SECTION 10a—UPPER SANDUSKY TO LIMA—49.7 MILES
Between 1913 and 1919, the Lincoln Highway followed several versions of a "zigzag" route between Galion and Lima, including this section between Upper Sandusky and Lima. There was probably no part of the early route in Ohio that was more maligned than this annoying sequence of right angle turns and railroad crossings. Given that, and considering some of the other negatives of this baffling path, perhaps the criticism was justified.
The zigzag route was the end result of Henry Joy's early decision to move the Lincoln Highway north of Marion and Kenton, through a more perfect east-west corridor. Although the two county seats were on the route of Main Market Route No. 3, the most improved roadway through the area, they were a good bit south of a true line west of Mansfield. This prompted Joy to move the route to the next best set of roads to the north, which at that time was the zigzag route. Joy would have preferred to reroute the Lincoln Highway on the "straight" route through Williamstown and Beaverdam, but that road was destined to "languish in the mud" without complete improvements until the late 1920s. Incredibly, the straight route would have had only two right angle turns (at Upper Sandusky) between Bucyrus and Delphos, a distance of 73 miles.
By comparison, the zigzag route included at least 32 such turns, plus 12 railroad crossings, according to a map prepared in 1915 by a Marion contingent that tried desperately to return their city to a place on the coast-to-coast route. Moreover, the zigzag route proved to be the longest of the three possible routes, despite the fact that the main reason for Joy's change was to create "the shortest, most direct, and practicable route consistent with the topography." According to the Marion map, the "southern" route was 77.8 miles long, or 3.0 miles shorter than the 1915 version of the zigzag route (there would later be other versions).
Not being one to blindly accept any numbers that can still be checked, this author came up with very similar numbers by scaling distances on USGS maps, arriving at 78.1 miles and 81.2 miles, respectively. The number of railroad crossings was somewhat harder to check, because it is impossible to know how a railroad crossing was defined on the Marion map—was each track counted, or each property; and how were crossings counted where two properties ran side-by-side or shared a right-of-way? A telegram to Joy dated March 1, 1916, from interests in Bucyrus claimed that the southern route actually had 17 crossings, a number which I can in no way justify unless multiple tracks within a property were all counted.
By this author's count, the number of railroad crossings described on the Marion map seems relatively legitimate. The southern route shows seven railroad crossings as opposed to twelve on the zigzag route. Incredibly, the zigzag route crossed the Pennsylvania Railroad six times between Galion and Lima—east of Nevada; at Upper Sandusky; at Forest; at Dunkirk; west of Dola; and at Ada. The north- south orientation of the Lincoln Highway in these locations was the major contributing factor to the longer distance of the zigzag route. Of the 81.2 miles of roadway that were measured for this study, 10.3 miles actually run in a north-south direction.
Recognizing the poor state of the "straight" route through Williamstown and Beaverdam, and the inherent flaws of the zigzag route, Joy's decision may seem questionable. The perturbed citizens of Marion and Kenton appeared to have a good argument to restore the route to its original location as described in the September proclamation. At one point in December 1915, the Marion citizenry sent a delegation to Detroit to meet with Joy, among them being then-Senator Warren Gamaliel Harding. To his credit, Harding served more as a mediator than as a spokesman for his hometown's cause. In a letter to Frank Seiberling (then a director, later a president of the Lincoln Highway Association), Joy wrote "I almost hope Senator Harding will be the next President of the United States, it is so unusual to find a man of that type in public office." Almost prophetically, on November 2, 1920, Harding was elected as the 29th president of the United States.
In February 1916, the Marion delegation went to Akron to discuss the situation with Seiberling. Through correspondence with the Detroit office, it is obvious that Joy was firmly entrenched in his position to uphold the route change, much like a similar situation in 1914 where President Woodrow Wilson requested that the Lincoln Highway be routed through Washington, D.C. One particular letter from Secretary Bement to Director Seiberling, dated February 25, 1916, best explains why the questionable zigzag route was chosen—to serve as a temporary route while the association waited [and waited, and waited] for the desired straight route to be sufficiently improved.
It had been this author's theory that the purging of the Marion route in 1913 was mainly a result of politics. It seemed here that John Hopley could have been such an important player in the Good Roads movement of the day that he could have swung a route change from Marion to his home town of Bucyrus. Furthermore, the village of Ada, to quote a description in the early Road Guides, was "the home town of his Excellency, the Governor of Ohio [Frank B. Willis], whose residence faces the Lincoln Highway." Willis probably wielded as much (if not more) influence as Hopley, and he certainly captured the spotlight in June 1915 when he gave an inspired Good Roads speech to a large crowd gathered on the college campus in Ada, at the coming of the Lincoln Highway movie caravan. Possible scenarios such as these remind us of Carl Fisher's statement that "the highways of America are built chiefly of politics, whereas the proper material is crushed rock or concrete."
By 1916, the Marion Chamber of Commerce was irritated enough to place a large advertisement in the Automobile Blue Book, extolling the virtues of the Marion Way and deriding the atrocities of the Lincoln Highway. In this ad, the Lincoln Highway was called "a narrow, crooked lane and three miles longer...thru swampland...a huge joke among tourists, who prefer the shorter boulevard way." Although the "boulevard" description was most assuredly a comparative term, the Marion claim of "fewer railroad crossings, twenty less turns [and] superior hotel facilities" seems more justified.
