IN SEARCH OF...
THE YELLOWSTONE TRAIL IN OHIO


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December 2005

THIS WORK DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF HAROLD (HAL) MEEKS,
WHO PASSED AWAY DECEMBER 18, 2005
AFTER A SHORT BATTLE WITH CANCER.

At about the same time that Carl G. Fisher was putting substance to his dream of a "Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway," a group of small town businessmen in South Dakota led by Joseph W. Parmley began improvements in 1912 on twenty-six miles of roadway between Ipswich and Aberdeen. This isolated section of highway in the northeast part of the state would be the original leg of a transcontinental route soon to be known as the Yellowstone Trail, one of several coast-to-coast named auto trails that would historically pass through Ohio.

Natural sandstone pillars like this were planted along the Yellowstone Trail in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. According to a 1913 article from the Aberdeen, South Dakota newspaper, "they measure from six to ten feet long, being from twelve to eighteen inches through at the base, and from six to eight inches at the top.  They are ideal markers when painted yellow with the words 'Yellowstone Trail' painted on them."  The only surviving marker with the classic obelisk shape has been moved to this street corner location in Hettinger, South Dakota.

As evidenced by the original name of the booster group—The Twin Cities-Aberdeen-Yellowstone Park Trail Association—the highway that became the Yellowstone Trail was conceived as a regional route, with its original western terminus at the nation's most famous national park. The name of the group would finally be shortened to the "Yellowstone Trail Association" in 1915, and it would be the highway itself that would become longer. One year later, a map showing a route from the Atlantic to the Pacific appeared for the first time, although it was very much tentative, especially east of Chicago and thus also through Ohio. By 1919, a more practical route was charted across the Buckeye State and points east, and the "Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound" (Plymouth, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington) began the grandest years of its history.

Click to expand the 1920 US map of the Yellowstone Trail

When the Yellowstone Trail first reached Ohio in 1916, it was more on paper than on the ground—drawn as a fanciful smooth line across the top of the state. After coming south and east from Chicago to Fort Wayne through a corridor that would be closely followed in later years by the final version of the Lincoln Highway in Indiana, the trail then turned north and east to cross the border and pass through nine county seats in Ohio—Defiance, Napoleon, Bowling Green, Fremont, Norwalk, Medina, Akron, Ravenna, and Warren. On the maps of today, that unlikely national route compares to a clumsy combination of numbered highways in Ohio that includes the original parts of State Route 18, U.S. Route 24, U.S. Route 6, U.S. Route 20, and State Route 18 (again) just to reach Akron—the fifth largest city in the state. A similar variety of numbered highways, mainly including what is now State Route 5, took the highway into Pennsylvania.

1927 map highlighting the route of the Yellowstone Trail
Indiana to Sandusky, Ohio.

The 1927 route of the Yellowstone Trail is highlighted in yellow, and compares favorably to the route charted by the Yellowstone Trail Association on their official map of 1919. The several cities indicated as waypoints on the tentative 1916 map are indicated with red circles.

The trail association map of 1919 traced a much more practical and historically popular route that connected the larger cities on the shoreline of Lake Erie. As a result of that wholesale change, the only Ohio towns to appear as waypoints on both the 1916 and 1919 maps of the Yellowstone Trail were the small town of Hicksville—just northeast of Fort Wayne and within earshot of the state line—and the county seat of Fremont, ideally situated on a historic 1800s turnpike road that would become the route of U.S. Route 20. From Hicksville, the newly mapped 1919 route followed the early alignments of today's State Route 2, stair-stepping northerly and easterly while passing through Bryan and Wauseon before entering Toledo. It then continued with an old version of State Route 2 that now carries different numbers, aiming awkwardly to the east by dropping a bit south to Fremont. The route then changed direction at Clyde, passing through Castalia (site of the once-famous Blue Hole) before returning to the lakeshore at Sandusky (see today's State Route 101). [Note: at least one other map source traces a route directly from Fremont to Sandusky.]

1927 map highlighting the route of the Yellowstone Trail
Sandusky, Ohio to Conneaut, Ohio

The 1927 route of the Yellowstone Trail is highlighted in yellow, and compares favorably to the route charted by the Yellowstone Trail Association on their official map of 1919. The several cities indicated as waypoints on the tentative 1916 map are indicated with orange circles.

Between Sandusky and Cleveland, the Yellowstone Trail traced the path of an existing named trail called "The Shore Road," which resembles U.S. Route 6 on the maps of today. Perhaps the trail association had avoided this marked path in earlier years because they were seeking a unique path of their own. This is what seems to have happened in Indiana, when the Yellowstone Trail avoided the established corridor of the Lincoln Highway by blazing a totally new but tediously challenging path. However, that original route of stair-steps through Plymouth, Warsaw, and Columbia Center soon increased in importance (it was also State Route 2 in Indiana), causing the state to undergo such major improvements in that second corridor that a more direct southern route to Fort Wayne would become the original route of U.S. 30, and the final version of the Lincoln Highway.

Beyond Cleveland, the route passed through Painesville and Ashtabula on its way to Erie, Pennsylvania. At least two variations of the Yellowstone Trail are shown on the several auto trails maps that I have collected, but put most simply, the route generally followed parts of original State Route 2 (designated in 1920) that were later gobbled up by the original U.S. Route 20 (designated in 1926), with some slight variations during the course of that formative decade.

