Rising High Above the Lincoln Highway

One of the many wind turbines within view of the Lincoln Highway near Van Wert, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

One of the many wind turbines within view of the Lincoln Highway near Van Wert, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — How do you know you’ve reached the Indiana state line on the Lincoln Highway? Look to the right. If you stop seeing tall wind turbines, you’re in Indiana.

The area north of Van Wert, Ohio, is a hub for wind-energy production, which is quite evident as you’re driving west toward Fort Wayne. There are hundreds of wind turbines rising from the flat farmland. In 2011, there were about 210 wind turbines in the Van Wert area with hundreds more planned. (The Van Wert County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s promotional website says there are now about 400 turbines.)

Fort Wayne, Indiana’s second-largest city, was my final destination for this leg of my Lincoln Highway trek before temporarily leaving the route to visit my parents in Michigan.

But before that, there’s one landmark I wanted to visit downtown. Continue reading

Charles Dickens Drank Here

Charles Dickens once visited Upper Sandusky, Ohio. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Charles Dickens once visited Upper Sandusky, Ohio. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

UPPER SANDUSKY, Ohio — For my Lincoln Highway trek across Ohio, I’ve stuck primarily to U.S. 30. But there are various alignments of the route across this part of north central Ohio. Instead of the more modern alignment, I could have taken a more southerly route via Lima and along one of the most notorious reroutings of the highway.

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A Lincoln Highway marker stands just to the east of the center of Upper Sandusky, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

According to a 2004 historic assessment of the Lincoln Highway by the National Park Service:

One of the most controversial reroutings of the Lincoln Highway came when the [Lincoln Highway Association] dropped 70 miles of roadway between Galion and Lima via Marion and Kenton in favor of an unfinished rout to the north. This occurred a mere three weeks after these towns celebrated their inclusion on the Proclamation Route of 1913. An unsuccessful petition asking the Lincoln Highway Association to reverse the rerouting was supported by then Senator Warren Harding, which ultimately let to the building of the Harding Highway along the route abandoned by the Lincoln Highway.

There’s a Harding Highway? You learn something new everyday.

Back in Upper Sandusky, the Lincoln Highway passes an Elks Lodge at E. Wyandot Avenue and 4th Street with an aging historic marker out front that sits opposite a brick Lincoln Highway column across the road.

There’s a spring on the property with a storied past, including ties to Charles Dickens. The English author visited this area just before the Wyandotte Indians, who had long-standing settlements here, became the last Native American group to leave Ohio after heading west to a reservation in Kansas in 1842.

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An Unexpected Discovery in Bucyrus: Hundreds of Classic Cars

The Bucyrus Graffiti Cruise  brought hundreds of vintage cars to the streets of this Ohio city. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

The Bucyrus Graffiti Cruise brought hundreds of vintage cars to the streets of this Ohio city. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

BUCYRUS, Ohio — Last week before I set out on my Lincoln Highway trip, I met up with a friend in Washington, D.C., who used to live and work in this part of Ohio. I asked him what I should check out in Bucyrus. He gave me a strange look. He told me how Bucyrus is the self-declared “Bratwurst Capital of America,” something that I had assumed would be in Wisconsin, not here off the Lincoln Highway in Ohio. But this town has deep German roots, an 84-year-old local bratwurst maker and hosts an annual bratwurst festival.

(Photo by Michael E. Grass)

(Photo by Michael E. Grass)

As for sights to see here, my friend didn’t give me any tips. So I thought I’d just pop into Bucyrus to see what I could discover on my own. As I drove into town on the Lincoln Highway from Mansfield, I found that all the streets around the center of town were closed off. As I turned a corner near the Crawford County Courthouse, a structure dating to the 1854, I caught a glimpse of a bunch of classic cars in the distance.

Bingo! There was something to see here.

