SOURCES OF THE NAMES OF THE COUNTIES
OF THE WESTERN RESERVE
By FREDERICK C. WAITE
An examination of the names of the eighty-eight counties in
Ohio shows that over half of these names commemorate indi-
viduals such as signers of the Declaration of Independence, gen-
erals in the Revolutionary War, early presidents of the United
States, and statesmen of the early period of our national history.
A considerable number of county names are of Indian origin.
Part of these are the names of Indian tribes. In others the In-
dian word is the name of a river which traverses the county and
was named before the county was erected.
A few county names in Ohio are descriptive either of topog-
raphy, position, or of some feature within the bounds of the
There is a fifth small group of county names that have no
relation to anything in American history. Among the names of
the counties in the Western Reserve are found examples of each
of these five groups.
The name of a county adjacent to the Western Reserve--
Columbiana--is an euphonistic alteration of Columbia, the per-
sonification of our country, and the name of Gallia County recalls
that unfortunate endeavor to colonize refugees from the French
In the origin of a county there are two phases. The first is an
enabling legislative act, defining the boundaries and the name of
the new political unit. This preliminary phase is called the "erec-
tion" of a county. In case of counties arising during the terri-
torial era erection was by a proclamation of the territorial gover-
nor and ruling judges. After statehood was attained erection was
by legislative enactment. In many cases county boundaries were
changed by legislative acts subsequent to the original erection.
WESTERN RESERVE COUNTY NAMES: WAITE 59
In an enabling act, or following it, came appointment of com-
missioners who conducted an election in the new county, and
when the elected officers qualified the county was said to be "es-
tablished" or "organized."
There was necessarily an interval between erection and es-
tablishment, which in some instances extended over several years.
In such cases the newly erected county was temporarily annexed to
an adjacent established county for purposes of government, espe-
cially as related to courts and records.
The first county in Ohio was erected by proclamation on July
27, 1788. To it was given the name of Washington, in honor of
George Washington. In it was included all that part of the West-
ern Reserve lying east of the Cuyahoga River.
On August 15, 1796, Wayne County was erected. It included
that part of the Western Reserve west of the Cuyahoga River
and extended to include the southern peninsula of the present state
of Michigan and part of the present state of Indiana. The name
commemorates General Anthony Wayne.
On July 29, 1797, the northern part of Washington County
was erected as Jefferson County named to honor Thomas Jefferson.
From 1796 to 1800 the Western Reserve was in two territorial
counties. From 1796 to 1797 the two territorial counties were
Washington and Wayne, and from 1797 to 1800, Jefferson and
Wayne. The Cuyahoga River was the dividing boundary in each
On July 10, 1800, the territorial governor, by proclamation
erected Trumbull County to include all those parts of Jefferson
and Wayne counties that lay in the Western Reserve. Therefore
Trumbull County became co-extensive with the Western Reserve
and so remained until December 31, 1805, a period of five and a
In the following list of the fourteen counties lying wholly
or in part in the Western Reserve priority in age is based on date
of erection. If date of establishment were used as the criterion
the order would be somewhat changed.
The counties of the Western Reserve in order with date of
erection of each follow:
60 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Trumbull, July 10, 1800
Geauga, December 31, 18051
Portage, February 10, 18081
Ashtabula, February 10, 18081
Cuyahoga, February 10, 18081
Huron, February 7, 1809
Medina, February 18, 1812
Lorain, December 26, 1822
Erie, March 15, 1838
Summit, March 3, 1840
Ottawa, March 6, 18402
Lake, March 6, 1840
Mahoning, February 16, 1846
Ashland, February 24, 1846
With the exception of Trumbull which was by proclamation
of the territorial governor, all of these were erected by legislative
act, two in December, seven in February, and four in March,
showing that usually action on erecting new counties came late in
the legislative session.
Of the fourteen counties in the foregoing list, ten lie wholly
in the Western Reserve. Of the four that lie only partially in
the Western Reserve approximately eighty per cent of the area
of Summit County, fifty-eight per cent of the area of Mahoning
County, seventeen per cent of the area of Ashland County, and
twelve per cent of the area of Ottawa County lies in the Western
For six of these counties, namely Ashtabula, Cuyahoga,
Geauga, Lorain, Mahoning, and Trumbull, there is no duplication
1 The bill erecting Geauga County states it is to be effective March 1, 1806, and
the single bill erecting Portage, Ashtabula, and Cuyahoga counties gives the date it
is to be effective as June 7. Some writers use for the date of erection of these
counties the effective date instead of the date of enactment as given in the foregoing
In the Acts of Ohio, 6 Assemb. (Vol. VI), 3-5, the date of the bill is printed
"February 10, 1807." This is a misprint. The acts of the Assembly of 1806-07 are in
Vol. V. while Vol. VI is for the Assembly of 1807-08. Moreover, the Journal of the
House of Representatives states that the bill was signed February 10, 1808.
