IN SEARCH OF . . .
THE DIXIE HIGHWAY IN OHIO
Michael G. Buettner
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.
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:
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