The Maumee & Western Reserve Road
or "Mud Pike"

U.S. Route 20 between Perrysburg and Fremont, Northwest Ohio

Adapted and expanded from draft for a "Stony Ridge" CRM report for ASC Group, Inc. - 12 December 1994 final draft

[needs edits from hard copy]

Historical Framework

The history, location, plan and constituent buildings of Stony Ridge are representative of the development of the Black Swamp region. Stony Ridge represents two aspects of that development: First, the development of an important migration corridor; and second, the development of an agricultural economy and rural settlement pattern. Stony Ridge is still a small village, small enough to still represent the conditions that created it, and also to still respond to the present conditions that continue to shape it. In this way it illustrates a continuation of historical development into the present. Stony Ridge is the best surviving example of its kind with the most integrity that remains on the road that led to its creation, the 31 mile-long Maumee & Western Reserve Road, now a part of U.S. 20.

In order to understand the present condition and significance of Stony Ridge, it is necessary to know the history of the road it sits upon and the history of the town, as follows. Additional information is in appendix X, "Stony Ridge Timeline," and appendix Y, Stony Ridge Places."

The Road

The 40 miles of U.S. 20 between Perrysburg in Wood County, and Belleview on the Sandusky/Huron County line, is the original route of the Maumee and Western Reserve Road (excepting the Fremont bypass and including part of U.S. 23). This route has a significant role in the history of Wood County, of Northwest Ohio, and of the Black Swamp region. It was a transportation route within the region, a corridor for migration into and through the region, and both a contributing factor and a product of the settlement and development of the region. Its importance is further enhanced because it was the most passable and most direct route through a nearly uninhabitable swampland wilderness dividing two settlement sites and two regions. The route developed in eight stages to arrive at its present condition.

Stage One: The Trail

This route began as a trail of unknown age running between two important waterways and two places for aboriginal settlement in Northwest Ohio. One was the lower end or "Foot of the Rapids" of the Maumee River, now flanked by the cities of Perrysburg and Maumee. Then known as the Miami of Lake Erie, the Maumee was a major waterway, with a land trail running alongside, and the site was a dependable ford and a stopping point for river traffic. The other was the lower rapids of the Sandusky River, later the site of the town of Lower Sandusky and now Fremont. It was a similar important site, and the river served as a transportation route and had a trail alongside (Kaatz 1953a:22,27).

Between the two sites was a swamp forest with scattered areas of wet prairies, later known as the Black Swamp. It covered about 1,500 square miles (2,414 km) along the south side of the Maumee River, and included all the land between Perrysburg and Fremont. It was a forest of tall old-growth trees with little undergrowth, with a surface varying from saturated soil to standing water (Kaatz 1953a:211-215).

A route to connect the two places was found across the swamp. Since the land was so level, it could be unusually straight, deflecting from its course only slightly to make optimum use of the few rises of land that provided a drier pathway. This trail was a part of the extremely important "Great Trail," which linked the places that are now Pittsburg and Detroit (Kaatz 1953a:25, Maurer 1947:71).

Stage One & 1/2: The Road Grant

This region remained "Indian Territory" after the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, although several areas of land were ceded to the United States. These included a 12-mile (19.3 km) square surrounding present Perrysburg and a two-mile (3.2 km) square surrounding present Fremont, reservations set aside for the forts and the European-American pioneers and traders who began to settle at these locations after 1800 (Sherman 1925:146-157; Kaatz 1953a:31). Around 1804, the Great Trail started to serve as a mail route between Cleveland and Detroit on a three-day schedule (Kaatz 1953a:31). In 1805 and 1807, additional large areas were ceded by the Indians through treaties. The two most significant were the Fort Industry Treaty, ceding the Connecticut Western Reserve, including all the land east of present Belleview, and the Treaty of Detroit, ceding the land between present Defiance and Lake Erie running northward from the Maumee River into Michigan (Kaatz 1953a:31).

With these lands in the possession of the U.S. government, they were thus open for settlement, but between them remained the Black Swamp and Indian territory. Since having that area ceded by the Indian nations was diplomatically difficult, a different approach was taken. In the Treaty of Brownsville in 1808, the government instead negotiated for a roadway (Smith 1956:37-38). The ceded land included a right-of-way 120 feet (36.6 m) wide on an unspecified route running from the reservation at the Foot of the Rapids of the Maumee River to the western border of the Connecticut Reserve. Additionally, all the land within one mile (1.6 km) on each side of the right-of-way was ceded to the U.S., resulting in a strip of land slightly wider than two miles (Treaty of Brownsville 1808). This cession is the basis for the Maumee and Western Reserve Road, later U.S. 20.

