When Ohio was the frontier

We went north today and crossed the Ohio River into our home state of Ohio from West Virginia. Right on the river is the city of Marietta, which played an important part in settling this part of the country.

A group called the Ohio Land Company was established 1788 to reward Continental Army veterans with land, as the new country only had that to give. The oldest building in what was then called The Northwest Territory still stands, and it was there that former soldiers got rock-bottom prices on nice parcels of Ohio.

The original fort on that location was called Campus Martius, which served as the seat of government from 1788 to 1814, when the Indian “threat” was considered to be over. The fort was on the site of the museum, as one house from its walls still remains – which is rather astonishing. The museum was built around over it.

The remaining segment of the fort, the Putnam House was built beginning in 1788 by Rufus Putnam, superintendent of the Ohio Company. When peace was obtained on the frontier following the Treaty of Greeneville in 1814, the fort was dismantled and the family remained in their Campus Martius home. Using timber from the southeast blockhouse which Putnam bought for $70, carpenters more than doubled the size of the Putnam House by adding four new rooms to the original structure, which still stands. The corner hutch is considered to be the first piece of furniture made in the Northwest Territory.

The museum itself contains many artifacts of the times, and reminds us that we lived in a state with real frontier roots, having attended Miami University, one of the first land-grant schools in the state.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this museum dealt with the migration of various people to this area over an extended period of time. That time included the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, when Don and I both witnessed the movement of Kentuckians and West Virginians to both our southwest and northeast corners of Ohio, where industry was concentrated. For Don, the schools became very overcrowded, and the tenor of the area changed. For me, there was just a noticeable influx of what Cincinnatians called “hillbillys” – when they were feeling charitable.

Having just traveled through some hardscrabble parts of Appalachia, we were touched by the museum’s focus on the challenges that those migrants faced. We knew the neighborhoods they ended up in and now have a better picture of what drove them to move – and can see how harrowing that relocation process was. Unfortunately, no one was too sympathetic at the time…

And how strange it is to tour a museum that catalogs a part of history that we have personally experienced. How did that happen?

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