Beginning around 1800, large numbers of Quakers, disturbed by slavery in the Carolinas, migrated north and west to free territories. So many settled in southwest Ohio that the county seat of Clinton County, Ohio, was named Wilmington in honor of Wilmington, N.C. Now, a new Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway, a 54-mile scenic loop running from Wilmington to Waynesville, Ohio, shows how Quakers shaped the region.
The 55 historical sites along the byway range from Wilmington College, founded by Quakers in 1870, to private homes to museums with additional tours and programming. Some homes along the byway such as the Quaker Plan House show how Quakers brought architectural traditions with them as they migrated westward. Quaker quilts such as the Hadley Abolitionist Quilt on view at the Clinton County Historical Society, and quilts at Wilmington College’s Quaker Heritage Center reveal how Quaker women brought Quaker textile traditions and patterns with them from the Carolinas and the ways in which Quaker women sought to support and fund the abolitionist movement through their labor.
Ten current and historical Quaker meetinghouses are included as well as several Quaker cemeteries. The meetinghouses, such as the Miami Friends (established 1803); the Center Friends (1803); the Dover Friends (1808); the Chester Friends (1824); and the Wilmington Yearly Friends (1896) reveal how Quakers interpreted the religious currents of their times such as Orthodox and Hicksite divisions and the post-Civil War evangelicalism.
A central website, quakerscenicbywayohio.org, includes a map, directions, written descriptions, and links for further interpretation as well as a mobile-friendly guide to the byway. In 2022 a project will be added to the website that reexamines regional Quaker history through the lens of recent scholarship around the impact of Quaker migration on Indigenous populations in Ohio as well as on escaped enslaved Black migrants who made their way through Ohio and who enlisted the support of local Quaker populations.
The byway was developed over many years by Tanya Maus, director of the Quaker Heritage Center at Wilmington College; her predecessor, Ruth Brindle; and many local Quakers who wanted to help bring attention to Quakers’ legacy in the area.
“Quakers in southwest Ohio were deeply engaged and involved with political and ideological currents of the time of the United States,” said Maus. “Looking into these sites on the byway helps us understand the ways in which a Quaker vision of the world helped shape Midwest Ohio and the rural interior of the United States more broadly, especially in regard to social justice and progressive issues.”
The Quaker Heritage Scenic Byway website is currently live. Signage provided by the Ohio Department of Transportation will be up by spring 2022.