Oberlin, Ohio

Coordinates: 41°17′00″N 82°14′00″W / 41.28333°N 82.23333°W / 41.28333; -82.23333
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oberlin, Ohio
"Live. Learn. Lead."
Location in Greater Cleveland
Location in Greater Cleveland
Oberlin is located in Ohio
Location in Ohio
Coordinates: 41°17′00″N 82°14′00″W / 41.28333°N 82.23333°W / 41.28333; -82.23333
Country United States
State Ohio
County Lorain
 • TypeCouncil-manager
 • Total4.96 sq mi (12.85 km2)
 • Land4.92 sq mi (12.75 km2)
 • Water0.04 sq mi (0.10 km2)
Elevation807 ft (246 m)
 • Total8,555
 • Density1,737.06/sq mi (670.75/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code440
FIPS code39-57834[3]
GNIS feature ID2395295[2]

Oberlin /bərlɪn/ is a city in Lorain County, Ohio, United States. It is located about 31 miles (50 km) southwest of Cleveland within the Cleveland metropolitan area. The population was 8,555 at the 2020 census. Oberlin is the home of Oberlin College, a liberal arts college and music conservatory with approximately 3,000 students.

The town is the birthplace of the Anti-Saloon League and the Hall-Héroult process, the process of reducing aluminum from its fluoride salts by electrolysis, which made industrial production of aluminum possible.[4]


Oberlin was founded in 1833 by two Presbyterian ministers, John Jay Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart.[5] The pair had become friends while spending the summer of 1832 together in nearby Elyria and discovered a shared dissatisfaction with what they saw as the lack of strong Christian morals among the settlers of the American West.[6] Their proposed solution was to create a religious community that would more closely adhere to Biblical commandments, along with a school for training Christian missionaries who would eventually spread throughout the American frontier.[7] The two decided to name their community after Johann Friedrich Oberlin (1740–1826), an Alsatian minister whose pedagogical achievements in a poor and remote area had greatly impressed and inspired them.[8]

Shipherd and Stewart rode south from Elyria into the forests that then covered the northern part of Ohio in search of a suitable location for their community.[7] After a journey of approximately eight miles, they stopped to rest and pray in the shade of an elm tree along the forest, and agreed that this would be a good place to start their community.[7]

Shipherd traveled back east and convinced the owner of the land to donate 500 acres (2.0 km2) of land for the school, and he purchased an additional 5,000 acres (20 km2) for the town, at the cost of $1.50 per acre ($371/km2).[9]

In 1834 a charter for the new Oberlin Collegiate Institute was obtained from the legislature of Ohio, and the institute adopted as its motto "Learning and Labor."[9][10] The same year saw a freshman class of four students.[11] In those days the words were taken quite literally: tuition at Oberlin was free, but students were expected to contribute by helping to build and sustain the community. This attracted a number of bright young people who would otherwise not have been able to afford tuition.[12] The motto remains to this day.

During the mid-1800s African Americans, predominantly free people of color and runaway slaves, settled in the area.[13][14][15]

In Oberlin's earliest years, transportation (especially for students) depended heavily on weather-dependent Lake Erie transportation routes; the nearest railroad passed through Wellington, and travellers were forced to rely on stagecoaches between that village and Oberlin.[16][17] This situation changed in 1852 when the Toledo, Norwalk, and Cleveland Railroad opened a stop in Oberlin along its Grafton line.[18][19] Fifteen years later, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway opened a new rail station along this line; no longer used for rail transportation, the depot has been converted for community use and sits at the center of a park.[20]

On June 28, 1924, the worst flood in Oberlin history occurred on the same day that a tornado killed 62 people in Lorain. Afterward, the water was so deep that children swam in Tappan Square.[21] Damage was caused to all of downtown Oberlin.[22]

One of Oberlin's largest employers was the Federal Aviation Administration, which houses the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center overseeing the airspace of six states and a small part of Canada.[23][24]


Oberlin was not founded as an abolitionist town. Its status changed with the enrollment in 1835 of the Lane Rebels, a loose group of several dozen students coordinated by abolitionist Theodore Weld. They had withdrawn en masse from the new Lane Theological Seminary of Cincinnati because of its treatment of the Black community and opposition to abolition of slavery.[25] Cincinnati, on the Ohio River, was not a city where free blacks were safe, nor did Cincinnati welcome fugitives.