Northwest Ohio was settled slowly, due to a combination of the bad reputation of the Black Swamp, slow removal of the Indians, the War of 1812, a post-war depression, late public survey and sale of the land, and lack of land sales promoters (Kaatz 1953a:26-27). The granted roadway remained an unsurveyed and unimproved trail, and moving across the Black Swamp on the Great Trail was an ordeal. The trail was not wide enough for wagons, there were 22 streams on the route (Kaatz 1953a:33), and water and mud could be waist deep for a person on foot. Biting insects agonized and weakened humans and animals and spread diseases, including ague and malaria. Winter was the best season to travel, with the ground and streams frozen solid and the insects absent.

Stage Two: The War Road

The second stage of the development of U.S. 20 began in February of 1811, when Congress appropriated $6,000 for "exploring, surveying and opening" the road. The War of 1812 broke out and part of the money was used to survey and clear the road in the fall of 1812 for troop movements (Meek 1909:71; U.S. Congress 1822:sec.61 p.8). This was apparently limited to only cutting enough trees to widen the trail, thus allowing wagons to pass through. The route surveyed passed slightly south of Lower Sandusky (now Fremont). A revised survey was authorized in 1816 for a slightly northward course to pass through Lower Sandusky in accordance with the demands of the resident Indians, but the survey was never made (Keller 1943:196; C7:427).

By 1810 a road had been built from Cleveland west to the Western Reserve boundary, and in 1818 a road was completed from Detroit to the Maumee River (Kaatz 1953a:33; Kaatz 1953b:136). The land between the two previous grants was ceded to the U.S. in September of 1817 in the Treaty of Fort Meigs. The land was surveyed in 1820-1821, and land sales began afterward (Sherman 1925:134-5; Meek 1909:141). Settlement began to increase in the 1820s, and settlers and travellers used the trail in increasing numbers. In February of 1823 Congress gave to the State of Ohio the authority to build the road (within four years) and title to the one mile strip of land on each side, but not title to the right-of-way itself. This action was made because for the concerns of defense raised by the late war, and the need for an open route for settlers and communication to the Territory of Michigan (Kaatz 1953b:139; Meek 1909:71). The 40-mile (64.4 km) route was surveyed and construction began in the summer of 1823 (Meek 1909: 237; Beers 1897:196), beginning the third stage of development of U.S. 20.

Stage Three: The Maumee & Western Reserve Road...or "Mud Pike"


The resulting Maumee & Western Reserve Road, completed in 1827, followed the standard road building practices of the time (figure us20). Within the 120 foot (36.6 m) right-of-way, all trees and vegetation were cut down. In the center 60 feet (18.3 m), all stumps were pried up and dragged to the outer edges of the right-of-way, and earth was dug to create ditches on both sides of the 60 foot strip. The earth was graded to create a 40 foot (12.2 m) roadbed, placed on the south side of the 60 foot strip so the wide area on the north side, intended as a side lane, would receive the most sunlight to dry the earth. Construction of the road attracted much attention and more settlers to the Black Swamp region (Meek 1909:237; Kaatz 1953b:139; #A3:3).

In 1826 Ohio surveyed the mile-wide strip of land on each side. Since all the land had been surveyed in the rectangular method in 1820-1821, the Ohio surveyors parcelled the approximately 60,000 acres of road land into narrow tracts that fit into the grid pattern. The total acreage of these Road Tracts approximated the amount of land originally granted (Sherman 1925:134, 157). Land which had not been sold by the federal government, about 40,000 acres, was placed on sale in June of 1830 after the construction of the road (Maurer 1947:72).

