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Lincoln Highway: Ohio—part 2 December 19, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Minerva, OH, boasts an old gas station whose pumps are now filled with real coffee beans for the establishment now in charge.

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

When we traversed the four miles of Lincoln Highway that cross a sliver of West Virginia, we visited the manufacturer of Fiestaware in Newell, WV. That town is located on the east bank of the Ohio River. Right across the river, East Liverpool, OH, similarly boasts a history of pottery-making.  Why East Liverpool? you may ask. It’s because a town called Liverpool already existed in western Ohio, and it vehemently protested the use of its name. That more westerly Liverpool has long since disappeared.

This East Liverpool pottery operated 1844 to 1939

An English potter named James Bennett started producing ceramics near the banks of the Ohio in the 1840s. At the height of its glory, East Liverpool’s production accounted for more than half of the nation’s pottery output. Most famous was the “Lotus Ware” manufactured by Knowles, Taylor & Knowles in the 1890s. It featured swirling, dreamlike Art Nouveau forms—suitable for the hookah of Kubla Khan.

East Liverpool was one of eight Ohio towns to contribute funds in 1915 for the making of a movie about the Lincoln Highway, hence to be included in the film, according to Mike Buettner’s account.

The Lincoln Highway roughly follows US Route 30 across the state, although that route now bypasses many town centers. Buettner’s description follows the 1928 route, noting the turnoffs from US 30, the dead ends, and the traces of historic brick pavement along the way. I see him as the archeologist of the Lincoln Highway in Ohio. I will proceed in a more superficial fashion, simply noting points of interest on or close to the highway.

We pass through the historic town of Hanoverton, an important stop on the Underground Railway in the Civil War period. It is known for the Spread Eagle Tavern, established 1837 and now a regular stop for campaigning politicians. It has been visited by Abraham Lincoln, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, and John McCain. The first of those names so totally overshadows the others that I half-expected my spell-check program to reject those last three names as I typed.

You probably wouldn't order tofu and bean sprouts at the Spread Eagle Tavern's Patriot Room.

The channel of the old Sandy & Beaver Canal  parallels the highway west of Hanoverton. It operated just four years (1848 to 1852) before succombing to structural problems and competition with railroads.

Sandy & Beaver Canal

The route continues through Minerva, home of the coffee-bean filling station pictured at top, and through East Canton. This section offers several remnants of the old brick paving, including an impressively “photogenic” segment 2.4 miles long, according to Buettner.

The next major point of interest—we are necessarily speeding along here—is Canton, which boasts two very different attractions: the William McKinley memorial and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An early photo of the McKinley memorial shows the “Long Water,” a rectangular pool bordered by brooding trees—a place suitable for quiet meditation about the assassinated 25th President.

McKinley Memorial as it appeared before 1951

But the pool was filled in, the large trees removed, and the memorial has lost something of its spirit, I feel.

Modern McKinley Memorial

Canton’s claim to special importance for pro football stems from its being the place the American Professional Football Association (predecessor of the NFL) was founded in 1920. The Hall of Fame opened 1963 and has been greatly expanded since then.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Canton and Massillon are bypassed by modern US 30, but Massillon has a Lincoln Way running through town along the old route. Several places of business feature the Lincoln name, including the Lincoln Theatre.

Lincoln Theatre

The theater opened 1915 and must have been a nice place for early travelers on the Lincoln Highway to take a break.  It had a pipe organ to accompany the silent screen and “was considered the finest moving picture house in Ohio,” according to the theater’s website. It has been through several incarnations and was rescued from ruin by the Lions Club in 1982. It now features classic films for the lucky local residents.

Massillon is also famous for its Massillon Washington high school football team, which has a deadly rivalry with Canton McKinley. Massillon’s Tiger Swing Band, formed in 1938, features musicians marching with a swing step, which you can see in this YouTube video.

Also in Massillon, travelers may admire the Stark County Court House, built in 1870. Four angels with trumpets perch high on the clock tower.

Stark County Court House

Forging ahead to the west, we pass through Dalton, which has “the distinction of being the first Lincoln Highway town in Ohio to be bypassed with a superhighway,” writes Buettner.  Next we visit Wooster, home not only to the College of Wooster but also, up until very recently, Boyd’s Drug Store, an establishment which for many years preserved its late-19th-century heritage. It boasted oak counters, glass-stoppered bottles, old-fashioned brass balance scales, mortars and pestles, pill rollers, and many other such paraphernalia. Sadly, the pharmacy closed in 2000 and its contents were recently auctioned off.

Coming next, Mansfield is one of the towns that has some really beautiful old houses along or close to the Highway. Imagine sitting on the porch of this impressive home and sipping lemonade on a summer evening.

One of many lovely old houses in Mansfield

Buettner tells the story that the route of the Highway through Mansfield changed several times in the 1920s. When the route went along Fourth Street, merchants on nearby Park Street supposedly moved the Lincoln Highway signs by stealth over to their Park Street location.

