FROM the beginning, promotion of real estate has been an important part of the Ohio scene. No sooner seated upon his pioneer farm, the owner might decide to promote a town. Town sites sprung up like the perennial mushrooms which grew in the woods where the lots were being platted.
Two of these early Ohio promoters, perhaps a bit more enterprising than the others, reasoned that a federally financed road would be a boon to the business. The Ohio Legislature, during its 1819-20 session, provided for the laying out of a road "from Worthington in Franklin County to New Haven in Huron County," with Luther Coe and Col. James Kilbourn as commissioners. The federal funds were provided by an act of Congress for three per cent of the sale of public lands within the state.
Col. James Kilbourne easily could have qualified for a local Who's Who, had there been one then. He was organizer of a group going into the Ohio area, an Episcopal minister, woolen manufacturer, army contractor during the War of 1812, justice of the peace, Congressman and surveyor appointed by the Cincinnati land office.
As surveyor of this newly authorized state road, be was allowed (as were all other state surveyors) $1.50 per day. His chainmen, axe men and road-markers received 75c per day. Each man had to "find his own keep"--that is, provide his own food, tools, a tent for shelter, and his own camp kettle or fry-pan while in the woods. If he chose other than foot travel it was necessary for him to maintain his own horse while way from home. However, a state job paying hard money was not easy to come by in the early 1820s.
The 1880 History of Morrow County indicates that the Colonel, in locating his road, followed a Wyandot Indian path which led from the Pickaway Plains, possibly Lower Shawnee Town in Pickaway County, northward to the lake. Present-day Sandusky, the site of a former Wyandot town, could have been the terminal of the path. Indians, for the most part, chose high ground and ridges in their travels, following the ancient buffalo roads. (It is interesting to note that in traveling Colonel Kilbourne's road today, it does follow the ridges, paralleling in a rough fashion the meanderings of Alum Creek.)
At various places, however, it was necessary to cross the tributary streams. One of these, the West Branch, caused early teamsters much grief, especially in muddy weather or when the ground was frozen. It is reputed that more eloquent profanity was expended in pitching down into this stream bed and up the opposite steep hill with a loaded wagon than at any other stream crossing on the road. Lacking a second team to "double-team" up this hill. the teamster or emigrant could elect to sit down and await assistance or carry his household plunder on his back up the hill and reload at the top.
The old Potter Tavern, located just at the top of the Beggar-louse Hill, it could easily be assumed, provided ample rest for the team and fortification for the driver. This was especially true since the next tavern going north was a temperance establishment.
Among certain New Englanders in the Worthington settlement, Friends in the Quaker settlements in Morrow County, and among the members of the Free Presbyterian Church in the Iberia community, were activists in the civil rights cause of that day. Prior to the Civil War, the Worthington-New Haven Road was one of the main lines on the Underground Railroad. In two houses today, the places can be seen where the slaves were concealed during the day.
In later years, one of the "conductors" told of an incident which might explain the contemporary statement that the railroad ran underground: The trail was getting hot in Union County and ..... settlement in Morrow County. The next morning the conductor with an empty wagon returned the same distance and no one was the wiser, not even those baffled men in pursuit.
Five institutions of higher learning were situated along this pioneer highway. In Worthington was, at one time, an academy and a medical school; in Morrow County the Society of Friends sponsored the Hesper Mount Seminary; close by was the Alum Creek Academy and further north was the Iberia Academy and later the Ohio Central College. These local institutions served their purpose and no longer exist.
The Worthington-New Haven Road reached its peak of importance as a shun pike for the Columbus-Sandusky toll road and later as a "road to market" when wheat was the one cash crop of farms lying along its course. The sesquicentennial history of the Alum Creek Friends Meeting states "The Worthington-New Haven Road, which connected those two towns and ran parallel to Alum Creek throughout the length of the township (Peru, in Morrow County) became known as the 'old wheat road'." The lake ports and the Eric Canal furnished routes to the Eastern seaboard.
As one of the earlier roads through Delaware, Morrow and parts of Crawford, Richland, Franklin and Huron counties several of the older cemeteries, early churches, school houses and township houses are located adjacent to the right of way. One of the earliest of the burying grounds is the "Old Fort Cemetery," located near the site of the Old Cheshire Fort in Delaware County. It was a resort for settlers in case of "Indian scares" during, the War of 1812.
Of interest to those traveling this highway today are the older homes remaining as evidence of the past. The only two cities on the road are Mount Gilead (once Whetstone Village) and Galion.
The southern portion of this road will parallel the proposed Alum Creek Reservoir for several miles. It may become designated a "Scenic Route" along which may be located lakeside picnic grounds or recreational areas to add interest to the history of this century-and-a-half-old highway.
[Columbus Dispatch, 1968]
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