By Todd Kleismit
America 250-Ohio executive director
The nation’s upcoming 250th anniversary lends itself to countless opportunities to express the ways that Ohio and Ohioans are in many ways central to the broader story of America. Transportation has always been a critical factor in Ohio, its history, and its future.
Norwalk: During the American Revolution, the British set fire to the town of Norwalk, Connecticut. 80 of its 86 buildings were destroyed. Years later, the state of Connecticut granted land from its western reserve in northern Ohio as compensation to those who lost property from the fire. To learn more about the “fire sufferer lands”, that later became known as the “Firelands”, check out the Firelands Historical Society and Laning Young Research Center.
In 1815 Norwalk became the county seat in Huron County. Today the town is referred to as the "Maple City" and where history buffs may enjoy places such as the county courthouse, which sits along U.S. Route 250, and Norwalk’s oldest house located in the West Main Street Historic District which dates back to 1826. Or, come and shop locally at one of the many charming businesses in this delightful community.
Fortunately, the aptly named U.S. Route 250 provides motorists with a scenic way to connect important Ohio history with interesting communities that tell a multitude of lesser-known stories. It would be more accurate to say that U.S. Route 250 ends in Sandusky, but it served as my starting point on a gorgeous fall day when I traveled the 177 miles of U.S. Route 250 from the edge of Lake Erie to the Ohio River where it crosses into West Virginia at Bridgeport.
Anyone interested in understanding Ohio – outside of the major metropolitan areas – would be well served to spend some time driving the U.S. Route 250 corridor. Here’s what you’d find:
Sandusky: The northernmost point of U.S. Rt. 250 is less than a mile from the shores of Lake Erie in this Erie County seat of Sandusky, a Wyandot word meaning “water.” The Cedar Point amusement park has a dominant presence in the community and its local economy. Opened in 1870, it is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the United States. Sandusky is home to several notable historic places of interest-especially downtown. Here you’ll find the beautiful Erie County Courthouse, originally completed in 1874, but significantly remodeled during the Great Depression of the 1930s with funds from the Works Progress Administration. Other Sandusky points of interest include the Merry-Go-Round Museum, the Kalahari Resort, one of two Ohio Veterans Homes, and of course, many interesting shops, restaurants, and bars along Lake Erie.
Milan: Traveling south, you will quickly encounter the birthplace of Thomas Edison in Milan. A charming village of just about 1,300 people, Milan straddles both the southern tip of both Erie and northern Huron Counties. Its most accomplished native son, Edison, was born here in 1847, about the same time that the Milan Canal hit its peak in local commerce. I met briefly with Robert Wheeler, Edison’s great-great grand nephew, Edison’s closest Ohio relative, and Don Gfell, a retired educator who has made the promotion of Edison his life’s work. Edison’s birthplace and museum are one of several places within walking distance of each other and definitely worth exploring while in Milan.
Ashland: This next community along U.S. Route 250 is synonymous with the private university founded there in 1878 by members of the Brethren Church. Ashland University is home to Ashland Theological Seminary and to the conservative Ashbrook Center. The City of Ashland is, not surprisingly, the Ashland County seat. It is also located at the point where U.S. Route 250 moves more easterly and links up with the historic Lincoln Highway on its way toward the Ohio River.
Wooster: U.S. Route 250 is perhaps at its most scenic on the roughly 30-minute drive from Ashland to the Wayne County seat of Wooster, another beautiful college town. Wooster’s downtown is its pride and joy – and no wonder – it boasts interesting shops, history, and one of the strongest Main Street programs in the state. The city was named after American Revolutionary War General David Wooster. The College of Wooster is a small private liberal arts college that offers what it describes as the most internationalized campus in Ohio. There is plenty to see and do downtown, especially if you catch one of the offerings like the farmers market or historic church tour. The Wayne Center for the Arts occupies a former school and is worth a visit.
Ohio-West Virginia border: U.S. Route 250 twists and winds its way toward the Ohio River and our eastern border with West Virginia. But not before encountering Cadiz, the Harrison County seat where actor Clark Gable was born in 1901. The year before Gable’s birth, Cadiz laid to rest perhaps Ohio’s most underrated politician in its history, John Bingham. A Pennsylvania native, Bingham began a distinguished legal and political career from Cadiz where he advocated for abolition and became affiliated with the “Radical Republicans.” He is credited with writing section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 and substantially influenced American history by codifying citizenship rights and equal protection under the law. Bingham is buried in Cadiz and a sculpture of him can be found outside the Harrison County Courthouse.
Tuscarawas County: From Wooster, U.S. Route 250 continues southeasterly through the heart of Amish country and alongside Dover and New Philadelphia in Tuscarawas County. Here, like so much of Ohio, is where the American Indian narratives, specifically the Delaware (Lenape), and history are predominant. “Tuscarawas” is derived from a Delaware term translating variously to “old town” or “open mouth.” The county is home to many places of historic significance, including Ohio’s only Revolutionary War fort, Fort Laurens, one of Ohio’s 50+ state-owned historic sites operated by the Ohio History Connection. You’ll also pass Schoenbrunn Village and the Dennison Railroad Depot, one of Ohio’s 76 National Historic Landmarks and a place you don’t want to miss during the holidays. The county seat is in New Philadelphia, which features Tuscora Park during the summer month, originally built with New Deal funding during the Great Depression.
My journey to the West Virginia border concluded in Bridgeport, a small Belmont County village named after the bridge to Wheeling Island built in the 1810s. An interesting WWI monument can be found at the state’s border and is a must-see for travelers. U.S. Route 250, of course, continues into West Virginia and onto Richmond, Virginia in roughly equal driving distances in all three states.