The Cayuhoga River

From: A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
Publishers: The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924


This historic stream, that rises in a sugar bush in Geauga County, north of its mouth, and, in its northern course divides the County of Cuyahoga into nearly equal parts, embodies in its history much of interest. In a history of the county which bears the same name it plays a leading role. Not a hundred miles in length, it winds its tortuous course in an apparent effort to make as much of the distance as possible.

An old authority says the Indians called it Cuyahoga Uk, meaning in our language Lake River. The generally accepted interpretation is that the Indian name, Cuyahoga, means Crooked River. Here is a little bit of Caleb Atwater's description of the river: "Rising in Geauga County on the summit, it proceeds along on the second level above the Erie in doubt whether to unite its waves with the Mississippi or the St. Lawrence, until it wends its way cautiously along across Portage County to the falls, which are about thirty miles, in a direct line, from the lake, where, having determined which way to go, it leaps exultingly from rock to rock 125 feet in one mile, pouring along its channel, even in a dry time, 5,000 cubic feet of water in a minute, creating the very best water power in the state in so short a distance. These are the Cuyahoga Falls. Turning abruptly here the Cuyahoga runs eagerly and rapidly to join Lake Erie, falling on an average of eleven feet in a mile."

The rich bottom lands along the course of the Cuyahoga are very productive and in the early days, before the presence of a great city at its mouth dyed its waters, the stream abounded in fish, which were a great factor in the food supply. We need not go back to the days when the dusky Chippewas occupied its banks for this fact. In quite recent years, the mullet, redhorse, bass, catfish, bullhead, sturgeon, shad and other varieties were caught in great numbers. Sturgeon, five, six and seven feet in length, were often the prey of fishermen.

Wild game was attracted to the river banks, sometimes in great numbers, and then the river valley became valuable hunting grounds. Because of the forests and with it the leaves in the summer and the slow melting of snow, the lack of ditches and tile drainage, accompaniment of civilization, the flow of water in the river was more regular throughout the year than it is now. Floods did not rise to such proportions and navigation was not impeded by the low water of the dry season, as in later years.

Before the advent of railroads and canals, rivers were a greater factor in the development of a new country. In the days when the Northwest Territory was established, flat boats were much used on them for the transportation of freight of size and quantity. The light canoe of the Indian and the row boat of the white man represented the rapid transit, that skimmed their currents.

There was one serious drawback, which the settlers found when they began the work of establishing a civilization. Disease lurked along the river. Fever and ague, typhus fever and similar diseases were prevalent along its banks. The health, that makes for happiness, attracted many to the higher elevations. Around the mouth of the Cuyahoga malarial swamps covered a large area

As an instance illustrative of this attitude and also of the value of real estate in and about Cleveland, Col. John Coates, father of the writer, was once offered a tract of land in Cleveland, known later as Stone's Flats, in the valley of the Cuyahoga, in exchange for an old mare and colt, which he refused, preferring the hills of Brecksville and Royalton.

The Cuyahoga was first crossed by ford and ferry, then by wooden bridges, later by iron structures, and finally by stone and concrete viaducts that span the valley as well. The Superior Street viaduct; when built in 1878, at a cost of $2,225,000, was regarded as a wonder and its construction as one of the great engineering feats of the world. It is still used, but the later structure of steel and concrete, by its side, rising above the masts of lake vessels, that enter the harbor and pass up the river, with its lower decks for street and suburban cars and its upper driveway a broad boulevard, has cast it in the background.

For a clear understanding of the changes of title and authority on each side of the Cuyahoga River a reference to the several maps may be of interest in this connection. The contest between the French and British for supremacy throughout the great West is a matter of history. It was long and bitter. Each treated the Indians as tenants on their domain and used them as allies from time to time. In 1763 the French signed a treaty at Paris ceding all territory between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi to England, Indians not consulted. Immediately all of this territory was declared, by royal proclamation of England, Indian domain.

After the Revolutionary war, the British refused to give possession of the country west of the Cuyahoga River and they occupied the west bank until 1790. Through the efforts of Hamilton they finally relinquished official claim to this territory, but when the party of Moses Cleveland arrived at the mouth of the river in 1796 their traders had a house in what was later Ohio City, north of Detroit road near the river.

Ten years before, in 1786, the Moravian missionary Zeisberger, with a number of Indian converts left Detroit and arrived at the mouth of the Cuyahoga in a vessel called the Mackinaw. From thence they proceeded up the river about ten miles and settled in an abandoned Indian village, in the present Township of Independence. This settlement they called Pilgerruh (Pilgrims' Rest). This would now seem an inappropriate title as in a year they left for some other location in the wilds.

It has been said that Ohio's rise from the position of a pioneer and backwoods state to one of power and prestige will be found, by final analysis to be predicated, in the main, on law. When Governor St. Clair came to the Northwest Territory, whose dominion, by the way, included all the land now in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, appointed under the provisions of the famous ordinance of 1787, his first act was to establish a county that should operate under all the forms of law and in strict conformity therewith.

Washington County was formed or erected, as that was the term then used, and courts were established. This was in 1788. This county covered about half of the present area of Ohio, and represented much of the territory in which, by definite treaties, title had been obtained from the Indians. By reference to the map the reader will notice that the Cuyahoga River was a boundary, the Indian country on its west bank and Washington County on its east bank

The county seat of this new, first county, was Marietta and it was named after Washington, the first president of the United States, then in office. The arms of the law were widely extended. This shows by what wise forethought the fathers extended over the new territory the protecting power of the law even in sparsely populated and desolate regions, prohibiting a resort to other and less approved methods of settling their differences.

