IN SEARCH OF...
THE NATIONAL OLD TRAILS ROAD IN OHIO


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February, 2006

Of the forty-plus named auto trails that appeared on the maps of Ohio during the 1910s and 1920s, only one was more steeped in history than the Lincoln Highway. The boosters of the National Old Trails Road, which connected several historic paths across the country, had the good fortune of being able to trace much of their highway along the historic path of the famous National Road as it neatly crossed Ohio and Indiana before terminating at Vandalia, Illinois. The National Road dated back to the early 1800s—predating the railroads and canals—and opened up these western states to settlement and commerce. Although its traffic included carriages and wagons, and not automobiles and trucks, it was by definition the nation's first federal highway.

(Click to enlarge)  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

The National Old Trails Road was the end result of a grassroots Good Roads movement in Missouri which was formally organized as the Old Trails Association in 1911. An improved road which crossed the state was dedicated in October of that year. Also in 1911, the Missouri Daughters of the American Revolution initiated a movement which resulted in plans for a national memorial road between Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. This road was actually an end-to-end combination of existing trails, following historic paths such as the National Road in the East and the Santa Fe Trail in the West. Thus, the "National" element in the name of the National Old Trails Road likely refers to its scope as a memorial road that would cross the country, with the original National Road—also known as the National Pike and Cumberland Road—being a coincident part of that idea.

Two eras of highway architecture are evident in this picture:  homes having roof lines parallel with the road date back to the National Road; the gas station turned 45 degrees at the main intersection dates back to US 40.

The first convention of the National Old Trails Road was held in Kansas City on April 17 and 18, 1912. By the end of that year, a definite route had been put on paper. Like the Lincoln Highway Association, the Old Trails group had a goal of a marked road that would reach the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco by 1915. However, unlike the Lincoln Highway Association—in which founder Carl G. Fisher had enlisted the financial support of many of his friends in the automobile industry—it appears that the Old Trails association was relying on the federal government to build the road. Perhaps this is why Fisher—who made his home in Indianapolis, on the route of the National Old Trails Road—pursued a separate dream for an improved road that would cross the country. Had Fisher relied on the government to build the road he so much desired, it likely would have happened more later than sooner. This passion for a paved coast-to-coast highway may in fact have been the ultimate inspiration for his "Let's build it...before we are too old to enjoy it" quote.

The Pennsylvania House is now a small museum operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and is open for tours on most Saturdays and Sundays.  It is located in Springfield where the popular road to Dayton diverged from the National Road.

In its original form, the National Old Trails Road followed the historic National Road all across Ohio, with one notable exception. West of Springfield, the auto trail dropped about ten miles south to pass through Dayton and Eaton before rejoining the old National Road alignment just inside the state line near Richmond, Indiana. This variation had a colorful history of its own, because it was the route of the notorious Dayton Cutoff—a popular diversion from the National Road that actually became the route of choice for the earliest travelers on the historic pike. According to Frank X. Brusca, perhaps the leading authority on the National Road (see www.route40.net), interests in Dayton "erected milestones along its road that were nearly exact copies of the milestones found along the National Road." Moreover, "at the fork in the road, the cutoff's proponents had a sign erected telling emigrants that the fork to the left was the National Road, when in fact it wasn't."

As indicated by the numbers, the National Road milepost on the far left 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.

The milepost second from left is located near Lafayette, Ohio.  The milepost in the third photo is near Summerford, Ohio, and the fourth near West Jefferson, Ohio.

The milestones of the old National Road, and their reproductions, are just one of the historic elements that make the National Old Trails Road an absolute treasure to retrace. Brusca has documented each surviving milepost, and laments that too many of these artifacts have ended up in museums. He would like to see many of the milestones returned to the roadside. An impressive string of ten milestones in a row survives along the north side of the road in Licking County, in the area of Kirkersville and Hebron. Oddly, in several places, milestones have been moved to places along U.S. Route 40 which are actually bypasses of both the National Road and the National Old Trails Road.

Also specific to the National Old Trails Road is the "Madonna of the Trail" monument at the west edge of Springfield. This is one of twelve monuments placed in each of the twelve states through which the highway passed. The idea for these monuments came from the same group of Missouri women who became so actively involved in the Good Roads movement that their dream for a national memorial highway was taken to the national level. As a result, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned the design of the monument, which "commemorates the spirit of the woman pioneer." The statue features a pioneer woman clutching two small children and a rifle, and sits on a five-foot square pedestal that itself is six feet high.

Ohio's Madonna of the Trail statue is on the west side of Springfield.

Unfortunately, the Ohio memorial is difficult to access. To take adequate pictures, I usually leave my car in a city park east of the site, then scramble across the busy U.S. 40 bridge (no sidewalk; no shoulder) to reach the monument site. Brusca accordingly writes that "it is too bad that the monument wasn't relocated to a safer and more convenient location [such as] the DAR's Pennsylvania House just a few blocks away on the original path of the National Road." The monument could have been moved to such a location while being relocated from its original location within the present U.S. 68 interchange.

Peacock Road, East of Cambridge, Ohio.

Along with the multiple milestones and the solitary statue, plenty of old road remnants survive along this route, almost all of which are in the eastern counties. Like Cindell Street and Baywood Street along the Lincoln Highway, there are wonderfully photogenic brick remnants that were part of the National Old Trails Road. There are just as many snippets of old road—some brick; some concrete—hidden and forgotten in the trees. Just as new routings of U.S. 30 would pierce new paths into the rolling lands of Stark County and Columbiana County, so would relocations of U.S. 40 carve into the Appalachian Foothills east of Zanesville. The wide paths of a new U.S. 40 also allowed more places for the many old-fashioned motels to blossom and flourish in their day, and much of this type of roadside architecture survives today.

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.

Not to be forgotten along the old trail are the unique S-bridges which can be found only in the eastern part of the state. The Ohio Historical Society has wonderfully restored an old National Road bridge on the west edge of New Concord, and has also supervised similar work at a failing S-bridge which is in the shadows of the impressive Blaine Hill Viaduct east of St. Clairsville. Two other S-bridges survive in Guernsey County, and like the others, both can be found not far from the modernized U.S. 40, a federal highway which has survived almost in its entirety, despite the presence of nearby Interstate 70.

S-bridges on the National Old Trails Road in Eastern Ohio (click)

S-bridge west of New Concord, Ohio. Funded with ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) money through ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) this 1830 S-bridge 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.

East of Cambridge, Ohio.

 

S-bridge in the shadows of Blaine Hill Viaduct east of St. Clairsville, Ohio. S-bridge 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 (far right).

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.

Immediately after the National Old Trails Road had established a presence in Ohio, the people and leaders of the state looked to improving the route. In 1914, Ohio furnished 22% of the two-million dollars expended for improvements to the entire route. Then in 1915, Ohio reportedly supplied an astounding 52% of a similar amount. Using moneys appropriated for an experimental post road improvement program, a continuous stretch of twenty-four miles of concrete highway was constructed west of Zanesville, which one highway director said would be "the model concrete road of the world."

According to an impressively researched web site article by Richard F. Weingroff (see www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/not2c.htm), the old road was to be regraded to a width of thirty-four feet, with concrete pavement sixteen feet in width—eight inches thick at the center and six inches thick at the sides to provide for drainage. Vertical grades were to be reduced to a maximum of seven per cent, and superelevation was introduced for perhaps the first time in the state. Although much of this original concrete has been destroyed by improvements to U.S. Route 40, several remnants are there for rediscovery if one knows where to look.

To retrace the final route of the National Old Trails Road in Ohio, it is most simply put that one should follow the federal shields of U.S. Route 40, except through the area of the Dayton Cutoff. The cutoff road between Springfield and Dayton appears to have been an early version of State Route 4, much of which has been returned to local jurisdictions—although State Route 444 seems to have been designated for one remaining section. One good chunk of the original cutoff road appears to have been obliterated by the construction of the large Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Maps of the middle 1920s show a different route for this part of the National Old Trails Road. Instead of diverging at Springfield, the route continued another twelve miles westerly to the crossroads community of Brandt. It was there that the highway turned south into Dayton, on a route similar to State Route 201 on the map of today. Between Dayton and Richmond, the cutoff road is more easily discerned as the route of U.S. 35, which was originally State Route 11 until superseded by the federal number.

Appropriately, when the first inter-county highway numbers were assigned to Ohio roadways in 1912, the route of the old National Road was designated as Inter-County Highway #1 clear across the state. This was unusual because most numerical designations were for routes that connected a small set of county seats. Also rare is the fact that when a new numbering system of state routes was drawn up on the 1923 map, the historic route kept its rightly place as State Route 1.  Unfortunately, this was a short-lived designation that ended with the designation of U.S. Route 40 in 1926.

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.

