WOOSTER, Ohio — Heading westward through Ohio on the Lincoln Highway from Canton and Massillon, U.S. 30 has been upgraded to a divided highway that’s built primarily to expressway standards with controlled-access interchanges at major road junctions. It looks and feels like any ordinary Interstate highway, but largely lacks the long-distance east-west travelers that can crowd the Ohio Turnpike and Interstate 70.
The old road runs roughly parallel and meets up at points along the modern route so Lincoln Highway goers have a choice of hopping on U.S. 30 to speed up the trip across Ohio and skip the local roads through the corridor of towns and cities that are along the way.
For this trip, I’m not forcing myself to follow the entirety of the original Lincoln Highway route — though Ohio seems to have consistent signage for those who do want to follow the old route. I’m picking and choosing which towns I want to check out, driving along sections of the original route and hopping on the modern highway when I need to keep to schedule or make up for lost time.
I’m glad I decided to head into Wooster, which thus far, might be my favorite small town along the Lincoln Highway. I suspect that by the time I get to California, I will have developed a short list of my favorites. Wooster hits a couple of my check boxes for all the right reasons.
I’ve been impressed by many of the towns along the way, Wooster included, that serve as their county seats. In most cases, their historic courthouses stand proudly at the center of town, often in the middle of a public square or immediately adjacent to the primary downtown crossroads.
In Wooster’s case, the Wayne County Courthouse — a highly ornamented late 1870s Second Empire-style structure with a tall central clock tower, cupola and entrance way protected by Atlantes — stands at the northwest corner of Market Street and Liberty Street, the latter which hosts the Lincoln Highway through town.
While Wooster does not have a town square with a public green in center, the crossroads of Market and Liberty is still a great public precinct and is a great asset for Wooster.
Unlike the rest of Wooster’s downtown commercial buildings which have alignments that hug the sidewalk, the buildings at this crossroads are set back, creating an open space that visually declares that this is supposed to be the center of town.
When I was passing through Wooster on Saturday morning, the northeast quadrant was being used as a farmers market, which spilled out into Market Street itself. Part of this quadrant is reserved for a small covered pavilion, but the rest is used as a parking lot.
The southeast and southwest quadrants are similarly reserved for parking. In an ideal world, those areas would be used as some sort of green space or expanded pedestrian plaza — just like in Lisbon — but the presence of parked cars doesn’t detract too terribly.
The great courthouse sits in the northwest quadrant of this great public space. It’s a beautiful structure and appropriately frames the space.
There’s a good mix of businesses and institutions the surround the public space, including a bank, coffee shops and restaurants, places that seem to help keep regularly activated. Too many public spaces in American cities are only turned on for special events. Granted, I did wander into Wooster during a weekend farmers market, but it feels that this public space has all the civic and commercial elements that keep it busy.
One of the places that helps the center of Wooster in this regard is the Tulipán Hungarian Pastry and Coffee Shop, which a you’d expect from the name, serves some Hungarian pastries and coffee. As I journey west, I would hope to stumble across more fantastic local places that serve tasty items like raspberry Hungarian tea cakes.
But I suspect that I’ll be subjected to drive-though McDonald’s coffee and an egg McMuffin, just like I had earlier that morning back along Massillon’s hellish suburban wasteland along its section of the Lincoln Highway. With more careful advance research, I hope to be stopping in more places like Wooster.