In 1796 Wayne County was erected by proclamation of the Governor. Hamilton County had been erected a year later than Washington, and its boundaries, later, extended north as far as Lake Huron. Wayne County included all of the southern peninsula of the present state of Michigan and extended from the Cuyahoga River west as far as the present west line of Ohio, as you will see by reference to the map. In the recorded description of the boundaries of this county, note its first words: "Beginning at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River."

When this action had been consummated, the Cuyahoga (crooked river) was pursuing its winding course with Wayne County on its west bank and Washington County on its east bank. Marietta was still the county seat of Washington and Detroit was the county seat of Wayne.

Into this region now, 1796, with such protection as the erected counties might afford, comes Moses Cleveland and his surveying party, commissioned by the Connecticut Land Company, and landed at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Of his work and character and prophetic vision, we will narrate later.

The next year, Jefferson County was erected, taking from the county of Washington and extending to Lake Erie and west to the Cuyahoga River. Again we ask the reader to glance at the map by way of fixing clearly in mind the boundaries.

Now, this politically embattled stream divided the counties of Wayne and Jefferson, Wayne on the west bank and Jefferson on the east bank, with Detroit as the county seat of Wayne, and with Steubenville as the county seat of Jefferson.

In 1800, Trumbull County was erected to include all of the Connecticut Western Reserve, and this comprised all of the territory now included in the counties of Cuyahoga, Lorain, Jefferson, Huron, Summit, Lake, Trumbull, Medina, Erie, Portage, Sandusky and Mahoning. When this new county was organized, the Cuyahoga River ceased to be a boundary line, but, in the same channel, with Trumbull County to the east of it and Trumbull County to the west of it, it found its way to the lake. Warren was the county seat of the new county.

In the same year, 1800, the following townships were erected in this county: Cleveland, Richfield, Painesville, Vernon, Middlefield, Youngstown, Hudson and Warren. Cleveland, one of the smallest of the group of townships, had the distinction of having a city surveyed within its boundaries, and had the further distinction of being created before the State of Ohio and before the County of Cuyahoga, was created.

At this stage in the history of the Cuyahoga River, the State of Ohio was born. It was formed from the Northwest Territory. Its constitution was adopted in 1802 but not until the following year did Congress pass the necessary act for the execution of its laws as a state. In 1803 its first legislative session was held. It met March 1st, and adjourned April 16th. The Senate chose Daniel Massie, speaker; William C. Schenk, clerk, and Edward Sherlock, doorkeeper. The House of Representatives chose Michael Baldwin, speaker; William R. Dickenson, clerk, and Adam Betz, doorkeeper.

This session of the Legislature was held at Chillicothe and in joint session of both branches the vote for governor was canvassed and Edward Tiffin declared to be elected governor. The canvass of the vote disclosed 4,564 for Tiffin. There were no votes cast against him. He immediately took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address, which was copied in the journal, occupying but twenty lines. At this session there was no legislation affecting the territory with which this history specifically deals.

In 1805, the Legislature passed an act erecting the County of Geanga from Trumbull. The description of the new county thus formed reads, in part, as follows: "That all that part of Trumbull County lying north and east of the line, beginning in the east line of said county, between townships number eight and nine, west to west line of range five, to the middle of the Cuyahoga River, where the course of the same is northerly, thence up the middle of the river to the intersection of township number four, thence west on north line of township to the west line of range fourteen, wherever that shall be when the county west of the Cuyahoga River shall be surveyed into townships, thence north to Lake Erie, shall constitute the County of Geauga."

Geauga or Sheauga signifies, in the Indian language, raccoon. This county, as formed in 1805, extended westward to the western limits of the Reserve.

The Cuyahoga River, therefore, for several years divided the County of Geauga. It was Geauga on the east side and Geauga on the west side. Chardon was the county seat.

By act of the Legislature of January 16, 1810, the County of Cuyahoga was formed and in May of the same year organized. I find in local histories 1807 fixed as the date of the legislation establishing this county but the records do not so show. At any rate there is no differences as to the date of organization. The boundaries of the county then established were not the present boundaries. It extended west to the limit of the Western Reserve. It included the present County of Huron on the extreme west, which had then been formed by legislative enactment but had not been organized. Huron County comprises the "Fire Lands," so called. This territory was not sold, the farms were given to those who lost their homes by fire in the Revolutionary war. Huron County as originally formed comprised all of the Fire Lands.

In the evolution of the counties since Cuyahoga was first established, due to the rapidly increasing population, there have been many changes but none have affected the political environment of the river. The county has by successive legislative enactments been brought to its present area. Cleveland has at all times been the county seat.

The terms, East Side and West Side, are familiar to all residents of Cleveland. There has been rivalry and even a brush of war between the two sections. At one time Ohio City on the West Side rivaled Cleveland on the East Side. While these divided interests are now lost in the larger development of the city and county, the terms remain.

It is of historical interest, therefore, to outline the political changes of the East Side and the West Side in sequence. In Rome we muse upon the history of that famous city because so much of Old Rome remains to lead the mind back to the famous scenes and characters of former times, may we not without these evidences so potent be interested in a backward glance of at least 150 years.

WEST SIDE

EAST SIDE

Indian Country

Indian Country

French Domain

French Domain

English Domain

Washington County

Wayne County

Trumbull County

Trumbull County

Jefferson County

Geauga County

Geauga County

Cuyahoga County

Cuyahoga County

In locating Cleveland at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River Moses Cleveland had apparently in mind that he was founding the capital of the Connecticut Western Reserve, and that is just what he did. His vision has become a reality.

The Cuyahoga River holds a central and unique place in our history.


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