Clinton County is very much an epicenter of Quaker history and heritage in Southwestern Ohio. It is the site of numerous Friends meetinghouses, cemeteries, historical markers, settlements, schools, homes of notable persons within the denomination and, yes, a Quaker-founded institution of higher learning in 151-year-old Wilmington College.
The college’s Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center (QHC) revived a project started more than 10 years ago in which a tour of Friends-related sites throughout the area now constitutes Ohio’s newest specially designated highway, the Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway.
Special signage on roadways throughout the countryside will be installed in the coming months, but the trail featuring 55 sites, found over the course of 54 miles traversing Clinton and Warren counties, is open to coincide with Southwest Ohio’s autumn leaf-peeping season.
The Ohio Department of Transportation approved the plan this summer and features the route and sites on a website with a downloadable map, which can be found at:
Dr. Tanya Maus, director of the Quaker Heritage Center and Peace Resource Center, said the primary goal of the byway project is to “highlight Quaker heritage in the county — and we’re very excited about this.”
She noted the highway loop tour begins at Wilmington College and ends at the Clinton County History Center in Wilmington. Some of the major landmark connections to the Quaker sites also include Caesar Creek State Park and Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve. Stops also feature, among dozens of others, such locales as the Gurneyville Schoolhouse, Esper and Esther McMillan House, Quaker Plan House, Zephaniah Underwood Tower House, Dakin/Sabin Cemetery and the Elizabeth Harvey Free Negro School.
Christine Hadley Snyder, a local Friend who conducted exhaustive research on byway sites, expressed her pleasure with a longtime project finally coming to fruition. “It will take you all day — and it’s delightful!” she said.
Hadley Snyder noted how she and her husband, Dr. Gene Snyder, have enjoyed taking friends and relatives on road trips to area Quaker sites for years, and she’s presented slide shows on numerous occasions. “It’s something that’s been part of my life for many years,” she said.
In depicting the history surrounding Quakers in Southwest Ohio, Hadley Snyder said many Quakers left the abomination of slavery in the South for lands in this area made available by the Northwest Ordinance and Greeneville Treaty. They walked and traveled on horseback and in covered wagons from the Carolinas to what then was the American frontier. Their settlements almost universally featured the basics of a school, meetinghouse and burial grounds, she added.
The first wave of Quaker settlers arrived from the Carolinas and by 1810, with the creation of Clinton County, the Quaker population was so great that its county seat was named Wilmington in honor of Wilmington, North Carolina. Their meetinghouses stretched across Clinton, Warren and Highland counties, creating interconnected communities between Wilmington and Waynesville.
The Quakers’ legacy — including the founding of Wilmington College — continues to shape southwestern Ohio.
Randy Sarvis is the senior director of public relations at Wilmington College.