By chance, this group encountered Shipherd, who was travelling around Ohio looking for students for his new Collegiate Institute. The group agreed to come to Oberlin, but on condition that Asa Mahan, who had resigned as a Lane trustee, come as president, and that Oberlin treat Black and white students equally, something no college in the United States did at the time. The trustees, although reluctantly, agreed to these conditions. The first Black enrolees, James Bradley and the brothers Gideon Quarles and Charles Henry Langston, did not enroll in Oberlin but in an affiliated school, the Sheffield Manual Labor Institute. (Their younger brother John Mercer Langston, who in 1888 became the first black elected to the United States Congress from Virginia, also studied at Oberlin.)

By the middle of the 19th century, Oberlin had become a major focus of the abolitionist movement in the United States.[26] Escaped enslaved people were relatively safe there. Thousands of escaped enslaved people crossing the Ohio River from Kentucky came through Oberlin—some to stay in the area, but most as a way-station to recover on their way to Lake Erie, where they found transportation across the lake to the safety of Canada West (Ontario).

The town of Oberlin, then, was an active "station" on the Underground Railroad.[27] Fugitive enslaved people were assisted by a new Ohio law that allowed them to apply for a writ of habeas corpus, which protected them from extradition back to the Southern states from which they had escaped. In 1858, a newly elected Democratic state legislature repealed this law, making fugitives around Oberlin vulnerable to enforcement of the Federal Fugitive Slave Law, which allowed Southern slave-catchers to target and extradite them back to the South.

This situation came to a head with the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, a pivotal event described in Nat Brandt's book The Town That Started the Civil War. On September 13, 1858, a fugitive named John Price was captured by federal officials and held in neighboring Wellington, Ohio.[27] A large group of Oberlin residents, consisting of both white and black townspeople, students, and faculty, set out for Wellington to release Price from captivity.[27]

Oberlin "Rescuers" outside the Cuyahoga County jail. C.H. Langston is seventh from right in front row, with hat over his chest.

The men took Price back from the arresting US Marshal, and eventually smuggled him to Canada, but the authorities were not content to let the matter rest. United States President James Buchanan personally requested prosecution of the group (now referred to by sympathetic parties as "the Rescuers"), and 37 of them were indicted.[28][29][30] Twelve of those were formerly enslaved people, including Charles H. Langston.[31]: 80  State authorities arrested the US Marshal who had captured Price. In negotiation, the state agreed to free the arresters, and the federal officials agreed to free all but two of those indicted. Simeon M. Bushnell, a white man, and Charles H. Langston were both tried and convicted by an all-Democrat jury. Langston's eloquent speech against slavery and injustice persuaded the judge to give them light sentences, with Langston receiving 20 days in jail and a fine of $100.[32] They appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, but on May 30, 1859, their petition was denied.[31]

Cenotaph in Oberlin with names of Green, Copeland, and Leary, erected 1860: "These colored citizens of Oberlin, the heroic associates of the immortal John Brown, gave their lives for the slave."

Three formerly enslaved people—Lewis Sheridan Leary, Shields Green, and John Anthony Copeland, Jr.—participated in John Brown's famous 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Leary died during the raid, and Green and Copeland were hanged after arrest and conviction. The bodies of Green and Copeland were used for dissection and anatomical study at the Winchester Medical College; the remains were discarded. Leary's body was first thrown in an unmarked pit, along with the 7 of the 9 others killed during the raid; much later the bodies were disinterred and reburied at the John Brown Farm, next to his grave. (See John Brown's raiders.)

The political ferment resulting from the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue led to a number of major protests throughout the northern part of Ohio, and an unprecedented boost to the anti-slavery Republican party in the 1860 state elections. The governor of Ohio wrote to the new Republican President Abraham Lincoln urging him to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law. Though in point of fact Lincoln declined this request, this decision did not prevent Southern states from seceding, and America was soon embroiled in the Civil War.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.96 square miles (12.85 km2), of which, 4.92 square miles (12.74 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) is water.[33]


Oberlin experiences a humid continental (Köppen Dfa) climate. Winters are cold, dry and often snowy. Summers are warm to very warm and sometimes hot. The city rests within the northern snowbelt of Ohio and is tempered by the Great Lakes.

Climate data for Oberlin, Ohio
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 74
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 32.0
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 15.6
Record low °F (°C) −23
Average precipitation inches (mm) 2.25
Average snowfall inches (cm) 10.1
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 12.3 10.1 11.6 12.6 11.8 11.0 9.5 9.6 9.7 10.3 11.7 12.8 133
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 6.0 4.8 3.1 0.8 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.6 5 21.3
Source: NOAA (normals, 1971–2000)[34]


Historical population
2021 (est.)8,249−3.6%

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[42] of 2010, there were 8,286 people, 2,730 households, and 1,381 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,684.1 inhabitants per square mile (650.2/km2). There were 2,984 housing units at an average density of 606.5 per square mile (234.2/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 73.0% White, 14.8% African American, 0.2% Native American, 4.0% Asian, 1.4% from other races, and 6.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.1% of the population.

