Clearing the Land

From Ohio History Central


The early Ohio farmer preferred to settle on timbered lands. These farmers believed that forested soils were more productive than grasslands.

Before farming could begin, the trees had to be cleared or at least killed. Farmers girdled the trees (that is, they cut away bark in a strip around the tree to kill it). Then, they cleared the underbrush and plowed and prepared the soil.

When the trees died, they were cut down. The wood was used for cabins, barns and fences. Much of the timber, however, was burned. Eventually, stumps were removed to give extra room for plowing and planting.


Although most of Ohio was covered with forest, the first European settlers found tracts of prairie. Ranging from a few acres to the size of several townships, these grasslands were located mainly in the western part of the state. Altogether, the pioneer-time prairies of Ohio probably covered no more than about two and one-half percent of the state.

The early Ohio farmers usually avoided prairie land for plowing. Some thought that land that would not grow trees would not grow their crops. Others found the wet conditions of some prairies to difficult for their work. And all were put off by the heavy, deep prairie soil. New drainage systems and the steel plow got rid of most of these problems, and farmers found the rich dark soil to be very good for crops.


First, the new Ohioans cut forests to open up land for farming. Later, as they realized the value of wetlands, they drained swamps and bogs for even more land.

Ohio farmers used several different methods for draining wet soil. And they used machines to open ditches for carrying water away from the fields. This machine was in use about 1910.

After being collected in drainage pipes, and being carried away from the fields in ditches, Ohio water then flowed into streams, and eventually flowed into either Lake Erie or the Ohio River. (A very small amount of water in Mercer County and northwestern Darke County flows into the Wabash River.) To ease and speed the flow of water, engineers often straightened and cleaned streams.

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