No, not really. What I did instead was use clues from the photograph the Division of Forestry provides on its website and compare them to Google Map street views until I found its location. It sits in the backyard of the house on the southeast corner of East High Street and Andrew Court East. Sure, it’s technically private property, but I was able to stand on the very public sidewalk to look at the tree and take its picture.
Now, please, if you’re a Downy Hawthorn fanatic, don’t go stripping off your clothes and holding a Woodstock-like festival in the yard where this tree is located because the authorities will certainly trace the dissemination of the tree’s location back to this article and the Men In Black will show up at my door and flash one of those little memory loss pens in my face and that would be regrettable. Remember, this is top secret information! Be responsible and use it only for good.
We continued driving northeast to the village of West Jefferson. I was told by a friend that West Jeff has more pizza places per capita than anywhere else in the state. We did indeed pass a few on East Main Street, but I didn’t do an official census, so I’ll leave it to someone else to confirm this fact. As good as pizza sounded at that moment, our destination was Ann & Tony’s Restaurant on the east edge of town. The restaurant has been serving delicious Italian cuisine for over 65 years, ever since the namesake couple, both children of Sicilian immigrants, decided to open their doors. Their son Tom and his wife Judy continue offering authentic Italian cooking. I ordered the small “combination dinner” that included healthy samples of homemade lasagna, penne pasta, and spaghetti with meatball. Michele stuck to the single entrée spaghetti with meatball. The delectable garlic butter that comes with complimentary rolls is enough to entice anyone to Ann & Tony’s, but their delicious red sauce is testament to the Italian eatery’s longevity. Despite our “small” portions, we were both stuffed by the end of the meal.
We attempted to walk off some of the calories at Prairie Oaks Metro Park, just a few miles north of West Jefferson on State Route 142. The park straddles the Big Darby State and National Scenic River and offers a variety of recreational activities in its 2,000-plus acres, but we limited ourselves to a stroll along the Coneflower Trail. We were rewarded with the sight of a rabbit and a beautiful monarch butterfly, but we also encountered a muddy section of trail and a swarm of hungry mosquitoes who would have been better served dining at Ann & Tony’s rather than on our bland skin. We opted to cut our hike short and return to the car.
Just a stone’s throw (if you have a very strong arm!) north of the park is the Foster Chapel Cemetery, the burial site of the aforementioned county settler. Growing up, I knew Jonathan Alder only as a name on a school building, but later I learned a little more about the man. He was only seven years old when he was captured by a Native American war party in Virginia in 1782. He was brought to the Ohio country and adopted by an Indian family. He remained with the Indians until the Treaty of Greenville of 1795. Alder served as an interpreter for awhile before returning to Virginia in 1805 to be reunited with his mother. Apparently, he wasn’t in a hurry since it took him a decade to make this journey. He eventually married and brought his wife back to Ohio, where he built a cabin and settled on Big Darby Creek.
We returned to West Jefferson and drove west on Main Street. Soon after passing under a busy train trestle, we turned right off Main Street so we could see the recently constructed Taylor-Blair Road Covered Bridge that spans the Little Darby Creek. It opened near the end of 2012, costing $2.7 million. Was it worth the price tag? Well, it was partially responsible for getting me to visit and inject a few dollars into the local economy. A man and two young boys toting fishing poles were emerging from the creek as I got out of the car to take a picture. I was quick with my photographic duties as it was 90 degrees outside!
We continued west out of town on Main Street, aka U.S. Route 40, aka the old National Road. Being an historically-minded man with simple tastes (Or am I a simpleminded man with historical tastes?), I get a thrill out of seeing remnants of the past. In Madison County, a big such find is evident about seven miles west of West Jefferson at the village of Lafayette. The Georgian style Red Brick Tavern was constructed in 1837, the same year the National Road reached Madison County, and three years before William Henry Harrison and Martin Van Buren both stayed there during the 1840 presidential campaign. It’s said that Van Buren drank tea with the aristocracy of the area while Harrison ordered a round of hard cider for everyone. On election day, voters proved they leaned more wet than dry by voting for Harrison.