There were 2,730 households, of which 24.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.9% were married couples living together, 11.2% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.4% had a male householder with no wife present, and 49.4% were non-families. 38.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.19 and the average family size was 2.86.

The median age in the city was 23.3 years. 14.8% of residents were under the age of 18; 37.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 14.5% were from 25 to 44; 18.5% were from 45 to 64; and 14.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.0% male and 54.0% female.

Of the city's population over the age of 25, 41.1% hold a bachelor's degree or higher.[43]

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 8,195 people, 2,678 households, and 1,395 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,871.5 inhabitants per square mile (722.6/km2). There were 2,836 housing units at an average density of 647.7 per square mile (250.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 71.92% White, 18.55% African American, 0.49% Native American, 3.40% Asian, 0.17% Pacific Islander, 1.21% from other races, and 4.26% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.04% of the population.

There were 2,678 households, out of which 21.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.5% were married couples living together, 11.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 47.9% were non-families. 35.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.89.

In the city the population was spread out, with 14.7% under the age of 18, 36.9% from 18 to 24, 16.4% from 25 to 44, 17.0% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 24 years. For every 100 females, there were 77.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 73.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $41,094, and the median income for a family was $59,358. Males had a median income of $42,170 versus $27,308 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,704. About 6.7% of families and 19.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.6% of those under age 18 and 7.5% of those age 65 or over.


The City of Oberlin's motto is "live, learn, lead."[44] It is governed by a city manager and a seven-member council which is elected to two-year terms in a non-partisan election.

The city of Oberlin runs an online dashboard that displays the city's use of resources in real time. Effective from July 2013, the dashboard shows outputs of infrastructure, such as Oberlin's power plant and water treatment plant.[45]


Oberlin lies at the intersection of state routes 58 and 511. Its municipal limits extend south to include parts of U.S. Highway 20. Oberlin also lies on a paved bicycle and pedestrian path, the North Coast Inland Trail, which travels southwest to Kipton and northeast to Elyria. The path is built on the former railroad right-of-way of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Southern Branch. Like many smaller municipalities across Ohio, Oberlin was once served by railroads but currently has no railroad service. An old station is visible along the bike path.

The Cleveland & Southwestern interurban line from Elyria served Oberlin from approximately 1903 to its demise in 1928. Its rails basically followed Oberlin/Elyria Rd / Rt 231 from the east, entering town on E. College St, then turned South and followed Rt 58 to Wellington. There was a wye at S. Main and the line continued west to Norwalk, competing with the Lake Shore Electric into the city.[citation needed]

Lorain County Transit (LCT) formerly provided one bus route to Oberlin, but route 33 was shut down because of funding shortfalls.[46]

Notable people[edit]

Sister cities[edit]

