The Lowertown Traveler
A Handbook for Westbound Emigrants
In the fall of 2021, entrepreneur and redeveloper Andrew Newby, the owner of Toledo Spirits and President of the Historic Vistula Foundation, invited me to share a drink and tour his distillery in a former hat and shoe factory in Toledo's Vistula Historic District. As we talked, Andrew shared his ideas for the spring of 2022 rollout of his new blended straight bourbon whisky, Lowertown Bourbon Ninety-Nine. His marketing plans included launching a private club focused on the new bourbon and a ‘field guide to Lowertown' for its members. Lowertown is the nickname for the upstart village of Vistula, stemming from its downriver location on the Maumee from its rival, Port Lawrence (Upper town). The two foes merged in late 1833 (officially in 1837) to form Toledo.
As we talked more, Andrew explained that his idea for the field guide was a fictional, tall tale-style primer on prospering in Lowertown. I'm not sure I heard much of the rest of our conversation that day. Instead, my mind was racing with ideas as I pondered the historical question, did anyone ever write a guide on migrating to this area in the early 1830s? Besides a map, what did Toledo's settlers use to point them in the right direction for their pioneer expeditions into the lower Maumee Valley?
I was intrigued by the idea of a handbook for someone venturing west to Lowertown from upstate New York or New England, the original homes for so many of Toledo's early settlers due to the convenience of the Erie Canal. After our meeting, I researched and found a few guides from the era for people heading west, but most were primarily written for folks traveling beyond Ohio. The closest guide to this area I could find was a monthly newspaper published briefly by Jesup Scott—before he eventually landed in this area.
I began to think about what a guide to Lowertown would have looked like back in the day and wondered if I could write one today. But, as someone who focuses on writing non-fiction history, I didn't want to make things up without some historical context. So, I met with Andrew again and let him know that while I wasn't cut out for writing a tall tale-style handbook to Lowertown, I would accept his challenge and write a guide in the historical fiction genre.
So, based on my analysis of local history coupled with plenty of imagination, I present to you what I believe is an accurate, reliable, and very brief handbook for someone heading to Lowertown in the early 1830s—just months before the birth of Toledo.
It is important to note that the historical setting for this handbook was an exciting time for the lower Maumee Valley. Speculation was out of control as towns were popping up along the banks of the Maumee in anticipation of the State of Ohio's selection of a terminus for the coming Miami and Erie Canal.
As I dove into the research, I read several contemporary descriptions of Port Lawrence and Lowertown. Each account varied widely by how much investment the writer had made in the area. Port Lawrence and Vistula are often described as swampy, backwoods, and mud holes teeming with the ‘Maumee fever' by those travelers passing through or folks from competing river towns. As you can imagine, depictions provided by investors and Lowertown settlers painted a much brighter picture. With that said, I've written this imaginary guide from the perspective of someone eager to attract investors to the area. I've chosen this theme primarily because it follows what Scott was publishing at the time, just like a whole body of writers were as America was expanding West based on the call to action of many real estate promoters.
As Charles N. Glaab, an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee wrote in his 1964 essay entitled, “Jesup W. Scott and a West of Cities," there is much to learn from these early promotional materials and how they sold the future great cities of the world.
“None of these figures can be considered brilliant writers. Their style was unpolished; their ideas were often unoriginal, their arguments often inconsistent. Still, their work is important in indicating that the nineteenth-century faith in American progress was not always tied to the yeoman in his garden but often instead to a West of thriving cities."
Although no specific month or year is mentioned in my imaginary handbook, the setting is roughly around the time Lowertown was christened Vistula, but before the merger of Vistula and Port Lawrence. So, let's call it early 1833.
I hope you appreciate this trip back in time!