Much like any highway of great length, these slight variations were common along the coast-to-coast route, with the department of highways making improvements and re-routings in their newly established network of state highways. For example, the first route between Hicksville and Bryan zigzagged furiously with the section lines, and the Yellowstone Trail would move as improvements were made to some of the old diagonal roads that had previously been avoided. [However, it is interesting to note that near Bryan, one such diagonal has been downgraded and the state route has been squared again.] Likewise, between Toledo and Fremont, the trail route after 1919 first passed through Woodville, but later through Elmore, again assumedly tracing the best roads at a particular time.

The symbol signs of the Yellowstone Trail featured bold black lettering on the perimeter of a chrome yellow circle, with a black directional arrow at the center of the circle. However, very few of these signs may have ever been posted in Ohio. Almost shockingly, the official route folder published by the trail association in 1919 had this ominous disclaimer: "The road is marked east as far as Sandusky with the regular Yellowstone Trail marker." Moreover, "the Yellowstone Trail Association makes no claim to having any intensive organization, or special information in any of that section of the road...east of Sandusky, Ohio." This flies in the face of the bold front-and-center announcement on the cover of that same folder, which reads "you don't need a log book to travel this road...follow the marks." [Well yes, it seems I do.] In fact, the tentative character that existed for the route in Ohio before 1919 remained in the state of New York for several more years. To their credit, however, the trail association did at some time set up a travel bureau in Cleveland.

"A twelve-inch band or circle with a six-inch black arrow" was the official mark of the Yellowstone Trail, although there were also signs with "L" and "R" for upcoming left and right turns.  Founder Joseph W. Parmley had this suggestion regarding the many different kinds of yellow paint:  "Now the very best yellow is the medium chrome yellow.  Buy it dry; from thirteen to sixteen cents a pound and mix linseed oil in it."  Arrows painted on signs pointed to Yellowstone National Park, which was reached by a spur road from Livingston, Montana.  This sign can be found now in the Dakota Buttes Museum in Hettinger, North Dakota.

Much like the renewed interest in the Lincoln Highway, there is no shortage of recent writing and rediscovery on the subject of the Yellowstone Trail. In 2000, On the Road to Yellowstone, a well-researched book by the late Harold A. Meeks, was published. Meeks, a retired geography professor and Lincoln Highway Association member who made his home in distant Vermont, had nevertheless made numerous cross-country trips on both the Yellowstone Trail and Lincoln Highway, which not coincidentally, have those interestingly intertwined histories in Indiana. Professor Meeks discovered two old county roads in Indiana which recall their history as part of the trail—west of the appropriately named Hamlet is a dirt road signed as Yellowstone Trail; east of Columbia City, Hal discovered an Old Trail Road. Ironically, a concrete Lincoln Highway post was placed in 1928 at the Yellowstone Inn corner west of Fort Wayne.

See map of Yellowstone Trail, and Lincoln Highway in Indiana, 1926.

This painted yellow circle with black arrow (right) is in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, and author Hal Meeks speculated that it may be the sole surviving mark of a 1915 trail blazing trip by a Mr. Warwick.  This mark was an upgrade over "simple splotches.

No such road names have yet to be found in Ohio, leaving this writer with a potential project for the future. However, Alice and John William Ridge, authors of Introducing the Yellowstone Trail—another good book also published in 2000—recall the presence of a Yellowstone Restaurant in the border town of Hicksville. Likely, this was the last reminder in Ohio of the historic coast-to-coast route, and even more likely would raise some eyebrows among later generations who would ponder that seemingly odd name for a local eatery.

Like all the named auto trails, the Yellowstone Trail began to lose its identity with the posting of the federal highway number shields in 1926. According to Professor Meeks, the Yellowstone Trail Association closed their office in 1930, two years after the Lincoln Highway Association had finished their work. However, historians and chambers of commerce are reviving interest in the route with heritage corridors and activities in South Dakota—where the highway had its historic roots—and also in Wisconsin. For more information about the Yellowstone Trail, visit www.yellowstonetrail.org.

POSTSCRIPT
State Route 2 and the Yellowstone Trail in Ohio

The system of state highway numbering that appears on the Ohio maps of today originated in 1923. In that year, 223 numbered roads were designated to supercede the old inter-county numbering system. The most important routes in the state were given numbers from one to ten, including the National Old Trails Road (State Route 1), the Yellowstone Trail (generally State Route 2), and the Lincoln Highway (State Route 5).

However, in the short distance west of Bryan to the Indiana state line, the original State Route 2 actually diverged from the Yellowstone Trail by following a cutoff route which met the Lincoln Highway at Ligonier, Indiana—a route which compares well to U.S. 6 today. The Good Roads movement inspired by the new transcontinental routes had led to so many other roads being improved that it was now easier for long-distance travelers to find a short cut that would bypass Fort Wayne. In his On the Way to Yellowstone book, Professor Harold Meeks wrote that the Automobile Blue Book of the early 1920s charted this cutoff route as an alternate to the longer route which dropped well south to Fort Wayne.

State Route 2 has shown great resiliency in its eighty-plus years as a state route in Ohio. Three years after its original designation, with the coming of U.S. 20, it disappeared east of Cleveland. Between Cleveland and Toledo, State Route 2 was completely revised—the original path through Elyria, Norwalk, and Fremont became U.S. 20, and a new State Route 2 was traced along the shores of Lake Erie through Lorain and Sandusky, matching the final route of the Yellowstone Trail. West of Toledo, U.S. 20 followed an even shorter direct route to Chicago, and State Route 2 survived in its original corridor, although with some revisions. Most notably, after U.S. 6 was plotted on the popular cutoff route, State Route 2 was revised to follow its current path through Hicksville.

