Did Robert E. Lee Spend Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio?


Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio is like being nowhere at all
All through the day how the hours rush by
You sit in the park and you watch the grass die!
Ah, but after the sunset, the dusk and the twilight
When shadows of night start to fall
They roll back the sidewalk precisely at ten
And people who live there are not seen again!
Just two lonely truckers from Great Falls, Montana
And a salesman from places unknown 
All huddled together in downtown Toledo
To spend their big night all alone!


The song is by Randy Sparks, written after a particularly uninspiring night in Toledo.  John Denver started performing it in the early 1970s and was ‘uninvited’ to do a concert by Toledo Mayor Harry Kessler.  Denver and Toledo eventually kissed and made up, but there’s no denying that Toledo wasn’t, and still isn’t, an entertainment mecca.
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Everybody’s heard of the great Toledo War, right?

Well, for those of you who haven’t, here’s the synopsis:

In 1835 the State of Ohio and the Territory of Michigan went to war over a six mile strip of land that extended from Toledo west to the Indiana border.  The war arose from a boundary dispute which was triggered by an inaccurate boundary description set out in the Northwest Ordnance of 1787 and an inaccurate description of Ohio’s northern boundary set out in the Enabling Act of 1802 (yet another Congressional screw-up).  Both Ohio and Michigan considered this strip of land, known as the Toledo Strip, to be theirs.  You may well ask (hell, you should ask) why all the interest in Toledo?  Well, in the early 1800s Toledo was poised to become a major shipping center on the Great Lakes.  The Erie Canal had just been opened, triggering a trade and settlement boom in the upper Midwest.  Politicians emboldened by the success of the Erie Canal were talking seriously of financing a canal following the Maumee River from Toledo to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and from there on to the Mississippi River.  If this plan came through then bulk goods could move cheaply by water between New York and the Mississippi.  Toledo would become one of the major trading hubs in North America.  Governors and legislatures drooled over the prospect.  Suddenly Toledo was worth fighting for!

The Toledo War was really nothing more than a bunch of alcohol-fueled hotheads on both sides throwing insults and the occasional lead ball across the border.  Still, the federal government had to do something to settle the dispute.  After long negotiations and intervention by President Andrew Jackson (and a little arm twisting to get Michigan to play along), the border issue was ‘settled’.  All that remained was for a formal boundary survey to be conducted and the results agreed to by both Ohio and Michigan.

Enter Lieutenant Robert E. Lee.  He was appointed to a party of Corps of Engineer officers detailed by the War Department to survey and map the Ohio – Michigan border as described in the agreement:

In 1835 (Washington) Hood was associated with Robert E. Lee in a map-making expedition to settle once and for all the Ohio-Michigan boundary dispute. This involved a strip of land averaging six and one half miles in width and extending along the northern border of Ohio west of Lake Erie. Michigan’s claim was based on the boundary laid down by the Northwest Ordinance (1787). Ohio’s claim was based on the line set forth in its state constitution, which the U.S. Congress had neither confirmed nor rejected when Ohio was admitted to the Union.
To settle this dispute, the government sent Captain Andrew Talcott and Lieutenants Robert E. Lee and Washington Hood to survey and map this area. On the basis of this survey both Michigan and Ohio agreed to compromise and Michigan became a state in 1837. This dispute nearly erupted into a border clash and is often referred to as the “Toledo War.”
– Charles R. Steitz, Jr., “Washington Hood: Five Hundredth Graduate of the United States Military Academy”, Pennsylvania Folklife, 1990, Volume 39, No. 3
Which begs the question, just what do a trio of wild and crazy 19th century West Point grads do for entertainment while in Toledo?  Grab a bite to eat and listen to some jazz music perhaps?
Tony Packo’s.  A Toledo landmark.  The
best damned hot dogs and potato salad in the world
and home of the Cake Walking Jazz Band.

Although Michigan lost this round they were given what is today their Upper Peninsula as compensation.  At the time it seemed like an unfair trade and there was a lot of grousing about it among Michiganders (or Michiganians, or whatever they call themselves).

Today’s Michiganders think it was one heck of a good deal.  All you have to do is drive through downtown Toledo to understand why.

And the Toledo – Mississippi River canal project?  It petered out.  One word.  Railroads.

– Brian

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