The priority of erection of the three counties erected in 1808 is based on the
order in which the three counties are mentioned in the single bill which authorized
the erection of all three counties.
2 In the foregoing list Ottawa County is given priority over Lake County because
in the Acts of Ohio, 38 Assemb., the bill for Ottawa County is on p. 99, while that for
Lake County is on p. 102, which presumably is the order in which the legislative officers
signed the two bills, both on the same day.
WESTERN RESERVE COUNTY NAMES: WAITE 61
as a county name in any other state. Counties with the name of
Ashland, Huron, Medina, Ottawa, and Portage, are found in two
states each, while Erie and Summit are county names in three
different states, and nine states have a Lake County.
Trumbull County commemorates Jonathan Trumbull who
was governor of Connecticut when this county was erected. It is
the only county of the Western Reserve named for an individual.
This county has a feature found in no other county in the State.
It is precisely square, being twenty-five miles on each border.
Crawford County is nearly square, but has a small notch in its
Geauga County takes its name from an Indian word reputed
to have been the early name of the river, which, when the county
was erected, lay entirely within the county.
This Indian name, however, was not in use when the area
was first settled. The map of 1785 by John Fitch and the map
of 1787 by Manasseh Cutler both show this river with its present
name of Grand River, and this is the name that appears on the
early maps of the surveyors of the region.
Ashtabula County was named for its principal river. The
name is of Indian origin.
Cuyahoga County takes its name from the best-known river
of the Western Reserve. The importance of this river both as a
boundary between Indian nations and as a highway for Indian
travel between the St. Lawrence and Mississippi basins brought
it to the attention of early explorers and its name appears on
some earlier maps where no other river in the area of the Western
Reserve is named. The word Cuyahoga is of Indian origin.
There is a similarity of sound in the two words Geauga and
Cuyahoga, and spellings are only an attempt to translate into
English syllables the oral enunciation by Indians, with much diver-
gence of spelling for the same word. J. W. Taylor, in his History
of Ohio suggests that both words are modifications of Cayuga,
the Indian tribe, the name of which is perpetuated by the name of a
lake and a county in New York State.
Having met one example of a name of an individual and
three names of Indian origin we next come to a county named
62 OHIO ARCHEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
for a local feature within its bounds. The Indian portage be-
tween the Cuyahoga River and the headwaters of the Tuscarawas
River lies in the southern part of the Western Reserve, ten miles
east of the middle point of the east and west extent of that area.
When the western part of Trumbull County was taken to erect
a new county in 1808, it included this portage and the new county
was named Portage County. In Wisconsin is a county of the
same name arising from a similar feature.
When in 1840 the western part of Portage County was con-
tributed to help form Summit County, the Indian portage was in
the area of the new county. Now, therefore, Portage County is
misnamed. It retains the original name, but does not contain the
It was not until the treaty of Fort Industry in 1805 ex-
tinguished the Indian claims to that part of the Western Reserve
west of the Cuyahoga River that surveys could be made and set-
tlement begun. Therefore it was not until 1809 that there was
any need of erecting a separate county in the western area. Huron
County was the first county which lay entirely west of the Cuya-
hoga River. Although erected in 1809 it was not organized until
six years later.
Huron County was named for the Huron River which was
entirely within its borders when the county was erected. The
name of this river appears on maps of 1785 and 1787. The name
is also that of one of the Great Lakes and commemorates an im-
portant Indian tribe. The name is found in connection with this
lake on maps before it appears as the name of the river. This
county, when erected, was co-extensive with the area known in
Ohio as the Firelands and in Connecticut as the Sufferers' Lands.
Medina County was the second county erected entirely west of
the Cuyahoga River. Its name seems to be devoid of historical re-
lation to the area which it designates. At the time the county was
erected the name Medina was used in only one place in the United
States. It was the name of a town in New York State. No re-
lation to that town, however, has been found for owners or early
settlers in the area of Medina County. Medina is the name of a
city in Arabia, but no connection is apparent, although local his-
WESTERN RESERVE COUNTY NAMES: WAITE 63
torians give this origin of the name. It seems unlikely that people
closely connected with the Christian church would choose a Mos-
lem name. The present town of Medina, the county-seat, which
was not settled until after the county was named, was first called
Mecca, another Arabian name, but was changed, probably because
there was a town of the same name already established in Trum-
bull County. No reliable nor plausible evidence has been found
that explains the choice of the name Medina for this county, or
states who chose the name. Of the seventeen town names in this
county twelve, beside Medina, are duplications of town names in
eastern states, eleven of them being town names in New York
State. This makes it probable that the name Medina, when ap-
plied to the town, was derived from the New York town name.
