Sleuth discovers portions of The Great Miami Turnpike.
By Jim Bucher
If you know me by now then it’s easy to spot I’m a local history nut. There is so much here. All you need is a leisurely afternoon at Carillon Park to experience just how much.
At one time we had more innovations per capita than any city in the country. And, by the way, it continues.
My friend Dave Miller, the volunteer and community service coordinator for the city of Moraine, has uncovered a rich piece of our history—a portion of The Great Miami Turnpike. Miller is a part-time super sleuth.
“I felt like Indiana Jones,” he says. “It is one thing to read and research, but the real fun is in the adventure, the hunt. Sometimes you discover something, sometimes you don’t. But when you actually find something, hidden underground for years as it was in this case, it is very exciting,” Miller says.
The turnpike was a big deal back in the day and to think about that while zipping on our way up and down the interstate highway is, well, something to think about.
The Great Miami Turnpike is quite a story.
Several turnpike companies were chartered to build macadamized (compacted broken stone) roads connecting Cincinnati to Dayton.
One of these was the turnpike, constructed in 1840, which was later known as Cincinnati-Dayton Pike, Dixie Highway, U.S. Route 25 and South Dixie Drive. The dirt road, traveled by foot, horse, wagon or stagecoach, was eventually paved with macadam, concrete or brick. The road has always been one of southwest Ohio’s major north-south roads.
“A stage line was established between Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, making travel to Cincinnati from Dayton by passenger coach available. The service was weekly and the trip took a mere 24 hours, with an overnight stay in Hamilton, Ohio,” says Miller. “The fare: 8 cents a mile including a 14-pound luggage allowance.”
Wonder if the pioneers’ kids asked, “Are we there yet?”
In 1914 there were five forms of transportation on the turnpike at one time—Miami-Erie Canal, Great Miami River, interurban traction line, railroad line and a Model T automobile.
How about that? Back then it was an amazing feat.
The 1922 AAA Automobile Blue Book claims “the shortest and best route from Dayton to Cincinnati is via the Dixie Highway.”
The Cincinnati-Dayton Pike was two-way traffic for almost 100 years as Kettering Boulevard from Dorothy Lane to southern Moraine was not built until 1928.
Miller tells me that during World War II when Frigidaire switched from producing refrigerators and began wartime production of airplane parts, bullets and machine guns, Dixie Highway in Moraine received additional lanes and an extension due the heavy volume of truck traffic shipping war supplies.
“Traces of the original turnpike have surfaced from time to time,” says Miller. “The old brick pavement was uncovered under southbound Central Avenue in West Carrollton near the former Roberds Appliance Store and again while the new Interstate 75 exit 48 ramps were being excavated,” he says.
Additional remains of the original brick paved highway were uncovered by city of Moraine employees under the railroad overpass in December 2015.
“The original brick road is solid and measures 16 feet 11 inches wide, large enough for horse and buggy and eventually automobiles to pass safely in each direction,” Miller says. They built things to last.
So what’s next for the new discovery?
“I plan to get volunteers and unearth as much of the road as possible,” Miller says. “I intend to make an educational session from this combining a PowerPoint talk and a hike to the site. Grass and weeds have reclaimed the site in the last two years but soon I will lead an ‘expedition’ back there with volunteers to unearth as much of the road as possible, to re-discover it and clear off a large section of that original brick road,” he says.
So much of our history has been lost to progress, but Miller is on a mission to remind us of our past. Gotta know where you came from while heading into the future.
“I have been installing Moraine historical markers,” Miller says. “We now have 14 in all. It began in 2015 (with 10 of them) for the 50th anniversary of the city of Moraine. I hope to continue to add two per year. They are like the state of Ohio historical markers that you see along Ohio roadways,” he says.
Miller says there is a lot to learn and take away from what was.
“A tip of the hat to our pioneers that built such a solid road with little technology,” he says. “Plus, history is fun. I tell students to get out of the house. Research, hike and go explore. Adventures await.”
Knowing Miller as well as I do there will be plenty more to come.