Today, State Route 2 is a major four-lane highway in much of the Lake Erie corridor, while U.S. 20 has lost much of its significance and traffic to the Ohio Turnpike. A four-lane version of State Route 2 has been extended east of Cleveland as far as Painesville. With State Route 1 disappearing at the creation of U.S. 40, State Route 2 remains today as the lowest-numbered route in the state. For more information on the numbering of Ohio highways, see John Simpson's incredible web site.

Images From The National Road
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Ohio's Madonna of the Trail statue is on the west side of Springfield, regrettably inaccessible by auto from today's U.S. 40. I had to leave my car in a park on the opposite side of a creek, then ramble across the highway bridge and two guardrails, in order to take this photo. According to The National Road by Karl Raitz, there are twelve duplicate Madonnas along the route of U.S. 40, including at least three others on the old National Road—in Beallsville, Pennsylvania; Wheeling, West Virginia; and Vandalia, Illinois. The statues stand as "the culmination of the Daughters of the American Revolution's efforts to commemorate National Road history." Indeed, the image of the frontier mother, with an infant in her arms and a small boy clinging to her side, is a fine and fitting tribute.


Funded with ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) money through ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) this 1830 S-bridge on the west side of New Concord has been wonderfully restored. Other preservation activities are certain to take place as the Ohio Historic Preservation Office completes surveys of historic properties and inventories of significant landmarks.

Although colorful legends abound which attempt to explain the unique S-bridges, there is little question that the structures simply provided the shortest path across the stream, thus requiring the least amount of materials. Only the middle portion of the bridge is actually arching over the creek, with the end portions serving as walls holding the fill for the approaches.
—sources: The National Road, by Karl Raitz
U.S. 40 Today, by Thomas R. Vale and Geraldine R. Vale


Another S-bridge can be found four miles west of downtown Cambridge, at the settlement of Cassell. This structure crosses Peters Creek with geometry and materials very much like the S-bridge at New Concord. It will be interesting to watch this site in upcoming years to see if preservation work will be done to the extent of the New Concord bridge.


Located on what is now marked Bridgewater Road in Guernsey County, this structure over Salt Fork is the largest of Ohio's S-bridges. The best way to reach this site is to leave Interstate 70 at the State Route 513 interchange, also known as Exit 173. Bridgewater Road parallels the interstate on the north side, and the S-bridge is 3 miles west of State Route 513. The skewed crossing of Salt Fork contributes to the extra length of this photogenic cut stone bridge.


Although historically imperfect, this assembly of signs at the National Road/Zane Grey Museum near Norwich is nonetheless an excellent example of Ohio's earliest highway markings for named and numbered highways. The National Road was actually State Route 1 from 1923 to 1926, then became U.S. Route 40 when the federal routes were first marked. It was never designated as State Route 40, which was instead a nearby route from Zanesville to Washington Court House that became U.S. Route 22. The R at the bottom of the sign assembly would have indicated that the route turned right not far ahead.

 


The Red Brick Tavern is located about 20 miles west of Columbus in the crossroads community of Lafayette. Built in 1837 and said to be the second oldest in the state, the tavern "enjoyed prosperity during the heyday of travel on the National Road." Six presidents dined here, including five who served in the early 1800s, a period during which the National Road was the chosen path across Ohio. The tavern closed during the railroad era but reopened to welcome automobile travelers. One of the oldest National Road mileposts stands in the yard—one of only three between Columbus and Springfield.
—source: The National Road, by Karl Raitz


As indicated by the numbers, this National Road milepost is 193 miles [west] from the road's terminus at Cumberland, Maryland and eleven miles [east] from Zanesville. Over a dozen mileposts can be found on the north side of the historic road between Columbus and Cambridge (by comparison, only three can be found between Columbus and Springfield). Most of the posts now along the road appear to be reproductions from various eras. The best original posts are now preserved at the National Road/Zane Grey Museum near Norwich, at Exit 164 of Interstate 70.


This wonderful sign along the contemporary National Road is in the neighborhood of West Columbus, about one mile east of the Interstate 270 bypass. The motel itself appears to date from that era of highway architecture that immediately precedes the original Holiday Inns and Howard Johnsons of the 1950s. From this point west, the National Road runs straight toward the setting sun to Indianapolis, before veering slightly south of west toward its terminus at the original Illinois capital in Vandalia. Thus, the National Road at one time connected three midwestern capitals. In Columbus, the historic route followed what is now Main Street into town from the east, jogged north toward the State House on High Street, and turned west onto Broad Street.

IN SEARCH OF...
THE SEPTEMBER 1913 LINCOLN HIGHWAY IN OHIO
Galion to Lima


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July 2005

In September 1928, the Lincoln Highway Association completed their marking of the final version of the route across Ohio, setting a total of 241 concrete posts along 242 miles of brick, concrete, macadam, stone, and earth. This final route was remarkably different than the original route proclaimed fifteen years earlier—not just in the improvement of its surfaces, but also in its orientation. Considering the original routes through Ashland, Galion, Marion, Kenton, and Lima—plus other variations in the years between 1913 and 1928—at least another 242 bypassed miles of Lincoln Highway alignments can be included as part of Ohio's transportation history. Thus, for every mile of 1928 alignment that was marked in Ohio, there was one mile of pre-1928 alignment that was bypassed.

