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