Table of Contents
With the advent of the Erie Canal, many citizens of New England and New York are packing their belongings and heading west to the rich lands of the lower Maumee Valley located on the western end of Lake Erie. If you have the spirit and determination to make this journey, you will be well rewarded for having the insight to study this handbook in preparation for your tour. This information is designed to serve as a guide to what I believe is the most promising place to settle West of New York: Vistula in Port Lawrence Township, Michigan Territory—the future metropolis of the lower Maumee Valley.
Handsomely situated on the western bank of the Maumee River, just three miles from its mouth at Lake Erie's Maumee Bay and immediately below the site of Port Lawrence, this blossoming village is destined to become the capital of the lower Maumee Valley and headquarters for commerce along western Lake Erie. Trust me when I tell you, dear reader, this could be the next Buffalo!
While much has been written about the West, very little has been shared of the lower Maumee, owing mainly to the Great Black Swamp impeding travel below its southern banks. However, the grim bog can now be dodged with the advent of canal and lake travel. As a result, the lower Maumee is ripe for growth and development. Be that as it may, I trust this guide to Vistula, or Lowertown as some of us still fondly call it, will excite the attention of the emigrant and the traveler who, for either pleasure, health, or business, intends to travel through the area. But please don't just accept my words, here are the comments from a recent edition of the monthly Ohio and Michigan Register and Emigrant's Guide.
“The new town attracts much attention from the numerous immigrants who are seeking the most eligible site for a town on the Maumee. A considerable number of lots, according to the information obtained from Maj. B. F. Stickney, one of the proprietors, had been sold in the course of the spring and summer, and improvement of a permanent character and on a large scale engaged to be made."
And so, I invite you to your future—Lowertown in Port Lawrence Township, christened as Vistula just last year at a New Year's Eve ball in respect to the beautiful river that flows from the mountains to the Baltic Sea in Prussia.
NOTE: The chief source of information for this guide has been the author's observations, having explored most of the settlements along the Maumee. I have seen this area evolve from a backwoods encampment with a few scattered and detached dwellings to its present state of improvement, population, wealth, and national importance. In addition to my own experience here at Lowertown, my next source of information has been from personal acquaintance and correspondence with many intelligent citizens of the area I describe in this guide.
The booming lower Maumee region serves as the gateway to the future of our good country and home to Lowertown. This bountiful newfound village will someday grow into one of our largest cities, exceeding all except New York. How, you might ask, is a town in Michigan Territory destined to grow to such incredible proportions? The answer is simple: nature has marked out the head of the lake navigation for an essential seat of commerce. Since domestic trade sustains the growth of most modern cities of the world, it is inescapable that future great cities will grow at interior locations, suitable as ‘depots of internal commerce.’ For this reason, I hesitate not to predict that at no distant day, Vistula, with its six blocks bounded by Orange - Swan Lane - Chestnut - the Maumee River - and back to Orange, will be a great world metropolis.
With its stunning view of the Maumee just over the swale of Summit Street, Lowertown is a river city, but it is also bordered to its north and West by high ground covered in magnificent trees. A lush forest also extends from the south bank of Swan Creek in Port Lawrence. The timber comprises all varieties such as oaks of various species, hickory, maple, poplar, walnut, ash, beech, cherry, mulberry, locust, sugar maple, and a solid mixture of pine.
This area is not just a future center of commerce; it is a beautiful location surrounded by bountiful resources you must see to appreciate.
While the old Northwest is transforming into a land of farmers anxious for a market for their grain and cattle, that is not the case at Lowertown. Here, much of this land is about town-building and development. It is understandable why when you consider the natural advantages of its location and the following projected improvements:
Canal: The ‘Miami-Erie Canal,' which will furnish the Maumee and Wabash Valleys with a continuous water route to Lake Erie and Cincinnati, is set to be authorized soon. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your interest in real estate speculation), the canal has not reached the stage at which anyone knows where it will “come out" or terminate. With that said, I believe Lowertown is a fine place for lake boats to meet canal boats. Still, others speculate the canal will end at one of the other towns on the lower Maumee, places like Port Lawrence, Maumee, Perrysburg, or even one of the paper towns with names like East Marengo, Austerlitz, or Manhattan. For now, the future terminus of this coming canal matters less as a reality than as a great expectation, for the town-building has already begun. Now is the time to get engaged. Based on my knowledge of this area, I am ceaselessly confident Lowertown will win out.