This newly-prepared "Map of Proclaimed Route of Lincoln Highway/September 1913" is drawn in the classic style of the early strip maps of the Automobile Club of Southern California.       Images with blue borders are expandable.

Most of those bypassed miles have been charted in the research project entitled A History and Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway in Ohio, which was first published by this author ten years ago. However, sixty of those bypassed miles were part of a short-lived segment of the transcontinental route which passed through Marion and Kenton for just three weeks in September 1913. Given that this part of the highway apparently existed only on paper, and was likely never marked with any Lincoln Highway signs, the road guide author never saw the need to chart that particular alignment.

Recent events, though, require a change of thought. Successful promotions by the Ohio Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor have inspired folks in Kenton and Hardin County to rediscover their highway heritage in refreshing new ways. For example, the idea of the Lincoln Highway Buy-Way Yard Sale came from Charles Brunkhart of Forest, a Hardin County town which hosted the route for six years after the Kenton alignment was erased. Also of significance is the fact that the National Park Service, in their recent study of Lincoln Highway "special resources," has inventoried several sites along this first route.
Thus, the time has come for this author to explore the originally proclaimed 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway—a route which came to be known as the Marion Way, then the Harding Highway, U.S. 30-South, and now State Route 309.

According to Rand McNally's Official 1926 Auto Road Map of Ohio, the signs for the Harding Highway featured a black sylized Roman letter H within a black circle, all on a white diamond.

Let us begin our journey in Galion, which in 1913 was the first major city west of Mansfield. Galion held its location on the Lincoln Highway until 1921, when the route between Mansfield and Bucyrus was revised to pass through Crestline and Leesville. Galion—along with Marion, Kenton, and Lima—was a key commercial point on Main Market Route No. 3, which connected these and other western locations with county seats in the eastern half of the state. When Lincoln Highway fathers proclaimed the route in September 1913, the market route provided a ready-made link in the chain that was the transcontinental highway, and thus would have seemed a justifiable choice.

Dedicated in 1900, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the Big Four Depot in Galion is the point of beginning for this tour.

However, at the end of that same month, Henry Joy made a significant revision. For whatever reason, sixty miles of the market route were abandoned in favor of a path which was supposedly shorter, bearing westerly from Galion to Bucyrus before continuing on to Upper Sandusky and Lima. Actually, Joy had made the path to Lima longer by three miles, with a series of tedious right angle turns and dangerous railroad grade crossings being the rule, and not the exception, west of Bucyrus. This author remains steadfast in his belief that politics—not mileage—provided the impetus for the sudden change. These matters, which included key players such as Lincoln Highway Consul John Hopley (from Bucyrus) and Governor Frank Willis (from Ada), are discussed in detail in a Spring 1997 article in The Lincoln Highway Forum, entitled "Before the Route Was Straight: Ohio's Zigzag Route."

A good place to zero the trip meter in Galion is at the Big Four Depot, the impressive facility at the first railroad crossing east of the "Historic Uptowne," or three blocks east of the town square. The depot was dedicated in 1900, and served as the division headquarters for the Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis Railroad, commonly known as the Big Four. Look for the C.C.C.&St.L. letters cut in the west face of the building. Also take time to read the Ohio Historical Society marker on the site, which was placed as part of the same Ohio Bicentennial Commission program that awarded the Ohio Lincoln Highway League their marker at Upper Sandusky.

From this point, bear west through town on Harding Way. The city's main east-west street was originally platted as Main Street, but the city fathers changed the name to Lincoln Way at the coming of the transcontinental highway. The name change to Harding Way was probably made some time after the route was realigned through Crestline in 1921, or perhaps shortly after the death of President Warren G. Harding in 1923. As our journey continues west, the significance of the Harding name will be easily understood.

A concrete post replica was placed at the southwest corner of the town square in September 2004. Although the nearest concrete post erected in 1928 would have been just up the road in Leesville, this replica is a splendid reminder to the community of their Lincoln Highway heritage. The newly renovated Lincoln Way Professional Building, on the northwest corner of the square, reinforces that same idea.

This concrete post replica on Harding Way is a reminder of Galion's place on the Lincoln Highway from 1913 to 1921.

Just west of the square is the restored Galion Theater—with its fine marquee—which now hosts events such as the recent landmark meeting of the Ohio Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. This gathering, which included the dedication of the nearby replica post, introduced many new businesses and visitors bureaus from across the state to the potential of the highway as a linear tourist destination.

At the one mile mark, turn left on Portland Way—which traces the Portland (now Sandusky) and Columbus State Road from pioneer days—also following the signs for State Route 309. This numerical designation will be followed all the way to Lima, except for those places where the author has charted some interesting remnants of the September 1913 alignment.

The relative quality of this route—in comparison to the later routes of the Lincoln Highway—is borne out by the fact that this alignment became the original path of U.S. 30 when the federal system of highways was first designated in 1926. However, politics came into play again, and in 1931, this segment became 30-South, and the traditional Lincoln Highway route was labeled 30-North. By 1973, the 30-North corridor had been improved with the construction of several intermittent bypasses and four-lane sections, and had once and for all surpassed the southern route as the route of choice for through traffic. It was then that the "cumbersome compromise" of north and south numbers was finally dropped in favor of the simpler U.S. Route 30 and State Route 309 numbering, respectively.

At 2.0 miles, State Route 309 crosses two sets of railroad tracks. Although both tracks are now the property of CSX Transportation (by way of Conrail), these tracks were previously the competing lines of the Big Four and the Erie Railroad. The railroads ran side-by-side for all of the twenty miles between Galion and Marion, making plausible here the legendary stories of one engineer racing the opposing train from one city to the other.

