For more than 50 years, this peaceful retreat on Loramie Creek has been a favorite family gathering place for fun in the outdoors. The serenity of its recent past, though, is a sharp contrast to its busy bygone days as a center of commerce on the frontier, and the stormy times when a violent clash of cultures took place here. The pleasing rural setting of today's Lake Loramie State Park was once an ancient thoroughfare, thanks to its geography. It sits on the "œLoramie Summit," the point of highest elevation between the Great Miami and St. Marys rivers, which served as an overland portage for early travelers plying their canoes between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes.
From the moment the area was first inhabited in the 1740s, it became a focal point of the rivalry between the French and English and their respective Indian allies for control of the Ohio territory. A band of Miami Indians from the Indiana wilderness ventured east along the St. Marys River to Loramie Creek, and settled near the confluence of Loramie Creek and the Great Miami River, a day's journey from the Loramie Summit. These Miami, known as the Tewightewee, had a friendly relationship with the English traders who occasionally visited their new town-so much so that their chief was nicknamed "œOld Britain." The English were permitted to set up a trading station and later a stockade nearby, and the bustling town of Pickawillany quickly gained notoriety as a frontier outpost.
Not long after the English settled in, Celeron De Bienville attempted to claim the hearts and minds of the Pickawillany Miamis for France. In 1749, DeBeinville was sent by the Royal Governor of Canada (which was controlled by the French at the time) to trek along the Ohio River and claim the territory north of the Ohio River as "œNew France." When DeBeinville reached the mouth of the Great Miami River, he traveled upstream to greet Old Britain at Pickawillany and convince him to abandon the English and pledge his allegiance to France. Old Britain held his ground, and DeBeinville left disappointed.
No sooner had DeBeinville returned to Canada than the English scout Christopher Gist was sent by the Ohio Land Company to explore the Ohio wilderness and endear himself to the Native Americans along the way. He was warmly received at Pickawillany when he arrived in February 1751, and cemented the alliance between Old Britain and English interests. Pickawillany was thriving, but its glory days were numbered.
Little more than one year later, in June 1752, more than 200 Chippewa and Ottawa warriors from the north, led by a French commander from Fort Detroit, descended on Pickawillany to destroy the fort. Three of the English traders were captured and several Miamis were killed, including Old Britain. To symbolize their extreme distaste for Old Britain's friendship with the English, the attacking Indians boiled and ate Old Britain's corpse in a gruesome ceremony. The attack on Pickawillany precipitated a full-blown conflict between the English and French, known as the French and Indian War. The Miamis fled the region, paving the way for settlement by the neighboring Shawnee.
In 1769, the charismatic Peter Loramie (also referred to as Pierre Loramie) ventured down from Canada and established a trading station along the banks of Loramie Creek at the Loramie Summit-both of which were named in his honor-about fifteen miles upstream from the Great Miami River. His store was conveniently located a day's journey from the newly established Shawnee town at upper Piqua, where Pickawillany once stood.
Some historians claim that Peter Loramie was a French Canadian trader who held a grudge against the colonists-soon to call themselves Americans-while other historians insist that Loramie was a French Jesuit priest sent by the archbishop of Quebec to serve as a missionary. Whether his aim was to save souls or stir up mischief against the settlers, Peter Loramie was extremely popular with the neighboring Shawnee, and his busy store was tremendously successful. Whatever his mission or motives, Loramie treated the Indians with kindness and generosity, and received their loyalty in return.
Although the Shawnee nation sided with the English during the American Revolution, the Shawnee residents of upper Piqua remained devoted to Loramie, their "French Father." During the turbulent decade of the 1770s, Loramie's store was a gathering place for exchanges of goods, as well as exchanges of ideas and schemes. While Lord Dunmore's soldiers spoke of their resolve to defend American liberty, Loramie's Shawnee warriors exercised their resolve to keep the region free of white settlers. They staged murderous raids on pioneer settlements as far away as Cincinnati and Kentucky. Tales of the Shawnees' exploits, coupled with the steady Native American traffic to and from Loramie's store, thoroughly intimidated pioneer families from venturing into the upper Miami Valley region.
The Shawnees' isolation ended abruptly in 1782 when Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark turned his attention to the indigenous adversaries on the frontier. General Clark and a militia of 1,000 Kentuckians marched up the Great Miami to destroy the Shawnee stronghold at Piqua along with Loramie's wilderness outpost. Loramie's store was burned and looted, and Loramie himself narrowly escaped the raid. Many of the Shawnee abandoned the smoldering ruins of their town, and emigrated to the Spanish territories west of the Mississippi River, accompanied by their friend, Peter Loramie.
