County Trippin’ Part Seven: SANDUSKY COUNTY by Nick Taggart
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“Hayes-y Shade of Winter” - 3-4 February 2018
If I’d been looking for an omen to foretell our weekend, I probably couldn’t have produced a better one than the bald eagle that flew over us shortly after our arrival in Sandusky County. We’d just entered from the south along State Route 53 and had turned onto Gillmore Road to look for the one and only covered bridge in the county.
The Mull Road Covered Bridge has been providing access over the east branch of Wolf Creek since 1851. Its Town Truss construction is named for Ithiel Town, of Connecticut, who created the lattice design in 1820. The Mull Bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1962, but thanks to a 2015 restoration, its access for pedestrians should continue for years to come. We stepped out into a nippy 25 degree winter morning and strolled under the bridge’s rounded arch entrance. Up close, one can see the wooden pegs that hold the planks together (as well as the ubiquitous graffiti -- I wonder if “Ryan + Mell” are still an item). If the glassy ice below the 100-foot long red bridge hadn’t been enough to create a quaint rural image, the soaring bald eagle completed the picture. If we’d been driving a large pickup truck, one might have mistaken the scene for a car commercial.
Returning to State Route 53, we immediately turned into Wolf Creek Park, one of the many gems maintained by the Sandusky County Park District. The wooded park fills the space between the state route and the Sandusky River. During the summer, a primitive camp site is available. We made use of a mile and a half loop trail to stretch our morning legs. Since it was winter, the trees were bare of leaves, but the plethora of walnuts and black locust seed pods scattered about the path allowed easy tree identification.
On our hike north, we came quite close to a black and white chickadee who was too busy jumping from branch to branch to notice our approach. Above us, the glint of color on its tail feathers, identified a red-tailed hawk. The trail that led us back to the parking lot also serves as a section of the Buckeye Trail, the 1,444-mile footpath that loops through 40 of the state’s 88 counties. Now, when the subject of the trans-Ohio trail comes up at dinner parties – as it so often does – I can casually mention my own experience of walking a section of it, but not wanting to dominate the conversation, I won’t go into detail about how long, or short, that section might have been.
Back in our car, we continued north on South River Road, hugging the Sandusky River. We passed the Tindall Bridge, a tall, blue steel structure that was constructed across the river in 1915 to replace a previous span that had been destroyed in the Flood of 1913. At the bend in the river near Greensburg Pike, chunks of large spiky ice gathered, resembling something out of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Whenever I doubt myself regarding traveling in winter, regretting all the bits of blooming green nature that I’m missing, I remind myself of the curious oddities that arise only when the mercury drops below freezing.
Open space gave way to residential housing as we passed into the corporation limits of Fremont, the county seat. On a wedge of property on West Main Street, akin to the Flatiron building in Columbus, we found the AM Korner Café, a breakfast spot recommended to us by our sister-in-law. Without her personal say-so, we might have given this place a pass. Had we done so, it would have been our loss. The neon “Open” sign over its door gave the establishment just a hint of, "this place is for regulars and you don’t look like no regular", if you know what I mean. However, once inside the cozy close quarters, we found diners of all ages occupying the tables and an exceedingly friendly wait staff. Most importantly though, the food was delicious!
I ordered the “Big Breakfast,” which came with two eggs (scrambled), two meats (bacon and ham), two pieces of toast, home fries, and two large pancakes. Michele had an egg and bacon sandwich on ciabatta bread and also helped me with the pancakes, digging out bites from her side while I excavated from mine. Before meeting in the middle, we got full. What remained resembled what two mice might have left behind after randomly nibbling on the fried cakes.
Two blocks south of the restaurant is the Sandusky County Courthouse, the third oldest continuously used courthouse in the state. (I suppose you’re going to ask me what the two oldest ones are? Well, they’re Highland and Medina, if you must know!) Its original construction took place between 1840-1844, back when Fremont was still known by its original name, Lower Sandusky. An expansion in the 1930s altered its footprint, dramatically changing its appearance. Six original wooden columns were replaced with eighteen rounded sandstone pillars, and its cupola was moved to a newly constructed wing. Its Greek Revival façade is still classically handsome.
We left Fremont behind for the moment and drove southeast down U.S. Route 20 to the city of Clyde. There’s no mistaking its tax base as we passed the long expanse of the Whirlpool plant. The company has been manufacturing washing machines there ever since it bought the Clyde Porcelain Steel Company in 1952. Two years later, they purchased the adjacent Bendix Corporation that had been producing belt-driven washing machines. Ever since, Whirlpool has been an important and generous employer. The company’s 3000 workers make 20,000 washers a day, five days a week, in its 2.4 million-square foot facility.
