When Ohio stole part of Michigan in the 1830s, it was a battle between a state and a territory. We are a state now, and it is past time to reexamine this whole sordid affair.
In 1787, the Second Continental Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance, which created the Northwest Territory. The boundary between what became Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana was to be an east-west line drawn from the southern end of Lake Michigan. But there was confusion at the time about the spatial relationship between Lakes Michigan and Erie–a confusion perpetuated by Ohio, which wanted the mouth of the broad Maumee River and its port city, Toledo, as its own.
Ohio’s creative surveying led to a 468-square-mile disagreement. Though willing to let Michigan administer the strip of land as a territory, our southern neighbor had no intention of surrendering it permanently. When Michigan began the statehood process in the 1830s, the congressional delegation from Ohio blocked its application. President Andrew Jackson, eager to receive Ohio’s electoral votes in the next election, sided with the more powerful state. Former president John Quincy Adams said of this, “Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right was so clearly on one side and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other.”
In 1835, both Ohio and Michigan mustered their militias to contest ownership of the “Toledo Strip.” After a Michigan sheriff was stabbed while trying to arrest an Ohio partisan–the only blood shed in the “Toledo War”–President Jackson offered a compromise in which Michigan would cede the disputed zone to Ohio in exchange for a greatly enlarged Upper Peninsula. In September 1836, delegates to a special convention in Ann Arbor rejected the offer.
But after allocating $315,000 to fund the militia, Michigan was in financial crisis. Later in the year, the U.S. Treasury was to distribute surplus money (!) to states but not territories. In December, a second, “frostbitten” convention approved the deal. Arguing that the issue had already been resolved, the Whig party boycotted the session and Congress questioned the legality of it all–but since Washington liked the results, the deal went through. Michigan became a state with its present Upper Peninsula, and Toledo officially became part of Ohio.
There are those who say that after 178 years, it’s time to let this rest. They even point out that we got a big chunk of the UP in this deal. But we didn’t get it from Ohio! (The loser, no surprise, was another territory–Wisconsin.)
Eight miles south of the current (provisional) state line, there is a road brazenly called “Old State Line Rd.” It would be quite easy just to cross out the word “Old,” and voila! Ohio would finally be in compliance with the Northwest Ordinance.
In the manner of civilized people everywhere, for now we can just agree to disagree on this issue. A good first step would be to start referring to the Toledo Strip as the “Disputed Zone.”
A cost-effective way of raising awareness (and our greedy neighbor’s ire) would be bumper stickers. Here are some possibilities:
Enforce the Northwest Ordinance
Return our stolen land
Some things are worth fighting for
Return the Toledo Strip
Give it back, it isn’t yours
A string of “Disputed Zone” stickers along “Old” State Line Road would be a cause for pride and hope for a future peaceful resolution of this grave miscarriage of justice.
As a confidence-building measure, we might also demand creation of a demilitarized zone. If it extended eight miles north and south of Old State Line Rd., it would have the added advantage of removing Ohio’s air force–an Air National Guard wing is based just south of the Ohio Turnpike–as a factor in any future conflicts.
Michiganians can start visiting the strip to become more familiar with our long-lost relatives and the many hidden treasures that are within our reach, if not yet our grasp (see box, below).
We can set a long-term goal of reunification by 2036 to prepare for our state’s bicentennial.
Ohio has held our land for almost 200 years. It is our turn to get the land for the next 200 years. After that, I’m sure we can work something out.
The Seven Wonders of Greater Toledo
Though it is only forty miles away from Ann Arbor, many locals are more apt to visit Pellston or Petoskey than cross into Ohio. But there is plenty worth seeing there.
These three places within the disputed Toledo Strip are worth a visit:
Founded in 1901 by glass tycoon Edward Drummond Libbey, the Toledo Museum of Art occupies a Greek Revival temple on Monroe Street. Its collection includes works by Rembrandt, El Greco, Rubens, and de Kooning. The transparent Glass Pavilion across the street has an astonishing collection of historic glass art, contemporary sculpture by Dale Chihuly, and a working glass studio.
The Toledo Mud Hens are the AAA farm club of the Detroit Tigers. They play downtown at Fifth Third (who’s on first?) Park. The Mud Hens show up in pop culture in everything from M*A*S*H to the “Crankshaft” comic strip. Their merchandise (hats, shirts, etc.) is among the best-selling of any minor league franchise.
Just west of Toledo, Sylvania’s city-run Fossil Park is open to the public for fossil collecting. Coral, brachiopods, and trilobites from the later Devonian period (350 million years ago) can be found in the former Centennial Quarry. Also present are iron and copper pyrite (fool’s gold).
The Toledo Zoo was started in 1900 when a woodchuck, thought to be a bear, was donated to the city of Toledo. Many of the current buildings were constructed in the 1930s by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). Its collection is larger and more varied than the Detroit Zoo’s, and much of it lies on “our” side of the old state line.
The Oak Openings also straddle the old border. As glacial Lake Warren shrank to become modern-day Lake Erie, it left behind a large area of sandy soil just west and south of the Toledo. The area is now an oak savanna and is home to many rare plants and animals, from prickly pear cactus to badgers. It is considered by the Nature Conservancy to have an ecological importance similar to that of the Florida Everglades and to be one of the 200 “last great places on earth.”
Alvar: The Maumee is the largest river that empties into the Great Lakes. Between Waterville and Grand Rapids, Ohio, the riverbed is limestone. The shore has little or no topsoil, and the plants living there are more commonly found on prairie grasslands. This habitat, called “alvar,” is home to bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks, upland sandpipers, eastern towhees, brown thrashers, and loggerhead shrikes. Rare plants include Kalm’s lobelia, Pringle’s aster, juniper sedge, lakeside daisy, ram’s-head lady’s-slipper and dwarf lake iris. At Waterville, an enormous derelict trolley bridge spans the river, looking like an old roman aqueduct. The bridge passes over “Roche de Boeuf” (French for “rock of beef”), what remains of an island that was a rallying point for Native Americans during the nearby Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Also visible at this site is the Bowling Green Fault, a crack in the earth’s crust (the only fault line in the Great Lakes region).
Before railroads, canals were the best way to move people and goods in America’s interior. After the success of the Erie Canal in New York, other states began ambitious canal-building programs. The Miami and Erie Canal linked the north-flowing Maumee to the south-flowing Miami River, connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Rendered obsolete by railroads, it’s since mostly fallen into disrepair. But Side Cut Metropark in Toledo has an old lock or two, and if you go upriver about twenty miles, there is a restored section of the canal with a mule-powered canal boat that you can ride in as it goes through a working lock. The nearby Ludwig Mill still derives its power from the water.