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 Dept. of Transportation approved the plan this summer and features the route and sites on a website with a downloadable map, at https://bit.ly/3E0dqn3 .
This makes it possible for persons to easily locate the 55 sites along the Byway complete with GPS coordinates and detailed descriptions of these unique locales.
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.
The QHC collaborated on the website and digital map design with the Clinton County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CCCVB), which issued a $10,000 grant for the project, along with the Clinton County History Center and Ramzi Ramey, a digital humanities designer with Auut Studios.
The CVB’s funding also covered enlisting 2018 WC alumna Maraya Wahl, an intern who coordinated the project.
A program Oct. 12 at the College served to officially launch the Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway. WC President Trevor Bates welcomed the participants, stating the Byway will “strengthen the partnership” between the College, county and state.
CCCVB executive director Susan Valentine-Scott said the launch was “perfect timing” for tourism in the county, “which has so much to offer visitors. The Byway is such a bonus for our market.”
She noted the bureau’s support for the endeavor furthers its interest in highlighting agritourism and presenting elements of the area’s history and heritage to those who might also wish to dine, lodge and use other services while visiting the county.
In the early 2010s, a donor anonymously funded foundational work on the Scenic Byway project completed by former QHC director Ruth Brindle, Taylor Stuckert of the Regional Planning Commission and Christine Hadley Snyder, a leader in the local Friends community with a keen interest in Quaker heritage. Each of them spoke at the launch.
Brindle, now a staff member with the Clinton County Port Authority, shared a historical perspective.
“The idea was for the College to create the Byway for the community,” she said, noting the endeavor encountered roadblocks, including changes in ODOT’s process for designating scenic routes, a program that has been in existence since 1962. The Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway is the state’s 28th specially designated route.
“I’m thankful for those that picked up the project to see it through,” Brindle added.
Stuckert said the Byway presents “an important opportunity to share our common Quaker identity” while Shelby Boatman, director of the History Center, expressed her pleasure with the History Center’s role in the project. “We know this is a unique place to live and the Byway serves as a platform to educate persons about Quaker culture.”
Hadley Snyder, who conducted an exhaustive amount of research on Byway sites, gave the crowd a taste of what to expect on the trail by sharing several slides of photos and information on a handful of sites. “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.”
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 and Warren counties, creating interconnected communities between Wilmington and Waynesville.
The Quakers’ legacy — including the founding of Wilmington College — continues to shape southwestern Ohio.