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The Columbus-Sandusky Turnpike

Ron Davidson • Aug 27, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Continuing with the theme of transportation in Sandusky, let’s talk about early Sandusky’s most travelled roadway. It was not Columbus Avenue, as you might think, nor was it Perkins Avenue (which is on the city line) or Milan Road. Have you guessed? Hint: it was the road taken by Charles Dickens when he arrived in Sandusky via stagecoach in 1842. In much of the nineteenth century, the busiest road, and perhaps the only real “highway” in the area, was the Columbus-Sandusky Turnpike, or as we know it today, Hayes Avenue, or Route 4. The Turnpike was chartered by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio in 1826, and built in 1828, before the arrival of the railroads in the west. John Kilbourne, the founder of Worthington, Ohio, surveyed the land and supervised the construction of this highway. (He should not be confused with his son, Hector, who platted Sandusky’s downtown street grid in 1818.)

Outside of Sandusky, most of this highway was a corduroy road, made of logs laid together over the ground, on which the vehicles traveled. The primary purpose for this type of road was to maintain an accessible road over softer ground and areas prone to water saturation; but based on the historical record, it did not work very well for this highway. There were frequent complaints about sections of the road flooding and the corduroy logs sinking into the mud, which led to the nickname, the Mud Pike. Many at the time believed this highway was neglected because of the development of Ohio’s canals and railroads.

But in Sandusky, the turnpike was a popular thoroughfare, with many homes and businesses. The portion of the road just outside of the early corporation boundary became a popular location for large, elaborate homes. (The corporation boundary in the mid 1800s extended only to about where the main campus of Firelands Hospital is today, on a line parallel with Scott Street.) The prominent Sandusky businessman, C.C. Keech, built a home on his “country” estate, named Oak Grove Villa, along the turnpike. Today, the land is occupied by the south campus of Firelands Regional Medical Center, formerly Providence Hospital. In fact, the former Keech house was Providence Hospital’s first building.

Many small businesses opened along the turnpike, receiving the advantages a busy thoroughfare offered. The Popke family operated a dry goods store at 623 Hayes Avenue, and the Schweinfurth brothers owned a grocery at 809 Hayes Avenue – two of many businesses along the old turnpike.

But perhaps the most prominent business in Sandusky’s portion of the Columbus-Sandusky Turnpike was the American Crayon Company. The company’s Sandusky origins go back to 1850, in the home of William D. Curtis, at Hayes Avenue and Polk Street, eventually becoming a factory at that site; later, a larger factory opened at the site where Hayes Avenue met the railroad. Today, that empty plant is coming down.

With the increased development of other roadways and methods of transportation, the old turnpike became just one of many important roads in Sandusky, but most of the original route from Columbus to Sandusky still serves travelers today.

Figure The Turnpike, called the "Columbus and Sandusky Plank Road" on this 1852 map, was the major highway in and out of the city during much of the nineteenth century

Figure Prominent local businessman C.C. Keech established a "country" home on the edge of town along the Turnpike (now Hayes Avenue); after his death, the building and land became one of Sandusky's first hospitals, Providence Hospital

Figure Schweinfurth Grocery, near the beginning of the Turnpike, Hayes Avenue and Park Street

Figure The origins of the American Crayon Company in Sandusky are along the old Turnpike, first as the Western School Supply Company; this image circa 1880

Figure American Crayon operated for most of the twentieth century at this plant, by the Hayes Avenue subway

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