With the posting of the new federal shields, the symbol signs of the National Old Trails Road began to come down. Interestingly, they must have looked a lot like the signs of the Lincoln Highway—red over white over blue, but without the L, of course. In many places across Ohio, it is the 1800s heritage of the road that is recalled, with official local names such as Cumberland Street, Old Pike, Old National Road, and so forth. Presently, the old National Road has been designated as a National Scenic Byway and also as an All-American Road.

Fairdale Road, west of Cambridge, Ohio.

Since virtually exhausting himself with studies on the Lincoln Highway, this writer has several times explored the route of the National Road/National Old Trails Road, and can truthfully say that no other route in Ohio offers a better overall roadfan experience. Highlighted by bridges now approaching 200 years of age, plus mileposts and memorials, there is rarely a dull moment, especially in the drive east of the Columbus metroplex. The inherent history and architecture of the old National Road—which predates auto travel by several decades—provides a unique and interesting bonus to the eventually monotonous search for old motels and gas stations on most numbered highways.

In 2005, the Ohio Historical Society published a long-awaited comprehensive guide to the National Road. Entitled A Traveler's Guide to the Historic National Road in Ohio, and authored by Glenn Harper and Doug Smith, the booklet was available at no change from the society "while supplies last." It is extremely well-done, and is a colorfully slick forty-six pages of text, photographs, and maps that makes me proud to be an O.H.S. member. See www.ohiohistory.org for more information.

IN SEARCH OF . . .
U.S. ROUTE 20 IN OHIO


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February, 2006

Just as Ohio was crossed by four coast-to-coast named auto trails, so also was the Buckeye State traversed by four nationally important east-west federal routes. While the Lincoln Highway and National Old Trails Road generally became U.S. Routes 30 and 40, respectively, two other federal routes—numbered 20 and 50—followed paths with ties to named trails that were more regional in nature. This article will focus on the route of U.S. 20, which most closely followed a route known as the Chicago-Buffalo Road.

When the federal highway system was first drawn on the national map in 1925, U.S. 20 was a transcontinental route from Boston, Massachusetts to Astoria, Oregon by way of Yellowstone National Park. However, interests in Utah, Idaho, and Oregon apparently wanted some numerical connection with U.S. 30, which—in return for the pledge of the Lincoln Highway Association to support the new federal system—generally had become the important equivalent of the Lincoln Highway. These three states were successful in their efforts, and as a result, the course of U.S. 20 was revised to terminate at the east entrance of Yellowstone Park, while the course of U.S. 30 was routed to Astoria, Oregon—much like it is today. However, some compromise was evident, because 30-North (via Pocatello, Idaho) and 30-South (via Ogden, Utah) both appeared in the first official log of United States numbered highways as diverging routes west of Granger, Wyoming.

Eventually, U.S. 20 was extended to the Oregon coast. During the 1940s, a newly improved road was opened to Albany, Oregon. By the 1950s, the terminus had been shifted another fifty miles westward to meet the Pacific Ocean at Newport, Oregon. This actually created a rare anomaly in the national numbering scheme, with U.S. 20 traversing the final western state between U.S. 30 and U.S. 40.

At its maximum length, U.S. 20 reportedly covered over 3400 miles from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon. Then, with the truncation of U.S. 6 in California during 1965, U.S. 20 became the longest of all the federal routes, although now listed on the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) web site at 3365 miles. According to a 1928 report by the Ohio Department of Highways, 263 miles of the route were in Ohio.

When U.S. 20 first appeared on the official Ohio highway map in 1926, it traced the paths of four state routes that had been designated only three years prior. The new federal route followed the original course of State Route 2 westerly from the Pennsylvania line through six Ohio counties to a point eleven miles west of Fremont at an intersection locally known as Busy Corners. On the Rand McNally auto trails maps of 1918 and 1921, this is the same path as the Toledo-Cleveland-Buffalo Trail, and it also compares well with Main Market Route Number One. In addition, there was some overlap in this section with the route of the Yellowstone Trail. After the federal highway was mapped, the resilient State Route 2 was relocated to its present corridor along Lake Erie.

Curiously, U.S. 20 has historically avoided Toledo, following the original State Route 102 across the Maumee River at the bridge between Perrysburg and Maumee. The route then turned north toward Sylvania on a highway originally marked as State Route 63, before resuming west toward Indiana on a highway originally marked as State Route 23 (not to be confused with U.S. 23). This westerly course was also on the path of the Toledo-Angola-Goshen Trail, which met the Lincoln Highway in northern Indiana to create the shortest route between Toledo and Chicago.

From the Pennsylvania state line to Cleveland, the first course of U.S. 20 is much like the route of today. As early as 1947, the state map shows multiple lanes throughout this same length, but with Interstate 90 (completed in the early 1960s) and State Route 2 (presently extending east to Painesville) now providing the same corridor with two major freeways, U.S. 20 has probably seen little change through Ashtabula County and Lake County in the last sixty years. Almost all of the road remnants that do survive near today's alignment occur where new bridges have been built across rivers or where grades have been separated at railroads. Thus, bits and pieces of old U.S. 20 can be found in Ashtabula (river bridge), Geneva (grade separation), and Painesville (grade separation).

In Conneaut, the original version of the present viaduct over the Conneaut River was completed just in time for the coming of U.S. 20. The builder's plate shows construction dates from 1922 to 1924. Predecessors of the federal route had crossed the river on an extension of Main Street—now known as Old Main Road—which lies just downstream (north) of the present crossing. According to the 1927 route book, the federal route followed State Street through the business district before being directionally split in a much later decade. Today, the westbound traffic of U.S. 20 follows State Street while eastbound traffic follows Main Street.

(Click to enlarge) Builder's plate mounted at the Conneaut Viaduct on U.S. 20, also known as the Chicago-Buffalo Road.

In Ashtabula, another new bridge was still under construction in 1927, according to the line conventions of the Cleveland Automobile Club's route book. Thus, the original course of U.S. 20 turned left (south) from Ridge Road to jog around a park (see today's Edgewood Drive) before continuing south on State Road. The Ashtabula River was then crossed after a right turn (west) onto what is now 46th Street, which in the 1920s was apparently known as Spring Street. This was followed by a left turn (south) in downtown onto Main Street, and a right turn (west) onto Center Street, before another left turn (southwest) onto Prospect Street took the route out of town. After completion of the new bridge, an extension of Ridge Road would meet an extension of Prospect Street to eliminate every one of those previous turns.

There are actually numbered routes following two ridge roads through the northeasternmost counties of Ohio. The route of U.S. 20 follows the north ridge, and State Route 84 follows the south ridge—both running parallel with the shoreline of Lake Erie. According to the 1920 Automobile Blue Book, the Yellowstone Trail followed the south ridge from Kingsville to Painesville, skirting the south sides of town in Ashtabula and Geneva. Later maps in that same decade have the Yellowstone Trail on the same path as U.S. 20 and the Chicago-Buffalo Highway.

West of Geneva, a railroad underpass on a newer alignment has rendered two short road remnants on each side of the railroad. A photogenic brick street marked on the map as West Main Court is on the east side of the tracks, and another marked as Romeo Road is on the west side of the tracks.

A brick road remnant on the old main street at the west edge of Geneva, rendered by the construction of a railroad grade separation.

On the east side of Painesville, another grade separation has eliminated a second harshly skewed railroad crossing. However, this underpass was built on a north-south road that required two new right angle turns in the federal route. Both of these turns have since been reconfigured. A significant stretch of old roadway may be found along the south side of the railroad and east of this underpass.

Through the business district of Painesville, the north ridge route of U.S. 20 follows Erie Street and Mentor Avenue. The parallel route on the south ridge would have passed through downtown on Main Street and Mentor Avenue, with an interesting jog around a small central park near the Lake County Courthouse. Mentor Avenue continues through its namesake city on its way to Willoughby. In Willoughby, the route of U.S. 20 turns onto Euclid Avenue and passes through the communities of Wickliffe and Euclid with no change of the street name.

Today's version of U.S. 20 enters downtown Cleveland by way of Euclid Avenue, but this is not the original course of the highway. From 1926 to 1968, the federal route diverged from Euclid Avenue and reached the Public Square by following Superior Avenue. When U.S. 6 was certified in 1932, it also followed Superior Avenue, where it remains today. Between 1936 and 1968, an alternate U.S. 20 route was awkwardly paired with an alternate U.S. 6 route on the Euclid Avenue entry. One can only speculate why the highway department waited until 1968 before simplifying this overload of numbers to the present practical arrangement.

After passing through the Public Square in downtown Cleveland, the original route of U.S. 20 continued west across the Detroit-Superior Bridge. Beyond the west end of the bridge, the highway followed a boulevard which passed through the Edgewater Park neighborhood. Today this same modernized corridor is occupied by a trio of numbered highways, with State Route 2 and U.S. 6 now joined with U.S. 20.

At the west end of the boulevard, the 1927 route book of the Cleveland Automobile Club has the route following Lake Avenue to a point in Lakewood just beyond Webb Road, where it met the trolley on Clifton Boulevard. After short southbound stints on Clifton Boulevard and Riverside Drive, the 1927 course turned west and crossed Rocky River by way of the Hilliard Bridge. After six tenths of a mile on Hilliard Boulevard, the route turned south on Wooster Road for half that previous distance before resuming west into then-rural areas with yet another ridge road known as Center Ridge Road.