At 4.6 miles, State Route 309 begins a sweeping curve to the right on a new alignment opened in about 1970. The previous version of State Route 309, and the alignment used in 1913, is now obliterated by a modernized State Route 61 for the short distance to its junction with State Route 288. At the southwest corner of this four way stop, an old road remnant survives through the trees, along with an old bridge. The structure is solid enough to walk on, but most of the bridge rails have disappeared, and the few pieces which do remain have rusty rods exposed in crumbling concrete. With the vegetation heavy, highway archaeologists will find this a challenging photo subject. To return to State Route 309, follow a modernized version of State Route 288 a short distance to its western terminus, and then turn left.

At 6.3 miles, State Route 309 passes through the unincorporated town of Iberia. This was once the home of Ohio Central College, where at age fourteen, Warren G. Harding began his secondary schooling. He was considered a popular student—editing the yearbook, playing a horn, and entering speaking contests. Harding graduated in 1892, just a short time before the academy burned to the ground. Had it not been for Harding's time there, the school would likely be forgotten—after the fire, it was never rebuilt.

At 9.0 miles, turn right to follow one mile of an old road alignment that is now designated Marion Galion Road. Half a mile beyond the turn are the remains of an ancient railroad viaduct that was indicated on a 1915 map drawn by Marion interests to promote their route. One of the selling points of the Marion Way was that it had five less grade crossings than the competing Lincoln Highway route, which was derided as "a narrow, crooked lane...through swampland."

On the old Marion‑Galion Road near Iberia are the abutment walls of an old railroad viaduct under which the original Lincoln Highway route would have passed.

The viaduct was the property of Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad, one of the weak sisters in the New York Central system of lines that also included the more prominent Big Four. It was therefore one of the first lines to have its tracks pulled up when the railroad industry was in a major decline. Interestingly, Warren G. Harding worked on a crew that laid the first tracks down. The narrow opening and hazardous dip at the viaduct eventually proved insufficient for the increasing traffic on U.S. 30 South, and a new grade separation was built just south of here on the present alignment of State Route 309. Continue west for another half mile and rejoin State Route 309 after turning right.

At 12.5 miles, watch for a tall communications tower on the right side of the road, and again leave the state highway by turning right. Because this old road remnant is in Morrow County and not Marion County, it carries a designation inconsistent with other similar remnants—Canaan Township Road 39. Follow this road through some tight curves into the picturesque village of Caledonia, where the road becomes Marion Street, and find a place to park your car in the surprisingly spacious town square. Each quadrant of the square has a point of interest, with plenty of photo opportunities for those with various highway interests. The impressive town hall and a modest business block are on the northeast quadrant, a war memorial and historical marker are on the northwest quadrant, and an old canopy gas station survives as an insurance office on the southwest quadrant. I missed it on my trip here, but Mike Hocker of Galion tells me that there is a fine local meat market on the southeast quadrant. In the excitement of my day-long journey, I had skipped lunch, and could have enjoyed at least a stick of good beef jerky while I was stopped.

An old canopy gas station on the photogenic town square in Caledonia is now home to an insurance business.

One thing that I did not miss during my short visit to Caledonia was the earthshaking arrival of a fast freight train immediately north of the square. As I exited my vehicle and planted my foot on the ground—just in time to hear and feel the approaching train—I was reminded of a similar event during my first visit to western Nebraska. The surreal experience was complete when I looked up to see two freshly painted Union Pacific engines leading a long consist of container cars, blasting through the shockingly gateless crossing (flashers only) at 60 miles per hour. Although most engines passing through here would be in the livery of CSX, it is not unusual for contemporary railroads to do a run through with foreign engines from the West.

Just one block south of the square, on the northwest corner of Main Street and South Street, is the boyhood home of Warren G. Harding. The adjacent historical marker explains that it was in a Caledonia printing shop owned by his father that Harding "learned the fundamentals of the printing trade which inspired his interest in a journalism career." Warren also participated in the town band, playing the alto horn—an instrument he continued to play in future years in Marion.

The boyhood home of Warren G. Harding is on Main Street, one block south of the town square, in Caledonia.

Given the several possible diversions in Caledonia, it would be wise to return to the town square long enough to reset your trip meter to zero. Then go south on Main Street four blocks past the Harding home before turning right onto a curving portion of State Route 309. When it was still U.S. 30 South, a two lane bypass was built around Caledonia in the 1950s. A very short old road remnant, now designated Section Line Road, is colinear with the east west portion of the improved highway.

At 2.7 miles, veer right from the state highway onto another road remnant designated as Marion Galion Road. Just before reaching the railroad, veer left and follow one mile of narrow unpainted pavement that parallels the tracks. According to the Claridon Prairie historical marker near the west end of the road, the grassland between the pavement and the railroad "is one of the few surviving remnants of the once extensive prairies that were part of pioneer Marion County." The strip was "preserved by chance when the railway and road were constructed side by side" and "contains more than 75 species of significant prairie grasses and flowers." The sunny afternoon of my visit was certainly made brighter by walking among the orange day lilies that were out in full force.

After passing the historical marker, turn left at the stop sign onto State Route 98, then right at the traffic signal to resume west on State Route 309. The immense former site of the Marion Engineer Depot stretches for two miles along the south side of the highway. According to yet another historical marker, during World War II "food, munitions, equipment, and other military supplies flowed in and out of MED and heavy machinery was renovated." Government operations were discontinued in 1961, and after languishing for years with either occasional users or no users at all, the site was renovated in 2003 to serve in its present role as a distribution, storage, and manufacturing complex.

