The Making of a County

Welcome to the first article in our new Geauga History series! Each week I will present you with a different piece of our great county’s past in an interesting and entertaining fashion.

Wilkum to Raccoon Country

Those of you who follow my series on Huntsburg History know how much I love my little hometown. That love also holds true for my native county. It is a place of beauty and relative tranquility. I have heard that pilots can immediately identify Geauga because, from above, it is so green. We have a good balance of suburban, small town, and country living. The population overall is pleasant, courteous, and willing to lend a hand to their neighbors.

As pointed out in Rachel Hunziker’s article What Everyone Ought Know About Geauga County, Forbes Magazine listed Geauga as the fourth-best place in the United States to raise a family in 2008. While I am naturally biased, there are some sound reasons why I am partial to the place known as Raccoon County, Ohio’s ‘Sweetest’ County—or, as my father calls it, ‘the best location in the nation’.

Here is where I make a disclaimer—I must admit that, while I know more about Huntsburg history than is socially acceptable, my familiarity of county history is somewhat less than it should be. So as this weekly series winds on, please know that at some points, I will be learning right along with you.

Where do we start with Geauga County history?

Why, at the beginning, of course!

To study the creation of Geauga County, we first have to broaden the scope to New England and the formation of a now-defunct region known as the Western Reserve.

Geauga County MapFor most of us, the meaning of ‘Western Reserve’ is a mystery. We may know it is a term from days well gone by. Its legacy seems to live on only in the names of local businesses—Western Reserve Farm Cooperative, Western Reserve Office Supply, Western Reserve Mini-Storage, and so on.

But the history behind this large tract of land paved the way for the formation of towns and counties in Northeast Ohio.

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the New World, Native American tribes inhabited our region—first the Mound Builders, then the Erie, then the Wyandots. Through treaties, the natives slowly ceded their claims to British colonies in the 1600’s and 1700’s. France, who possessed Canada to the North, attempted to lay claim to America’s western frontiers, only to lose it all to England in the French and Indian War.

England and its colonies tried to claim our region as theirs. Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York all loosely claimed possession. For a time, England even made us part of the Quebec territory.

After the Revolution, the colonies relinquished their western land claims to the new government of the United States. Connecticut held on to the northeast corner of the Ohio Territory. The tract extended from the Pennsylvania border to a line 120 miles to the west, and between the 41 degree and 42 degree 02’ of North latitude. The western end of this land was given as compensation to those citizens of Connecticut who had lost their lands in the Revolutionary War, and came to be known as the Firelands. The rest of the area was dubbed New Connecticut, then the Connecticut Western Reserve, and finally the Western Reserve.

Map of the Western Reserve

Connecticut was in need of money for education, and soon sold the lands to a group of purchasers known as the Connecticut Land Company. The company hired a surveyor by the name of Moses Cleaveland (founder of Cleveland) to lay out townships. Cleaveland made them into five square mile chunks, different than the towns of six square miles laid out in the rest of the Northwest Territory.

In 1800, Connecticut gave jurisdiction of the Western Reserve to the United States government. The name stuck, however, and the area is still occasionally referred to by its former name today.

Initially, the entire area was known as Trumbull County after the Connecticut governor of the time. Geauga County was officially created on December 31, 1805, and included all the townships north to Lake Erie. It remained this way until 1840, when Lake County was formed, thus forming the Geauga County we know and love today.

The next several articles will deal with the histories of Geauga’s townships.

Do you have any ideas for stories dealing with Geauga County history? Are there specific persons, places, or things in our county’s past you may want to know more about? Make sure to mail your ideas or inquiries to!

Ty Pilarczyk
Author: Ty Pilarczyk

Ty is the president of the Huntsburg Historical Society, and has lived in Huntsburg most of his life. When he is not designing, installing, and maintaining landscapes for the family construction business, Ty enjoys vegetable gardening, restoring and collecting old pressure lanterns, and spending time with his family.