The Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1785 had imposed upon the natives (Wyandots, Shawnee, Chippewa, Delaware, ...) the taking of land west of the Ohio to the Tuscarawas, while the Land Ordinance of 1785 set the precedent for the division and distribution of these lands. With the Treaty of Ft. Industry in July 4, 1805, property west of the Tuscarawas became open to white settlers. With the Treaty of Maumee Rapids and the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1817, all lands in Ohio were accounted for.
In the County of Stark just outside the Connecticut Western Reserve, on lands known as the Congressional Lands, frontier life was dangerous and difficult. Stories abound of Native attacks, confrontations with wild beasts, and difficulty in transportation. Settlers arrived on canoe or foot from Cleveland by way of the Cuyahoga to the Portage to the Tuscarawas or by ox-drawn cart following the state road from Pennsylvania to Canton then cutting wider Indian trails to their destination.
Foresighted surveyors while platting Stark County had included “Fractions” of land west of the Tuscarawas. The surveying went according to the laws of the Land Ordinance of 1785, which provided for six-mile square townships to be created in the newly acquired land, the township would then be divided into one-square mile sections, with each section encompassing 640 acres. Each section received its own number. Section sixteen was set aside for a public school. The federal government reserved sections eight, eleven, twenty-six, and twenty-nine to provide veterans of the American Revolution with land bounties for their service during the war. The government would sell the remaining sections at public auction. The minimum bid was 640 dollars per section or one dollar for very acre of land in each section.
The fraction in the northwest part of Stark County was settled before the land on the east bank of the Tuscarawas. The west side of the river was chosen because of the roads that already existed (old Cleveland-Massillon Road also known as the “army road” or “territorial road” because it was cut during the War of 1812, when the Government needed access to Fort Meigs). Also, it was believed the west side had better quality soil. However, the primary reason the west side of river was chosen was because east of the Tusc, the surveys were in two-section areas (with additional surveying the responsibility of the settler) and west of the River the surveys were done on a one-section basis. Most settlers only wanted to farm (and purchase) a one-section area.
Matthew Rowland purchased one of these fractions of land and recorded the proprietorship at Canton March 23, 1814. Rowland platted the town and offered the 79 lots for sale at a public auction in Canton.
The town was named—Milan, after the Lombardian city of Milan in Italy. It was fashionable at the time to name frontier towns after European cities (witness Paris, Ohio founded in Stark two months before Milan) perhaps it gave settlers a sense of culture and place in the wilds of these lands unexplored by European descendants.
Rowland’s son-in-law built the first structure in Milan (a log cabin), and Rowland soon added a gristmill and a sawmill. Neither was very successful.
The Township that Milan would become a part of was laid off in December of 1815. Lawrence Township was named after Captain James Lawrence famous for his last words during the War of 1812 battle between the American Chesapeake, and the British frigate the Shannon, “Don’t Give up the Ship”. These words are now the township’s motto.
Milan was the only village in the township until the building of the canal between 1826 and 1828, which brought about the town of Fulton on the other side of the river. Milan boasted churches, cemeteries, and a grocery built to service the hundreds of canal workers. Fulton surpassed Milan though and the prefix Canal was added.
For a brief time with the coming of the B & O railroad, Milan once again eclipsed the Port of Canal Fulton. American transportation such as it is, even this balance was tipped again because all the main highways favored the Fulton side of the river. Today Milan no longer exists as it incorporated into Canal Fulton in 1853. It is, however, a quiet residential area, and most in Canal Fulton are aware of the little village’s beginnings.