Many paleoclimate and landscape change studies in the American Midwest have focused on the Late Glacial and early Holocene time periods (~ 16–11 ka), but little work has addressed landscape change in this area between the Last Glacial Maximum and the Late Glacial (~ 22–16 ka). Sediment cores were collected from 29 new lake and bog sites in Ohio and Indiana to address this gap. The basal radiocarbon dates from these cores show that initial ice retreat from the maximal last-glacial ice extent occurred by 22 ka, and numerous sites that are ~ 100 km inside this limit were exposed by 18.9 ka. Post-glacial environmental changes were identified as stratigraphic or biologic changes in select cores. The strongest signal occurs between 18.5 and 14.6 ka. These Midwestern events correspond with evidence to the northeast, suggesting that initial deglaciation of the ice sheet, and ensuing environmental changes, were episodic and rapid. Significantly, these changes predate the onset of the Bølling postglacial warming (14.8 ka) as recorded by the Greenland ice cores. Thus, deglaciation and landscape change around the southern margins of the Laurentide Ice Sheet happened ~ 7 ka before postglacial changes were felt in central Greenland.