Oddly, the reverse course charted in the 1927 route book follows a different path through the Lakewood and Rocky River area. The eastbound route traces Hilliard Boulevard to Warren Road, where it turned north to meet the east-west portion of Clifton Boulevard. The 1927 route then followed Clifton Boulevard easterly toward downtown Cleveland. Thus, it appears that one-way streets may have existed in this area as early as the 1920s, with Lake Avenue carrying westbound traffic and Clifton Boulevard carrying eastbound traffic.

Not surprisingly, the course of U.S. 20 has been changed at least once since that first pair of alignments. Today the route crosses Rocky River on a section of Detroit Avenue that lies between a north-south leg of Clifton Boulevard and Wooster Road. According to straight line diagrams from the highway department, Sloan Avenue is now also part of the federal route. Moreover, U.S. 20 is now apparently on a two-way version of the east-west section of Clifton Boulevard, with Lake Avenue no longer carrying any highway number.

The route of U.S. 20 leaves Cuyahoga County and then passes through North Ridgeville on its way to Elyria, the seat of Lorain County. On the east side of Elyria, the present route of U.S. 20 follows a bypass alignment around the east and south sides of the city before approaching the original route on the southwest side of the city. The old route through Elyria follows southwesterly courses on Cleveland Street and Bridge Street before angling westerly onto Broad Street. After a left turn from Broad Street, the route resumes south with Middle Avenue, then angles southwesterly onto Oberlin Avenue, which becomes Oberlin-Elyria Road beyond the city limits. A snippet of roadway marked on the county map as Hall Road may have been a previous alignment of U.S. 20.

Oberlin appears to be the first town in Ohio to be bypassed with a new alignment of U.S. 20. The federal route was relocated to new construction around the south side of Oberlin at some time around 1941. This was an alignment which had first appeared on the official highway map in 1938, but its designation at that time was State Route 585. The 1927 route through Oberlin follows what is now State Route 511 through the heart of the historic college town, where it is marked as Lorain Street. However, there is some evidence to support that College Street may also have hosted the federal route in other years.

Beyond Oberlin, State Route 511 bears westerly for several miles before turning south to pass through the community of Kipton. The east-west road is also known as Oberlin-Norwalk Road, and the north-south road is also known as Vermilion Road. One mile south of Kipton, the route of U.S. 20 is rejoined after a quarter-circle turn to the west. Years ago, the highway department used to add these curves rather freely at state route intersections, but currently is making it a practice to eliminate them because of safety concerns in merge areas.

Two miles beyond the quarter-circle turn, the highway enters Huron County and jogs through the village of Wakeman. It is believed that the present U.S. 20 jog through Wakeman—which also features quarter-circle turns—is not the location of the original route. It is more likely that the early version of U.S. 20 zigzagged through town with the highways now marked as State Routes 60 and 303. Bearing west from Wakeman, the county seat of Norwalk is eleven miles ahead.

Like Elyria, Norwalk has also been bypassed by a modern alignment of U.S. 20. The Norwalk bypass features a divided set of four lanes and several interchanges that were completed in the late 1960s. The original route enters the city on Townsend Avenue, then angles southwesterly onto State Route 61, which is also marked as Main Street. A second route into the city—now marked as Cleveland Road—was built in later years to eliminate two railroad grade crossings. It joins Main Street just three-tenths of a mile from the terminus of Townsend Avenue.

Norwalk is one of several towns in this part of Ohio that are named after locations in Connecticut. A quick study of the map also reveals the settlements of Greenwich, New Haven, and New London, as well as several township names with Connecticut roots. This is the westernmost part of the Connecticut Western Reserve, with Huron County and Erie County (Sandusky) making up most of the area known as the Firelands. In 1792, Connecticut granted the Firelands to sufferers whose property had been burned by the British during the Revolutionary War. The traitor Benedict Arnold was part of that episode.

On the southwest side of Norwalk, State Route 61 diverges from Main Street and interchanges with the present four-lane route of U.S. 20. That portion of Main Street which turns south and west from the diversion point is a remnant of the original route. After crossing the East Branch of the Huron River, Main Street becomes County Road 243, and dead-ends at the interchange. Judging from the U.S. Geological Survey map, this looks like an interesting area to explore. It would be an especially fun challenge to find traces of an old roadside rest area somewhere near here which dates back to at least 1938—the first year those primitive sites were first shown en masse on the official Ohio highway map.

Two miles west of the bypass junction is the small town of Monroeville. Watch for the wonderfully nostalgic Trail's End Motel not far from town—especially the colorful sign. Highway improvements in and around Monroeville have rendered old road remnants in two locations. Near the railroad underpass southeast of town, short sections of Norwalk Street and Main Street survive as bits and pieces of the original U.S. 20. West of town, County Road 238 is also a remnant of the federal route.

(click) This photogenic brick road remnant is now part of Norwalk Street in Monroeville. On the boulder along the roadside, there is a plaque which commemorates the site of nearby Camp Worcester, where volunteers from Ohio assembled, camped, and drilled after answering President Lincoln’s call for service in 1861.

Similar highway improvements have also been made at Bellevue, which is seven miles west of Monroeville. The original route of U.S. 20 followed Monroe Street into downtown, crossing a pair of busy railroads that were properties of the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, commonly known as the Nickel Plate Road. Not coincidentally, the main line of the Nickel Plate Road had endpoints in Buffalo and Chicago—major cities that would also become waypoints on the route of U.S. 20. By 1935, the federal route was moved to its present location on an easterly extension of Bellevue's Main Street.

Bellevue is still an important railroad town, although the previous railroads are now properties of the Norfolk Southern Railway. Large shops and sprawling yards are still active northeast of town. The Mad River and NKP Railroad Museum—my favorite railroad museum in Ohio—is located close to downtown. Most railfans could spend at least a couple hours here while exploring the large static display of locomotives, cars, and hardware, not to mention the fine gift shop.

Aside from sightseeing, Bellevue is also on the line between Huron County and Sandusky County, which defines the western limits of the Connecticut Western Reserve. This makes the location significant as the easternmost point of a state road that was authorized by the Treaty of Brownstown in 1808. By this treaty, the Indian tribes of northwest Ohio ceded a strip of land 46 miles long and 120 feet wide from what is now Perrysburg to the west line of the Connecticut Reserve, together with land a mile wide on each side. Eventually, the square mile sections that are typical in this part of Ohio were subdivided into long thin parcels fronting on the state road, although the road was not sufficiently improved until later.

Seven miles west of Bellevue is the village of Clyde. It is here that I first noticed a new name on the county map, with the route of U.S. 20 also being shown as the McPherson Highway. After a successful web search, I learned that General James Birdseye McPherson was born here in 1828, when Clyde was called Hamers Corners. General McPherson lost his life while in command of Union forces during a Civil War battle in Atlanta, tragically becoming the youngest and highest ranking Union officer to be killed in that war. Clyde is also recognized as the hometown model for Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio books.

Another seven miles beyond Clyde is Fremont, which is the seat of Sandusky County. The present U.S. 20 bypass around Fremont was completed in about 1960, and was the first four-lane bypass in Ohio along this federal route. The antiquity of the bypass is sometimes seen in the narrow median and compact interchanges that would no longer meet the design standards of today. The original route follows State Street all the way through the historic town, which was originally platted in 1816 as Croghanville. It is one of only four towns in Ohio that were laid out by the federal government—Perrysburg (1816), Gnadenhutten (1824), and Upper Sandusky (1843) are the others.

Croghanville was named from Major General George Croghan, who led the successful defense of Fort Stephenson on the west bank of the Sandusky River. In 1813, General Croghan and 160 men turned back a combined British and Indian force of more than three thousand with one small six-pound cannon named "Old Betsy." Croghan ordered his men to fire and then move the cannon around the fort as fast as possible, giving the impression that the fort was better armed. After taking the Fremont name, the city later became famous as the home of Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States. His lovely residence and final resting place at Spiegel Grove—along with a fine library—are now a state historic site.

Fremont was also previously known as Lower Sandusky, identifying its place on the Sandusky River. Lower Sandusky was the eastern endpoint of the notorious Maumee and Western Reserve Road—a thirty-one mile long "bridge" over the Great Black Swamp that ended at the Maumee River in Perrysburg. The road thus covered the western two-thirds of the state road that had first been authorized by the Treaty of Brownstown in 1808. The Maumee and Western Reserve Road was authorized by Congress in 1823 and completed in 1826. The historically poor conditions of the road are best recalled in Ardath Dansford's Perrysburg Revisited:

For perhaps two months of the year, July and August, if they were dry enough, the road was passable. The remainder of the time it offered steady employment for inhabitants of the area in helping to pull stalled teams out of mudholes. Roadside taverns did a thriving business in providing accommodations for travelers. In 1834 to 1836, there were thirty-one such establishments, very nearly equaling the distance in miles from Perrysburg to Fremont. In response to the furor over what some called "the worst road on the continent," Ohio officials in 1838 appropriated $40,000 to surface the road with macadam. When finished in 1841 it was one of the first such paved highways, and further expenditure of approximately $125,000 by the state to construct ditches and culverts made the Fremont Pike a major access route east and west.

