cords of wood accumulated over the winter of 1878-1879, and one company acquired a canal boat for the exclusive purpose of daily transporting timber from Farnum’s wood to Cleveland.[28. Non-Population Census Schedules for Ohio: Agricultural Returns for Richfield Township, Summit County 1870, MF T1159 Roll 40; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 8 March 1876; The Summit County Beacon, (Akron), 28 June 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 29 January 1879.]

A number of factors independent of the local agricultural economy accelerated the growth of a timber economy, represented by the clearing of Farnum’s Wood, in the Cuyahoga River Valley between 1865 and 1880. Hosea Paul noted, for example, that the forests of the Western Reserve diminished after the Civil War as Summit County farmers, local industry, and communities turned to regional coal reserves to fuel businesses and for domestic use. Concurrently, new technologies such as portable steam sawmills made it easier for timber speculators to turn marginalized farm woodlots into cordwood, shingles, planking, and barrel staves for regional industry in Cleveland and Akron. Finally, the long anticipated completion of the Valley Railway through the Cuyahoga River Valley in 1879-1880 required massive localized production of railroad ties, driving timber speculation to a fevered pitch in 1880.[29. Paul, “The Agriculture of Summit County,” 70; Sam Tamburro, “The History of the Ohio & Erie Canal,” in Lynn Metzger and Peg Bobel eds, Canal Fever: The Ohio and Erie Canal, From Waterway to Canalway, (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press), 13–15.]

The timber-cutting of Farnum’s Wood was one of the more spectacular examples of lumbering along in Cuyahoga River Valley; however, the same technologies allowed local farmers to become more direct agents of timber speculation and woodland decline on the Western Reserve. According to The Summit County Beacon, Richfield farmer J. Underhill Esquire appropriated this new technology and “caught the timber fever which is raging in our midst, and has gone into it quite lively, and expects to have a portable sawmill erected in his woods this week.”[30. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 6 February 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 29 January 1879; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 21 January 1880.] Portable steam sawmills were first available during the late 1830s, and Ohio agricultural journals began advertising portable steam engines for agricultural purposes and timber cutting during the 1850s. They were a ubiquitous part of the Cuyahoga Valley landscape by the 1870s. This new technology saved time and labor by bringing the sawmill to the woodlot, allowing fewer men to process more timber on site. This same technology, however, dramatically increased the traditional tempo of woodland reduction and changed the composition of woodlands as species that sprouted from remaining stumps had an advantage over other species. New technology, coupled with traditional kinship or neighborhood ties cultivated in the local agricultural economy, allowed Boston and Richfield farmers to join together to profit from the exploitation of their own woodlands. [31. Williams, Americans and Their Forests, 146; for sawmill advertisements see, for example, Page’s Portable Steam Sawmill in, Ohio Cultivator 9 (15 December 1853): 377; McCullough, The Landscape of Community, 96.]

Take for example the incorporation of the firm of Kemery and Bombgardner in Richfield Township. John Kemery and the Bomgardner brothers, Israel and John, reported their primary occupation as farmers in the 1880 census and all owned acreage exceeding eighty acres. They collectively purchased a portable steam sawmill on shares in the summer of 1878. This firm purchased standing timber from neighboring farms, or contracted to do the cutting on their neighbors’ timber purchases, moving from woodlot to woodlot throughout the year. During the summer and autumn months, they worked tracts of timber on the respective farms of John Colman and E.D. Hancock. After October they acquired contracts for work on William Hancock’s, A. Hershey’s, and Hiram Hart’s lands. The following year in June of 1879 John Bomgardner left the firm, purchasing a share in another portable sawmill with a farmer named Campbell who was already contracted for a job on Kit Lightfoot’s woodland. Kemery and Isaac Bomgardner finally dissolved the partnership and sold their sawmill to Lyman Post, a Boston Township farmer, in November of 1879.[32. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 12 June 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 3 July 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 30 October 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 13 November 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 12 February 1879; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 21 May 1879; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 11 June 1879; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 5 November 1879; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 24 December 1879.]

The operations of Kemery and Bombgardner mirrored the disparate negotiations between farmers, portable sawmill owners, and timber speculators in the Cuyahoga Valley during the 1870s. In October of 1878, for example, the timber cutting on E.D. Hancock’s farm was actually contracted by a third party, Ellis and Mack, who bought the woodland off Hancock to produce railroad ties for the Valley Railway. Kemery and Bombgardner’s work on Hiram Hart’s farm in February and March 1879 was for another group, Linderman and Carter, who purchased the standing wood from Hart. Linderman, in turn, had previously purchased eight or ten acres of woodland from Miles Oviatt in November 1878 for the production of cordwood and railroad ties. Such men exchanged timber, access to portable sawmills, and labor like interchangeable commodities across the townships of Richfield, Bath, and Boston. In 1879 the already booming Cuyahoga Valley timber trade reached its fever pitch as thousands of additional feet of oak ties were required for the construction of the Valley Railway. One resident noted that that the flow of timber to the valley floor only declined for a few weeks in late summer when farmers used their teams and limited labor resources to bring in their English grains. Though the scale of local exchanges was modest compared with the operations of C.L. Newell & Co., firms like Kemery and Bombgardner were more influential than traditional sawmilling firms in changing farmers’ relationships with their woodlots in the Western Reserve after the Civil War. Farmers became more active agents in the denuding of Western Reserve woodlands after the Civil War and appropriated new technologies that encouraged short-term economic profit from local woodlands at the expense of long-term sustainability.[33. The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 30 October 1878; The Summit County Beacon (Akron), 12 February 1879.]