Railroad: The Erie and Kalamazoo railroad is intended to be constructed from Lowertown to the mouth of the Kalamazoo River at Lake Michigan, a distance of just over one hundred and fifty miles. This will be the first railroad constructed West of the Alleghany mountains and will undoubtedly contribute to the rapid expansion and growth of Vistula as it will connect the lower Maumee with the Kalamazoo River and future western markets. The builders of this railroad are pledged to begin work inside three years and finish the road to Adrian inside of six.
As mentioned earlier, the geographical promise of this region has led to the development of a brood of infant towns along the Maumee. Even so, Lowertown stands tall among them all for one logical reason: location.
Goods from New York flow through the Erie Canal and across Lake Erie to its western end. The necessity to transfer cargo from canal boats to lake boats has generated a thriving forwarding business at Buffalo. And so it goes, the need to move shipments again from lake boats to canal or land conveyances at the other end of the lake is expected to generate a similar activity, and consequently, a new commerce center that will rival Buffalo.
The area in which this new Buffalo will be born must be where lake boats can go; it must be between the mouth and the rapids of the Maumee. In other words, because of its remarkable natural advantages, it must be Lowertown since the other rivals are upriver from the rock bar at Marengo, making it much too dangerous for boats drawing over six feet to pass to the head of the rapids.
Prudent men are even now investing in this very flourishing and rapidly increasing place. There is no sign of weakness in the significant advance in the rising value of Lowertown properties. It appears to be controlled entirely by the increase in population. That is why you must act now to be a part of this incredible theatre of speculation. The prospect heretofore given is quite a time-sensitive opportunity! Pack your trunk and make haste!
What to Wear
For readers who have done little traveling and rely on whatever outer garments they possess to protect them from dirt, dust, and the elements, I suggest boots, cloaks, coats with extra shoulder capes, and wide-brimmed hats for men. For women, you will be best prepared with a wool riding habit and iron pattens worn over shoes to protect from dirt and mud.
What to Pack
Emigrants traveling by boat must not expect to carry more than a small trunk or two on the packet lines. Those who wish to take goods or furniture should take the transportation lines, with more delay.
Since boat travel affords only modest convenience for moving an entire stock of household goods, travelers are advised to pack a limited supply. Pots, pans, and a small medicine kit.
For clothing, remember, the seasons at Lowertown are regularly divided into spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
Spring brings mud and rain. Dress appropriately.
In the summer, newcomers will find it advantageous to protect themselves from the damp atmosphere of Lowertown at night. When the air is clear, do leave an open door and window for free circulation but do not sleep in direct contact with the current of air, or you may awake with a fever. In addition, women should plan to wear a sun bonnet during the heat of the day.
Fall arrives with spectacular color, but this vibrant show also serves as a warning to prepare for winter. The autumn season is also subject to sudden changes, from heat to cold, from wet to dry.
Winter here brings frigid temperatures and snow. A heavy blanket is a must. This region has no mountains or hills, and its extensive level surface gives great scope to the winds, especially during winter's long nights. Trust me; you will celebrate spring like never before after a winter on the western edge of Lake Erie.
Routes to Lowertown
The traveler or emigrant interested in journeying to Lowertown is offered the following routes:
From the East: While there are several ways to approach Lowertown from the east, travel is best achieved by water, thanks to the Great Black Swamp, the insufferable marshland that suffocates settlers coming by land from the south or east.