For now, you may ignore your trip meter and simply continue west into Marion. State Route 309 serves as more of a back door to the city than it does a front door. Most of the city's strip malls and hamburger joints are on State Route 95, just one interchange south on U.S. Route 23, but the splendid new Harding High School is along this stretch. Within the city limits, the route will also be signed as Center Street. Westbound tourists following the original 1913 route will be able to stay on Center Street all the way through the city—including about one mile that is one way westbound. Eastbound travelers have to follow Church Street (one way the other way) to make their way through town. Both streets are wide and well maintained, and the newly attractive downtown seems very much in contrast to the Rust Belt image often attached to once major industrial cities such as Marion and Lima.

Upon your arrival in Marion, the hour long tour of the restored Harding Home at 380 Mount Vernon Street is strongly recommended (visit www.ohiohistory.org for hours and other information). It was here that Harding conducted his famous "front porch" campaign, which played a great part in his unprecedented landslide victory in the 1920 election. Ironically, two former newspapermen from Ohio ran for the presidency that year—Harding, who had purchased the Marion Star after honing his skills in Caledonia; and Governor James M. Cox, who had ties to a major newspaper in Dayton. Harding—now an Ohio senator—was popular with the press, and had the foresight to build a Sears catalog home at the back of his neighbor's property. From there, correspondents would regularly prepare their news stories during the spirited campaign. The press house is now operated by the Ohio Historical Society as a visitors center for the Harding Home.

Unfortunately, the presidency of Warren G. Harding is now recalled mostly for its scandals and corruption. The twenty-ninth president was spared most of the pain of those revelations, dying on August 2, 1923 while on a speaking tour in California. Doctors originally cited food poisoning or apoplexy as probable causes of death, but modern medicine strongly supports that his death was the result of a heart attack—something that was little understood in that day. Harding died a popular president and was mourned deeply, and the tomb on the south side of Marion (along State Route 423) is one of the most impressive memorials anywhere outside of Washington, D.C. The circular monument of white Georgia marble, with simple Doric features and spacious grounds, combine to make it another worthwhile diversion while in Marion.

A side trip to the impressive Harding Memorial is a worthwhile diversion on State Route 423 south of downtown Marion.

To resume your tour of the originally proclaimed 1913 route, find your way to the Marion County Courthouse at the northeast corner of Center Street and Main Street, and again reset your trip meter to zero. The centerpiece of downtown Marion, the courthouse was completed in 1886 "for the good of the public," or pro bono publico as inscribed above the impressive south entrance. Over the years, the exterior has been cleaned and left intact, in conjunction with downtown improvement efforts. Unfortunately, extensive alterations have mutilated the interior—with losses including an original staircase, ornate woodwork, a large courtroom, and decorative murals.

The Marion County Courthouse, restored only on the outside, is the centerpiece of downtown improvements in Marion.

From the courthouse, go west on Center Street, passing the fabulous neon sign of the Palace Theater after just a few blocks. At 0.6 miles are the two busy railroad crossings of Norfolk Southern and CSX Transporation, respectively. Tucked neatly between the tracks is the restored Marion Union Station, which was built to serve the four railroads that originally passed through the city. Another set of tracks—a later generation of the parallel lines that previously passed through Galion and Caledonia—is at the north side of the station.

A caboose and crossing tower at a restored Union Station are reminders of a rich Erie Railroad history in Marion.

If you are a rail fan, a stop at the station is a must. A handy book by the publishers of Trains Magazine lists five "hot spots" in Ohio for watching trains, and this is one of them. During my short visit, I met several men from Ontario who were on their way to a large model railroad show in Cincinnati. Each one of them had a camera strapped around his neck, mostly shooting pictures from ground level, but sometimes climbing the old Erie crossing tower (just above a restored Erie Lackawanna caboose) for a better vantage point. Marion is steeped in Erie Railroad history, with the remains of a large yard and shops just west of here.

Marion is also renowned for its history in the manufacture of heavy equipment such as the steam shovel. Just west of the railroad crossings is an interesting memorial, plus a historical marker which states that at its peak in the middle of the twentieth century, the adjacent Marion Power Shovel plant employed about 2500 workers. Later in the century, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected the company "to build the crawlers that transport spacecraft to their launch pads." Ironically, the operation was purchased by a Bucyrus company, then closed. Marion had previously lost out to interests in Bucyrus when the Lincoln Highway was relocated in 1913.

At 0.8 miles, angle right and follow State Route 309 out of town. More railroad tracks will be crossed, and much of the old Erie complex—now occupied by CSX—will be visible at your left. five miles ahead, the route passes through the unincorporated crossroads town of Big Island, which serves as a community center for Big Island township. The interesting name is attributed to early pioneers who found a prominent island like grove of trees in the middle of the then wet prairie.
At 8.7 miles, a repainted Mail Pouch barn is partially visible above the crops growing at left. Then at 9.3 and 9.9 miles, curve improvements have rendered short sections of bypassed roadways which remain as access roads. These are both typical of highway improvements that commenced in 1930s, when the speeds of cars and trucks significantly increased. Smooth curves were built to replace sharp curves, and superelevation became more of a factor in holding vehicles to those curves.