Oberlin's sister cities are:[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ArcGIS REST Services Directory". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Oberlin, Ohio
  3. ^ a b c "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  4. ^ US patent 400664, Charles Martin Hall, "Process of Reducing Aluminium from its Fluoride Salts by Electrolysis", issued 1889-04-02 
  5. ^ Paul Henry Oehser (1968). The United States Encyclopedia of History. Curtis Books.
  6. ^ Robert Samuel Fletcher (1971). A history of Oberlin College: from its foundation through the Civil War. Arno Press. ISBN 9780405037054.
  7. ^ a b c Roland M. Baumann (July 31, 2014). Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College: A Documentary History. Ohio University Press. pp. 15–. ISBN 978-0-8214-4363-7.
  8. ^ Harry S. Ashmore (1961). Encyclopaedia Britannica: a new survey of universal knowledge. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  9. ^ a b Charles Francis Richardson; Henry Alden Clark (1878). The College Book. Houghton, Osgood. pp. 320–.
  10. ^ James H. Fairchild (1860). Oberlin: its origin, progress and results: An address, prepared for the alumni of Oberlin College, assembled August 22, 1860. Shankland and Harmon. pp. 45–.
  11. ^ Henry Cowles; Asa Mahan (1855). The Oberlin Evangelist. R.E. Gillett. pp. 1–.
  12. ^ "Oberlin History". Oberlin College and Conservatory. February 23, 2017. Archived from the original on September 16, 2019. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  13. ^ Theodore Clarke Smith (1897). The Liberty and Free Soil Parties in the Northwest. Longmans, Green, and Company. pp. 12–.
  14. ^ Jerry Aldridge; Lois McFadyen Christensen (August 12, 2013). Stealing from the Mother: The Marginalization of Women in Education and Psychology from 1900-2010. R&L Education. pp. 79–. ISBN 978-1-4758-0160-6.
  15. ^ Steven E. Woodworth; Charles W. Calhoun (2000). The Human Tradition in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 158–. ISBN 978-0-8420-2727-4.
  16. ^ Maxine Benson (1986). Martha Maxwell, Rocky Mountain Naturalist. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 19–. ISBN 0-8032-6155-1.
  17. ^ John Moring (2005). Early American Naturalists: Exploring the American West, 1804-1900. Taylor Trade Publications. pp. 175–. ISBN 978-1-58979-183-1.
  18. ^ Wright, G. Frederick, ed. A Standard History of Lorain County Ohio. Chicago and New York: Lewis, 1916, 509.
  19. ^ James Harris Fairchild (1883). Oberlin: The Colony and the College, 1833-1883. E.J. Goodrich. pp. 237–.
  20. ^ Owen, Lorrie K., ed. Dictionary of Ohio Historic Places. Vol. 2. St. Clair Shores: Somerset, 1999, 892.
  21. ^ "1924 FLOOD IN OBERLIN OHIO :: Archives-Popular Images". dcollections.oberlin.edu.
  22. ^ June 28, 1924: Lorain Tornado Archived March 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Air-traffic privatization could be major economic hit to Oberlin". June 6, 2017.
  24. ^ "Beaver County Times - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com.
  25. ^ A statement of the reasons which induced the students of Lane Seminary, to dissolve their connection with that institution. Cincinnati. December 15, 1834.
  26. ^ "Anti-Slavery Movement in the United States".
  27. ^ a b c Sears, Stephen W. (May 20, 1990). "Big Day at Oberlin". The New York Times.
  28. ^ "Oberlin-Wellington Rescue". May 22, 2018.
  29. ^ Mary Ellen Snodgrass (April 8, 2015). Civil Disobedience: An Encyclopedic History of Dissidence in the United States. Routledge. pp. 205–. ISBN 978-1-317-47441-8.
  30. ^ Jesse Ames Spencer (1913). The United States: its beginnings, progress and modern development. American educational alliance.
  31. ^ a b Frederick J. Blue (2005). No Taint of Compromise: Crusaders in Antislavery Politics. LSU Press. pp. 84–. ISBN 978-0-8071-2976-0.
  32. ^ James Laxer (June 11, 2016). Staking Claims to a Continent: John A. Macdonald, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and the Making of North America. House of Anansi Press Incorporated. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-1-77089-431-0.
  33. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  34. ^ "NCDC: U.S. Climate Normals" (PDF). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. October 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 9, 2014. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
  35. ^ "Population of Civil Divisions Less than Counties" (PDF). Statistics of the Population of the United States at the Ninth Census. U.S. Census Bureau. 1870. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  36. ^ "Population of Civil Divisions Less than Counties" (PDF). Statistics of the Population of the United States at the Tenth Census. U.S. Census Bureau. 1880. Retrieved November 28, 2013.
  37. ^ "Population: Ohio" (PDF). 1910 U.S. Census. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved November 28, 2013.
  38. ^ "Population: Ohio" (PDF). 1930 US Census. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved November 28, 2013.
  39. ^ "Number of Inhabitants: Ohio" (PDF). 18th Census of the United States. U.S. Census Bureau. 1960. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  40. ^ "Ohio: Population and Housing Unit Counts" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  41. ^ "Oberlin city, Ohio". census.gov. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  42. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  43. ^ "Oberlin (City) QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". Archived from the original on October 16, 2014. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  44. ^ "Home". City of Oberlin. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  45. ^ Sarah Laskow (July 9, 2013). "This online dashboard shows you a city's water and electric usage in real time". Grist. Grist Magazine, Inc. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  46. ^ $300,000 in LCT cuts approved: Greater Cleveland RTA connection in Avon Lake to end. Retrieved on 2009-05-22.
  47. ^ Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Marquis Who's Who. 1967.
  48. ^ Miami University, 1977, The Old NorthWest p. 114
  49. ^ Derby History Quiz, at electronicvalley.org
  50. ^ "Chapter 13: Oberlin's Connections Around the World". oberlin.edu. Oberlin Through History. Retrieved January 6, 2022.


  • Burroughs, Wilbur Greeley (1886-1974): Oberlin's Part in the Slavery Conflict, Ohio Archæological and Historical Society Publications: Volume 20 [1911], pp. 269–334.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brandt, Nat. The Town That Started the Civil War. Syracuse University Press, 1990. 315 p.
  • Hart, Albert Bushnell, ed. The American Nation: a history from original sources. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1904–1918.

External links[edit]