As you travel the rural roads that wend their way over the gently rolling terrain of northern Ohio among crops and farms and manufactories, you might encounter a number of establishments containing ‘Firelands’ in their names — or perhaps come upon one of the many small landmark signs welcoming you to the Firelands, established in 1792. For here, more than 700 miles from the Colonial coasts of Revolutionary America, you will be surveying a historical remnant of our nation’s founding.
The Firelands — originally named The Fire Lands of the Sufferers — were a full half-million acres of wilderness granted by the Connecticut legislature to the ‘sufferers’ of nine Connecticut towns who had seen their homes, crops and businesses burned by the British military during America’s war of independence. The Redcoats were striving to keep the plentiful supplies, foodstuffs and commerce from supplying the Minutemen as they battled for freedom from tyranny.
Unfortunately, it was not until a full twenty years after the end of the war that the combined heirs and representatives of the ‘sufferers’ were finally able to form a corporation to manage the lands they had been given. Part of Connecticut’s ‘Western Reserve’, which ran due west from present-day Connecticut State boundaries all the way through what is today Ohio, the Firelands occupy all of Ohio’s Huron County. Within the Firelands, more than 40 cities and townships have developed over the intervening century.
Norwalk (population: 17,000+) is the county seat of Huron, and is roughly equidistant between, though south of, Cleveland and Toledo. Like a number of the other communities that have developed in the Firelands, Norwalk carries the name of its Connecticut predecessor. Mr. Platt Benedict of Danbury, CT first visited the site of Norwalk in 1815, soon after the War of 1812, then promptly returned home to purchase an initial 1,300 acres to establish a village. Within just a few years, the county seat had been brought to the village, and local population had climbed past 100.
Today, Norwalk’s quaintly historic city center has its share of vintage multi-story brick structures lining the main thoroughfares. Most prominent of these is the Renaissance/Queen Anne-styled Huron County Courthouse, designed by architect Vernon Redding, and initially erected in 1882, then reconstructed in 1913 after a fire. The substantial clock tower and colonnaded belfry of the Courthouse tower high above the city’s main intersection, graced by a Seth Thomas clockworks. Linked by a bridge running to the rear of the Courthouse is the Huron County Jail, in all its Richardsonian glory. Many of the older homes throughout Norwalk appear to have been lifted whole from Colonial-era Connecticut.
Norwalk is served by a single continuing freight railroad line, and is connected to the surrounding communities of Fremont, Elyria, Sandusky, Mansfield, Medina, Shelby and Tiffin by a spider’s web of various state and county roads. The Ohio Turnpike (Interstates 80 and 90) skims past Norwalk at about 3.5 miles distance. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is 45 miles northeast of the city. The community remains predominately low-to-moderate income white, with Hispanic or Latino comprising the largest population minority. Norwalk is educated by four different local school districts as well as a number of religious education facilities.