At the second curve, take note of the white-on-brown signs pointing to the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. I have never visited this site, so I went online to learn more about it—and it seems to be a good choice for a future adventure. Operated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the area covers over 8,600 acres—just a fraction of the 30,000 acres that comprised the original prairie. The site is "situated in a natural basin of flat, poorly drained soils formerly covered by prairie sloughs," with large marshes, a greentree reservoir (that's a new term to me), an upground reservoir, and 125 ponds of various sizes. Crops and meadows are managed for nesting and migrating waterfowl, and plantings provide permanent cover for upland wildlife.
This author has heard it said that before the pioneers starting clearing trees from the Ohio lands, a squirrel could cross the state without touching the ground. Considering the several prairies already encountered on this brief tour, and with more still to come, it is a good bet that there wasn't much pioneer squirrel traffic in the northwest part of the state. In some cases, the prairies and swamps were so expansive that several adjacent sections of land could not be monumented by the original government surveyors.

A half mile west of the directional signs for Killdeer Plains, slow down as you approach another unincorporated crossroads town. This is Meeker, which shows up as Cochrantown P.O. and Scott Town in the old county atlas. At 10.5 miles, angle left onto the town's modest Main Street, which features an old canopy gas station (now a popular tavern), a row of strikingly similar light colored houses, and a well-kept church property. For some reason, the NPS study did not inventory the old gas station in Meeker. I have a feeling that they mistakenly buzzed through town on the numbered road, not realizing that the 1913 route had a short diversion here. The same thing could probably be said for the several noteworthy sites back in photogenic Caledonia—none of which were listed in the inventory.

In Search of...The Sept. 1913 Lincoln Highway in Ohio - Page 2

IN SEARCH OF...
THE SEPTEMBER 1913 LINCOLN HIGHWAY IN OHIO
Galion to Lima

Page 2

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July 2005

After passing through Meeker and curving right past an interesting old concrete walled bridge, turn left at the stop sign and resume west with State Route 309. This portion of the route follows the section lines of the rectangular survey system for fifteen miles before bending to enter Kenton, the county seat of Hardin County. The straightness—and resultant monotony—of this part of the original 1913 route is reminiscent of the 45 mile Lincoln Highway straightaway west of Upper Sandusky.

Having traveled this unremarkable part many times previous, this particular day I decided to take a side trip into Hardin County's Amish Country. The southeastern part of the county is home to about 1,000 Old Order Amish, and it is not unusual to see a horse and buggy traveling the roads in this area. I paid a visit to the Pfeiffer Station General Store and purchased that stick of beef jerky that I didn't get in Caledonia. Two barefoot Amish boys were being treated to ice cream cones courtesy of their big brother. Across the road from the general store is Wheeler's Tavern, a beautiful brick structure that historians believe was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

State Route 309 east of Kenton is a thoroughfare for horses and buggies making their way to town from Hardin County's large Amish community.

At 24.7 miles, just past the junction with County Road 144 (the return road from Pfeiffer Station), observe the extra wide paved berm which accommodates horse and buggy traffic. The Amish come to Kenton for shopping, and hitching posts are at several downtown locations. Another mile ahead is the original fringe of the city, with two old fashioned motels still in operation after fifty plus years, plus another canopy gas station. The NPS Study did inventory this fine specimen, plus an even finer one just east of downtown at 311 East Franklin Street.

Upon reaching the southwest corner of the prominent city block occupied by the Hardin County Courthouse, reset your odometer to zero for the final time. Constructed of Indiana limestone and opened in 1915, this is one of the newest courthouses in Ohio's eighty eight counties, and one of my personal favorites. The exterior is most attractive when decorated for the Christmas season, with colorful wreaths and bows, plus multiple strings of lights which reach from the top corners of the building to the street corners below.

The Neo‑Classical Hardin County Courthouse is well‑situated on a block of high ground above the Scioto River in Kenton.

At the northeast corner of Franklin Street and Market Street—just one traffic signal west of the previous courthouse corner—is a small greenspace which has been set aside as Gene Autry Park. Westbound travelers may have to look over their right shoulders to see a colorful new mural painted to commemorate the Kenton Hardware company. The mural depicts the famous movie and television cowboy on his fine horse Champion. The Gene Autry cap pistol was perhaps the most noted of the many Kenton toys.

This new mural in downtown Kenton is a tribute to the city's past role as a major toy producer, including the Gene Autry cap gun.

In the very next block is a restored brick depot which last served yet another property of the New York Central Railroad. This line was chartered in 1832 as the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, and was the longest part of a north-south route across the state to the Ohio River.

Ohio's second railroad, the Mad River and Lake Erie, is remembered in Kenton with a historical marker at this restored brick depot.

At 0.3 miles, the route angles right and leaves town on Lima Street. Beyond the city, the suprisingly straight road follows a glacial moraine which is well defined on geologic maps. South of the moraine was a great prairie known locally as the Onion Swamp, and to the north was a similar prairie called the Hog Creek Marsh. Now drained, these old wetlands contain some of the most fertile soil in the state. In the 1830s, the original road was laid out as the Kenton and Kalida State Road, but as settlers moved into the quarter sections near what is now Ada, much of the diagonal route disappeared as roads were typically moved to follow the squared lines of the government surveys. Along with the first several miles west of Kenton, other snippets of the old state road survive as diagonals in Allen County and also in Putnam County—where the town of Kalida was the original county seat.

This freshly painted country church at the end of a long tangent on the old Kenton and Kalida State Road was visible for three miles in the morning sunlight.