Others may tell you the Maumee and Western Reserve Road connecting Lower Sandusky with the Maumee River is navigable from July to September. However, the more this road is used, the worse it becomes. When I last counted, there were 31 taverns along that road between Lower Sandusky and Perrysburg—one every mile. Why? Because driving exhausted teams of horses or oxen through the swollen mud of the Great Black Swamp will barely make you a mile a day. It is a nearly impenetrable area of thick trees and murky water with chest-high mud. Trust me, dear reader, you'll need a quiet rest at the end of each day and whatever refreshments the tavernkeeper can muster if you choose to travel this road known by all as America's worst. So please take my advice, use the water route.
With that said, I highly suggest you book a boat from Buffalo to Sandusky City, where you can pick up a steamer for the short trip to Vistula. While you may land at Sandusky City and travel by stage, I don't recommend challenging the Maumee and Western Reserve Road. Instead, I recommend the PIONEER as your mode of travel. The cabin fare from Buffalo to Sandusky is $8. Your trip from Sandusky to Lowertown will cost you much less.
From the North: Another option is to cross Lake Erie to Detroit. The National Road from Detroit to Lowertown is quite passable, and a regular line of coaches will convey you to Lowertown, about sixty miles south. Stage fare is usually six cents per mile. Meals at stage-houses are thirty-seven and a half cents.
From the South: Your routing choices are clear from the south. Eight months out of the year, you will deal with unrelenting mud. If luck is with you and Mother Nature cooperates, the other four months will offer improved travel over snow and ice. If you approach from the south, plan to detour West to Fort Wayne and then work your way back east—above the Black Swamp using the Territorial Road.
Upon Your Arrival
Lodging: There are several places to lodge in the area, but I highly recommend John Fasset's place on Summit, between Locust and Lagrange. Mr. Fassett is currently planning future expansion to his hotel, and this will be a much-appreciated supplement to the hotel stock here in Lowertown.
Planning is still ongoing for Ira C. Smith's Eagle Tavern—planned for the river side of Summit between Elm and Lagrange. Mr. Smith has promised his new inn will also feature entertainment.
Housing: Having just been platted earlier this year, lots are ready for sale and the Vistula Company is ready and willing to do business.
Supplies: Being on the river and in close proximity to Detroit, an ample number of supplies arrive here on a regular schedule. Several merchants have opened stores; the first was opened by Mr. E. Briggs and operated by Willard J. Daniels. In addition, a store was opened last fall in the first frame building constructed in Vistula—erected at the southeast corner of Lagrange and Summit. Lewis Godard of Detroit keeps the store well-stocked, and Sanford L. Collins oversees the operation under the banner “Goddard & Briggs."
If you are willing to risk muddying your boots, John Baldwin and Cyrus Fisher also operate a store in Port Lawrence.
Banks: As a new emigrant to this area, one lesson to learn quickly is to ignore anything you learned about banking back East. Every man is his own bank here—paper money is worth only what trust you have in the man you accept it from in Michigan Territory.
My point is that the currency furnished by the local banks is but a poor one, because the notes of a local bank might be very good in the immediate vicinity of the institution issuing them; but by the time they have traveled one hundred miles from home, they are refused unless at a discount, or, what too frequently happens, they are refused at any price.
Post Office: A post office is located near Ten Mile Creek in Tremainsville, just a mile west of Lowertown. Thankfully, Major Stickney carries the mail to and from Tremainsville regularly. Mails can be dropped off or picked up here in Lowertown at the store kept by Theodore Bissell and Junius Flagg.
Churches: Rev. Warren Isham has organized the First Presbyterian Church, and regular meetings of the Methodist faith take place in several homes throughout the area.
Schools: As with all Western states, a provision has been made in the disposal of public lands to establish a permanent fund, the interest of which is annually applied towards the expenses for the education of those living in the township. In Port Lawrence Township, two good and respectable schools are in operation thanks to Miss Harriet Whitney and Mrs. M. H. Daniels. But the wants and feelings of the community call for many more, so schoolteachers are greatly needed and will meet ready employment and liberal wages.
