Ohio was largely uninhabited prior to European settlement. In the 1600s, the Fort Ancient culture and the Erie Indians were the only permanent inhabitants in the state. After the Iroquois wiped out the Erie Indians in 1650, the Fort Ancient culture, descendants of the Shawnee, traveled into Kentucky and further south to escape the Iroquois. Shawnee Indians continued to hunt in southern Ohio. Because of increased pressure from European settlers, they moved north out of Kentucky into Ohio’s Scioto River Valley around 1750. The largest village, Lowershawneetown, occurred on the Ohio River at present day Portsmouth. The Shawnee had small villages and temporary encampments in the Ohio Brush Creek region and grew maize and beans in the bottomlands as well as fished and hunted deer, bison, elk and bear.
European settlement was slow at first in Ohio because of the fear of the Shawnee and other tribes. Manchester, the third settlement in Ohio, was founded in 1791 by Nathaniel Massie in what later would become Adams County. Manchester was at first a stockade. In 1794, with the Native American defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the signing of the Greenville Treaty, the Native American resistance was almost completely eliminated from the state and European settlers began to settle the region. “Gift Ridge” named for land given by Massie to the people of Manchester, was the first area to be settled outside of Manchester in Adams County (Anonymous 1880). Germany Hill Prairie Preserve is part of this ridge. In 1797 Adams County was formed, the seventh county in Ohio. A few Shawnee families lived in the area during the early settlement of the county until about 1805. Adams County’s population in 1800 numbered over 3,000.
Around 1800, settlers began impacting the landscape – clearing forests for crops, iron furnaces and tanning, exterminating large mammals, and mining for iron ore and sandstone. Bounties were placed on large carnivores such as cougars and wolves. This attributed to the quick extirpation of these large mammals from the county. Large herbivores such as elk and buffalo were eliminated very early in the settlement of the county and deer became extirpated in 1879.
Adams County was the first county in the state to have iron furnaces, which would become an important industry in southern Ohio. Three iron furnaces were built in the EOA region in the early 1800s. The first furnace, called Brush Creek Furnace, was built at the present day Cedar Mills. The furnace employed over 200 people during its prime and was the busiest furnace in the county (Adams Co. Historical Society 1989). About 300-400 acres of forest were cleared yearly for charcoal to run the furnace (Kelley 1993). A grist mill was built at Cedar Falls and employed until the 1830s. Another furnace, Brush Creek Forge Furnace, was on Ohio Brush Creek where state route 125 crosses the creek today. The third furnace, Bull Furnace, which was powered by oxen, occured at the mouth of Ohio Brush Creek.
Tanning was another common industry in the early history of the region. The bark of trees, mostly chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), provided tannic acid for preserving and coloring animal hides for making clothing. The southeastern part of the county was considered of little value by early settlers because of the poor soils except for the trees that could be used for tanning or charcoal. The tanning industry started early in the county; the first shop opened in West Union in 1805. One of the early settlers, George Puntenney, after whom Puntenney Run is named, was a tanner and had a tanning shop in Squirreltown (a.k.a. Puntenneyville). During the early 1800s, the bark would be stripped off the trees and the trees were left standing to die. Eventually trees were taken for tanning as well as lumber.
Sandstone was quarried from the ridgetops in Green Township as well as adjacent Nile township in Scioto County. The stone and other resources were hauled to the Village of Rome and later shipped along the Ohio River. The quarries would eventually be the first parcels to make up Shawnee State Forest.
The first road in the county was Zane’s Trace, built between 1796-97. This road was laid over the former Shawnee trail, ALANANT-O-WAMIOWEE. Soon after the establishment of the county, many new roads were built and the landscape changed quickly. The Indian and buffalo trails quickly vanished from the landscape when these roads were constructed. Portsmouth Road was another important road in the early development of the county. This road went through portions of the present day preserve and is still visible at the northern end of The Wilderness Preserve near Cummings Road. Roads increased development of new settlements and increased commerce throughout the county. Many small villages were found in EoA region such as Cedar Mills, Rockville, Tulip, and Waggoner Ripple. By 1850 the county’s population grew to nearly 19,000.
After the Civil War, a great influx of tobacco farmers moved into the county from Brown and Clermont counties. In 1900, the county’s population peaked at over 26,000. Manufacturing of buttons became a big industry in the EoA region in the early 1900s. The Manchester Button Factory was in operation until the late 1930s. Mussel shells were collected from Ohio Brush Creek and the Ohio River and later, after populations were depleted in the local area, shells were shipped in from the Muskingum River and as far as the Tennessee River (Kelley 1993). Stacks of shells at the factory would reach heights of up to 30 ft.
Adams County’s population decreased to over 18,000 in 1950 and has slowly increased to its highest total ever of 27,330 in 2000. Although Adams County’s population has reached a new high, the county remains sparsely populated compared to other counties in Ohio. Agriculture and logging are the main industries in the region. Dairy, tobacco, beef cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans are the major crops in the county.