Historical marker explains origin of 'The Firelands'

SANDUSKY Look at a map of Connecticut and you'll see names of cities that sound familiar to north-ce
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Look at a map of Connecticut and you'll see names of cities that sound familiar to north-central Ohioans, such as Norwalk, Danbury, New London and Groton.

That's no coincidence.

Many of the original settlers in the area came from Connecticut.

If you need a refresher course in the origin of the Firelands region, read the new historical marker by the main entrance to Firelands Regional Medical Center.

The marker, erected by the Erie County Historical Society and dedicated Tuesday, explains that during the Revolutionary War, the British raided Connecticut in 1777, 1779 and 1781, burning down many Connecticut towns.

After years of petitioning, Connecticut's legislature set aside 500,000 acres on the far western fringe of the Connecticut Western Reserve, which became the Fire Sufferers Land or Fire Land. The land -- in Erie County, Huron County, Danbury Township in Ottawa County and Ruggles Township in Ashland County -- was settled in the early 19th century, although in most cases the original "fire sufferers" were too old to migrate west.

An identical historical marker also is being erected at BGSU Firelands so young scholars can learn where their school got its name.

Relda Niederhofer, a Sandusky resident and Erie County Historical Society board member, volunteered to write the marker's text.

The retired BGSU Firelands professor said her challenge was to write an account that was accurate and interesting, but short enough to fit on the side of the marker.

Her three-paragraph account also underwent scrutiny from two sets of editors: The board at Firelands Regional Medical Center and officials from Bowling Green State University. Both groups asked for changes. College officials, for example, asked her to work in a reference to Benedict Arnold, the notorious traitor who led some of the raids in Connecticut.

The Erie County Historical Society also is posting a series of signs marking the boundaries of the Firelands, said John Schaeffer, a former county commissioner and county recorder active in the historical society. They are still going up, but one is on Ohio 113 in Birmingham, another is along Portland Road in Sandusky County while a third is in Bellevue.

Janet Senne, president of the historical society, said her group has published a pamphlet listing the locations of many Erie County historical markers. It's available at the Lake Erie Shores & Islands visitor center on U.S. 250 and at local museums.

"It's a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, to go riding around Erie County," she said.