Cuyahoga Valley farmers such as John Kemery and Israel Bombgardner abandoned the woodland practices and conservation consciousness of their fathers because local markets, agricultural specialization, and new technology effaced the traditional boundaries of season and labor in the decades following the American Civil War. The emergence of the factory dairy system brought farm consolidation while the rapid expansion of pastureland and access to coal for heating encouraged the widespread reduction of woodlands. More significantly, the introduction of portable steam sawmills allowed local farmers such as Kemery and Bombgardner to become personally engaged in timber speculation for the booming Akron and Cleveland markets while providing them with a technology that allowed for the reduction of woodland to railroad ties, board lumber, and cordwood at a rate many times that of the 1-2 cord averages of their fathers’ day.[34. R. Douglas Hurt placed the average amount of cordwood that could traditionally be cut by farmers or woodcutters at 1-2 acres per day while Donald Parkerson concluded that it would be difficult for a healthy man to maintain a rate of one cord a day. See, R. Douglas Hurt, The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of a Nation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998), 243; Donald Parkerson, The Agricultural Transition in New York State: Markets and Migration in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America, (Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press), 1995, 70.]

In New England’s growing urban cities, the introduction of new technologies and regional specialization in factory dairying might well have introduced similar impediments toward the continuation of a strong local ethic of woodland stewardship. However, land utilization within the upland townships of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire differed from townships within the Western Reserve in two fundamental ways. In rural New England there remained a tradition – harking back to the commons of the colonial period – of setting aside community woodlands for the support of public institutions such as education, libraries, poor houses, and churches. At the same time, nearly eight decades of emigration out of rural New England resulted in a reforestation of the region that only accelerated with the abandonment of marginal farmlands. In rural townships the church and the meetinghouse became the social and political institutions for strengthening local conceptions of woodland conservation ethic as townships debated how best to manage existing public lands and considered expanding township woodlands through the appropriation of abandoned farms.[35. For the decline of nineteenth-century rural New England see, Harold Wilson, The Hill Country of Northern New England: Its Social and Economic History in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Montpelier, VT: Vermont Historical Society, 1947), 97 – 139. For the development of municipal and township forestry in rural New England see, McCullough, The Landscape of Community, 47 – 168.]

In the rural townships of the Western Reserve, however, there was no similar tradition of setting aside township lands for the support of public institutions. Even within the most carefully planned townships, such as Tallmadge and Hudson, there is little evidence that Western Reserve communities continued the New England traditions of setting aside local pasture and woodlots for the support of public institutions like churches, schools, or libraries. More significantly, the factory dairy system – which significantly out-produced similar institutions in New England – coupled with the rapid growth of Cleveland and Akron, meant that rural populations in the Western Reserve were largely stable. There was little abandoned land for rural communities to discuss turning into township forests, even had there been such traditions in the region in the first instance. The rural communities of the Western Reserve replicated the prerequisite political institutions – the same township and religious and meetinghouses that encouraged participation in educational reform and abolition during the antebellum period – but lacked the physical biological infrastructure (township lands and abandoned farms) to inspire an emergent local ethic of woodland stewardship during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Whereas township forests built upon the foundations of older traditions of public land use were ubiquitous throughout hundreds of communities in rural New England by the turn of the twentieth century, the Western Reserve founded just two municipal forests, at Oberlin in 1902 and in Poland Township in 1916.[36. Congress granted Western Reserve townships lands for the support of public schools totaling 93,724.16 acres in the counties of Holmes, Tuscarawas, Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Putnam, Henry, and Van Wert. However, these lands were well outside the boundaries of the Western Reserve and townships residents would have developed little interaction with them. See, George Knepper, The Official Ohio Lands Book (Columbus: OH, Auditor of the State, 2002), 57. For municipal forestry in the Western Reserve see, J.W. Toumey, “County, City, Town and School Forests,” American Forestry 22 (July 1916): 429; Robert Zorn, Images of America: Poland (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012), 85.]

For Cuyahoga Valley farmers, technology and speculation similarly reshaped the traditional seasonal cadences of labor and local attitudes toward long-term sustainability of woodlots during the late 1870s and early 1880s. As the acquisition of portable steam sawmills encouraged rural entrepreneurship and the demand for hardwoods made lumbering as profitable as farming, the traditional seasonal labor boundaries between woodland work and farming began to dissipate. Small lumbering operations west of the Cuyahoga River, such as Kemery and Bombgardner, began working through the spring and summer months. Technology and speculation effaced the traditional seasonal boundaries separating agriculture from woodland labor and threatened an ethic of woodland conservation among farmers that came out of Connecticut and Massachusetts during the 1820s and spread, with New England settlement, to the Western Reserve.