As you travel around Ohio you will often see historical markers – there are 1700 of them scattered throughout the state. Using sound caution during these challenging times I spent a couple of hours running around the area finding markers that highlight the history of transportation in Central Ohio. This allowed me to start again the photo efforts, as well as history research, while avoiding people.
The National Road
Ohio was still wilderness in the late 1700s, inhabited by only Native Americans. When the Europeans arrived and started to push west from the eastern seaboard the state was one of the first destinations. The primary route for many of these settlers was the National Road.
In Ohio the National Road started on the western end of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River. (this historic marker is from West Virginia)
Initially it was just a trail through the countryside. This non paved alley in a small Ohio town is the exact location of the trail.
The National Road had mile markers indicating how far you were from Cumberland, Maryland, the eastern terminus.
A number of the famed ‘S’ bridges were along the route. This one dates from the early days of the automobile.
This S Bridge dates from the pre-automotive days.
Of course as soon as you have people and transportation someone is going to go off course.
Not long after the National Road was first completed the canals started to be built. This transportation mode was the primary driver that lead Ohio to become the the 3rd most populated state by 1840, a position it would hold until Illinois passed it in 1900.
The canals opened up the interior of the state with connections to the Great Lakes and the Ohio River.
In addition to the main canals, there were ‘feeder canals’ branching off to spur industrial development.
The little village of Lockville has 3 locks in a short distance, as well as a vintage covered bridge that would’ve once crossed it.
The city of Groveport has restored their lock.
The town of Lockbourne is proud of their canal and lock heritage, although their one lock could us a bit of attention.
The canals had their heyday until the trains became prevalent in the 1850s.
While the mainline trains carried commerce and passengers across the state and beyond, Ohio became a center for the ‘Interurban’.
The Interurban served as a local transportation option between cities closely aligned, essentially the same as today’s commuter rail systems.
The map below shows how extensive the interurban network was in the state.
As one of the larger cities in the state, Columbus was a hub for the interurban transportation.
The line going south out of the city was known as the Scioto Valley Interurban.
Amazingly it had a third rail in the countryside (providing the power from a rail in the ground, not overhead wires). You would think that a number of cows became instant steaks by stepping on these…
The rails are still part of a street in the town of Groveport.
Canal Winchester has restored their Interurban station as a community center.
While nearby the town had a mainline train station.
While the Wright Brothers were the first developers of the airplane in nearby Dayton in the first decade of the 1900s, it took until 1923 for Columbus to have it’s first permanent air field.
It was named Norton Field, and as the historical marker indicates, was named after a Columbus native and World War I casualty John Norton. The opening was attended by Eddie Rickenbacker (more below on Eddie).
The field was located east of the city, just south of the current airport.
It was used primarily by the military, and was shut down as suburbia reached the area in the 1950s. Today the only reminder of it’s history (other than the marker) is the park in the neighborhood.
Just north of Norton Field is John Glenn Columbus International Airport, whose airport code is CMH – Columbus Metropolitan Hangar – the original name for the field.
The airport location was selected by Charles Lindbergh as the eastern terminus of the Transcontinental Air Transport. This unique design had passengers travel to Columbus from New York on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
From Columbus the passengers could fly to a town called Waynoka, Oklhoma, where they would again get on a train – this time to Clovis, New Mexico.
In Clovis they would again get on an airplane and fly on to Los Angeles.
The photo below clearly shows how close the train was to the airport. Note the T-A-T airplanes in the foreground – they later merged with Western Air Express to become TWA.
The entire concept was a disaster. In 18 months they lost $2.7m, was involved in the first plane crash on a regular commercial route, and eventually became involved in a scandal known as the Air Mail scandal.
But the airport survived. This photo looking southwest shows the field.
Norton Field is in the upper left grassy area, and on the center right is the construction of Curtiss-Wright Airplane factory. This factory built military aircraft until the 1988.
The original terminal sits unused in a distant corner of the airport.
A sign of the times are a number of currently mothballed aircraft – waiting for travel to return after COVID.
Eddie Rickenbacker grew up in this modest house on the east side of Columbus. From this start Eddie lead a most eventful life. He was a World War I fighter pilot – race car driver – automobile designer – and pioneer in air transportation, leading Pan Am Airlines.
Eddie’s name graces the former air force base turned freight airport – Rickenbacker International Airport.
Central Ohio has had a long history of transportation – perhaps a Hyperloop is next…