The Highway continues through Crestline to Bucyrus, a town known as the “Bratwurst Capital of the World.” An annual festival features a beauty pageant.

Downtown Bucyrus

It’s around the vicinity of Bucyrus that a surprisingly high number of Lincoln Highway pillars appear to have met with a tragic fate. First, let me explain that in addition to the concrete posts with the Lincoln Highway emblem that were erected by Boy Scout troops across the whole highway in the thoroughfare’s early years, larger pillars were built in many places. These were not uniform in appearance—not “official” markers in any way—but were simply constructions sponsored by a variety of people of their own volition, in a variety of designs. Buettner gives a detailed account of many of these installations. One, for instance, was a substantial monument erected 1921 near Osceola to commemorate the completion of brick paving across Crawford County.

At any rate, within a short stretch of highway one pillar was demolished by a wayward car in 1927; one was destroyed by a landowner who did not want it in front of his property; and one survived until 1993 before being wiped out by a van. The second of these was dedicated to Henry Ostermann, field secretary of the Lincoln Highway Association, who was himself killed in a traffic accident. To top it all off, a bridge over the nearby Sandusky River collapsed in 1931 when a Studebaker truck slammed into the steel truss structure. It all amounted to a strange confluence of accidents—a “Bermuda Triangle” of sorts for the Lincoln Highway.

We continue the theme of accidents: in 1939, at the hamlet of Gomer,  Admiral Byrd’s “Snow Cruiser” plummeted into a nearby creek. The gigantic polar exploration vehicle, measuring 55’8″ long, 19’10” wide, and 16′ high, was constructed in Pullman shops in Chicago and had to reach Boston via ordinary cross-country highways in less than two months in order to meet the ocean vessel of Byrd’s Antarctic expedition.

The 75,000-pound contraption looked like something straight out of Jules Verne. It was designed to traverse crevasse-ridden wastes to probe the South Pole continent for mineral wealth that might be exploited by the U.S. Its giant tires were set close to the center of the vehicle and could be retracted into the body. When a crevasse was encountered, the front tires would be retracted while the back wheels pushed the front across the hazardous gap. Once the front half had cleared the obstacle, the back wheels would be retracted and the front ones would pull the Cruiser the rest of the way across.

Admiral Byrd's Snow Cruiser

That all sounded good in theory. However, the Cruiser proved woefully underpowered, lacking the necessary flotation, burrowing its nose deep into snowbanks again and again. But even before it arrived on the Ross Ice Shelf, it had plenty of trouble just getting from Chicago to Boston. Constantly scraping against bridges, sideswiping other vehicles, and struggling to make headway through crowds of curious onlookers, it limped its way through Indiana and into Ohio. Upon reaching a sharp curve near Gomer, the Cruiser’s brakes apparently failed—the incident was blamed on a break in a hydraulic line—and took out a fence and a guardrail on its wild descent into Pike Run. National media converged on the little western Ohio village, along with throngs of onlookers.

The Cruiser did manage to reach Boston at last and met Byrd’s ship North Star in time to sail November 15. Plagued by mechanical problems at its destination, the Snow Cruiser was at last abandoned in early 1941. Another minor problem had developed for the expedition—World War II had started. For an informative account about the whole history of the ill-starred Cruiser, go to this link.

As we approach the Indiana state line, we visit Van Wert County, where in 1994 the local historical society placed four sets of Burma Shave signs along the Highway. Here are a couple of my favorite Burma Shave verses—now isn’t this better than today’s billboards?

Does your husband/ Misbehave/ Grunt and grumble/ Rant and rave/ Shoot the brute some/ Burma Shave.

A peach/ Looks good/ With lots of fuzz/ But man’s no peach/ And never wuz/ Burma Shave.

It’s best for/ One who hits/ The bottle/ To let another/ Use the throttle/ Burma Shave.

And a 1960s-vintage one: Henry the Eighth/ Sure had/ Trouble/ Short term wives/ Long term stubble/ Burma Shave.

We’ll see you soon in Indiana!

Van Wert County Court House, opened 1876 and restored in the 1990s.


1. Brian Reed - December 27, 2011

Have you seen the documentary “Horatio’s Drive”? You’d love it. Recounts the first cross country road trip in 1903 by an adventurous doctor, a mechanic, and dog that became a national sensation. It’s the only Ken Burns documentary that didn’t leave me vaguely depressed at the end.

Jenny - December 28, 2011

That sounds great! I will see if I can find “Horatio’s Drive.” I’m curious about your reaction to Ken Burns. My own sense is that, in being a generalist who treats many subjects, Burns uses similar techniques for all of them, and they begin to have a predictable pace and mood. I would rather see a documentary from someone who is passionate about the particular subject.

2. Brian Reed - December 27, 2011

I like the Burma Shave slogans. That third one is way catchier than anything MADD could come up with.

Jenny - December 28, 2011

There is a certain combination of wit and corniness in the slogans that really appeals to me!

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