To learn a little more about the city, we stopped by the Clyde Museum on West Buckeye Street. The museum was established in 1932, but it wasn’t until 1987 that it moved into its present location, the former Grace Episcopal Church. A garage annex and meeting room addition have since been added.
For being a relatively small city – population around 6,200 -- Clyde has quite the history. Special exhibits are devoted to writer Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio, who spent his formative years in Clyde; and to Major General James Birdseye McPherson, the highest ranking officer to be killed in action during the Civil War. Also on display is a 1904 Elmore “Doctor’s Runabout” Car, built by the Elmore Manufacturing Company that built bicycles and automobiles in Clyde between 1893-1912.
A couple blocks down Buckeye Street from the museum is the gorgeous Clyde Public Library, constructed of multicolored Sandusky granite and sandstone. A red-tiled dome tops a round reading room. The library was built in 1906 thanks to a $10,000 donation by Andrew Carnegie.
On our way out of town, we paid our respects at the McPherson Cemetery. General McPherson’s final resting place is on a hill near the entrance, circled by cannons and topped with a statue of the General who appears in a jaunty pose pointing westward. The cemetery also contains the graves of two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and a United States Navy sailor who holds the dubious distinction of being the first native born American to be killed in the Spanish-American War.
We drove north among the flat farm fields of County Road 260 until we found a patch of wooded wetland named the Blue Heron Reserve. If you’ve ever given money to the Nature Conservancy and wondered what they did with your money besides produce cloth bags containing unattractive pictures of birds, you’ll be happy to know you are partially responsible for this spot of reclaimed wetlands. The area was acquired by the Nature Conservancy and a Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant and is maintained by the Sandusky County Park District. The 160-acre reserve provides a boardwalk constructed of 100% recycled materials so visitors won’t have to worry about sinking into a spring or fen while hiking around its meadows and woodlands. We did a quick stroll around the half mile East Meadow loop. The sky was still overcast and the wind had kicked up a bit, so we didn’t tarry.
We returned to Fremont via U.S. Route 6 and connected to U.S. Route 20, but this time we turned northwest. At Ohio Route 590, we turned north and pulled in at Creek Bend Farm, a recently acquired property that the Park District hopes to restore to a working farm demonstrating techniques from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The grounds are also home to the Wilson Nature Center where all manner of stuffed birds, animal pelts, and live turtles and snakes are on display. There’s also a resident rabbit named Nibbles who has the run of the place. The Center provided us with a pleasant and educational respite.
The park is located just beyond the southern boundary of the village of Lindsey, well marked by its big blue water tower. We drove through the small town and then exited to the west along Knipp Road…just because we like to say, “nip.” We performed a zigzag maneuver on Hessville Road, Blue Heron Road, and Waggoner Road. We passed a farmhouse with chickens pecking at the ground around a llama whose bunched up winter fleece made it look as though it were modeling 1970s leg warmers and Ugg Boots.
Back on U.S. Route 20, we continued to the village of Woodville. The community would like outsiders to know it as the “Lime Center of the World” for its history of lime production dating back to before the Civil War. It claims that all its citizens are directly or indirectly connected with the lime plants. (By the way, I’m speaking of the alkaline substance, not the citrus fruit that goes so well with a gin and tonic.) Village elders can boast all they want regarding the local industry, but many visitors come to know the village as a SPEEDTRAP! (You’ve been warned.) The speed limit dramatically drops to a ridiculously slow tortoise speed of 25 mph in a most unlikely spot, catching unsuspecting drivers and filling the village coffers, as my sister-in-law – now, $90 poorer – can attest.
It seemed appropriate then that we should stop for a late afternoon snack at the appropriately named Speedtrap Diner, located on the eastern edge of town. If you’re coming from the east, the red, white, and black police cruiser parked on the roof of the building might warn motorists to slow down. If you’re coming from the west, well, it’s too late.
Inside, the walls are decorated with license plates, vinyl albums, and stickers. Diners are welcome to use markers to scribble their own messages. Michele refreshed herself with a butterscotch sundae while I opted for a hot dog and a Buckeye milkshake. The diner’s front window sports the message, “Cool people eat here.” Who am I to disagree?