In 1842, one year after the first major improvements were finished, thirty limestone mileposts were placed along the north side of the road. The initial letters of Lower Sandusky and Perrysburg are shown on the west and east face of each milestone, respectively, along with the mileage from and to those pioneer towns. The first milestone is in front of a residence in Fremont at 1206 W. State Street. On my last tour of the route on 2/20/2002 (note the numerical coincidences), I counted twenty-six out of thirty milestones, most of which were replicas of the originals.

Four miles west of Fremont, the Delorme Ohio Atlas and Gazetteer labels an intersection as Fourmile House Corner. It is my guess that there may have been a tollhouse here from the years when the Maumee and Western Reserve Road was also a turnpike. Ironically, a contemporary toll road now parallels the historic route—although in 2002, truckers were clogging U.S. 20 to avoid paying the apparently steep fees required for using the Ohio Turnpike. Thus, I made it a point not to stop along the side of the busy road any more than I had to.

Near milepost eleven and at the junction with State Route 51 is the intersection known as Busy Corners. At this point, the original State Route 2, along with the named auto routes—the Toledo-Cleveland-Buffalo Trail and the Yellowstone Trail—diverged from the old state road and followed a popular path toward Toledo that passed through Elmore. The official Ohio map of 1950 actually shows this as a multiple lane route, which would seem quite redundant today. However, U.S. 20 never followed this option, and continued on the route of the old turnpike toward Woodville and Perrysburg—which in many places is still two lanes today.

Both Woodville and Perrysburg are proud of their heritage on the Maumee and Western Reserve Road. At www.roadsideusa.info Russell Rein reports that the Woodville Historical Society was active in placing milestone replicas along the highway. In 1966, they also erected a sign next to the milestone (LS 15 P 16) in downtown Woodville. At Perrysburg, there is a Milestone Park at the last marker along the route, with a new and informative Ohio Historical Society marker placed nearby in 2001.

(click) Milestone LS 30 P 1 at Milestone Park in Perrysburg. (see sign)

Perrysburg is a town steeped in history. Laid out in 1816, it is named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, whose naval triumph on Lake Erie led to American victory in the west in the War of 1812. Perrysburg is at the foot of the rapids of the Maumee River, just downstream from where Fort Meigs was built on the same south bank by General William Henry Harrison during the winter of 1812 and 1813. The fort withstood two sieges of the British and Indians in the spring and summer of 1813. The Ohio Historical Society recently opened an impressive new Museum and Education Center at the site.

The route of U.S. 20 enters Perrysburg on Fremont Pike and Sandusky Street, then angles west onto Indiana Avenue. After two blocks, the route then turns north toward the river for three blocks on Louisiana Avenue, which is one of my favorite streets in the entire state. The government surveyors that laid out the city showed great wisdom in platting the right-of-way of Louisiana Avenue at a width of two chains (132 feet), which now allows for diagonal parking and wide sidewalks so that patrons can better enjoy their frequent visits to the several interesting shops and eateries along the way. A memorial statue honoring Commodore Perry is at the north end of Louisiana Avenue, along the north side of Front Street.

These three blocks of Louisiana Avenue would have also been the route of the Dixie Highway, which followed Front Street into town from Rossford. However, the Dixie Highway may not have joined the route of U.S. 25 until reaching a point in the south part of town. I find it fascinating that three federal routes once radiated from the square grid of Perrysburg. Along with U.S. 20 and U.S. 25, the route of U.S. 23 bore south-southeasterly along an extension of Louisiana Avenue that is still known as the McCutcheonville Pike.

At the Perry Monument, the route of U.S. 20 turns west from Louisiana Avenue onto Front Street and crosses the Maumee River into the city of Maumee. In Maumee, the route is also known as Conant Street, and on the way through town, two more federal highways are intersected—U.S. 24 and an alternate route of U.S. 20. The alternate route, first signed as U.S. 20-South from 1932 to 1934, put three of the four biggest towns in Fulton County—Swanton, Delta, and Wauseon, the county seat—on or near its path. It was renumbered as U.S. 20A on the official Ohio map of 1935, and maintains that designation today.

North of Maumee, Conant Street bends to the north and becomes Reynolds Road. After a few miles through the busy west side of Toledo, U.S. 20 finally resumes westerly with a left turn onto Central Avenue and aims toward Indiana on the old Toledo-Angola-Goshen Trail. Two miles beyond the Fulton County line, the route quickly passes through the settlement now known as Assumption, which takes it name from the local parish church. The maps and road guides from the 1920s show the place name as Caraghar—the surname of the owner of the community's general store.

Most of the route of U.S. 20 west of Toledo follows earlier roads which traced section lines and half-section lines. This includes a twenty-two mile straightaway from Lucas County to the western part of Fulton County. East of Perrysburg, the route generally followed paths that owed their heritage to geology and geography, with geometry strongly coming into play where the shortest possible path across the Great Black Swamp was necessary. The only area in the eastern part of the state where the road traces a rectangular survey grid is between Oberlin and Norwalk.

During those years when there was a U.S. 20-South, this part of U.S. 20 was marked as U.S. 20-North. Although the northern route was an original part of the federal highway network, there was no southern alternate until 1932. The important U.S. 20 designation was restored to the favored northern route when U.S. 20-South was renumbered as U.S. 20-A on the 1935 map.

West of Toledo, communities and villages on the route of U.S. 20 are few and far between. Like Assumption, the crossroads community of Oakshade is one of the smallest dots on the map. The incorporated town of Fayette—which thus gets a splash of yellow on the Ohio map—is located in the northwest corner of Fulton County, and is supposedly named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. Four miles west of Fayette, U.S. 20 enters Williams County, the tenth and final Ohio county to be traversed by this version of the federal route.

In Williams County, Alvordton and Pioneer are the only incorporated villages on the route. There is one significant section of old road remnants southwest of Pioneer. Now disguised as Road Q and Road 13, an old right angle corner in the route was long ago replaced by a new curve and bridge crossing at the West Branch of the St. Joseph River. Another quarter-circle arc that is twelve miles easterly from the Indiana line returns the route of U.S. 20 to its final westerly bearing. Ironically, U.S. 20 leaves Ohio within earshot of the Ohio Turnpike—the modern toll road which opened in 1956, replacing the federal route as the main highway across the top of the Buckeye State.

(click) A mechanical drawing of the typical milestone placed between Lower Sandusky and Perrysburg on the north side of the Maumee and Western Reserve Road, an early state road in Ohio that became the route of U.S. 20.

 

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MILE
Excerpted from “Mileposts and Milestones”
Michael G. Buettner
May 2001
 

The complete article was originally published in Issue #28 of Buckeye Ramblings, the official newsletter of the Ohio Lincoln Highway League.

Our standard distance of a mile actually traces its history to the plowing capabilities of one team of oxen. The familiar measure of 5280 feet is rendered by the length of eight furlongs (“furrow-long”), which was the distance that a team of oxen could supposedly plow before requiring a break. During the time of Queen Elizabeth I (circa 1590s), the statute mile of 5280 feet was legislated as an important measure, given that by law, no building construction was to be done within three miles of the gates of London.

The etymologic origin of the word “mile” dates back to the mille passum, or 1000 paces, of the Roman soldier, which equaled a distance of 5000 feet. It is important to note that the Romans also had a measurement called the stade, which was one-eighth the distance of their mile. Because legal matters in old England were recorded in Latin, the stade and the furlong, although having no relationship to the other, became intertwined in use. Thus, when specifying the statute mile, a furlong of 660 feet became the controlling element, with the factor of eight retained from the Roman stade/mile ratio to create the mile of 5280 feet that we are familiar with today.

IN SEARCH OF . . .
THE DIXIE HIGHWAY IN OHIO
Page Two


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On the outskirts of Lima, and at the imposing steel bridge that once overlooked the famous Lima Locomotive Works, the Dixie Highway name is again revived as a county road. This designation continues beyond the town of Cridersville, where Auglaize County also signs the road as County Road 25A. One mile north of Cridersville—where a newer curve of the road is also an overpass of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—is a small remnant of bypassed older road, shown on the map as Old Dixie Highway. Up until a few years ago, a good part of this old road was exposed brick, but it was surprisingly paved over before I ever got a picture of it. Fans of commercial roadside architecture will want to take note of an old motel court in Cridersville, where the brick cottages have been converted to self-storage units.

Selected Routes of the Dixie Highway Through Lima. Click to enlarge.