When the road was completed in 1827, a stage coach line was started, and the mail route increased its delivery schedule to three times a week (Kaatz 1953b:142). The road was serviceable at first, but within a few years it degraded to the same or worse condition than before. The only improvement was that the cleared route was easier to follow, but because it was the only route through the Black Swamp of a higher grade than a narrow trail, traffic increased. Also called the "Black Swamp Road," The Maumee & Western Reserve Road earned the name of "Mud Pike" and a national reputation as being the "worst road on the continent" (Kaatz 1953b:140). The ditches were too shallow to drain the roadway, the cleared vegetation acted as dikes to trap water on the road, the trees were too tall to allow sunlight onto the road, and increasing traffic churned the earth into "mud holes." The clinging mud tired draft animals and bogged down wagon wheels, requiring travellers to frequently pry their vehicles through mud holes and find additional draft animals, sometimes moving only a mile in three days (Williams 1882:145). These conditions led to "taverns" appearing along the road, usually no more than settlement-era log cabins where the proprietors fed and lodged travellers, and kept draft animals to assist them, all for a fee. Some tavern keepers maintained nearby mud holes so travellers would need their services, and one even legally recorded the transfer of the right to a mud hole when he sold his property. By the mid 1830s, there were 32 "taverns" along the 31 miles between Perrysburg and Upper Sandusky, a notorious condition that would haunt the road in folklore and history (Maurer 1947:71; Meek 238; Williams 1882:145). In 1834, the mail was successfully carried daily only by strapping a chest to a two-wheeled axle pulled by four horses (Kaatz 1953b:142; Williams 1882:145).

In 1835, the intolerable condition of the road was experienced firsthand by state officials who had to travel over it in the conflict over the Michigan border, the "Toledo War" or "Ohio and Michigan War" (Meek 1909:75, 146-150). Travellers migrating west continued to increase, and in the winter of 1837-1838, when travel was easier, more than 5,500 sleighs, sleds, wagons and footmen travelled the road, averaging 266 a day (Beers 1897:182-183). Some traffic could bypass the road on routes across Canada on Lake Erie, but migration was increased by the opening of the Erie, Welland and Ohio canals (Kaatz 1953a:140, 142). In 1839, a state transportation committee report that recommended rebuilding the road stated that the Maumee & Western Reserve Road was "among the most important in the state, being the only thoroughfare running east and west in Northern Ohio" (Maurer 1947:72-73).

Stage Four: The State Road

The fourth stage of the development of the route began in March of 1838, when Ohio appropriated $40,000 to repair and gravel the road as a toll road. In July, Congress gave to Ohio title to the 120 foot wide strip of roadway, resulting in Ohio owning the road in entirety. Work began at the west end in June of 1838, and in March of 1839 the state appropriated an additional $100,000 for the road (Williams 1882:151). The Niel, Moore & Co. began a stage coach service on the road while it was under construction in late 1848, in anticipation of the improved road (Maurer 1947:73-74). A national depression begun by the Panic of 1837 led to a state financial crisis, and in 1840 almost all new state expenses were halted for a year. Only the Maumee & Western Reserve Road and Wabash & Erie Canal were exempt, indicating the importance of developing Northwest Ohio.

In 1840 an additional $25,000 was appropriated, and in that year the 15 miles between the Maumee River (Perrysburg) and the Portage River (Woodbridge) were completed (Maurer 1947:73). The remaining east part of the road was contracted in May of 1841 (Maurer 1947:73), and the entire road was completed in 1842 (Beers 1897:183; Meek 1909:239).

Construction of the Maumee & W.R.

Construction involved clearing the entire 120 foot right-of-way of vegetation, stumps and waste (figure us20). Culverts were built and the route was graded for drainage. Deep ditches were dug on both sides and the excavated earth graded into a 60 foot (18.3 m) center roadbed. The bed was 10 feet (3 m) closer to the south line to allow for a wide side lane for heavy wagons during dry weather, thus reducing wear on the paved road. Twenty feet (6.0 m) of the roadbed was macadamized, or paved with macadam, which involved laying coarse gravel on a raised roadbed, and laying finer gravel on top. The limestone was taken from local quarries and crushed on the road (Williams 1882:151-152; #A3:7). Milestones were placed on the north side of the right-of-way at each mile of the route in 1842. These were triangular limestone posts that indicated the number of miles to "P." or Perrysburg and "L.S." or Lower Sandusky between these two towns (Keller c1978).

General John Patterson, a state engineer, supervised the work and is credited with its successful design. The road, with its ditches and culverts, demonstrated that the Black Swamp could be drained (Williams 1882:151). The significance of this and the drastic improvement of the road allowed more immigration and development of the Black Swamp region (Kaatz 1953c:202; Meek 152). The refined style and size of the Empire House, built in 1838 or 1839, indicates the progress and profitability of road. The improved road also allowed for faster travelling and no need for the previous density of taverns. By the time of the Civil War, less than a dozen taverns were operating between Perrysburg and Fremont (Keller c1978).

Since the Maumee & Western Reserve Road was the only paved road in Wood County as late as 1860 (Maurer 1947:78), the passable rebuilt road brought an increase of population along its route. Around the site of Woodville in 1840, the population density was 5-10 persons per square mile. In 1850, at the tip of a peninsula of population extending westward along the road, the density was more than 30 persons per mile. Only three miles north or west, including Stony Ridge, the density was 5-10 per mile. In 1860 the density at Woodville was 45-60 and at Stony Ridge, 30-40 persons per mile (Kaatz 1953b).