In the yard on the west side of the Red Brick Tavern still stands an old National Road milepost. It’s a bit eroded, but so would you be after standing outdoors for over 180 years.
We progressed another couple of miles west on Route 40 before turning north onto State Route 38. At the village of Plumwood, we veered northeast onto Arthur Bradley Road. Less than two miles further along, we crossed Little Darby Creek and pulled into a small parking lot for the Little Darby Preserve. It’s one of the state’s newest nature preserves, having just been opened in 2011. It gets its name from the creek that it straddles, although after following about three miles of a mowed walking trail, I concluded that it could have just as easily been named the Bunny Trail Preserve. We didn’t get far in before a rabbit hopped out from the thick growth of tall meadow grass, paused to look at us and ponder where we’d come from, before skedaddling back into the grass. This scene was repeated numerous times during our hot and sweaty hike.
Back in the cooling comfort of our car’s air-conditioning, we continued northeast on the road fronting the preserve, which had changed its name to Lafayette Plain City Road NE. About six miles later, we turned left onto Converse Huff Road and then right onto Converse Chapel Road NE. A left on Boyd Road took us to a long lane leading back to Smith Cemetery. This small, remote graveyard serves as a microcosmic history of the township. The plants that cover the tombstones represent the landscape the settlers encountered when they arrived and the people listed on the tombstones can be matched to the names on nearby roads.
When the first interment was made here in 1816, the settlers called the area the Darby Plains. It was covered with thick prairie grass. Unfortunately, each year’s growth of grass would accumulate into a decaying mass that became a natural breeding ground for mosquitos. That led to an outbreak of malaria resulting in more burials in the cemetery.
The land was eventually tamed through a combination of ditching and tiling that turned a once wet prairie into rich agricultural land. Remnants of the tallgrass prairie can now be found only in small pockets such as the Smith Cemetery, thanks to management by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.
Thirty years ago, I rode my bike out to the cemetery and snapped a picture that showed thigh-high grass left to grow wild among the grave markers. During this most recent visit, I found chest-high flora. Thirty native species of prairie plants have been inventoried at the cemetery. A few narrow paths have been kept mowed to allow access to the remaining tombstones, only a few of which can be spotted above the grass.
The summer day was waning as we returned to Converse Huff Road and followed it to U.S. Route 42 and north into Plain City. On its south side sits Der Dutchman Restaurant, a place we’ve been known to make special trips to from Columbus for the excellent made-from-scratch comfort food buffets.
My wife raised the touchy subject of county trip rules and whether our patronage of Der Dutchman was allowable. After all, “thou shalt not spend money at chain stores, restaurants, and hotels” has been one of the sacrosanct commands since the establishment of county trips. Der Dutchman, technically, falls into this category. Its original restaurant opened in Walnut Creek, Ohio, in 1969. Since then, four others have been established in small towns around Ohio, and another in Sarasota, Florida (??????). I don’t think they’ll be vying any time soon with Starbucks or Subway for the most storefronts in a square block, but it does meet the chain definition as “a series of shops owned by one firm and selling the same goods.”
I could take a moment here and devote a lot of words to rationalizing why eating at Der Dutchman upholds the spirit, if not the law, of the county trip rules, but that would just be inside-the-beltway self-indulgence, and anyway, all I wanted was a good piece of pie. After crossing the threshold without the county trip gods smiting us, we slid into a booth and placed our order. We were still rather full from our mid-afternoon lunch at Ann & Tony’s, so we stuck to the dessert menu. Michele enjoyed a slice of coconut cream pie, while I opted for lemon meringue and a cup of coffee. It was the perfect ending to an enjoyable outing.
All that was left was the driving. We made our way to Main Street via some residential side streets and then drove east out of the city. After bumping over railroad tracks and passing the Heritage Cooperative grain silos at Kileville, we exited the county at its northeastern corner.
Time spent in the county: 10 hours, 11 minutes
Miles driven in the county: 92 miles