1920 1922 1927

South of Cridersville, the route bends south-southwesterly to Wapakoneta, the seat of Auglaize County. Wapakoneta was originally a tribal village centered within a 100-square mile reservation set aside for the Shawnee Indians in 1817. The Indians were removed to Kansas in 1831 and 1832, after which surveyors came in and subdivided the land into townships and sections. The road between Lima and Wapakoneta shows up in the field notes of those first surveys.

Based on a route charted in a 1927 road guide published by the Cleveland Automobile Club, the Dixie Highway and U.S. 25 entered Wapakoneta on what is now Wood Street, then turned west (right) into downtown on Auglaize Street. At the heart of the business district, the route resumed south (left turn) with Willipie Street—a unique street name which honors a well-spoken and highly-regarded Shawnee tribesman. The Auglaize County Courthouse is the main landmark on Willipie Street. Local legend has it that a statue which once graced the top of the building had to be turned to face west because the citizens of St. Marys—a rival city to the west not chosen as the county seat—were insulted by having the back side of the statue pointed in their direction when it was first erected.

In Shelby County, the County Road 25A designation continues as in Auglaize County, but the Dixie Highway name is dropped in favor of Sidney-Wapakoneta Road. The towns of Botkins and Anna both grew up along the old pioneer road between the namesake cities, and were boosted in the 1850s by the arrival of the parallel railroad. Anna received an even bigger boost about twenty years ago with the construction of a large Honda plant, and has since nearly doubled in size.

In Sidney, one way streets have changed the simple traffic patterns that would have existed in the 1920s. Southbound traffic now passes through the city with a combination of Wapakoneta Road, Main Avenue and Ohio Avenue, passing the west side of the Shelby County Courthouse. Northbound traffic passes on the east side of the block, following Main Avenue—which was the original path of U.S. Route 25—to Wapakoneta Road. If the courthouse seems familiar, it may be because the same architects designed the courthouse two counties back, in Lima. Opposite the southwest corner of the courthouse block in Sidney is the locally famous Spot Restaurant, an Art Deco gem where President George W. Bush dropped in for a sandwich lunch on his way through Ohio during a 2004 campaign tour.

Just before passing under the awesome arches of the Big Four Railroad Bridge, Ohio Street blends into Main Street and leaves the city limits. On this side of Sidney, the route is again signed as County Road 25A, but is now Sidney-Piqua Road. A road marked on the map as Sulphur Heights Hill may be a remnant from an early road alignment. Given several right-angle turns and some meandering diagonals, the old route to Piqua appears to have been cobbled together from several old county roads. However, despite the many changes of direction, the main road is easily followed—with or without the County Road 25A signs posted by Miami County. The county line is reached at 5.5 miles south of the railroad bridge, and is also the location of the first right angle turn between Sidney and Piqua.

Like Wapakoneta, Piqua grew up on the site of an old Indian village. In fact, the name Piqua is thought to mean “village” in the the tribal tongue (and compares well to Pickaway, an Ohio county south of Columbus). Piqua is now noteworthy as the southernmost city in the Miami and Erie Canal Heritage Corridor, which extends to Delphos as a Scenic Byway along State Route 66. In downtown Piqua, Lock Nine Park is an interesting new interpretive site for the canal. North of the city, the Piqua Historic Area State Memorial, another unit of the Ohio Historical Society, “celebrates Ohio’s rich history from prehistoric Indians to Ohio’s canal era” at the site of the John Johnston farm. Johnston was a farmer and canal commissioner whose most important contribution to history may have been in his role as an Indian agent in western Ohio from 1812 to 1829. At the site, a replica of a typical mule-drawn mixed-cargo canal boat offers rides during the summer season on a restored mile-long segment of the canal.

The route of the Dixie Highway passes through Piqua on Main Street, and once again becomes County Road 25A beyond the city limits. A half-mile road remnant marked Old CR 25A survives three miles south of downtown, west of the present road. Two miles south of an interchange with Interstate 75 (Exit 78), a restored covered bridge can be visited alongside Eldean Road. Such bridges can not be found anywhere near my home in Lima, so it is always a treat to stop the car after an hour of travel and stretch the legs with a picturesque covered bridge in view.

After two more miles, the route enters Troy for a brief stint on Elm Street. At Main Street, which is also marked as State Route 41, turn left toward downtown. Then, at the Public Square, turn right onto Market Street, which is also marked as State Route 55. After six blocks, and just beyond a railroad crossing, diverge from State Route 55 by continuing southerly with Market Street, which bends three times before resuming a true south course beyond the city limits. The road will once again be marked with the now-familiar tag of County Road 25A, and then is a straight shot into Montgomery County and the city of Vandalia.

Vandalia is a unique example of an Ohio town that is named for a place to its west, not its east. Vandalia, Illinois was an early state capital projected as the western terminus of the National Road, which also hosted the capital cities of Columbus and Indianapolis along a remarkably straight course. The Ohio sobriquet served as an optimistic reminder of that road’s destination as it was slowly extended west. Once upon a time, there was a “Crossroads of America” sign at the historically significant intersection in Vandalia, but I have not seen it in several years. Among the many locations in America that make this pompous boast for themselves, Vandalia has one of the most legitimate claims. After all, Interstate Routes 75 and 70—two of the busiest freeways in the national scheme, and probably the two busiest in Ohio—meet at a major interchange southeast of town.

Beyond Vandalia, my rendering of the historic Dixie Highway will be based entirely on information from my collection of guide books and official maps, plus a little bit of instinct. Although I have driven the relatively quiet part of the old road many times to and from Vandalia—avoiding Interstate 75—I have never mustered the energy to continue beyond that point to battle with the tedious stop and go traffic that likely exists in the urban sprawl that now stretches from here through Dayton and on to Cincinnati. My trips to Cincinnati are already long enough, so I just grit my teeth and get on the theoretically faster freeway.

So here goes with my best reckoning of the Dixie Highway through southwest Ohio. From its intersection with Main Street in Vandalia, continue south on the Dixie Highway for about six miles. After crossing the bridge over the Great Miami River, the road will be named Keowee Street. After another mile, Keowee Street crosses the Mad River and enters the east part of downtown Dayton. Once again, contemporary one way streets make it impossible to perfectly follow the supposed early route, so a right turn (west) onto Monument Avenue is suggested. First Street would have carried one version of the historic route, but now is one way eastbound (and thus would be followed by northbound roadfans). From Monument Avenue, turn left (south) onto Main Street and pass through the heart of downtown on a thoroughfare also marked as State Route 48.

Downtown Dayton would also have been the junction point of a Dixie Highway connector road. The Dixie Highway system included several connector roads between the north-south branches of the highway. This particular connector road between Indianapolis and Dayton traced the path of the National Old Trails Road, a named trail with a history which predated the Dixie Highway. In Ohio, the National Old Trails Road followed a popular variation from the historic National Road that passed through Dayton and Eaton. This would match the earliest versions of U.S. Route 35, which entered downtown Dayton on Third Street to meet the eastern branch of the Dixie Highway at Main Street.

Among the many Dayton attractions too numerous to list here are the old Montgomery County Courthouse (near the Third Street intersection), and the Packard Museum on Sixth Street (in the first block west of Main Street). I personally enjoy visits to the melodious bell tower and fascinating historic area at Carillon Park (where a replica of the Wright Flyer is housed), about one mile down river. At one mile past the old courthouse, turn right (west) from Main Street onto Schantz Avenue to reach a roadway marked as Dixie Highway, where a left turn is made to resume south toward Cincinnati.

There is one other Dixie Highway/U.S. 25 route of special interest that passes through downtown Dayton. Take note of the thoroughfare marked as Patterson Boulevard, which meanders diagonally across the rectangular grid of city streets by following the abandoned the path of the Miami and Erie Canal. The street is named for John H. Patterson, who went from being a toll collector on the old canal to being the founder of the National Cash Register Company. After 1927—when the Ohio Legislature made the abandoned portions of the canal bed available for public highways—cities including Dayton, Middletown, and Hamilton (all on the original Dixie Highway route) began to creatively construct streets and boulevards in the right-of-way of the old canal. After such construction in Dayton, U.S. 25 was relocated to Patterson Boulevard some time around 1940, meeting the original Dixie Highway at the Schantz Avenue intersection described above.

Departing Dayton, the Dixie Highway alignment passes through the smaller cities of Moraine and West Carrollton. In some areas, the northbound and southbound lanes are widely divided, with additional names such as Kettering Boulevard entering into the route description at Moraine. In West Carrollton, there is a southbound route marked as Central Avenue and a northbound route marked as Dixie Drive. The divided highway eventually closes up in the downtown area of West Carrollton, and the Central Avenue designation can be followed until reaching the city limits of Miamisburg, where the highway becomes that city’s Main Street. Another split of the route is made in Miamisburg, with southbound traffic following Main Street, and northbound traffic following First Street through the downtown. Although most of this course through the Dayton suburbs no longer carries any state route number, I have a feeling that any confusion caused by the several name changes is offset by the linear continuity of the route.