At 4.2 miles, watch closely for a stained and nearly illegible cut stone column erected on the right side of the road. The column was once part of the previous courthouse in Kenton, and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) salvaged many circular stones like this to mark the route of Hull's Trail through the county. Fort McArthur, just south of here (and commemorated by a marker in the courthouse square), was one of several encampments and stockades established along the trail as General William Hull made his way north to Detroit in the early stages of the War of 1812—a war which actually ended in 1814.

At 9.9 miles, an old roadside rest is one of the last remnants of the town of Huntersville, which was platted in 1836. The Kenton and Kalida State Road was kinked here to square up with the town's main east west street before resuming northwesterly. That alignment existed until the 1930s, when a modest curve was constructed. The land between the old main street and the new curve was then purchased for the original rest area (the present structures probably came later). The generous right of way that now exists from Kenton through Huntersville was part of a major twelve mile improvement in the 1960s, when the route was marked as 30 South. At the shelter house, an old black on white "Huntersville" sign has been rendered illegible after years of exposure to the elements.

At 11.9 miles, the route gently curves west to begin a straight fourteen mile path toward Lima. The straight path once again follows the square-mile lines of the rectangular survey system—a mere seven miles south of and parallel with the similarly straight final route of the Lincoln Highway.

At 13.1 miles, where State Route 235 drops south from Ada to join with State Route 309, the originally proclaimed route of the Lincoln Highway finally meets its first successor route. However, this successor route was like its predecessor in being short lived—in fact, the route was changed so frequently between 1913 and 1919 that this author has yet to find two guide books that describe the same path between Ada and Lima. However, there was enough reliable evidence from a December 1913 Lima newspaper article for this author to chart the first successor route in his road guide project.

If continuing on to Lima, tourists will note that for address purposes, the route is signed as Harding Highway in Allen County. As far as anyone knows, the only other places where the Harding Way or Harding Highway names survive are in Galion, as described in the opening paragraphs, and in Marion County. I don't recall seeing Harding Highway road name signs in Marion County, but it is labeled as such on the official county map. East of Lima, Harding Highway is built up with strip malls and franchise eateries, and is the busiest entrance to Lima from Interstate Route 75.

It is a good bet that many historians in Ohio would equate the Harding Highway with U.S. 30 South between Mansfield and Delphos, but trail maps of the 1920s show that the route actually crossed the entire state. One version of its trail markings was a black stylized Roman letter H within a black circle, all on a white diamond shaped sign. At the peak of its promotion, the highway was advertised as "a new transcontinental route between San Francisco and the major cities on the Atlantic Coast." A folder sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce in Burlington, Iowa extolled the virtues of a "shorter and better road between Pittsburgh and Denver." All of this was soon forgotten as people were conditioned to follow roads with numbers, and not roads with names.

At 26.5 miles, State Route 309 angles right to follow Bellefontaine Avenue into Lima. Stay with Bellefontaine Avenue (ignore a State Route 309 diversion which follows Elm Street) until it crosses a river bridge, angling left onto Market Street. The new Lima High School will be at the right. After crossing the railroad, watch for the location of the former Interurban Building (now home to the county health department) at 219 East Market Street (at right), and the old Lincoln Highway Garage (Roberts Building) at 120 East Market Street (at left).

This author helped prepare the text for a bicentennial historical marker that was placed in front of the Interurban Building. Entitled "The Interurban Era," the marker commemorates Lima's role as a major hub in Ohio's extensive electric railroad network. At its peak in 1916, Ohio had nearly 2,800 miles of interurban lines—the most of any state and nearly twenty per cent of the national network. Indiana was second, but fell short of Ohio's mileage by nearly a thousand miles. No Ohio town of 10,000 people was without interurban service.

The Lincoln Highway Garage in Lima was at 120 East Market Street, near the city's Town Square, which was the original point of intersection of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways.

Lima's Town Square is the point of ending for this tour. Significantly, it was also the original point of intersection of the Lincoln Highway and the eastern branch of the Dixie Highway. In 1919, the U.S. Army—while planning their transcontinental convoy—insisted that the Lincoln Highway route be moved to its straight path west of Upper Sandusky. That revision moved the important intersection point to Beaverdam, which is now home to three major truck stops at the busy I-75/U.S. 30 interchange. Thus, Beaverdam is still today a legitimate candidate for any "Crossroads of America" boast on a billboard.

The originally proclaimed route of the Lincoln Highway actually continues on to Delphos, following State Route 309 to Elida before meandering all over the place to get there. This complicated route—which was used only until 1915—has also been previously charted in this author's road guide project. Hard copies of the materials are still available from the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

With our journey now complete, we can look back on a rewarding adventure that truly had much to see in just seventy eight miles. The charted course passed through three county seats (Marion, Kenton, and Lima), plus another city (Galion) large enough to be one. Only one other town on the route (Caledonia) was large enough to be incorporated, but it certainly was a gem of a place—proving that sometimes, there can even be rewards in leaving the two lane highways. Many points of interest were in the urban locations, but rural areas—especially east of Marion—were highlighed by a good share of interesting old road remnants. There was a surprising number of informative historical markers, plus fine examples of early highway architecture such as motel courts and canopy gas stations—survivors from the earliest days of U.S. 30 South. Perhaps the only thing missing from a typical tour in Ohio's Lincoln Highway corridor was a roadway with brick! All in all, I consider it a day very well spent, and encourage readers to soon follow after my happy trails.

In Search of...The Sept. 1913 Lincoln Highway in Ohio - Page 1