Large-scale drainage of the Black Swamp began after the reconstruction of the Maumee & Western Reserve Road. In 1859 the State of Ohio passed a "Ditch Law" that authorized county commissioners to build open ditches, which permitted the coordinated development of large-scale land drainage. Most ditches were dug between 1870-1920. By 1880 there was a ditch along every section of land within the Black Swamp. Earth excavated for the ditches provided raised roadbeds, and a system of paired ditches and roads developed in the Black Swamp (Wilhelm 1984:79-81). Among the gridded roads and ditches, the Maumee & Western Reserve Road still stands out as a dramatic arrow-straight diagonal running across the grid, unlike the few other roads that meander along streams or ridges.

Once open ditches were built, the land could be further "underdrained" by digging a trench and burying drain pipes. This practice was refined in western New York state and brought by migrants to the Black Swamp by 1860. The early underdrains were made of wood planks split or sawn from the available timber. This contributed to clearing the land, timber sales, and the growing sawmill industry in the Black Swamp. The clay tile industry grew after 1880, and using local clay deposits, supplied durable hollow ceramic tiles for underdraining (Wilhelm 1984:83 84). After its rebuilding, the Maumee & Western Reserve Road became a toll road managed by the Ohio Board of Public Works. Toll booths were built about every 10 miles (16.1 km), including one just east of Perrysburg and one west of Woodville (Keller c1978). During this time the road was probably also called the "Fremont Pike" or "Fremont-Perryburg Road." The tolls adopted in 1846 were still in effect in 1861, and were based on the amount of wear caused by wheels or the feet of draft animals. Narrower wheels or many animals exacted larger tolls, which were one cent a mile for a one-horse wagon, 1.25 cents for a one-horse buggy, and 3.5 cents for a two-horse coach. These tolls were 25-100% higher than the tolls on the National Road (now U.S.40) and other state roads, but the Maumee & Western Reserve Road operated in a deficit in 1861 (Ohio Board 1861:1-3).

Stage Five: The Turnpike

In 1853 a railroad was built that connected Toledo and Cleveland and duplicated the route of the Maumee & Western Reserve Road. The Toledo, Norwalk & Cleveland Railroad ran from Toledo through Fremont and Belleview to other lines connecting with Cleveland (Sheldon 1926). The road lost importance as a transportation route since Toledo had eclipsed Perrysburg and Maumee in economic importance, and rail travel was faster and more reliable, but the road was still used by migrants with their horse-drawn wagons and by local residents for commerce and travel. As railroads in general gained importance and surface roads declined, the fifth stage of the development of U.S. 20 gradually began.

The Maumee & Western Reserve Road was leased by the state to a private company in 1861, which continued to collect the tolls but did not maintain the road according to contract. The contract was renewed in 1867 but residents along the road complained to the state about the condition of the road. The state revoked the lease in 1868 and transferred the title to the road to the commissioners of Wood and Sandusky counties, who accepted title in March of 1869. The condition of the transfer was that the state would have the road repaired by June of 1871. But by February of 1871 it looked like that was not going to happen, so in joint session the county commissioners revoked their acceptance. The situation was resolved when the state retained title but made the former leasing company spend about $3,000 to repair the road (Williams 1882:152; Ohio General Assembly 1868:36-38; Wood and Sandusky County Commissioners 1869, 1871). In the 1870s, three new railroads ran south from Toledo, crossing the Maumee & Western Reserve Road. The Toledo & Ohio Central crossed at present Stony Ridge sometime between 1868 and 1871, leading to the town's growth. One crossed at Woodville in 1873, and another at Lemoyne in 1877 (Sheldon 1923). Travel on the road increased in the 1880s-s when migrants moved west to the prairie territories (Hurrelbrink 1972:3).

Stage Six: The County Road

In April of 1888, the state again transferred ownership of the Maumee & Western Reserve Road to Wood and Sandusky counties with the stipulation that it would no longer be a toll road. This time the county commissioners accepted the road and the sixth stage of development began under county ownership (Ohio General Assembly 1888; Wood County Commissioners 1888).