Beyond Miamisburg, the route passes into Warren County, and once again becomes Dixie Highway for a brief time. Upon reaching the business district of the city of Franklin, the historic route is temporarily split again, with southbound traffic diverging from Main Street by following River Street for about one mile. In downtown Franklin, State Route 73 joins the Dixie Highway, but south of town the numbered route turns right (west) toward Middletown with a four-lane highway that may also have been built on abandoned canal lands. The earliest routes of the Dixie Highway would have continued south from here, with the original route soon making a right turn onto Hamilton-Middletown Road, and a later route avoiding those two cities by continuing south with the first version of U.S. 25. Thus, at the east terminus of Hamilton-Middletown Road, roadfans have two options for following the Dixie Highway to Cincinnati.

For the benefit of those roadfans who fall into the die-hard category, this article will endeavor to trace both versions of the Dixie Highway route (before and after U.S. 25), but in a condensed format:

FRANKLIN TO CINCINNATI VIA MIDDLETOWN AND HAMILTON

From the intersection of Hamilton-Middletown Road and Dixie Highway, bear west with Hamilton-Middletown Road, passing the Wood Hill Cemetery at right;

Upon entering Butler County, Hamilton-Middletown Road becomes Riviera Drive;

At the short access road bearing right, turn right toward State Route 73/Verity Parkway, and then turn left with same, continuing to the other side of a railroad underpass;

At another access road opposite the Miami River County Park, turn left then right onto Tytus Avenue, which was part of the original Dixie Highway route through Middletown;

In Middletown, Tytus Avenue angles left to become Main Street;

Continue southerly through Middletown on Main Street, which becomes Hamilton-Middletown Road beyond the city limits;

Continue southerly with Hamilton-Middletown Road to its end, then turn right onto State Route 4, which is marked on one map as the Wright Brothers Memorial Highway, but marked on another as Hamilton-Middletown Road;

Continue southerly and southwesterly with State Route 4, which eventually becomes Fairgrove Avenue within the city limits of Hamilton;

At the Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton, diverge from State Route 4 by angling right onto Heaton Street, which was part of the original Dixie Highway through Hamilton;

After a slight angle right near Eleventh Street, continue with Heaton Street, which then jogs at a railroad crossing to become Village Street;

Turn left (south) from Village Street onto Second Street/U.S. 127 and follow same through downtown Hamilton, a surprisingly photogenic city that now calls itself “The City of Sculpture”;

Continue southerly with Second Street/U.S. 127, and at several blocks past the Butler County Courhouse (or just after a railroad crossing), angle left (southeasterly) onto Central Avenue, diverging from Second Street, but continuing with U.S. 127;

Where U.S. 127 diverges south, continue southeasterly with Central Avenue, crossing the railroad tracks and eventually joining similar diagonal alignments marked as Dixie Highway and State Route 4;

Continue southeasterly with Dixie Highway and State Route 4 into Hamilton County;[note: Hamilton is the seat of Butler County; Cincinnati is the seat of Hamilton County; don’t ask me to explain that potential source of confusion]

In Hamilton County, the Dixie Highway name is dropped, but State Route 4 continues as either Springfield Road or Springfield Pike;

Continue southerly with State Route 4/Springfield Road through the Cincinnati suburbs of Springdale and Wyoming, after which the named road will become Vine Street for about one mile;

Just after passing the Hamilton County Fairgrounds, and just before an I-75 interchange (Exit 9), diverge from Vine Street, but continue southerly with State Route 4, which now becomes Paddock Road;

Continue southerly with State Route 4/Paddock Road to a junction with U.S. 42/Reading Road;

Turn right (southwesterly) onto U.S. 42/Reading Road and follow same into downtown Cincinnati.

FRANKLIN TO CINCINNATI VIA ORIGINAL ROUTE OF U.S. 25

From the intersection of Hamilton-Middletown Road and Dixie Highway, continue south with Dixie Highway;

After about four miles, enter Butler County near the old crossroads community of Blue Ball; [Blue Ball supposedly takes its name from a sign over the entrance to an old stagecoach stop and tavern, which bore a globe painted blue; the nearby community of Red Lion owes its name to similar circumstances]

In Butler County, the Dixie Highway name is continued in the city limits of Middletown (which has swallowed Blue Ball), but beyond the city limits the roadway is known as Cincinnati-Dayton Road;

Continue southerly with Cincinnati-Dayton Road, passing through the town of Monroe on Main Street, and the communities of Jericho, Bethany, and Maud (there is a right angle left turn after a railroad crossing near Maud, but the road name stays the same);

Continue southerly with Cincinnati-Dayton Road at the overpass of Interstate 75 (Exit 21), then pass through West Chester and Sharonville;

In Sharonville, angle right, continuing southerly with U.S. 42/Reading Road;

Continue southerly and southwesterly with U.S. 42/Reading Road through Evendale and Reading, and follow same into downtown Cincinnati.

The common denominator of these two routes is the Reading Road entrance into Cincinnati, where there is an overlap of at least four miles. Upon reaching downtown Cincinnati, previous Dixie Highway and U.S. 25 routes can no longer be perfectly followed because of typically changing traffic patterns and one way streets. On the official 1926 ODH map, a combination of Sycamore Street, Third Street, and Vine Street appears to form the route through downtown, crossing the Ohio River at the remarkable John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge—a proud predecessor and model for the more famous Brooklyn Bridge, which was also designed by Roebling. Today the classic bridge can still be crossed from Ohio into Kentucky, but now follow Sycamore Street, Sixth Street, and Race Street to reach the foot of the bridge along a new street named Freedom Way. At the time the suspension bridge was completed, Cincinnati was the largest city west of the Appalachian Mountains, with a population of 115,000—half again as much as St. Louis (78,000), and nearly four times that of Chicago (30,000).

Today the Roebling Bridge has several neighbors, two of which have either carried or still carry successor routes of the Dixie Highway. The first downstream bridge is the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, which was opened in 1974 as a replacement for a previous bridge that carried automobile traffic between 1929 and 1970. The previous bridge was actually a converted railroad bridge that had been built by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in 1889, and one of the piers from that bridge is still being used for the paired contemporary bridges. By the 1940s, the converted bridge was carrying the northbound traffic of U.S. 25 and U.S. 42, and the suspension bridge was carrying the corresponding southbound traffic across the Ohio River. Maps of the 1950s and 1960s show all traffic on the federal routes crossing at the converted bridge. Then, after demolition of the converted bridge in 1970, it appears that the routes of U.S. 25 and U.S. 42 returned to the suspension for a short time, until the new bridge was opened in 1974. The second downstream bridge is the Brent Spence Bridge, which opened in 1963 to carry the route of Interstate 75—the modern equivalent of both the Dixie Highway and U.S. Route 25.

Cincinnati is known as “The Queen City” and is indeed the crowning point and climactic destination of this 220-mile Dixie Highway tour through Ohio. Although now smaller in population than both Columbus and Cleveland, the historic city on the great river (Ohio reportedly means “great river” or “beautiful river” in the Iroquois tongue) predates both, and does not have to take a back seat to either when considering its numerous points of interest and family-friendly activities. When our children were just beginning school, we scheduled a three-day vacation and visited the Newport Aquarium and the Cincinnati Zoo, plus the museums that are housed in the classic old Union Terminal—one of my favorite buildings anywhere. When they are older, it is likely that future vacations will include amusement parks and baseball parks as part of the agenda.

In conclusion, the Dixie Highway is still a very recognizable name along its routes through the west part of Ohio. Many counties and local jurisdictions have road signs which appropriately bear the name of the nation’s first north-south transcontinental route. Other locations similarly recall the highway’s heritage as part of U.S. Route 25, especially in west central counties that commonly marked the old road as County Road 25A, after various segments of adjacent I-75 were opened to traffic in somewhat domino style.

By 1974, Ohio’s segment of Interstate 75 was complete, and had made both the Dixie Highway and U.S. 25 obsolete as main routes. It was then that the well-worn black and white shields were taken down from the Ohio roadside, although the federal route still survives in Kentucky and points south. Signs for U.S. 25 do appear on the Ohio side of the river, but only to direct traffic to the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, which is entirely owned and maintained by the State of Kentucky. Only thirty-four miles of today’s State Route 25 remain in northwest Ohio to continue the legacy of that once important number. However, the significance of the Dixie Highway idea remains—although now in the form of a modern freeway that invites migratory snowbirds from Michigan and Ontario to pass through Ohio while on their way to sunny destinations in southern Florida that Dixie Highway founder Carl G. Fisher helped to put on the map.

Three strip maps copied from the 1927 Automobile Route Book of Ohio, covering the routes of the Dixie Highway and U.S. 25 between Lima and Cincinnati. Oddly, there was no one strip map covering the routes between Toledo and Lima.  Click to enlarge.
Lima to Sidney Sidney to Dayton Dayton to Cincinnati

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in the first three paragraphs are from The Pacesetter, a book about Carl G. Fisher that was written by a relative, Jerry M. Fisher, and published by Lost Coast Press in 1998.

