The History Behind A Sports Rivalry

Ohio and Michigan sports teams have enjoyed heated rivalries over the years. Just in case you thought this was the result of random chance, there’s a bit of history that these competitors owe their competitiveness.

It’s a strange piece of history that combines Ohio and Michigan into competition over water access and land known as The Toledo Strip. It’s all a result of a territory dispute that resulted in The Toledo War during 1835-1836. Though, the arguments date back to 1787 when the land that would eventually contain both Ohio and Michigan was contained in the Northwest Ordinance established by the US government.

When it established The Northwest Territory, the rules said at least 3 states and no more than 5 would come out of the territory. The border for at least 3 of said states to be established was the southern most tip of Lake Michigan drawn east to west using the best available map at the time, The Mitchell Map. This border would give Ohio, upon attaining statehood, ownership of all the Lake Erie shoreline west of Pennsylvania.

It was discovered in 1803 as Ohio became a state that the map was drawn wrong as the southern most point of Lake Michigan was further south giving the Maumee Bay and the 468 square mile area of land known as The Toledo Strip to Michigan, currently just a territory. In order to avoid this Ohio changed the border description upon becoming a state to include the disputed land. In 1805 when the Michigan Territory was established they used the border defined by The Northwest Ordinance and while Ohio refused to cede the land Michigan continued to run local governments in the area.


Years later in 1833, in their statehood request Michigan used the border according to the Northwest Ordinance which gave them dominion over the disputed land. In opposition, the governor of Ohio, Robert Lucas, had the request blocked. Ohio argued the Michigan residents living in the area were intruders and the land was still theirs. Congress upheld the request and Michigan was not granted statehood.

In an attempt to affirm their jurisdiction over the land, Ohio drafted rules to establish county governments in the area. As a result, Michigan’s governor, Stevens Mason, in 1835 enacted fines to be applied to residents living in the Toledo Strip for those supporting Ohio.

Just in case you thought this couldn’t get any crazier, Mason sent 1000 militia men to the border to support the fines he was enacting and as a counter Lucas sent 600. When Lucas tried to commission a new survey of the territory, several shots were fired in a skirmish that became known as The Battle of Phillips Corner. While no one was injured both populations were on the brink of war as a result.

For the remainder of the summer of 1835, each state tried to one-up the other through military maneuvers and arrests until a conflict between an Ohio soldier and a Michigan sheriff left a sheriff wounded. This signaled for President Andrew Jackson that something must be done to resolve the situation.

After federal intervention by President Jackson The Toledo War finally came to an end in December 1836 when Mason accepted the terms for statehood. As part of the deal,  Ohio gained control of The Toledo Strip and Michigan gained control of the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan finally became a state in 1837 and the argument was solved. The border wasn’t finalized physically until 1915, however, when a new survey was commissioned and a physical border made with granite markers was laid out and officially agreed upon by the state’s governors.




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