It is therefore no surprise that when the original route of U.S. 30 was delineated in 1926, it followed the old Marion Way from Mansfield to Delphos, putting Galion, Marion, Kenton, and Lima back on a route of east-west prominence. By this time known as the Harding Highway, it was this "preferred" route that had received the State's early improvement dollars, and not any version of the Lincoln Highway. Although there were some Lincoln Highway improvements in the late 1920s which may have surpassed those on the Harding Highway, it appears that the two highways did not achieve equivalent monetary considerations until the dual designations of 30-N and 30-S were created in May 1931.
Now the problem remains for this author as to which version of the zigzag route should be charted for purposes of this road guide. The route shown on the Marion map is actually one of several routes that were drawn up between 1913 and 1919. Unfortunately, the Lincoln Highway Road Guides of 1916 and 1918 are of no help in this matter because they merely list the the towns on the route and the intermediate mileages, not giving a descriptive account of what happens in between. Although the towns of Forest, Dunkirk, Dola, and Ada are four constants on the route from Upper Sandusky to Lima, it is incorrect to assume that the zigzag route would follow today's State Route 53 and State Route 81. Oh, if it were only that simple!
Using three reliable references dated from 1915 to 1917, as many as three different zigzag routes can be plotted. These references are the aforementioned Marion map of 1915, plus the Automobile Blue Book of 1916 and the Scarborough Guide of 1917. However, none of the alignments described in these references match my best reckoning of the earliest route, which is based on a combination of December 1913 newspaper accounts of the first marking of the route east of Lima, and a letter dated October 1, 1913, from Joy to the directors that listed Patterson Station as a point on the "corrected" route that bypassed Marion and Kenton.
Desiring to trace the most original route, it is that "best reckoning" of the 1913 route which has been chosen as the charted course for this project. It is a route which closely resembles at least two Blue Book accounts (1916 and 1920), and one which results in a route that almost entirely follows the state routes of today, including parts of State Routes 53, 81, 235, and 309. The major variations between this charted route and the later routes west of Upper Sandusky occur in two general areas—first, between Forest and Dunkirk; and second, between Ada and Lima.
Between Forest and Dunkirk, both the Marion map and Scarborough Guide give a descriptive turn- by-turn account, showing the route to travel west from Forest on County Road 20, then turning south into Dunkirk on County Road 145. The Marion map has the route passing east-west through town on Patterson Street/County Road 30 as far west as today's County Road 135, but the Scarborough Guide has the route turning south from that street and passing north-south through town on what is now Main Street/U.S. Route 68. The Scarborough version would seem to agree with the 1918 Official Guide which designates the Dunkirk post office as a control point on the Lincoln Highway. Both of these versions required two additional crossings of the Pennsylvania Railroad when compared to the 1913 route, which stayed entirely to the south of the railroad until reaching a point west of Dola. Eventually, all the routes found their way out of Dunkirk, passing through Dola and crossing the railroad on a common path.
Between Lima and Ada, variations between the assumed 1913 route and the later routes occur where the route turns west after passing north-south through Ada. It
Before the notorious zigzag route was finally abandoned in the summer of 1919, the earliest versions of the Lincoln Highway repeatedly crossed the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This old caboose rests in a park in downtown Ada, not far from the old depot.
appears that the original route continued south for 2.5 miles from the railroad crossing in Ada, turning west at the road which would eventually become the Harding Highway and today's State Route 309. This route entered Lima on Bellefontaine Avenue and Market Street, meeting Main Street in Lima's Public Square. When the eastern branch of the Dixie Highway was laid out in 1915, this would become the intersection point for two of America's greatest transcontinental highways. The Dixie Highway, which also had a western branch to Chicago, was another of Carl Fisher's bright ideas—as was Miami Beach, a blossoming destination at the south end of that route.
When a movie caravan made a promotional tour of the Lincoln Highway on its way to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, stops were made at several Ohio towns. In Ada, Governor Frank B. Willis gave an inspired "Good Roads" speech at Ohio Northern University.
The first variation from the 1913 route appears to have occurred soon thereafter. The Marion map, Blue Book, and Scarborough Guide all show a route that continues south from Ada for only 1.5 miles, turning west at the cemeteries with what is now (Hardin) County Road 60, which becomes Reservoir Road in Allen County. This variation rejoins the assumed 1913 route by turning south onto Napoleon Road, meeting the Harding Highway at a point two miles "below" Lafayette.
Prior to the route change of 1919, the Lincoln Highway passed the Allen County Court House in Lima. This Victorian style structure was opened in 1884, and survived a deadly fire in January 1929 which claimed the lives of two firemen.
Williamstown and Beaverdam. This version continued westerly into Lima on Reservoir Road, eliminating the two turns at Napoleon Road. After a small jog at the east side of Lima at Dewey Street, the route continued west into downtown Lima on High Street, meeting Main Street one block north of the original Market Street intersection.
Although no inter-county highway existed in the 1910s directly between Ada and Lima, three other such highways made up the largest portions of the route between Upper Sandusky and Lima. These three highways were I.C.H. #233, or Forest-Upper Sandusky Road, which now compares with State Route 53; I.C.H. #231, or Ada-Forest Road, which now compares with State Route 81 (east of Ada); and I.C.H. #128, or Lima-Kenton Road, which now compares with State Route 309. Interestingly, State Route 81 was not extended westerly from Ada to Lima until the 1940s, and as a result of major improvements completed in the early 1960s, is now one of finest stretches of two-lane highway in the district.
Lima's Town Square was the original intersection of the Lincoln Highway and the eastern branch of the Dixie Highway. The parking garage at the left in this photo was the site of Lima's Lincoln Highway Garage.