The following road guides were valuable references for tracing routes from the 1920s:

  • 1920 Automobile Blue Book, Volume No. 4, published by the Automobile Blue Book Publishing Company;
  • 1922 Automobile Green Book, Volume No. 3, published for the Automobile Legal Association by Scarborough Motor Guide Company;
  • 1927 Automobile Route Book of Ohio, published by the Cleveland Automobile Club

In Search of...The Dixie Highway in Ohio - Page 1

IN SEARCH OF . . .
THE DIXIE HIGHWAY IN OHIO
Page One


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By the fall of 1914, Carl G. Fisher was no longer at front and center in the improvement activities of the Lincoln Highway Association. Instead, much of his attention was being directed to the development of a “jungle-like peninsula” of palmettos, mangroves, and marshes that we now know as Miami Beach, Florida. The threat of war in Europe had helped to slow the sales of lots, but Fisher was quick to recognize the ultimate need for a good road to connect the cold industrial North to the warm tourist-friendly South.

In its original scope, the Dixie Highway was conceived by Carl Fisher as “a great highway from Indianapolis to Miami.” Indianapolis was Fisher’s home town, and he had begun wintering in Miami in 1910. With the help of W.S. Gilbreath of the Hoosier Motor Club, Carl “made plans for a new road, mapping routes and lining up participants” in much the same fashion as had been done for the Lincoln Highway. It is not clear when the original northern terminus was revised to Chicago, but in November 1914, Gilbreath was in Atlanta to attend the fourth annual meeting of the American Road Congress, “trying to obtain approval from the governors of all the states through which the highway…would pass.” He promoted the newly proposed road as the Cotton Belt Route. With the optimistic promise of new tourist dollars that in other times would have gone to a peaceful Europe, he challenged the southern states to improve their deficient highway networks, especially in the form of interstate highways.

By April 1915, the new north-south highway was being called the Dixie Highway. According to one web site, the name was chosen “to honor fifty years of peace between North and South.” At that time, Fisher and Gilbreath were part of a conference in Chattanooga at which the Dixie Highway Association was formed. This new association was modeled after the Lincoln Highway Association, and there seems little question that Fisher’s experiences with that great east-west transcontinental route proved valuable in this new endeavor. The Indianapolis News reported that “every town in every state wished a place in the Dixie Highway sun,” and some feared that the keen competition would kill the project altogether. Fisher was reportedly quick to suggest a compromise idea at a May meeting of the highway commissioners. Thus, instead of one highway, the commissioners settled on two routes—a western route from Chicago to Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville, which likely resembled Fisher’s original idea; and an eastern route from Detroit to Cincinnati, Lexington, and Knoxville. The routes had a junction point at Chattanooga.

From this concept of parallel highways funneling traffic south to Miami Beach, the Dixie Highway system grew into a network of interwoven vines on a trellis of eastern states. On the 1923 map, Asheville, North Carolina and Greenville, South Carolina are waypoints on a later addition to the system. On that same map are parallel Dixie Highway routes in the lower peninsula of Michigan which joined at Mackinaw before reaching a northern endpoint at Sault Sainte Marie. There were also multiple routes in Florida.

In Ohio, the selection of the first Dixie Highway route was accomplished over a quick but colorful course of several weeks in 1915. To the benefit of this writer, the Lima newspapers offered almost daily coverage of the planning activities for the highway. With intentions to improve the proposed route in Ohio, the Lake Loop District of the Dixie Highway was formed in Lima on June 4. Representatives were present from nearly every city between Cincinnati and Detroit.

Unfortunately, promoters in Lima soon found themselves in a difficult position, with boosters in other nearby cities trying to align themselves on altered versions of the first proposed route. From the start, Lima and Findlay had worked together with Piqua, Sidney, Wapakoneta, and Bowling Green in seeking to improve their part of the projected route, which already had a historical precedent as Main Market Route Number Seven. However, Ottawa and Napoleon fought a spirited battle to sway the route away from Findlay and Bowling Green. Likewise, the cities of Springfield, Urbana, Bellefontaine, and Kenton lobbied for a Dixie Highway course that would pass through that line of county seats. The local newspapers shuddered at the thought of Lima losing the route, especially after being a lead player in the original plan. By August, the local councils from Lima had finally restated their endorsement of a route which paired their city with Findlay. In the end, the route that was originally projected was the route that was chosen.

The importance of the Dixie Highway was not lost on the writer of one Lima Daily News editorial. On July 29, 1915, he opined the following:

The Dixie Highway will be more valuable in one minute than the Lincoln Highway in one year, for the very reason that the resorters and persons planning trips up to Michigan will take the Dixie Road to reach their destinations. This will bring benefits to Lima business men, Lima hotels, and Lima in general. Get the highway, and let the other fellow fight about the route.

History would prove that writer to be somewhat correct. However, in modern times, most vacationers are now heading south, while it is the many hunters and fishers that still head north. Regarding traffic, today’s version of the Dixie Highway is essentially the crowded route of Interstate 75, which carries five times the traffic as U.S. Route 30, the modern equivalent of the Lincoln Highway.

In an earlier editorial published in the May 16, 1915 issue of The Lima Sunday News, the existing Lincoln Highway was seen as a potential beneficiary of the Dixie Highway. As it was written:

Lima should be on [the Dixie Highway], if for no other reason than the fact that it will be a junction point with the Lincoln Highway. This would ensure the coming of tourists who would be seeking a trip out of Chicago, yet would prefer to come through a new territory in reaching eastern points…While the Lincoln Highway has not been the wonderful success that originally was expected…the Dixie Highway should go a long way toward solving the problem…[putting] the Lincoln Highway on the map more forcibly than by any other means.

Lima would in fact become the original point of intersection for the Lincoln Highway and the eastern branch of the Dixie Highway. The 1920 Automobile Blue Book states that a monument was located in the Lima Public Square to recognize this fact, but this author has never found any photographic evidence to support this statement. Alas, the relocation of the Lincoln Highway in June 1919 to the long straight course through Beaverdam would have rendered the memorial a moot point.

In tracing the route of the Dixie Highway through Ohio, I have relied on a combination of three guide books from the 1920s, plus numerous official Ohio Department of Highways (ODH is now known as ODOT) maps. The Ohio Department of Transportation has scanned over ninety years of official highway maps and has posted them on their web site. Thus, knowing the locations of State Route 6 (between 1923 and 1926) and U.S. Route 25 (after 1926) makes it much easier to trace the routes of the Dixie Highway in Ohio.

Beginning at the Michigan border, there have been two popular routes between Detroit and Toledo, witnessed by the closely parallel routes of U.S. 24 (Telegraph Road) and U.S. 25 (Detroit Avenue) for many years. Once upon a time, the federal routes actually overlapped on Detroit Avenue in Toledo, but today only U.S. 24 is marked, while the U.S. 25 designation was dropped in deference to Interstate Route 75. The Dixie Highway would have reached downtown Toledo by way of Collingwood Avenue and Jefferson Avenue (one guide has Madison Avenue) before turning southwest at St. Clair Street. Modern travelers will now have to follow Summit Street out of downtown, because St. Clair Street is no longer a through street.

Only 34 miles of today’s State Route 25 remain in northwest Ohio to continue the legacy of that once important federal highway number. The southbound terminus of the route is partway down the entrance ramp of the I-75 interchange at Cygnet.

Leaving downtown Toledo, the earliest guide books chart a preferred route which crossed the Maumee River at the old Fassett Street Bridge, which disappeared from the highway maps after 1959. In 1923, this would become the path of State Route 6, passing through Rossford before turning south at Perrysburg. On the 1926 map, a tentative U.S. 25 shield is shown on this same alignment. However, subsequent maps indicate that U.S. 25 was moved to the north side of the river, following Broadway Street out of Toledo and into Maumee—crossing the river at the historic bridge at the south end of Conant Street. The Dixie Highway route through Rossford was then renumbered as a part of U.S. 23. By the 1940s, the route of U.S. 25 would completely avoid downtown Toledo with an alignment that followed the newly constructed Anthony Wayne Trail easterly from Maumee to an intersection with Detroit Avenue, where it turned north for several miles to meet the previous alignment.

To reach the Rossford side of the river, turn left from Summit Street to cross the Anthony Wayne Suspension Bridge, which hosts State Route 2, State Route 51, and State Route 65. Follow the signs of State Route 65 out of the Toledo city limits, by way of Oak Street, Fassett Street, and Miami Street to meet the original alignment. In downtown Rossford, State Route 65 curiously becomes either Dixie Highway (southbound) or Superior Street (northbound), depending on which side of the boulevard one is traveling. Between Rossford and Perrysburg, the route is marked as Dixie Highway, then River Road.

