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Geography of the Ohio

OHIO IS A MIDWESTERN state in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Interestingly, when the first settlers were arriving, the area was considered to be America’s great northwest. In the northeast, Ohio is bordered by Pennsylvania from Lake Erie southward to the Ohio River near East Liverpool. The Ohio River forms a natural boundary between the states of West Virginia (southeast) and Kentucky (south), while Indiana provides a western border, and Michigan and Lake Erie provide borders in the north. With an area of 106,765 square kilometer (41,222 square mile), Ohio ranks 34th in size in the United States. With 11,353,140 residents, the state ranks 7th nationally in terms of total population and 9th in terms of population density. Cleveland is the center of the state’s largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA), although Columbus is the largest city and the state capital. Other major cities are Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, and Akron. Overall, the 10 largest cities in Ohio, 6 with populations greater than 100,000, account for 22 percent of the state’s total population. Ohio was the 17th state to join the United States (March 1803). From the dunes along the shores of Lake Erie to the gorge cut by the Ohio River in the south, the land is generally flat over the eastern half of the state, with rolling hills in the east and small rugged hills in the southeast. Before the first settlers came to the region, much of the land was covered with miles of virgin forest, including numerous Buckeye trees from which the state derives its nickname. Today, only vestiges of the dense woodlands that helped to build the many cities remain. Ohio’s topography consists of 3 easily identifiable regions with a general northeast to southwest trend: the Great Lakes Plains, the Central Plains, and the Allegheny Plateau. There are also 2 smaller notable physiographic zones. One is a small strip in the north bordering the Lake Erie shoreline called the Lake Erie Plains. This region, which varies in width from 50 mile (81 kilometer) at Toledo’s Maumee Bay to 10 mile (16 kilometer) at Conneaut near the Pennsylvania border, extends for all 312 mile (503 kilometer) of the Ohio portion of the Lake Erie shoreline. The shoreline itself also has 2 very different geographies. Along the eastern half of the shoreline in the northern extreme of the Allegheny Plateau are clay bluffs often 8 to 10 foot (2 to 3 meter) high, while the western half of the shoreline in the Central and Great Lakes Plains has beaches of clay and sand. The other is a narrow region extending southeastward along the Miami River from Indian Lake in the east central part of the state to the Ohio River in the very southeastern corner. The state’s highest point (1,549 foot or 472 meter)—just southeast of Bellefontaine in the east central part of the state—and the lowest point (455 foot or 139 meter), on the Ohio River at the Indiana and Kentucky borders, also lie within this region. Other important rivers with impact on both the physical and economic geography include the Scioto, which runs from north of Indian Lake south through the middle of the state to the Ohio River at Portsmouth; the Muskingum, which drains a large portion of the southeastern Allegheny Plateau entering the Ohio at Marietta; and the Maumee, which runs northeasterly across the northeastern part of the state to Maumee Bay at the eastern end of Lake Erie and Toledo. In prehistoric, times Ohio was home to mound builders, many of whose mounds are preserved in state parks. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Native Americans living in the area included the Iroquois, Erie, Miami, Shawnee, and the Ottawa. The French were the first Europeans to claim the area when La Salle was exploring the Ohio Valley in 1669. The region was soon a haven for fur traders and land grabbers. By the 1750s, the last of the French and Indian Wars saw the French losing and control of the area given to the British. In 1763, the British issued a proclamation forbidding settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, furthering unrest in the region, and in 1774 issued the Quebec Act, putting the region within the boundaries of Canada. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ceded the area to the United States, and by 1787, the area became the first region in the Old Northwest to be organized under the Ordinance of 1787. In 1788, Marietta became the first permanent American settlement founded on the Old Northwest. In 1802, a state convention drafted a constitution, and in 1803 Ohio entered the Union, with Chillicothe as its capital. Columbus became the capital in 1816. Following the War of 1812, Ohio’s growth was spurred by the building of the Erie and other canals, and toll roads. The National Road was a vital settlement and commercial link. After the Civil War, increased shipments of ore from the upper Great Lakes and the development of the petroleum industry in northeastern Ohio helped shift the center of economic activity from its fur-trading origins along the banks of the Ohio River to the shores of Lake Erie. Ohio was hit hard by the Great Depression but rebounded during and shortly after World War II. The state economy was particularly depressed during the 1970s and 1980s as the automobile, steel, and coal industries virtually collapsed, with many of the northern industrial centers losing significant portions of their populations. Since the late 1980s, the state has sought to diversify its economy through enlargement of the service sector. Although highly industrialized, the availability of mineral resources has kept the state among the national leaders in the production of lime, clays, and salt. The state is also a historic center of the nation’s ceramic and glass industries. Ohio has extensive farmlands in those areas enriched by limestone during the last ice age, producing large amounts of corn, soybeans, hay, wheat, cattle, hogs, and dairy items. Although agricultural production remains important to the state, the number of family farms is rapidly declining. Railroads, canals, and highways continue to provide significant transportation linkages for raw materials and manufactures. The state’s ports on Lake Erie, especially Toledo and Cleveland, handle iron and copper ore, coal, and oil in addition to finished goods such as steel and automobiles parts. In spite of the general industrial decline since the late 1960s, the state has retained many important manufacturing centers for transportation equipment, primary and fabricated metals, and machinery. Nationally, Ohio ranks 7th in terms of total gross state product ($374 million) and 20th in per capita income ($27,977).
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