My parents grew up on farms east of Muncie, Indiana where and I was born at Ball Hospital. We moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan at age 8. When I moved to Detroit age at 20, I began my annual drive “Down to Indiana” on Wednesdays, the day before the annual family Thanksgiving Dinner – usually at my Cousin Cindy’s farm home. About thirty people attended – always at noon – and it often snowed.
My Wednesday morning route was to drive from Detroit to Toledo, passing by Trot’ N Charlie’s Bar in the early morning hoping for a “good light” day.
Turn West on the Lincoln Highway (US 20) and travel on to a small town with a big church. Fayette, Ohio. The other attraction where you are welcome to visit is Hal’s Garage…”specializing in old parts.” At this point, I traveled south on Highway 66 following the abandoned Miami and Erie Canal (1830-1860) that linked Cincinnati and Toledo.
The highway sights record a lot of flat late November fields. Crops are gone. Ground cover is still green with a sprinkling of abandoned homesteads, field buildings and failed businesses.
The land is generous. Prosperous farms line the highway in varied intervals with majestic tower silos for grain and silage storage, and the distinctive blue Harveststore glass-lined steel plate design seen at the Royal Crest Dairy site.
You’ll see a brick schoolhouse with bricks likely fired in the surrounding field and small town signage for the Pythian Sisters of Sun Shine Chapters – serving girls from 8-20, and founded in Warsaw, Indiana.
And a reminder of a local product….Beef from Versailles.
Open pit mining is near the canal route, which initially provided aggregate for the canal construction, then cut stone for architecture product distribution.
Northwest Ohio is dotted with international city replicas, which were often founded by the second wave of “pioneers” from France, Germany, and Flemish countries. The region is known as the “Land of Cross -Tipped Churches,” a heavily German and French Catholic rural region of western Ohio. Its name is derived from the dense concentration of at least 20 large Catholic churches that dominate the area’s architecture. Nearly all created by Swiss immigrant Anton DeCurtins.
I have only seen the outskirts of the Village of Antwerp, laid out in 1841 by General Horatio N. Curtis. The name Antwerp was selected because it was not listed in any post office directory in the country published at that time. So much for cultural identity.
I have loved the White Oil tanks, remembering that popcorn is actually cultivated and stored, and new wind turbines (revenue generators) are beginning to stretch across the flat horizon.
Versailles (pronounced ver-sales)
Only a few miles away stands the small town of Versailles. A lot of French Pioneers settled here, and they changed the name to a French Shrine. You can still see the old agriculture buildings around.
… and visit a branch office of American Budget Loan Co.
Russia (pronounced ROO-she)
“The earliest settlers were French speaking Suisse who served under L. Napoleon Bonaparte during the war with Russia. According to tradition, the village’s name commemorates a battle these veterans fought in Russia.
Russia has a fine corigated steel grain mill.
This town is a short distance from Russia. Initially a French trading post settlement, a fort built by General Anthony Wayne secured more land control. The second wave populated by German immigrants after the War of 1812. St. Michael Catholic Church is an additional Anton DeCurtins design that seems to float on the horizon.
It is best to read the village’s website about the founding of Ottoville and the extraordinary Reverend John Otto Bredeich and brothers. They were all Prussian Catholic Evangelical “pioneers” who had wealth. Otto gained insider information of the route of the Miami-Erie Canal. Now that the Indians were forced to marched out, land was ample and easy to purchase, though still wooded.
The Odenweller Milling Co. sets next to old canal lock 28, with a glowing yellow exterior.
The third vertical element in the landscape that breaks the horizon are grain silos and mills. Each is unique.
Osgood Ohio Farmers Co Op Exchange Branch
Payne Equity Exchange
A large complex of grain silos sits on a side track in Sidney, and shares the horizon
There also is the grand Shelby County building, built in 1883.
Opposite the county building is the stunning 1917 People’s Federal Savings and Loan with red brick and green terra cotta bands designed as one of “eight jewel box banks” by Louis Sullivan of Chicago.
Across the street from the “jewel box” and town square is the “The Spot to Eat“ the engaging Cook’s Spot Restaurant.
A little farther north is Wapakoneta, Ohio and the stunning Wapa Movie Theatre. The town received its name from the tribal meeting building of the Shaunee Indians.
In 1830, the United States government passed the Indian Removal Act. The landscape east of the Mississippi was no longer wild. Manifest Destiny was starting to pull the nation farther west. Any Native-American tribes still east of the Mississippi were facing forced relocation to lands on the other side of the river. The Shawnee, Seneca, Ottawa, and Wyandots of Ohio were no exception. In 1832, they were forced off to Kansas.
Liberty Center is a small town that built up along the canal. The area is home of the now-closed Truckers Paradise Restaurant at the corner of Rt. 24 and Hwy 109. Over the counter I interviewed two veterans serving a great apple pie.
I like Van Wert. I have eaten at Balyeat’s Coffee Shop and “Young Fried Chicken” since 1922. I have had the specialty of the house, and I don’t think day or night makes a difference.
The Van Wert County Court House (1876) is sited in the City Square and built from local quarry stone.
The area boasts of the Brimback Library – the first County library in the USA, established in 1901.
Traveling west from Van Wert into the setting sun, I cross the Indiana border at Decatur and immediately face a giant man holding a “Dairy Thrill”.
Decatur is home of the classic Arnold’s Drive-In. From here it is short length to good food and pleasant relatives.
On Friday mornings, I usually return North. Depending on the weather, I often traveled back through Greenville, Ohio. A modest city where all regional roads and paths converged at Fort Green Ville, established in 1793.
For years I would stop to visit Aunt Norma, my father’s older sister at the Brethren Retirement Home, which is a nice place overlooking the downtown businesses.
On this particular day, Made-Rite Sandwiches was doing a huge drive-thru on the day after Thanksgiving.
A lot of people were in town and visiting a local gourmet treasure featuring “loose burgers on a bun”.
The business is noted for “sanitary” exterior décor of countless globs of chewing gum smacked on the entrance walls.
The Greenville area is also noted for the First Female Super Star – Annie Oakley. A little north of town, Ms. Oakley is buried next to her shooting rival, later husband. Her history is well documented at the Garst Museum.
Finally, Greenville is noted for the largest fort ever built in Ohio to support General Anthony Wayne’s colonization army (1793). This base was the staging area for the suppression of Ohio territory native tribes. In his book, “The Forts of Ohio” (published 2005), author Gary S. Williams writes the following about Fort Greene Ville:
Fort Greene Ville was really not a fort as much as it was a military city. In fact, it was more often referred to as Camp Greene Ville or just Greene Ville. But regardless of name, this post was large enough to host over 2,000 American troops and more than 1,100 Indian guests, which made it the largest city for miles around.” Having to house the entire army required a stockade that was about 900 by 1,800 feet and covered over 50 acres of ground.
Anthony Wayne led the building of Fort Greene Ville in 1793 as a winter quarters for his entire army. The new American commander had been recruiting and training his troops for over a year, and he wanted an advanced self-sufficient fort to launch a campaign from in the spring that crushed the union of tribes against colonialization.
Victory over the locals enabled Wayne to negotiate the Treaty of Greenville (1795) , by which the Indians ceded most of Ohio and large sections of Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. Wayne died a year later (1745-1796).
I learned a lot about our history over these travels. Before, I knew very little about the colonization and deforestation led by the English from the East Coast moving West. In the Land of the Crossed Tipped Churches the results are clear.