By 1900, all roads in Ohio were maintained and operated by the county or township through which they ran. The dense system of railroads relieved the need for a coordinated and well maintained road system. But with the advent of the auto, roads again became a state and national concern. In the 1910s the road surface on most roads, including the Maumee & Western Reserve Road, or Fremont Pike, or "Old Pike" were worn out and unsuitable for an auto. A narrative of a road trip describes the conditions:

The "Old Pike" was surfaced with crushed limestone and had many holes, making travel very rough. It was nothing uncommon to break a layer or two of the car springs if the car hit these holes at to great a speed. This meant that certain spans of the highway had to be traversed by throttling down the speed of the car to 10 or 15 miles an hour. There were so many holes and rises in the road that the distance...was longer in those days than today since the car had to go right and left in order to escape these obstacles instead of only directly forward (#C13).

In 1904 the Ohio Highway Department was organized to advise the counties on roads. In 1911 the department selected and numbered 444 important routes connecting county seats and market towns, called "Inter County Highways." Road maintenance was still the responsibility of the counties, but the increasing popularity of the auto made state control necessary. In 1913 the state began to fund the maintenance costs for state roads (Aumann 1954; Armstrong 1976), which were marked in 1919 by signs painted on telephone poles along the roads (Ohio Board of Inquiry 1938).

Stage Seven: The State Highway, or Fremont-Perrysburg I.C.H. 275

In 1919 the Ohio Highway Department prepared plans for widening and repaving present U.S. 20, then designated as "Fremont-Perrysburg I.C.H. 275," between Perrysburg Township and Sandusky County (plate sr2, fig us20). This began the seventh stage of development. The road at that time ran along the south side of the centerline of the right-of-way, and its surface was macadam. On the north side of the road was a "side road drive," apparently an unimproved side lane for passing traffic and reducing wear on the paved road during good weather, a part of the design of the 1838 rebuilding. Streams and ditches were crossed on short concrete bridges and stone box culverts, and drives and intersecting roads crossed the drainage ditches on sewer pipe or drainage tile. The plans also show all buildings and other structures fronting the road. Construction plans included rebuilding the outer two feet (0.6 m) of the road to make a 20 foot (6.1 m) roadbed, paving with more macadam and then a layer of bituminous macadam, creating berms, and moving the ditches farther from the road. The plans received final approval on 14 July 1919 (Ohio Department of Highways 1919).

In 1925 the signage, routes and specifications for the U.S. route system was established and the state routes were renumbered to avoid confusion. The former Maumee & Western Reserve Road between Perrysburg and Belleview became a part of U.S. 20, a route running from Boston to Yellowstone National Park (WPA 1930). In 1928 the state highway department was made responsible for the maintenance of all state and U.S. roads (Ohio Board of Inquiry).

There is no indication of changes made to U.S. 20 between Perrysburg and Sandusky County from 1919 to 1947. In 1947 the Ohio Highway Department again prepared plans for widening and repaving that part of present U.S. 20, excluding Stony Ridge and Lemoyne, marking the eighth stage of development (plate sr3, fig. us20). The plans state that by 1947 the road was "highly crowned, wavy and irregular, slippery in bad weather." The plans called for lowering and widening the roadbed to 24 feet (7.3 m), placing tile underdrains under the edges of the roadbed, and paving with concrete. The new roadbed was placed on the south side of the centerline of the right-of-way, slightly south of the previous roadbed, to accommodate a future second north lane. This incidentally returned the road to the placement set up in 1838. A special cross-section plan was prepared for part of the road on the limestone bedrock ridge on the east side of Stony Ridge. In both Stony Ridge and Lemoyne, no work was planned but a "future railroad overpass" is shown. At both ends of Stony Ridge, the highway was designed to swing north to align with the previous roadway running through the town. This two-lane roadway and slight curve at both ends of Stony Ridge is still present. The plans received final approval in July of 1948 (Ohio Department of Highways 1947)

Apparently, plans to build an overpass in Lemoyne were carried out but in Stony Ridge were not. In 1953, plans show a widening to 24 feet and repaving of the road on its present course in Stony Ridge (Ohio Department of Highways 1953). There is no indication of significant changes made to the road since that time. At some time the U.S. 23 route designation was combined with U.S.20, eastward to the Sandusky County line.

(and yet, as with all history, there is more yet to write...)

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  • < Transp-Story-M&WRrd.html > v1.1 - 7/5/04, 10/26/02, 7/22/02
    Intrepid Historical Services - Kevin B. Coleman - Columbus, Ohio, USA
    (Adapted 06/22/02 from the "US 20 / Maumee & Western Reserve Road" part of "I_Transportation"
    Second Draft - v 2.5, July 22, 2002 - last major alteration July 1997