Although the trading post was gone and the population dispersed, the site of Loramie's home in the upper Miami Valley remained strategically important in the struggle for control of all of Ohio. After Loramie's departure, violent clashes between determined settlers and the Indians who remained in western Ohio continued to escalate. Following tragically unsuccessful campaigns in 1791 and 1792 by Revolutionary War heroes Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair to rout the Indians, General Anthony Wayne finally claimed a victory for the Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 near the Maumee River. The resulting Treaty of Greenville, which confined the Indians to the northwest corner of Ohio, used Loramie's station as reference point for the southern boundary of the Indians' territory.
As General Wayne was negotiating the peace at Greenville, he ordered the construction of a blockhouse and storage buildings over the wreckage of Loramie's store. He named the complex "Fort Loramie" in honor of the man who left such an enduring impression on the people and politics of the Ohio frontier. Fort Loramie served as an important supply depot for the American forces in northern Ohio during the War of 1812.
Following the war, the United States government sold Fort Loramie to a local entrepreneur, James Furrow. He transformed the fortified complex to suit civilian life, establishing a tavern and a post office. A dozen years after Ohio achieved statehood, the new village of Fort Loramie quickly took shape around the buildings. Several years later, the strategic location of the Loramie Summit would once again be utilized to facilitate the movement of goods and people through the still dense and wild Ohio forests.
In 1825, work began on the Miami and Erie Canal, which would eventually create a continuously navigable channel from the Ohio River to Lake Erie along the state's western waterways. The route followed the Great Miami River to the mouth of Loramie Creek, progressed up Loramie Creek to Fort Loramie, and proceeded north overland to the Auglaize River, following the Auglaize to its confluence with the Maumee River, and on to Lake Erie. As work progressed on the channel segments, feeder reservoirs were created at strategic locations to ensure a reliable water supply in the channels year-round. One such location was the Loramie Summit. Just above the town of Fort Loramie, swamp land skirting the banks of Loramie Creek was dug out by hand to create Lake Loramie. Today, the lake encompasses more than 1,600 acres.
When it was completed in 1845, the Miami and Erie Canal spanned 249 miles and featured three feeder reservoirs along with a total of 103 locks to enable canal boats to drift smoothly along changing elevations. No locks were needed along the table-top level expanse of the Loramie Summit. For more than thirty years, the canal boats brought prosperity and waves of new immigrants to Fort Loramie and the other towns astride the canal channels. In a generation, the canals had transformed Ohio from a frontier backwater to a thriving agricultural center, but the next revolution in transportation would make the clunky canals obsolete.
The development of the railroads in the 1850s caused a gradual decline in canal traffic. The state of Ohio withdrew its support from the canal system in 1877, and the canal business slowed to a trickle. The canal infrastructure was neglected and began to decay, and flooding of the Great Miami River in 1913 damaged the canals beyond repair.
Before the final demise of the Miami and Erie Canal, Lake Loramie and the other feeder reservoirs, Grand Lake St. Marys and Lewiston Reservoir (known today as Indian Lake), were recognized as precious recreational assets. By 1902, all of the canal feeder lakes had been dedicated by the Ohio legislature as public parks, and when the Ohio State Park system was created in 1949, they were among the first areas to be designated as state parks.
In the early years, Lake Loramie State Park was locally known as a quiet getaway offering leisurely boating, fishing, swimming and informal, primitive camping by the lakeshore. The park began to attract more out-of-town visitors when the modern campground was developed in the 1970s. It became a camping destination when the campground was upgraded in 1991 with electrical hookups and flush restrooms with showers. Today, many of the 162 electric campsites are on shaded, waterfront lots. Four Rent-A-Camp tents offer the conveniences of home, including a small refrigerator, microwave and gas grill.
Additional facilities for campers include a nature center, game room, bicycle and canoe rentals, playgrounds, and basketball, volleyball and horseshoe courts. There are plenty of attractions for day visitors, too. Nature trails skirt the lake and circle Blackberry Island. The attractive new Earl's Island Pavilion hosts all kinds of group activities. The pavilion and many other park facilities, including boat launch ramps and courtesy docks, fishing piers, playgrounds and walking paths have been built over the years with help from the Lake Loramie Improvement Association (see the "People in Parks" feature in this issue).
Even while enjoying the modern amenities, park visitors can still connect with the past. A two-mile segment of the Miami and Erie Trail, which follows the historic canal route from Delphos to Grand Lake St. Marys, passes through Lake Loramie State Park.
History buffs may want to check out the Wilderness Trail Museum in Fort Loramie, where the "War Council at Lorimier's Store" painting is on display. Visit the Fort Loramie Historical Association website at www.fortloramiehistory.com for more information.