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January  2006
Delaware, Ohio

    Driving on I-71 north of Columbus, you’ll cross into Delaware County. You’ll also see signs for the city of Delaware, both named after the Delaware Indian tribe. The Delawares were a people native to the East, but they fled their  land due to pressure both from white colonists and enemy Indian tribes. Some of the Delawares resettled in the Ohio country, arriving here in the early 1740s. The city of Delaware now occupies land that was once a huge Delaware Indian cornfield, covering over 400 acres. The Delawares were mostly a peaceful tribe that sought to co-exist with the settlers, but the whites, with their hunger for land, displaced the Indians.

    White settlers in Ohio often chose Indian names for their counties, townships, and cities. Other Ohio counties named after Native American tribes include Erie, Huron, Miami, Ottawa, Seneca, and Wyandot. The presence of these Native American names might suggest a friendlier relationship between the settlers and Indians than was actually the case. In fact, there were fierce battles over much of the Ohio country. The Native Americans won a few rounds but lost the war—by the 1840s, there was no Indian land left in Ohio, and most Native Americans had been sent to reservations west of the Mississippi. When white settlers chose a Native American name for a town or a county, it usually meant that this particular tribe no longer presented a threat to them.

    Throughout the 1800s and well into the 1900s, Delaware County was a quiet agricultural region, with the village of Delaware largely oriented toward the needs of its farmers. Among those who arrived to start a new life were the parents of Rutherford B. Hayes, who moved here from Vermont. Their son, born in Delaware, Ohio, became the 19th president of the United States.

    Now here’s something we’ve wondered. If your name is Rutherford, what are you called for short. If William is Bill, if Richard is Dick, what’s Rutherford? Ruthie? Ruth? No, actually, the answer is: Rud—at least for this Rutherford. He was called Rud as a boy. Rud grew up to be a prominent attorney in Cincinnati where he also donated his time defending fugitive slaves. He became a decorated general in the Civil War, then a congressman, then governor of Ohio. And then, just barely, president of the United States. Just barely because he lost the popular vote by a quarter million votes. But there were deals and more deals and a congressional commission and then after several months of wrangling, Rud Hayes was elected president by the Electoral College. The vote was 185 to 184—can’t get closer than that.

    Rutherford B. Hayes served as president for one term, from 1877 until 1881. He was the first US president to have a telephone and a typewriter at the White House. He was the first president to travel to the west coast. And he instituted what was to become a tradition: the annual Easter Egg roll for children on the White House lawn. He was a modest reformer, pushing for better treatment of newly freed slaves, American Indians, and other minorities. He also signed a bill that made it possible for women attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court.

    Delaware was once home to the “Big Ear.” What’s the Big Ear? The Big Ear was a radio telescope located at the Perkins Observatory in Delaware. Its mission was to listen to the stars for radio signals and was a joint project of Ohio State University and Ohio Wesleyan University. Over its 12-year career, the “Big Ear” heard something like 20,000 signals from outer space, most of which are attributable to natural phenomena.  But in 1977, an astronomer looking over data collected by the Big Ear scribbled the word, “Wow!” on the margin of the printout. Here was a data sequence that was different; it looked like what scientists conjecture would be produced by an extra-terrestrial civilization.    

    It was an intriguing tease, but the message didn’t repeat. And we’re left wondering what the Big Ear heard. Were these signals from an unidentified spaceship that had been launched on earth? Or might they have been sent by intelligent life from somewhere in outer space? We still don’t know.

    Today, Delaware is home to the Little Brown Jug. The Little Brown Jug isn’t a jug; it’s a horse race—honest. The Little Brown Jug is the middle leg of the triple crown of harness racing. This annual event was started some sixty years ago and is held in September at the Delaware County Fair. Each year 50,000 people turn out to view the race. Why is it called the Little Brown Jug? Well, back when it was getting established, a local newspaper sponsored a contest to name that race. The winner? The Little Brown Jug. Though we have no idea why someone thought to name it that.

    Delaware is also known for the Delaware grape, a variety discovered in Delaware, Ohio,  during the mid 1800s and now grown throughout the eastern United States as a table grape and a wine grape. It’s not exactly a household name in this, its country of origin. In Japan and Europe, though, the Delaware is one of the major table grapes. Go figure.

    In recent years, farming has been in decline in Delaware County as the Columbus metropolitan area has expanded its reach. During the last decade, Delaware County has lost over 20% of its farms, and almost 10% of its agricultural acreage. During that same decade the value of the land has doubled. Today, this is the fastest growing county in Ohio. The average age of its residents is among the youngest in Ohio, and Delaware boasts the lowest unemployment rate of any county in the state. It is also cited in national surveys as among the wealthiest and best educated counties in the nation. So things are going pretty well for Delaware County. Unless you happen to be a farmer. Or, a Delaware Indian.

 For more about Delaware and its surrounding communities, see the CD for I-71 North: Columbus to Cleveland or I-71 South: Cleveland to Columbus.

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