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Feature Article on automobile guide book. Topic: TRANSPORTATION
Written by Jim Sayre in December, 1996


automobilewithflattire.gif (60301 bytes)

Forty years before Interstate 75 slashed through the Shelby County map, a far different road guide, using the written word rather than lines and grids, pointed travelers to a more leisurely route through area towns and farmland. Modern travelers, tracking Interstate 75’s exit numbers and Toledo or Dayton mileage notations, hurry through the county in less than 18 minutes. But, followers of the early guide used its point-to-point mileage readings matched with local churches, bridges, cemeteries, schools, and other features to experience a "joy-ride with no troublesome worries" through Shelby County and much of the Midwest. They were using the 1916 King’s Official Route Guide, published in Chicago for $1 a copy and self-described as "...the most Accurate and Reliable Tour Book..."

Some landmarks common to county residents 80 years ago may confuse modern citizens. At the 18-mile mark south of Wapakoneta, King’s Guide reads: "Pass road on left, city limits of Mt. Auburn, go down grade." Two-tenths of a mile farther south, travelers are advised: "...take left fork with trolley." That today could get you arrested for going the wrong way on a one-way street in Sidney. Having just passed the present-day Shelby County Motor Club and Lochard Hardware, you are headed off Wapakoneta Avenue onto Main, rather than Ohio where you ought to be.

The ‘trolley’ refers to the interurban — the Western Ohio Railway—serving the county until 1932. "Sub-station power house on right" north of Anna along County Road 25-A and "power house on left" south of Sidney’s Russell Road are surviving power houses for the electric rail line. The Anna power station is a residence, while Presser’s Auto Parts occupies the Sidney structure. Wentz’ car dealership once used the building.

King’s Guide was published in eight sections, covering Iowa to New York. Section 6—Ohio and Kentucky—contained 500 plus pages and featured advertising for auto tires ("Vacuum Cup Tires, warranty for 6,000 miles!), hotels, garages and other travel aids. Sidney’s Hotel Wagner was advertised with "60 rooms on the American Plan at $2, $2.50 and $3, Phone No. 52, E.W. Smith, Proprietor." Fifth Third Bank now stands at Wagner’s West Poplar address. Also advertised was Sidney’s Knupp Garage "Open day and night, special attention to tourists, Opposite Fire Department." Two phone numbers are listed: City phone 402 and Farmers 200, recalling the county’s early dual phone services. The fire department was in the Monumental Building.

The guidebook touts King’s "Sign of Reliable Service...found displayed only by reliable Hotels, garages, etc., where tourists will receive fair or better accommodations and courteous service at regular rates." Publisher Sidney J. King..."personally inspects all the hotels and garages." Mr. King also inspected the routes, inserting road advisories: "road gravel" for the Botkins to Sidney trip, but "road good gravel" for the Sidney to Piqua journey.

Mr. King’s inspections did not always get things right. At mile 14.2, just south of Franklin Township’s Pearl Cemetery, current residents of Swanders might be surprised at this advice: "road on right goes to Saunders." Or this instruction at mile 19.1, well into Sidney: "Cross iron bridge over river." It was more likely the canal. Modern travelers streaking at a 65-70 mph pace through the county on Interstate 75, could wonder at King’s preface: "...we feel we have reached the pinnacle of perfection and although we will strive to make each edition more perfect, yet in introducing this book to our patrons, we think that it will adequately meet the demand of the public.

"Many guide instructions remain familiar, if too detailed, to modern fast-moving area residents. For example, just south of Sidney, the guide notes: "0.7 — Avoid road on left which crosses bridge over river, keep right along river on left, passing cemetery on right, go down grade, curve right."

Countians following those directions today would avoid the new jail and would be past Graceland. Continuing on: "1.3 — Cross long iron bridge over river, pass road on right, go up grade, curving left, going up grade." The river crossing was to the west of the newer bypass bridge now carrying 25-A over the Miami. Southbound modern tourists might marvel at how Botkins has grown. At 7.1 miles south of Wapak, 1916 tourists were to "follow trolley through the hamlet of Botkins," a short stretch. Botkins today extends another 2.5 miles south, crossing State Route 274 with the corporation sign at the Ramsey-Sias plant. Landmarks vanished, or at least moved, over the years. Mile mark 16.1: "Go through crossroads, pass church on right" describes the Plum Creek Methodist Church at the 25-A/Mason Road intersection. The church building was moved into Sidney in the early 1940’s and now serves the Calvary United Baptist Congregation at 514 Michigan Avenue. And, modern tourists might search vainly for the town of Clinton: "17.1 — Go through crossroads (few scattered houses)," an area now sandwiched by Hoewischer Road and the 25-A/I-75 interchange. Or, consider the aforementioned "city limits of Mt. Auburn," about where the northtown Bank One branch stands.

Some of the brick schools, popular landmarks in the road guide, survive. No trace remains of the school just north of the Anna traction line power station, but the Finkenbine school at the guide’s 15.1 mile Wapak-Sidney mark carries on with its varied career. Called the Blue Light Tavern in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the former school was later resurrected as a church, now the Northland Missionary Baptist Church at 25-A/Port Jefferson Road (Sharp Road after 1980).

Another school ("18.1 — Pass road and brick school house on right, power house on left") was the Jimtown school, then outside the Sidney city limits. Parkwood Elementary replaced it in 1930 as Sidney expanded. The brick school noted at a half mile from the Courthouse on South Main was the First Ward school built in 1883, razed in 1949, and replaced by Lowell Elementary. Redinbo school, south of Kirkwood Road, closed in 1929 and is now a residence. Rhodehamel school, built in 1870, was replaced in 1929 by Orange Township school, now the Sidney Missionary Church.

Sidney King did not trust motorists to find their way back home on their own. While pages 114-116 plot the southbound course from Wapak to Piqua, pages 121-122 reverse the route, all in the same detail. But, the northbound road advisory contradicts its southbound counterpart noted earlier in this article: "Road all gravel" describes the Piqua to Sidney route while "Road good gravel" took motorists on to Wapak. Despite errors, the guide seemed to work for early county motorists. Swanders resident J.E. Wyatt, signing his copy in 1919, recorded a successful 100-mile trip home from Mansfield via Galion, Bucyrus, Upper Sandusky, Kenton, Waynesfield and Wapak. Today’s readers can laboriously track Wyatt’s long-ago trip, using the guide’s dual index of towns and point-to-point routes. But, Wyatt had more time for that sort of thing in the leisurely days of pre-Interstate Highway ‘joyrides’.

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The Sidney trolley is pictured in the photo above. Stops listed include Toledo,
Findlay, Lima, Piqua, Troy and Dayton.


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