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New Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway traverses Southwest Ohio

Calista Lyon
Courtesy Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway

Signs will begin going up soon on a new scenic driving tour through Warren and Clinton counties. The Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway covers 55 sites along a 54-mile loop, including Friends (Quaker) meetinghouses, cemeteries, historical markers, settlements, schools, notable homes and more.

The Society of Friends is more commonly known as the Quakers. They arrived in Ohio in the late 1700s and early 1800s as the Northwest Territories opened up and were declared slave-free.

"Clinton County, Ohio became - especially in the early 19th century until the early 20th century - became one of the largest populations of Quakers in the United States, specifically Wilmington, Ohio," explains Tanya Maus, director of the Quaker Heritage Center at Wilmington College. The city was named after Wilmington, NC "because of the vast Quaker migration to Ohio in the early 19th century. There's just been a very large number of Quakers who have been formative in the cultural and historical life of Clinton County and Wilmington, Ohio."

By 1810, the local Quaker population had meetinghouses across Clinton and Warren counties.

In short, the Quaker faith has roots in Christianity. They believe no intermediary (like a pastor or priest) is needed to interact with God, and observe peaceful principles, believing "there is that of God in everyone."

"Many Quakers in the South and southern part of the United States were in deep conflict over their religious beliefs but also living under a system of slavery," explains Maus. "They began to migrate west to Ohio and Indiana to find territories that were no longer under the system of slavery."

The Ohio Department of Transportation approved plans for the scenic byway this summer anda downloadable map is available. The Quaker Heritage Center also offers a byway story map, and Maus says an in-depth, online story map is under development and should be available in five to six months.

The route begins at Wilmington College and ends at the Clinton County History Center, traversing a course between Wilmington and Waynesville. It includes landmarks such as 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 primary goal of the byway is highlighting Quaker heritage, but it also considers people, land and the use of land over time.

"(It) thinks about these Quaker communities which had a very progressive vision of women's rights, of slavery and abolition - not perfect but progressive - and provided a model of a way forward through some of these very tense social issues that were also harming large populations of the United States," Maus says.

That includes Native American nations which were being pushed out as settlers moved into the Northwest Territories.

"Part of this Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway is also to think about this legacy of forced removal of Native American populations, and to grapple with and think about how we can come to some kind of understanding of the impact of Quakers and other white settlers who moved west into these new territories in Ohio, in Clinton County, in Warren County, and in Highland County."

There are an estimated 80,000 Quakers in the U.S. and a little more than 377,500 worldwide, according to the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

Bonus fun fact

Ohio is home to the oldest continuously used religious building west of the Alleghenies. The Miami Meetinghouse in Waynesville was built in 1811 and remodeled in 1870. Meeting for Worship is held there each Sunday at 10:45 a.m. The building is stop number 32 on the Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway.

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.