Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Western Reserve

Growing up I occasionally heard the phrase Western Reserve. It was a road that ran along the southern boundaries of Poland, Boardman, and Canfield. Later on, it was a part of the name of a university attended by one of my high school friends, Case Western Reserve University. Sometimes I heard that Youngstown was part of something known as “the Western Reserve.”

Believe it or not, there is a connection between the area of northeast Ohio and the state of Connecticut. When Connecticut received a royal charter in 1662, it was granted the strip of land between 41 degrees latitude and 42 degrees and 2 minutes from sea to sea across North America. That strip crosses a triangle of land in southeast New York, runs across northern Pennsylvania and across northern Ohio. The southern border of this strip in Ohio begins at the state line and runs westward along the southern edge of Poland Township, where Western Reserve Road runs. The northern part of that line runs through Lake Erie. Eventually Connecticut ceded the lands in New York and Pennsylvania. They also ceded the lands west of present day Huron County in 1786, but retained the land in northeast Ohio, which continued to be referred to as the Western Reserve of Connecticut. In 1795, the state of Connecticut sold all the land except for 500,000 acres designated as the “Firelands” to the Connecticut Land Company. The proceeds from this sale were used to fund the Connecticut schools. The sale of the “Firelands” were used to reimburse citizens whose homes were destroyed during the Revolutionary War.

Surveyors began surveying the land and laying out five square mile townships (instead of the six square mile townships elsewhere in Ohio) in 1796. Moses Cleaveland came over Lake Erie to the mouth of the Cuyahoga, and left his name on the newly settled town of Cleveland (a printer dropped the “a” for the sake of space). John Young came to eastern Ohio that same year surveying and settling on the land that would become Youngstown. Poland Township, on the southeast corner of the Western bears the honor of being designated “Town 1, Range 1.” In 1800, Connecticut ceded sovereignty of the Western Reserve, which became part of the Northwest territory. Trumbull County (which incorporated part of Mahoning County) became the first county, and Warren the first county seat. But the Connecticut influence remained.

1024px-Western_Reserve_Including_the_Fire_Lands_1826

William Summer, Map of the Western Reserve, 1826, Public Domain, from Cleveland Public Library via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most fascinating aspects of our Western Reserve history is the ongoing New England appearance on the names, the layout of streets, and even some of the architecture of our towns. Names like Canfield, Kent, Stow, Atwater, and others sound like New England, or even English names. Many of these towns have a town square, including the Central Square of Youngstown and Public Square in Cleveland. They were originally laid out as the town squares of a New England town and tall buildings grew up around them. But places like Canfield, or Burton, or Chardon to this day have a town square–a grassy or park-like center with the town’s buildings around it. In 1944, Life magazine photographed a Congregational Church on the village green of Tallmadge to represent “the devout spirit of the New England Puritans….” If you visit Hudson, or many other northeast Ohio towns you will find similar scenes.

Many other influences have shaped Youngstown and other Western Reserve towns in the years since. Industries grew up (and died) that the settlers had not envisioned. To the New England stock were added people migrating from every part of Europe, African-Americans from the South, and people from other parts of the world. But there is still a bit of “New Connecticut” that lingers, a heritage we are reminded of every time we hear the phrase “Western Reserve.”

 

2 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Western Reserve

  1. Thank you for this wonderful history lesson Bob. I appreciate knowing the background of places I heard of as a child but never really knew they why’s and wherefores. Excellent!

    Sent from my iPad

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