THE LINCOLN WAY
GOVERNOR WILLIS' ADDRESS AT OHIO NORTHERN UNIVERSITY
TO THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY PARTY, JUNE 19, 1915
Mr. Chairman, and my fellow citizens: It is with an unusual degree of pleasure that I find myself again in the midst of my friends and neighbors. My friend, the chairman, has suggested that in the brief time that I shall speak I may have something to say upon the subject of highways in general and the Lincoln Highway in particular. Before I say anything however upon either of these subjects I hope I may be pardoned if I utter a personal word that is in my heart to say. That is this, my friends of Ada and vicinity, that I am extremely happy to be here not only with you but with this little old man here to my right to whom we all owe so much. I picture to myself the scene that greeted his eye and greeted the eye of those that came here with him many years ago. What a wonderful work has been accomplished. This was once a part of the forest, and that is the memory of men now living, and yet it has been made to bud and blossom as the rose and here in the midst of God's common people has been built up this great university. There may have been times of trial and of adversity and yet Ohio Northern University has come through them all with success [and] with prosperity. I remember just a little while ago it was my good fortune to be here at the laying of the cornerstone of this splendid building. This building has now been completed and I might say that it was a source of very sincere regret that I was unable to be here with my friends at commencement time, but I had some other matters to attend to in Columbus.
I want to say a word about the Lincoln Highway. As the chairman of the meeting has suggested, this highway that goes through our little city is the greatest line of traffic in the world. Not simply because it connects great market places, but because it realizes in some degree that cause of unity which is characteristic of the American people. I think it was an exceedingly happy thought that said that this great highway connecting the east and the west should be called the Lincoln Highway, because the mightiest force making for unity in this republic [was the] tender heart and soul of Abraham Lincoln. It is a fitting thing that this highway which is to be the bond of union between east and west--and through the building of the branches which will be encouraged by the construction of this bond of union between the north and south--it is a fitting thing I say that this highway should be called the Lincoln Highway. I am in favor of it. I think practically every patriotic American is in favor of the Lincoln Highway, and as far as it lies in my power, every influence and every resource of the government of the state shall be directed not only to the improvement of highways in general, but to the improvement of this great highway in particular, to the end that the Lincoln Highway across Ohio may be completed at an early day with the best piece of work that the country has ever seen. That is the way I feel about the Highway.
I wonder if it has ever occurred to you what a tremendous loss rests upon the shoulders of the producers of this country through improper and inconvenient methods and means of transportation. If it has not occurred to you, if you had been with me in my trip over here last night, you would have had ocular demonstration of the need of better highways; and Hardin County has very fair roads at that, but not as good as we are going to have. I came over from Dunkirk and was out in all that bitter storm with Harry Sousley at the wheel and [Colonel] Deming in command, and myself doing the heavy looking on, we plowed through. It does not need much of an argument to convince any sane person of the necessity of better highways, but I want to direct your attention to the economic phase of this matter. Are you aware that there are carried upon the highways of Ohio every year something like six million tons of freight, the products of the farms of Ohio? Do you know that reducing that to ten miles [sic] we carry in this state forty-seven millions of tons of freight, figured on the basis of a ton a mile. That is to say, we carry forty-seven million tons one mile, or one ton of freight forty-seven million miles, whichever way you want to figure it. Do you know that in many countries the cost of transportation per mile is only something like ten or twelve cents? But do you know that the average in this country is probably twenty-five cents per ton mile.
If we can reduce the cost of transportation through the building of improved highways [and] if we could reduce it ten cents per mile--and we ought to do that--I should take it we would save the farmers of Ohio four million seven hundred thousand dollars in the cost of transportation every single year. And if we can devote that sum to the building of the Lincoln Highways and Dixie Highways in Ohio, after five years there would be the stupendous sum of twenty million dollars which we are actually paying now in the loss of that commerce to us through the increased cost of transportation. In other words, simply as an economic proposition, putting sentiment aside, putting more pleasure aside, putting aside the convenience of having a good highway near your home--forget all about those things, and think simply of the economic proposition--the farmers of Ohio cannot afford not to build better highways in this state because it is simply a matter of dollars and cents. We cannot afford to go on losing four million dollars a year through imperfect means of communication.
I think it is exceedingly fortunate that there is relatively so large a proportion of [the Lincoln Highway] in the best town on earth. I have taken some pains to make inquiry and I think that there is not a town or city from New York to San Francisco that has in proportion to its population so large a slice of the Lincoln Highway in its limits as we have here. They could not very well have gotten more in Ada unless they had doubled back and forth. We are very happy, to be frank about it my fellow citizens of Ada and vicinity, in the fact that we have been thus honored by having such a large proportion of the highway in our village and our community, but the fact places an additional burden upon us, and that is, that having been so honored, it is up to us to show our earnest appreciation of what has been done by doing everything we can to boom the Lincoln Highway and carry it to successful completion. I have enough confidence in the good people of this community to believe with every degree of assurance that they have an abiding interest in the completion of this great line of transportation. My fellow countrymen, do you know that highways are the granite hieroglyphics in which it is written the story of the progress of the world? No nation ever permanently succeeded unless it had improved methods of trade and transportation. To this very hour the great highways built by the Romans, the highways that have been shaken by the tread of the armies of Caesar and Hannibal, the great highways over which flowed the commerce of fifteen hundred to two thousand years ago--these highways are yet practically intact the mute monuments of the progress of a mighty people. And so it should be with us as we improve our methods of transportation. As we make possible the interchange of traffic and the transportation of our people, by so much shall we make possible the advancing civilization of a mighty, free people.
Personally, I am extremely happy at the opportunity this occasion affords me to express my abiding interest in the question of good roads, not only in the building of them, but in the maintenance and repair of them. That is where we have made a mistake in Ohio. We have spent millions of dollars in building roads [but] we have failed to keep them in repair. Build good roads, maintain them, keep them in good shape, and by so doing, not only will you have solved a great economic problem, but you will have written forever in the story of this earth the epic that tells of the progress of a mighty civilization.
In conclusion, I want to say that I am very proud of this expression of interest in the Lincoln Highway by the people of my old county and community and town. It is with very singular emotion that I come back to you. I have never been in any sort of stuggle for the right but what I know that the hope, and yes, the prayers of the good people of Ada and vicinity here with me in the hope that the right might win. For the many expressions that have come to me of your confidence and good will, I am profoundly grateful, and I trust that the same zeal and earnestness that have characterized your conduct will be manifested in the efforts that we shall all put forth to boom the Ohio Northern University, to boom the Lincoln Highway, and to make for a greater and grander and bigger Ohio. I thank you.
Transcribed in May 2007 by Michael G. Buettner from the Wednesday, June 23, 1915 edition of The Ada Record, which was a Wednesday-only paper calling itself a "local and literary journal, pure in tone, [and] independent in politics."
Those portions in red letters are the excerpts read by Ruth Roider of the Ada Community Improvement Corporation at the 13th Annual Business Meeting of the Ohio Lincoln Highway Association, which was held on the campus of Ohio Northern University in Ada on Saturday April 28, 2007.