I parked and walked to the center of town, which was one sprawling vintage car show primarily along Sandusky Avenue. I couldn’t get a good rough estimate of the number of classic automobiles, but in a preview article, the Bucyrus Telegraph Forum estimated that 600 to 700 cars were expected to turn out for the 22nd annual Graffiti Cruise.

Supposedly, there was bratwurst somewhere to be had at the car show, but I didn’t stumble upon any, which is just as well since I was still pretty filled from the Hungarian pastry I had late morning back in Wooster.

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‘Dead Shopping Malls Rise Like Mountains Beyond Mountains’

The grand Lazarus department store at the Richland Mall in Ontario, Ohio, sits empty. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

The grand Lazarus department store at the Richland Mall in Ontario, Ohio, sits empty. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

ONTARIO, Ohio — As I was driving on the Lincoln Highway on my way out of the Mansfield area, I came across a gigantic structure with a towering central section capped by a hat-like roof. It was surrounded by a completely empty sea of parking. There were no signs of life, but it had all the hallmarks of a shopping mall department store.

This is the Richland Mall, or at least the former Lazarus, the now-defunct Columbus-based department store chain that opened a branch here in 1958. It’s a bold design, something you can tell was meant to impressive drivers heading by on the Lincoln Highway, known locally as W. 4th Street. It caught my eye, so I pulled into the parking lot.

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Exploring ‘Shawshank,’ Outside Mansfield at the Ohio State Reformatory

Does this look familiar? (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Does this look familiar? (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

MANSFIELD, Ohio — For fans of the “Shawshank Redemption,” the camera angle you see here will likely be familiar. This is the desk of the corrupt prison warden, Samuel Norton, and something big happens here toward the end of the 1994 film — I don’t want to spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it — and a bunch of police cars come streaming up the prison’s front approach seen in the background.

The film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and inspired by a Steven King novella titled “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” tells the story of the fictional Shawshank State Prison in Maine. But the Ohio State Reformatory, decommissioned as a prison in 1990 after 94 years in service, was used for filming and today is a local tourist attraction administered by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society. If you’re in the area, it’s a worthwhile stop.

While the reformatory isn’t located directly off the Lincoln Highway, which runs through the center of Mansfield, it is convenient to the modern routing of U.S. 30, which runs as a bypass north of town. The prison is an amazing place to explore, including the world’s largest free-standing steel cellblock, parts of which you get to walk through. You can also go into solitary confinement, the shower rooms, hospital and administrative wings. The audio tour warns not to shut any prison cell doors as the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society doesn’t have any keys to reopen them.

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Discovering Atlantes, Hungarian Pastries and a Great Public Space in Wooster

Architectural ornamentation on the Wayne County Courthouse in Wooster, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

The Wayne County Courthouse in Wooster, Ohio, has very detailed architectural ornamentation, including two great Atlantes framing its eastern entranceway. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

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.

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Massillon Won’t Let You Forget That High School Football Reigns Supreme

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While the Massillon Tigers do not have a imperial Roman triumphal arch physically spanning the Lincoln Highway in downtown Massillion, there is this gigantic mural. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

MASSILLON, Ohio — Before driving through on the Lincoln Highway on Saturday, I had never been in this Stark County city before. I knew next to nothing about the place except that high school football was a big deal here. Granted, high school football is a storied tradition in a lot of places but in Massillon, its role in civic life might as well be written into the city charter. (And if it is actually written into the city charter, I wouldn’t be surprised.)

To illustrate the impact football has here, I’ll point you to the gigantic mural stylized as a Roman-like military triumphal arch called “A Century of Heroes” at Lincoln Way East and 1st Street. (And I thought my high school’s grandiose football stadium renovations were a bit over the top. East Grand Rapids Team Boosters: It may be time to think bigger and perhaps construct an actual Roman triumphal arch.)

The rivalry between Massillon’s Washington High School and Canton’s McKinley High School is one of the biggest — if not the biggest — in all of American sports. It traces its roots to the 1890s and was the subject of the 2001 documentary “Go Tigers!