Taxes: Lands owned by non-residents, equally with those of residents, are subject to taxation for Territory and township purposes, or both. The mode and amount for this area still developing as Michigan Territory seeks statehood but must be monitored. If not paid when due, costs are added, the lands sold, subject to redemption within a limited period of time.
The Character of Lowertown
There is a remarkable diversity in the character and habits of the people of Vistula. Still, as someone emigrating from the East, you will assimilate to the practices and partake of the feelings of these people right away. After all, Vistula is substantially a child of New York.
Like any newly arrived emigrant, there are several prominent people you should endeavor to meet upon your arrival at Lowertown. These are the prosperous leaders that will significantly influence the future of your new home, and undoubtedly, your prospects to become a fruitful citizen of this generous village. I've not listed this group of influencers in any order—all of them should be at the top of your "must meet" list.
Major B. F. Stickney: Stickney came to this area in 1820 from Fort Wayne. The Major is a direct descendent of Benjamin Franklin and a Native American Agent who knows twenty Indigenous dialects.
Major Stickney first took up residence in Maumee City at Fort Miami and soon after purchased property in Port Lawrence. In 1823, Major Stickney sold his Port Lawrence property and purchased a large tract of wooded land running from Cherry Street north along the river. He has recently constructed the area's first brick home just north of the heart of Lowertown, on a bluff overlooking the Maumee.
Some may describe Major Stickney as eccentric, but I believe their portrayal is a jealous reaction to misunderstanding his brilliant mind and his vision. As of late, Major Stickney is leading the citizens of Vistula, as well as Port Lawrence, in having both villages recognized as part of the great state of Ohio—instead of Michigan Territory—to secure the canal for this part of the lower Maumee Valley. While many agree there was a particular convenience of being part of Michigan territorial laws in the past, most agree now that this area should be governed by the State of Ohio since Michigan will not improve it properly for fear of damaging Detroit or Monroe.
Major Stickney and his family are a driving force in the development of Lowertown. By all means, you must meet and befriend this man.
Edward Bissell: At Captain Samuel Allen's urging, Mr. Bissel recently arrived from Lockport, NY, and became part-owner of the land on which Vistula is being developed. Being a man of great enterprise and intelligence, he has already served as a considerable impetus to the growth and success of the village. Bissell led the clearing of the plat for Vistula of timber and brush and the construction of the docking at Lowertown Landing from Lagrange to Elm. As I understand it, Mr. Bissel has many plans for Lowertown, including a sawmill, a new store, and a newspaper.
John Baldwin: Mr. Baldwin worked with Cyrus Fisher to bring a small stock of dry goods to the lower Maumee and opened a store at Port Lawrence early in its development. He is also the owner of the schooner VERMILLION that sails between here and Buffalo. In addition, Mr. Baldwin is now the Justice of the Peace of Port Lawrence township. He and his family formerly lived in the log warehouse of the original Port Lawrence Company at the mouth of Swan Creek, but they have recently moved into a new brick home on Summit Street.
Willard J. Daniels: Mr. Daniels is a merchant in Vistula; he also owns several lots in Port Lawrence. He is a knowledgeable man and a voracious reader. Many seek his opinion and advice.
Andrew Palmer: While a recent arrival to this area, and a Port Lawrence investor, Mr. Palmer is still a man to know. When he arrived here this spring, he had walked from Detroit to avoid the two-day wait for a steamer. He made the 62 mile walk in a day and a half. He has been busy building a promising future ever since.
Stephen Comstock: Mr. Comstock is serving as agent for the sales of lots at Port Lawrence and possesses important knowledge of business life in this area.
Port Lawrence: Be on guard at Port Lawrence, often referred to as Uppertown. While Lowertown exudes the refinement one would expect from a future great city, most will find Port Lawrence's dust, dirt, and noise as intolerable. This village has been struggling to gain a foothold here on the Maumee since 1817. The absentee landlords who first chartered Port Lawrence refuse to leave the luxury of Cincinnati to manage their assets here in the lower Maumee region. Thankfully, a broad open area called Muddy Creek extends from Cherry to Adams and acts as a natural buffer between the Uppertown and Lowertown.
