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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Great Black Swamp roughly covered the black area within the green shaded counties.

The Great Black Swamp, or simply Black Swamp, was a glacially caused wetland in northwest Ohio, United States, extending into extreme northeastern Indiana, that existed from the end of the Wisconsin glaciation until the late 19th century. Comprised of extensive swamps and marshes, with some higher, drier ground interspersed, it occupied what was formerly the southwestern part of Glacial Lake Maumee, a holocene precursor to Lake Erie. The area was nearly 40 miles wide (north to south) and 120 miles long. Gradually drained and settled in the second half of the 19th century, it is now highly productive farm land.

Its historical boundaries lie primarily within the watersheds of the Maumee, Auglaize, and Portage rivers in northwest Ohio. The boundary was determined primarily by ancient sandy beach ridges formed on the shores of Lakes Maumee and Whittlesey, after glacial retreat several thousand years ago. It stretched roughly from New Haven, Indiana in the west, to Toledo and Sandusky, Ohio on the east. Additional watersheds partly or wholly within its former boundary include the Sandusky, Ottawa, Tiffin, and Blanchard rivers.

The area was not continuous swamp, but rather characterized by a variety of vegetation types (Sampson, 1930; Kaatz, 1955). In the lowest, flattest areas, prone to permanent inundation, deciduous swamp forests predominated, characterized especially by species of ash, elm, cottonwood and sycamore. In slightly higher areas with some topographic relief and better drainage, beech, maples, basswood, tuliptree and other more mesic species were dominant. On elevated beach ridges and moraines with good to excessive drainage, more xeric species, especially oak and hickory, were dominant. Unlike other swampy areas of the Great Lakes, such as northern Minnesota, there were no conifers (Sampson, 1930). The area contained non-forested wetlands, particularly marsh and wet prairies, with marshes being particularly extensive along the Lake Erie shoreline between Toledo and Sandusky. Some of these exist today in modified form in state and federal wildlife refuges, such as Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Although much of the area to the east, south, and north was settled in the early 19th century, the dense habitat and difficulty of travel through the swamp delayed its development by several decades. A corduroy road (from modern-day Fremont to Perrysburg) was constructed in 1825 and paved with gravel in 1838, but travel in the wet season could still take days or even weeks. The impassibility of the swamp was an obstacle during the so-called Toledo War (1835–36); unable to get through the swamp, the Michigan and Ohio militias never came to battle. Settlement of the region was also inhibited by endemic malaria. The disease was a chronic problem for residents of the region until the area was drained and former mosquito-breeding grounds were dried up.

In the 1850s the states began an organized attempt to drain the swamp for agricultural use and ease of travel. Various projects were undertaken over a 40-year period. The area was largely settled over the next three decades. The development of railroads and a local drainage tile industry are thought to have contributed greatly to drainage and settlement (Kaatz, 1955).

See also


  • Sampson, H.C. 1930. "Succession in the swamp forest formation in northern Ohio", Ohio J Science 30:340–357.
  • Kaatz, M.R. 1955. "The Black Swamp: A Study in Historical Geography", Annals of the Association of American Geographers 45(1):1–35.

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