In Perrysburg—a historic and photogenic town that is worth a day trip all by itself—the old route follows Front Street into downtown, then turns south for three blocks on Louisiana Avenue (diverging from State Route 65), west for two blocks on Indiana Avenue, and south again on Findlay Street, which will eventually merge into State Route 25. In Wood County, the numbered route is also marked as Dixie Highway and can easily be followed to Bowling Green. Several establishments along the route make use of the Dixie name, including one old-fashioned motel court just south of the I-475 Bypass.

One mile east of downtown Perrysburg, and along the north side of U.S. 20 (Sandusky Street), is Milestone Park, which features milepost one of the old Maumee and Western Reserve Road. This historic road was laid out in the 1820s to cross the swamplands between Perrysburg and Lower Sandusky, which is now named Fremont. West of town is the site of Fort Meigs, where the British were turned back in the War of 1812. This site was recently expanded by the Ohio Historical Society to include a large welcome center.

One of my favorite stops whenever I travel this route is the Wood County Courthouse in Bowling Green, completed in 1896. Perrysburg, which is one of only four Ohio towns surveyed by the national government, had been the first county seat, but as the county grew, the government offices were moved to this more central location. The beautiful courthouse interior is enhanced by two large murals which recall two eras of history—one is a tribute to Fort Meigs, and the other recalls the fascinating era of oil drilling which boomed the area in the late 1800s.

South of Bowling Green, State Route 25 becomes an example of four-lane redundancy rendered by the completion of an adjacent portion of Interstate 75 in the late 1960s. Especially interesting is the presence of concrete arch replicas at two new bridges which now span all four lanes of the divided highway. These bridges are recent replacements for two unmatched pairs of old bridges in both the original northbound and later-built southbound lanes. The concrete arches are modeled after similar Marsh rainbow arches that were constructed in the 1920s on the original two lane alignment.

(click to enlarge)   These Marsh rainbow concrete arches are merely decorations for the new four-lane bridge on Dixie Highway/State Route 25 south of Portage.  However, they are reminders of the previous 1920s bridge which had been on the original two lane highway. When U.S. 25 became a divided highway, the original concrete arch bridge served the northbound lanes. A second similar bridge is one mile south of here. An original bridge is on Insley Road three miles south of the I-75 interchange at Cygnet.

Looking east from the west side of the road.

Looking north from the middle of the road.

 

Right.  Based on an advertisement in the 1922 Automobile Green Book, the town of Portage was also home to the Dixie Garage.

A third concrete arch bridge, in original form, can be found about three miles south of the Cygnet interchange (I-75 Exit 171). To reach this bridge—plus a rare snippet of antique roadway—follow the service road now marked as Insley Road along the west right-of-way fence of Interstate 75. From the Cygnet interchange, the service road can be reached by following State Route 25 a short distance down the southbound ramp toward the four-lane highway, and then turning right where the numbered route abruptly ends. In this few miles, the interstate highway was actually built on top of a revised two-lane version of U.S. 25 that was opened in the 1930s to eliminate sharp curves in the original road—such as those on the undisturbed parts of Insley Road. Thus, despite its age, this particular bridge had an unusually short lifetime on the federal route. Beyond the old bridge, it is not hard to imagine the old road blending into the present alignment.

(click) This original Marsh rainbow concrete arch bridge built in the 1920s is three miles south of the I-75 interchange at Cygnet, on a remnant of the Dixie Highway now marked as Insley Road.

Just south of Quarry Road, travelers should merge into Interstate 75 at an odd interchange (because it has no bridges), but only long enough to cross over the busy double-tracked mainline of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Then, after leaving the four-lane freeway at Exit 167, turn east (left) on State Route 18 toward the opposite side of the interstate, watching for another service road along the east right-of-way fence of the highway. At a point opposite McDonald’s, turn south (right) onto Wood County Road 588—which will become Hancock County Road 220 after just one-half mile—and resume with a two-lane alignment of the old Dixie Highway.

Hancock County uses road numbers and not road names outside of incorporated areas, so the Dixie Highway name is temporarily suspended here in favor of the County Road 220 designation. The road runs due south through the village of Van Buren on a township line that was set off by surveyors in 1820, at sixty miles from the Indiana border. In the early stages of the War of 1812, General William Hull had marched over 2200 soldiers north though this same general corridor, only to controversially surrender to a smaller British force at Detroit.

In Findlay, the historic routes of the Dixie Highway and U.S. 25 pass through a still-vibrant downtown on Main Street. The office building of the Marathon Oil Company dominates the city skyline. In the south part of town, the routes turn southwest toward Lima on Lima Street and Lima Avenue, appropriately. Like Bowling Green, Findlay’s demographics are enhanced by the presence of a university which bears the city’s name, and impressive new facilities are evident on the north side of town. The opulent Hancock County Courthouse in downtown Findlay—completed in 1888 on the heels of a prosperous gas boom—features several impressive works of stained glass (each piece beveled) that are unsurpassed by any in the state, and is always worth a visit. A bronze statue of John Hancock, for whom the county is named, overlooks the city.

Beyond Findlay, the routes of the Dixie Highway and U.S. 25 cut a remarkably straight diagonal all the way to way to Lima, with only a brief change of direction at a sweeping reverse curve northeast of Bluffton. In Hancock County, the highway is signed as County Road 313, but the Dixie Highway name is revived beyond Bluffton in Allen County. This is still a pleasant drive that I often make today, if only to relax and to avoid the aggressive traffic on the interstate. In Bluffton—as in many other towns to be visited on this tour—the route of the Dixie Highway is on Main Street. Much of the community’s culture fronts on this neatly-kept street that is always colorfully decorated with American flags. Another namesake university is also an integral part of the community.

Three miles southwest of Bluffton, the diagonal Dixie Highway crosses a railroad at a common point with the north-south Phillips Road, which was laid out on the section lines. This location is locally known as Gratz Crossing (named for an adjacent landowner), and improvements made here in 1934 were intended to improve a notoriously dangerous grade crossing, while also eliminating four turns. Prior to the construction of the surviving superelevated reverse curve, there was no diagonal road between Hillville Road and Phillips Road. Unfortunately, just beyond the end of the curve, the original Dixie Highway is again obliterated by the construction of Interstate 75, and can not be recovered again as a two-lane road until just northeast of Beaverdam. By taking Hillville Road one mile west, then turning south (left) on Swaney Road for another mile, the route of the original Dixie Highway can be picked up again and followed into Beaverdam.

At Beaverdam, the Mid-Ohio Chapter of today’s Lincoln Highway Association has erected a brick pillar replica on the original concrete base of a similar previous marker. The fate of the first pillar is unknown, but any driver who failed to stop at the Main Street intersection could have smacked into the original bricks (please do not let that happen again). At the replica marker, a new plaque of dedication appropriately commemorates Carl Fisher, founder of both the Lincoln Highway and Dixie Highway. Beginning in 1919, several blocks of Beaverdam’s Main Street have been shared by the traditional paths of the two great transcontinental highways.

Today it captures the imagination to picture the interesting strip of tourist services that would have once existed here. Included among them would have been the Dixie-Lincoln Restaurant, which is believed to have had three different locations, and the Parks-Klay Service Center, an easily-recognized building which is still the site of a local grocery. It is almost laughable to compare these modest services to the huge truck plazas at the nearby I-75 interchange, but they would have more than adequately served their purpose in their day.

Southwest of Beaverdam, the diagonal course of the Dixie Highway is twice obliterated by modern four-lane highways. The original route is reached again by turning south (left) from Main Street at the only flashing signal in downtown Beaverdam, onto West Street/Napoleon Road. After passing over Interstate 75 and under U.S. 30, immediately turn west (right) onto a service road marked as Dixie Highway. Eventually, the road will angle southwest and resume with the original alignment toward Lima. In a most unusual engineering design, several residences are on an isolated remnant of the old highway that is virtually trapped between the two four-lane freeways—accessible only by way of an expanded exit ramp.

The Dixie Highway does not change direction again until reaching a recently improved intersection with State Route 81 east of Lima. Enter Lima by following State Route 81 into the downtown, bearing west on Findlay Road, south on Jefferson Street, and west on North Street—passing beneath another line of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. At the fourth traffic signal past the Allen County Courthouse, resume south toward Wapakoneta with a left turn onto Metcalf Street. A fine old cottage-style Pure Oil station is now disguised as a doughnut shop on the southeast corner of this intersection. The Allen County Museum, on the west side of Metcalf Street in the block between High Street and Market Street, is one of the best county museums anywhere, and has a children’s garden with a Lincoln Highway interpretive site. (book a hotel in Lima)

The above instructions match the 1927 route of U.S. 25 through Lima. As mentioned in the early part of the article, the original Dixie Highway would have passed through the Public Square on Main Street, intersecting the early route of the Lincoln Highway at Market Street. In later years, the numbered route would have passed under the old Pennsylvania Railroad by way of Union Street and Pearl Street, and not under the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as charted above. The latter underpass, designed by the firm for which this writer is employed, was opened in the late 1980s to improve traffic flow through the city.

In Search of...The Dixie Highway in Ohio - Page 2