Laying Down Roots
During the first decades of the nineteenth century, Americans pushed westward to search for suitable land. For some, including Quakers and Shakers, religious freedom was the prime motivation for migrating to the Frontier. Many others sought new opportunities in agriculture; they had caught "Ohio Fever" (the pursuit of great land and therefore harvests, as well as access to the Ohio River).1 By 1821, major areas of Ohio were a part of this newly surveyed frontier, including Zanesville, Cincinnati, and Wooster.2 Among those surveying the frontier were the Larwills. Many of Wooster’s first settlers in the 1820s were poor, unlucky farmers from Pennsylvania or other parts of the east where the land was not very fertile. In Wayne County, settlers found easy access to this fertile land and early farmers made their settlements along the larger streams and the lowlands around large hills.3 The federal government provided this easy access, giving away land freely to farmers after Ohio became a state.4
Frederick William Rice, whose sons built the houses on today's OARDC campus (pictured), was one of these early farming settlers. Rice took purchase options on two tracts of land during the town's initial surveying. One tract was on the hill where the College of Wooster stands, and the other was situated on Madison Hill south of town. After a year of examining the different tracts, he noticed that the stream on the northern property dried up during the summer.5 As one of the area's earliest settlers, Rice set the precedent for other early farmers in the area by settling to the south of Wooster. With a few exceptions, Rice and the other early farmers who settled around Wooster were poor, but comfortable.6
Families like the Rice family relied on every member to make a contribution to the family's farm, which meant that Wayne County was home to large families. For example, one son of Frederick Rice (Frederick Jr.) had ten children. His son (Frederick III) had twelve children.7 Women also played an important role in these families. In addition to educating children, pioneer women created and sold goods at the market, playing an essential role in the economy of Wayne County.
Throughout the nineteenth century and because of its technological developments, Wayne County quickly developed into a hub of agriculture that was no longer accessible to poor farmers. By 1880, the average value per acre of a farm in Wayne County was $80, compared to the Ohio average of $46.8 This meant that poor farmers wishing to settle in Ohio were often forced to settle outside of Wayne County, and it meant that farmers who were lucky enough to own land in Wayne County were forced to adapt to evolving technologies in order to continue to prosper.
1 R. Douglas Hurt, The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 211, 232, 284, 291, 299, 302.
2 Ibid, xiii.
3 Ben Douglass, History of Wayne County, Ohio, From the Days of the Pioneers and First Settlers to the Present Time (Indianapolis, IN: Robert Douglass, 1878), 191; Hurt, Frontier, xiii.
4 Gilbert C. Fite, American Farmers: The New Minority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), 3.
5 Paul Locher, When Wooster Was a Whippersnapper: Two Hundred (or so) Yarns about Wooster for Two Hundred Years, (Wooster, OH: The Daily Record, 2008), 13.
6 Martin Welker, Farm Life in Central Ohio Sixty Years Ago, (Wooster, OH: Clapper’s Print, 1892), 81.
7 Douglass, History of Wayne County, 892.
8 Hurt, Frontier, 346.