The two villages are connected only by a single thoroughfare that Major Stickney has dubbed Summit Street, a path crudely graded from a narrow hog's back ridge, leaving embankments on either side between Oak and Monroe. Be very careful along this road; some parts of the embankments are twenty feet deep!
I've heard speculation that Port Lawrence and Vistula will someday unite to become a shining light in the Maumee Valley. I'm not a firm advocate of this preposterous rumor, but I think it best to share what I hear. I don’t believe the good citizens of Lowertown will ever stoop this low.
Real Estate Speculation: I have clarified that this region is ripe for development, and many men have invested heavily. But like all speculation, there is much to make, and in some cases, more to lose. Invest wisely. Stick with real estate. Stay away from any schemes involving the government. And remember, the returns generated by private companies are very good only in the beginning—every Dollar invested into a private company acquired at a decent price is sure to have led to higher returns than Dollars invested into stock. However, the cumulated return on stock tends to be greater! So, get rid of any private companies as soon as you can for maximum revenue.
Fevers and Agues: This region has fever and ague issues like any area susceptible to an often-damp climate. It is well known that these diseases are the offspring of the combined action of intense heat, the decomposition of vegetable matter, and marsh exhalation. However, all that is required to manage these diseases is some seasoning and careful practice when sleeping near thick and foggy air.
In case of sickness, physicians are to be found in the lower Maumee Valley, and every traveling season adds to their number. However, most settlers keep a few simple medicines at their ready and administer it themselves. Whenever nausea, pains in the limbs, yawning, or a chill, reveal the approach of disease, I recommend taking a dose of camel in a little apple or honey and follow it up with a dose of castor oil, or salts the next morning to produce a brisk purge. You may also consider an emetic—keeping in mind—cathartic or emetic will leave your system under some weakness. Mind you, you must follow up the evacuating medicine with tonics. A dose of sulphone or quinine will restore the system to its natural tone.
Native Indians: Although the Maumee Valley has historically served as home to Ottawa, Miami, and other tribes, the introduction of ardent spirits and several diseases has limited their numbers, excepting near the Ottawa Indian village located in close proximity to the bay. As a result, the chance of hostile contact with native aborigines is minimal.
I trust you will value the knowledge I have shared in this handbook. My goal in presenting this information is to promote a more extensive knowledge than has hitherto been furnished of the condition of this critical section of our country.
In conclusion, please allow me to offer one last piece of advice. Emigrants and travelers to Lowertown will find it in their best interest to always be a little skeptical relative to statements of stage, steam, and canal boat agents. Always leave some allowance in their calculation for delays, difficulties, and expenses. But, above all, be careful to accept any of their stories promoting those struggling towns located upriver from Lowertown. Again, trust me when I say, Lowertown is the next great city.
This early 19th-century guide to Lowertown was written by 21st-century storyteller, Tedd Long who relied heavily on the following resources.
· Peck, John Mason. A New Guide for Emigrants to the West. HardPress, 2017
· Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio, 1623-1923. United States: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923.
· Memoirs of Lucas County and the City of Toledo: From the Earliest Historical Times Down to the Present, Including a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Representative Families. United States: Western Historical Association, 1910.
· Simonis, Louis A.. Maumee River, 1835: With the William C. Holgate Journal, May 16-June 24, 1835, from Utica, New York, to Huntington, Indiana. United States: Defiance County Historical Society, 1979.
· J. B. Mansfield, ed., History of the Great Lakes. Volume I, Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1899
· Charles N. Glaab, "Jesup W. Scott and a West of Cities," Ohio. History 73:3-12 (Winter 1964).
· Farmer, John. The Emigrants' Guide: Or, Pocket Gazetteer of the Surveyed Part of Michigan. Albany: Printed by B. D. Packard, 1830.