The primary road that links the rivalry between Canton and Massillon is the Lincoln Highway, known locally as Lincoln Way in Massillon and Tuscawaras Street in Canton.

While the rivalry is something remarkable, the Lincoln Highway in this section is not.

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On the Road To Lisbon, Reminders of a Confederate ‘Thunderbolt’

The town square in Lisbon, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

The town square in Lisbon, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

LISBON, Ohio — Before my trek on the Lincoln Highway, I had a hard time envisioning what was out here in this part of eastern Ohio. My previous travels through the Buckeye State had never taken me this way before. I just didn’t know what to expect, except maybe some Amish beard-cutting attacks.

East Liverpool was my creepy introduction to Ohio along the Lincoln Highway. As I continued along U.S. 30 en route to Canton, I encountered five black ravens eating roadkill in the span of two miles. Edgar Allan Poe might have found inspiration along this road.

This part of Ohio is pretty hilly, so when this stretch of the highway was improved to eliminate some bends here and there, the older sections were orphaned but still accessible from the main road. I had seen this in Pennsylvania as well, with the older portions signed with the Lincoln Highway standard. Just for kicks, I decided to follow one of these older narrow turnoffs knowing I’d get back on the main road in short order.

As I re-emerged onto U.S. 30, a hulking black pick-up truck with a big Confederate flag waving from its cab zoomed by at a high rate of speed.

Did he not know he was driving on the Lincoln Highway? 

Confederate Brigader Gen. John Hunt Morgan (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Confederate Brigader Gen. John Hunt Morgan (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Then again, I had just driven in the vicinity of West Point, a tiny town just off the Lincoln Highway where Confederate Brigadier Gen. John Hunt Morgan, the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy,” had surrendered to Union troops after his bold 1,000-mile summer 1864 raid of Kentucky, southern Indiana and Ohio ended at the nearby Battle of Salineville.

The Lincoln Highway in eastern Ohio, so far, had been full of strange surprises.

Then I entered Lisbon, a small village in Columbiana County founded in 1803 as New Lisbon, the year “America’s First Frontier” attained statehood.

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Cue the Creepy Music in East Liverpool, Ohio, Which Hopefully Isn’t Doomed

Broadway and E. 5th Street in East Liverpool, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Broadway and E. 5th Street in East Liverpool, Ohio (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — Heading west out of Pittsburgh on the Lincoln Highway, you’re confronted with a few options to reach this well-worn Ohio River town opposite the tip of West Virginia’s northern panhandle and just west of the Pennsylvania state line.

The original route of highway stayed on the north bank of the river via Beaver, Pa. The second-generation route, according to the Lincoln Highway Association’s official map, kept the highway on the south bank to Monaca, Pa., before crossing to Beaver and onward to East Liverpool. The road conditions in this part of Pennsylvania were notoriously bad, so the Lincoln Highway Association pressed for a new road to be built.

But the third-generation route, today’s U.S. 30, took the Lincoln Highway on a much more southern alignment via Chester, W.Va., “an unintentional byproduct of the bad roads in Pennsylvania,” according to a 2004 National Park Service assessment of the Lincoln Highway. Beyond Pittsburgh’s western suburbs and exurbs, U.S. 30 — which lacks any Lincoln Highway signage — meanders through some beautiful hilly farm country and forests.

But I barely realized I had crossed into West Virginia — the Lincoln Highway is only about five miles long in the northern panhandle — when I reached the Ohio River, crossed over into Ohio and quickly passed downtown East Liverpool on the modern expressway hugging the riverbank. Strangely, “Foot and Mouth ’68,” an eerie and uncomfortably ambient instrumental track from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci‘s The Blue Trees album, just happened to be playing in my rental car’s CD player.

I should have taken it as a sign that venturing into the town itself was going to be very, very creepy.   Continue reading