Lorain County derives its name from a French place-name that
has no historical relation to the area which it designates. There is,
however, reasonably reliable tradition as to how this name was
chosen. Judge Ely, one of the influential men in the area, which
became this county, had traveled in Europe and had spent some
time in the French province of Lorraine, which he much admired.
It is said that it was he who suggested the name. The name has
the merit of being unique in the United States and also euphonious.
Erie County derives its name from Lake Erie and this desig-
nation in turn comes from the name of an Indian tribe. It was
erected by taking from Huron County its northern part border-
ing on Lake Erie.
Summit County derives its name from a feature within its
boundaries. It contains the highest point on the Ohio Canal and
those connected with canal transportation in the years before this
county was erected called this point "the summit." Similarly today
in railways crossing mountain chains the top of the grade is
called the summit.
The chief city of Summit County is Akron. The name is
derived from the Greek word akros, meaning high. Thus, we
have the county name and the city name with the same meaning,
only one is an English word and the other a Greek word. Akron
was named about 1825 and incorporated in 1836, four years before
Summit County was erected.
64 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Ottawa County derives its name from the name of an Indian
Lake County, like Erie County, takes its name from the name
of the large body of water forming the northern boundary of
Ohio, but from the generic part of the name. The name is fitting
since this county has a greater extent of frontage on the open
lake in proportion to area than does any other county in the State.
This is the smallest county in the State and is adjacent to Ashta-
bula, the largest county in the State.
Mahoning County derives the name from the Mahoning River
which traverses it. The name of the river is of Indian origin,
but was not applied to that river until long after the first white
settlement. In the early maps of the Western Reserve this river is
called Big Beaver, but maps of 1830 name it Mahoning. There
was a Mahoningtown in this area much earlier.
Of the source of the name of Ashland County definite evi-
dence is given by H. S. Knapp in his history of that county on
the written statement of Francis Graham, then living.
In 1822 in the township of Montgomery, then in Richland
County, was a village called Uniontown. Application was made
for a post-office, but since there was already a post-office named
Uniontown in Ohio the postmaster general refused to duplicate
the name. Thereupon John Sloane (1779-1856) of Wooster, at
that time member of Congress from that district, chose the name
Ashland for the post-office. Sloane was a friend and political
adherent of Henry Clay, and tradition says that Sloane chose
the name Ashland because it was the name of Henry Clay's planta-
tion near Lexington, Kentucky. Graham became the first post-
master and the village soon took the name Ashland.
When, twenty-four years later, it was proposed to erect a new
county in that region, Ashland was the largest town, central in
the area, and the prospective county-seat, and Ashland was chosen
as the name of the new county.
Thus, of these fourteen county names, seven (Ashtabula,
Cuyahoga, Erie, Geauga, Huron, Mahoning and Ottawa) are of
Indian origin, all except Erie and Ottawa being derived from
previously named rivers. This is half of all the county names
WESTERN RESERVE COUNTY NAMES: WAITE 65
in the Western Reserve, while in the State as a whole only
about a fifth of the county names are of Indian origin.
Only one of these county names (Trumbull) commemorates
an individual, a much smaller proportion for the Western Re-
serve than for the State as a whole.
Three names (Portage, Lake and Summit) are descriptive
of local conditions. Of the three remaining names one (Ash-
land) was chosen by a known individual, one (Lorain) is tra-
ditionally the choice of a European place-name by a known
individual, and one (Medina) is the name of an Arabian city,
more likely directly taken from a town in New York State,
but who made the choice is not known.
The county names in the Western Reserve show several ex-
amples of almost musical euphony. These are among the Indian
names and for harmonious rhythm the names Ashtabula, Geauga
and Cuyahoga approach those rarely beautiful Indian names such
The origin of place names is an interesting study and when
it is coupled with historical relationship it adds interest to these
county names used in daily conversation in northeastern Ohio.
Downes, R. C., "Evolution of Ohio County Boundaries," Ohio
Archaeological and Historical Quarterly (Columbus), XXXVI (1927),
Knapp, H. S., History of the Pioneer and Modern Times of Ashland
County (Philadelphia, 1863), 187.
Laning, J. F., "Evolution of Ohio Counties," Ohio Archaeological and
Historical Quarterly (Columbus), V (1898), 326-350.
Ohio Laws, Statutes, etc., Acts, 4 Assemb., 1805-06, 65-6; 6 Assemb.,
1807-08, 3-5; 7 Assemb., 1808-09, 194-5; 9 Assemb., 1811-12, 122; (Local)
21 Assemb., 1822-23, 5; (General) 36 Assemb., 1837-38, 66; (Local) 38
Assemb., 1839-40, 88, 99, 102; (Local) 44 Assemb., 1845-46, 116, 172-3.
Ohio Laws, Statutes, etc., Statutes of Ohio; ed. by Salmon P. Chase
(Cincinnati, 1835), III, 2096-7.
Taylor, J. W., History of Ohio: First Period, 1650-1787 (Cincinnati,