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The Connecticut Western Reserve was a portion of land claimed by the Colony of Connecticut and later by the state of Connecticut in what is now mostly part of northeastern region of the U.S. state of Ohio. The Reserve had been granted to the Colony by King Charles II. Following the American Revolutionary War, Connecticut gave up claim to some of its western lands, but sold the Western Reserve to developers initially. It finally ceded control of this portion to the United States, and the area was organized under the Northwest Territory, until Ohio was admitted as a state. "Western Reserve" is referred to in numerous institutional names.
The Reserve encompassed all of the following Ohio counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Erie and Huron (see Firelands), Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Trumbull; and portions of Ashland, Mahoning, Ottawa, Summit, and Wayne.
Although forced to surrender the Pennsylvania portion (Westmoreland County) of its sea-to-sea land grant following the Yankee-Pennamite Wars and the intercession of the federal government, Connecticut held fast to its claim to the lands between the 41st and 42nd-and-2-minutes parallels that lay west of the Pennsylvania border.
Within Ohio the claim was for a 120-mile (190 km) wide strip between Lake Erie and a line just south of present-day Youngstown, Akron, New London and Willard, about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of the present-day U.S. Highway 224. Beyond Ohio the claim included parts of what would become Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. The east boundary of the reserve follows a true meridian along Ellicott's Line, the boundary with Pennsylvania. The west boundary veers more than four degrees from a meridian to maintain the 120-mile width, due to convergence.
Following the American Revolutionary War, Connecticut, like several other states, gave up western land claims in exchange for federal assumption of its debt. From these concessions, the old Northwest Territory (also earlier known as the "Territory Northwest of the River Ohio" was organized. The deed of cession was issued on 13 September 1786.
Connecticut retained 3,366,921 acres (13,625.45 km2) in Ohio, which became the "Western Reserve". In 1796 (or possibly 12 August, 2 September, or 5 September 1795), Connecticut sold title to the land in the Western Reserve to the Connecticut Land Company for $1,200,000.
The Land Company was a group of investors who were mostly from Suffield, Connecticut. There were initially eight in the group (or possibly 7 or 35). They planned to divide the land and sell it to settlers from the east, particularly land-hungry younger men from New England.
But, the Indian title to the Reserve had not been extinguished. Clear title was obtained east of the Cuyahoga River by the Greenville Treaty in 1795, and west of the river in the Treaty of Fort Industry in 1805. The western end of the reserve included the 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) Firelands or "Sufferers Lands," reserved for residents of several New England towns which had been destroyed by British-set fires during the Revolutionary War.
The next year, the Land Company sent surveyors led by Moses Cleaveland to the Reserve to divide the land into townships. The townships laid out in this survey were squares 5 miles (8.0 km) on each side (25 square miles (65 km2)) Elsewhere in Ohio, most townships are 6 miles (9.7 km) on each side (36 square miles (93 km2)), following the guidelines of the US Land Ordinance of 1785. Cleaveland's team also founded the city of Cleveland, which became the largest city in the region. (The first "a" was dropped by a printer early in the settlement's existence, as Cleveland takes less space on a printed page than Cleaveland.)
The territory was originally named "New Connecticut", which was later discarded in favor of "Western Reserve." Over the next few years, settlers trickled in. Youngstown was founded in 1796, Warren in 1798, Hudson in 1799, Ravenna also in 1799, Ashtabula in 1803, and Stow in 1804.
In 1800, Connecticut finally ceded sovereignty over the Western Reserve. The United States absorbed it into the Northwest Territory, which organized Trumbull County in the boundaries of the Reserve. As the former county seat of the Reserve, Warren identifies as "the historical capital of the Western Reserve." Later, several more counties were carved out of the territory. The name "Western Reserve" survives in the area in various institutions such as the "Western Reserve Historical Society" and the well-known academic institution Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. (see Western Reserve (disambiguation)).
This area of Ohio became a center of resource development, industrialization through the mid-20th century, education and cultural development, with major institutions founded. It was a center of the steel industry, dependent on iron ore shipped from Minnesota, as well as shipping of Great Lakes products to the east. Railroads took over some of the transportation from the lake ships. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these cities attracted hundreds of thousands of European immigrants and migrants (both black and white) from the rural South to its industrial jobs. With restructuring of industry, and the relocation of many jobs overseas, local and regional jurisdictions have struggled to create transitions to new businesses and economies.
At the request of Congress in 2011, the National Park Service prepared a feasibility study for declaring the 14-county region of the Western Reserve as a National Heritage Area. This is a means to encourage broad-based preservation of such historical sites and buildings which are related to a large historical theme. Such assessment and designation has been significant for recognizing assets, and encouraging new development and businesses, including heritage tourism, often related to adaptive re-use of waterways, and buildings, as well as totally new endeavors. 49 National Heritage Areas have been designated in the United States, including two in Ohio: the Ohio Canal of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Aviation Heritage Area. The NPS study coordinator said that while the region had the historic assets, and there was considerable public support for such a designation, the Western Reserve lacked "a definitive coordinating entity or supporting group," which is required to gain Congressional approval. If such a body developed in the future, federal designation might be sought.
The settlers in northern Ohio repeated the style of structures and development of towns from what they were familiar with in New England: many buildings in the new settlements were designed in the Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival styles. Towns such as Aurora, Bath, Canfield, Chagrin Falls, Gates Mills, Hudson, Medina, Milan, Norwalk, Oberlin, Painesville, Poland, and Tallmadge exemplify the expression of these styles and traditional New England town planning. For instance, Cleveland's Public Square is an characteristic of traditional New England central town green.