Not wanting to risk a traffic violation, we drove away from Woodville south on Anderson Road for about four miles. Just beyond the intersection with U.S. Route 6 sits the first fruits of the Sandusky County Convention & Visitors Bureau-sponsored historic barn mural project. In the fall of 2016, after a review of designs and barns, Scott Hagan was commissioned to paint a 9/11 Public Safety Service Memorial mural. Hagan gained fame as the painter of Ohio’s Bicentennial Barns. David Thornbury, a graphic designer and marketing specialist for the SCCVB designed the mural. Tribute is paid to two people with Sandusky County connections: Teresa Martin-Miller, of Woodville, who was killed on 9/11 when the plane struck the Pentagon; and Georgine Rose Corrigon, a native of Woodville, who was on Flight 93 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The barn was selected because of its proximity to our next destination, Gibsonburg, just two miles to the east. Just as Hagan was putting the finishing touches on the barn on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Gibsonburg was dedicating its own Public Safety Service Memorial, in the town’s Williams Park. The centerpiece of the memorial was a bent and twisted section of antenna that used to top the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It measures nearly 36 feet long and weighs 7,000 pounds. The park is also home to the North Coast Veterans Museum and Reflection Wall as well as a United States Air Force jet. It is all a reminder of how “world events” can affect a seemingly remote village.
Gibsonburg is a good spot for a memorial that reflects resiliency. The village was only 15 years old when a fire struck in 1895 and destroyed the entire north side of its Madison Street business district. Then, two years after the community rebuilt, another fire struck, this time destroying the entire south side of the street. Again the town rebuilt. I’m not sure if that’s a sign of fierce determination in overcoming adversity or a stubborn insistence against “taking a hint.” I suppose it’s the former since Gibsonburg is still here over a century later.
We returned to Route 20 at Hessville and followed the county-bisecting thoroughfare southeast through Fremont and Clyde before stopping in Bellevue. Our night’s accommodation was the beautiful Victorian Tudor Inn, a gorgeous old home that was converted into a bed & breakfast nine years ago by Richard Stegman, a native of Bellevue who returned to his home town after 30 years as an administrator and dean in higher education. Much like his house, Stegman exuded charm and cordiality as he greeted us at the door and led us to the Nautica Suite on the second floor. According to the website, “This magnificent suite, artfully color and theme coordinated, is named in recognition of Bellevue's location to Lake Erie and the many years spent by the owner in Rhode Island.” We practically had to get a running start to get up onto the queen size carved mahogany four-poster bed. A spacious bathroom containing a shower and two-person Jacuzzi was located across a private foyer. Call it what you will, but sometimes a person just wants to be pampered!
We took a late afternoon siesta before returning to Fremont for dinner. Again, we took our sister-in-law’s recommendation for a restaurant, one that had just opened the previous fall. We made a 7:00 pm reservation at Scarpetta’s Italian on South Front Street and invited Michele’s parents from Tiffin, and her brother and sister-in-law from Huron, to join us. The food was good, but a moderately long wait between our starters and our entrees coupled with one or two dishes that arrived less than hot hinted at a few kinks still waiting to be worked out. The tables were filled with diners when we arrived, so the locals seem to have taken to this new dining option.
After an enjoyable family dinner and best wishes for a safe drive home, Michele and I returned to our Nautica Suite for a relaxing evening.
The forecast called for a chance of ice and snow overnight, so we weren’t sure what to expect, especially as we drifted off to sleep to the sound of ferocious wind gusts.
The wind had died down by the time we awoke the following morning. Sporadic traffic on Route 20 and the distant whistles of trains were the only sounds. A light coating of snow had begun sticking to the roads.
We descended to the first floor dining room at 9:30 am for our prearranged breakfast. Richard had fresh ground coffee awaiting our arrival. Fruit bowls were followed by ham and cheese omelets, local bacon, sausage patties, and bread from a local bakery for toast. After a little light conversational dancing, we discovered Richard shared our wing of political views, which led to a long and enjoyable bitch session regarding the current administration. It wasn’t until noon that we were packed up and on the road.
By that time, temperatures had risen enough that whatever snow flurries had fallen had also melted. We returned to Fremont and parked along South Arch Street next to the Birchard Public Library. The library hadn’t opened yet, but we were more interested in “Old Betsy” sitting out on the lawn. No, she’s not a “loveable” old eccentric who hangs out at public buildings and tells strangers about her dead dog, but rather an historic black cannon that was used to defend Fort Stephenson during the War of 1812.
