We all know the three most important factors in real estate: Location, location, location. What stories can the names of geographic locations tell? Most of our county names in northeast Ohio derive from significant geographic features in the area and their Native American names. 

What’s in a name? “Geography 101”

mapOur state name is derived from the Seneca word ohi-yo’, meaning “beautiful or great river”. More locally, Cuyahoga County is home to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River which means ‘crooked river’ in Iroquois. The name is certainly appropriate for a river that begins in northern Geauga County and flows south and west through Portage and Summit Counties before turning almost due north to flow through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and into Lake Erie at Cleveland. Interestingly, the Cuyahoga River was once declared the western boundary of the United States as part of the “Greenville Treaty Line”. In 1795, the treaty established a boundary between American Indian territory and European-American settlers. The treaty line began at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and ran south along the river and along the Tuscarawas River to near Bolivar and then west toward the Indiana border. A year later, in 1796 Moses Cleaveland identified the mouth of the Cuyahoga River as the site for the city that bears his name. Notice, the spellings are different. The ‘A’ was dropped from Cleaveland’s name, a printing mistake, and Cleveland stuck.

Ashtabula, Mahoning and Portage Counties also get their names from Native American language. Ashtabula is Indian for ‘fish river’ while Mahoning means ‘at the licks’, a reference to the many salt licks found throughout the area.

Portage, on the other hand, gets its name for the important transportation route of Native Americans that linked the Ohio River, and ultimately the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, with Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. The passage was through the Cuyahoga River and the portage was an 8 mile overland trek from a location between present day Fairlawn and Cuyahoga Falls to the Portage Lakes and eventually to the Tuscarawas River (meaning ‘wide mouth’ and also the name of an important Delaware village on the river). The Tuscarawas River ultimately flows into the Ohio River via the Muskingum (from the Shawnee for ‘swampy ground’). For you geography buffs, you may be scratching your head and thinking that this area is not in Portage County at all. So why is ‘the portage’ not in Portage County? After all, many of our local schools play in the Portage Trail Conference and have an emblem of an Indian carrying a canoe. The answer is that Portage County used to be much larger and incorporated part of what is now Summit County. Summit County was formed in 1840 from parts of Portage, Medina and Stark Counties and is appropriately named because it had the highest elevation along the Ohio & Erie Canal (41 canal boat locks existed along the 37 mile stretch of canal from Akron to Cleveland which was first navigated by canal boats in 1827).

Geauga County translates as ‘raccoon’ in some Indian language. Trumbull County, on the other hand, has a very different naming history. The county’s name honors Jonathan Trumbull. Trumbull was Connecticut governor (1769-1784) and provided supplies and support for the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

We owe many of our local names and much architecture to Connecticut. In 1786, Connecticut was deeded over 3 million acres in Ohio. Called “New Connecticut”, it was later named the “Western Reserve”. The Connecticut Land Company divided the land and sold it to settlers from the east. Of note is the western end of the reserve. This region was set aside for residents of New England towns that were destroyed when the British set fires to their homes during the Revolutionary War. This region is still known as the Firelands today and a Firelands Musuem exists in Norwalk. Moses Cleaveland directed a group of surveyors who were instructed to lay out 5 x 5 mile townships. Most of the rest of Ohio has 6 x 6 mile townships as dictated by an earlier land ordinance.

The impact of this surveying is best seen by piling in your car and pulling on to the nearest state route in northeast Ohio. Most of the major east-west roads (including SR 322, 87, 88, 305, 303) and north-south roads (SR 700, 528, 534, 45, 193, 7) are very nearly 5 miles apart. In fact, Trumbull is the only square county in Ohio, measuring 25 miles wide and 25 miles long. Originally, the county consisted of 25 townships, each measuring five miles by five miles. Town squares in many of the village settlements were testaments to this region’s New England roots. Warren, the county seat, was founded in the same year as Cleveland and named after another Moses who surveyed the region, Moses Warren (no spelling mistakes in this case).

Sit down with an atlas of Ohio or old map of northeast Ohio. You may note that not all villages fit the neatly-defined ‘5 mile rule’. As a matter of fact, two of them are right in our backyards: the villages of Mantua and Garrettsville. Why did these villages develop against the surveying trend? Once again, geography played an important role but that and other local names of interest will need to be a subject for an upcoming “What’s in a Name?” article. [hr]

Happy Holidays!

Joe and Matt want to wish all of you a happy and safe holiday season.[hr]


[highlight]Other Nearby Nature…

Stephens Memorial Observatory – Public Night!

Saturday, December 15 (7:00-9:00pm)

If you have never looked through a large telescope, or just never get tired of looking through a telescope, make plans to visit the Stephens Memorial Observatory this Saturday. Observatory director James Guildford will point the scope towards the solar system’s biggest planet…Jupiter, with its four Galilean Moons! The Great Nebula of Orion, red giant star Betelgeuse, and perhaps a star cluster or two will make an appearance. Public nights are conducted in “open house” fashion and attendance is free of charge. Visitors may come and go during the course of the evening. The Stephens Memorial Observatory is located on SR 82 in Hiram two blocks west of the stoplight (intersection with SR 700 and SR 305). There is no parking at the Observatory, so plan to park on Hayden St. or Dean St. and walk the short distance. In the event of overcast skies, the Observatory will be closed. Visit http://www.stephensobservatory.org/ for more information.[/highlight]