Fort Stephenson was the last fort in Ohio to be attacked and was situated on the grounds of the current public library. The site had previously served as an important trading point due to its location next to the Sandusky River. Boats from Lake Erie could navigate this far up the river, thus providing a significant transfer point between Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Construction of a fort covering an acre of land and surrounded by 10-foot high stockade walls was completed in January of 1813. By late July, as enemy forces infested the vicinity, it was determined the fort couldn’t be adequately defended, so it was ordered to be burned and abandoned. Unfortunately, the order came too late and 21-year old commanding officer Major George Croghan determined it would be best to stay and fight rather than risk being wiped out by a superior force on open ground.
Croghan had only about 160 men under his command when the fort was attacked by a force of British and Native American troops numbering at least 3200. Old Betsy was the only cannon at Croghan’s disposal, so he fired it from various positions around the fort giving the British the impression he had numerous cannons. The British artillery failed to breach the walls of the fort and then, in a direct attack, Old Betsy provided a devastating defense that resulted in the siege being abandoned. The British had suffered over 100 casualties while the Americans had only one man killed and seven wounded.
Less than a mile away from that historical spot sits another on a 25-acre triangular piece of land. It’s now officially known as the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums, but back when the former president lived there, it was called Spiegel Grove. Spiegel, the German word for mirror, references the reflection of the sky on the puddles formed under the tall trees after a storm.
The estate was originally purchased by Hayes’s maternal uncle and guardian, Sardis Birchard, a savvy businessman and lifelong bachelor who intended the property pass to Hayes and his heirs. Construction on the original two-story, eight bedroom brick home began in 1859. It was added onto and remodeled throughout the following half century. It is now a 31-room mansion painstakingly restored to reflect the time period during which Hayes and his family lived there following his presidency.
Tours of the house are given every half hour and are said to last approximately 45 minutes. We were the only ones there for the 1:00 pm tour so our docent Jim provided a thorough and interesting tour that lasted well over an hour. We learned much about the 19th President, although I must admit, my knowledge was pretty sketchy to begin with. Pretty much everything I knew, I learned from the Great Plains song, “Rutherford B. Hayes,” which, while a good song, plays fast and loose with the facts and confuses its Ohio presidents. It turns out that Rutherford B. Hayes was NOT the grandfather of Woody Hayes, nor was he shot by an anarchist. It was William McKinley who was downed by an assassin’s bullet. Ron House, you have a lot to answer for!
After the tour, we strolled under a light rainy mist to the President’s grave. He and his wife Lucy are entombed below a large granite stone. Their second eldest son, Webb C. Hayes and his wife Mary are also buried within the fenced-off area. It was Webb who, shortly after President Hayes’s death in 1893, deeded Spiegel Grove to the state of Ohio and his father’s personal papers and possessions to the Ohio History Connection, thus creating America’s first presidential library.
We returned on a paved walkway, past a group of the chunkiest fox squirrels you’ve ever seen who don’t think twice about brazenly confronting visitors, and entered the museum where we learned more about Hayes’s election to the presidency. If you thought the hanging chads of the 2000 election were something to behold, read up on the 1876 contest where Republican Hayes won by one electoral vote after disputes involving opposing electoral voters in several states resulted in the formation of special commissions to make the final decision. Oh, by the way, all the commissions just so happened to consist of seven Democratic representatives and eight Republican representatives. Can you guess how they voted?
Despite the spurious result, I think Hayes turned out to be a decent president, one that Ohioans can take some moderate pride in. That was my takeaway anyway. Before his presidency, he served as governor of Ohio where he backed the creation of a land grant college that eventually became The Ohio State University, so to all the Buckeye alumni, The Ghost of Presidents Past says, “You’re welcome!”
Along with exhibits detailing the life of the president and first lady, the museum makes room for temporary exhibits. We were fascinated with one regarding the ice harvesting industry on Lake Erie during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. (No, really, we were! I swear, it was a lot more interesting than it sounds!)
No museum stop is complete without a visit to the gift shop where I picked up a sticker and Hayes Presidential Library & Museums pen. Also available were candles from the Cleveland Candle Co. Unique Hayes-centric scents included “The Beard,” in honor of Rutherford’s impressive growth of facial hair, and “Purple Hayes.”
With brains bulging with new found presidential knowledge, we drove down Buckland Avenue to Greensburg Pike Road and over to Route 53, where we crossed the county line under an overcast Sandusky County sky.
Time spent in the county: 31 hours, 58 minutes Miles driven in the county: 145 miles