Open House at Octagon Mound

It’s not really a house and it’s never actually closed but an “open house” is what the Ohio History Connection calls each of the four days a year that tours are conducted and the general public is permitted inside Octagon Mound at Newark, Ohio. On all other days, access is restricted to members and guests of Moundbuilders Country Club who has leased the property since 1910. While that may sound disrespectful or even sacrilegious, the arrangement has provided a degree of protection that not all area mounds have received. Octagon Mound is part of the largest group of geometric mounds in the world. In addition to the octagon and an attached circle, Newark Earthworks once included a larger circle, a square, and an ellipse along with several pairs of long mounds connecting the geometric figures. The ellipse and all but a fragment of the square have been obliterated and covered over by the city of Newark. Just over forty miles to the southwest, a huge circle mound that gave the city of Circleville its name has been destroyed and buried under that city. In comparison, maybe having a few golfers wandering around isn’t so bad.

Last Monday, July 31, was an Open House day with hourly tours starting at noon. I was there in time for the first one but, after listening to the guides pre-tour comments, I stayed behind when the group headed off to enter the enclosure. The group seemed overly large to me and I thought I might do better with a later tour.

Instead I took the opportunity to look at the map the guide had referenced as he spoke then walked to a nearby observation platform. The platform allows the public to peek inside the enclosure even on days when they are not permitted inside. The picture at the top of this post was also taken from the platform. A path that runs part way around the attached circle is also always available to all and I traveled it while awaiting the next tour. A feature of the circle opposite its connection to the octagon stands several feet higher than the circle itself and has been given the name Observatory Mound. The path leads to within sight of Observatory Mound but doesn’t quite reach it. Walking beyond the path is permitted today and I continued on to the raised section.

The second tour contained nearly as many people as the first so I didn’t help myself much by waiting. I did stick with this one, however. As we paused at the opening to the interior, the guide pointed out that the approximately five foot tall mounds were at an almost ideal height for an adult human to use as sighting lines. Of course, as you can see, smaller creatures can sight along them as well if they position themselves properly. Following an overview of where we were and where we were going, the group headed across the big enclosure without fear of being beaned by a golf ball.

In the first picture we are walking between the parallel mounds that connect the octagon to the circle. The arrangement suggests a walkway. Similar pairs of mounds once connected the area around the octagon with other geometric figures in the complex and possibly with points much farther away. In the second picture we are approaching Observatory Mound and in the third most of the group is arrayed on the mound’s side listening to the guide. The purpose of Observatory Mound is one of the many mysteries associated with the structures. It may have actually been built as something of an observatory. The northernmost rising of the moon can be viewed from it through the circle, octagon, and connecting mounds. It looks as if there was once another opening into the circle at Observatory Mound so it might have been built to close the entrance. The truth is that no one knows and likely never will.

The cluster’s only other surviving enclosure, Great Circle Mound, lies roughly a mile from Octagon Mound. It is also owned by the state and it isn’t leased to a country club or anyone else. It can be visited at any time. These photos were taken near the small museum that stands near the entrance to the circle. The entrance can be seen in the second photo. A large ditch runs along the inside of the circular mound. Much of the material making up the mound was taken from the ditch during construction but there is also evidence that the ditch held water once the structure was completed. Why is just another of the complex’s mysteries.

The Newark Earthworks contain no solar alignments but there are a number of lunar alignments. This fact adds to the mystery since predicting the moon’s movements is a tougher job than predicting those of the sun and their role in daily life is much smaller. The picture of lunar alignments was taken inside the museum. The Ancient Ohio Trail website offers excellent information on the Newark Earthworks as well as other Ohio sites.

Trip Peek #58
Trip #116
2014 OLHL Meeting

This picture is from my trip to the Ohio Lincoln Highway League meeting in 2014. You are quite right if you feel that’s not typical LHA headgear. The picture was taken on the third day of the trip when I stopped at the Viking Festival in Ashville, OH. The actual meeting took place in Upper Sandusky on the second day of the trip. On the first day, on the way to the meeting, I took in both the “oldest concrete street in America” and the “World’s Shortest Street” and I ducked into Ohio Caverns, too.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

French Toast and Battle Ax Plug

Carl Graham Fisher, the primary mover and shaker behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and both the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, had lots of stories. One in particular is popular among road fans and was originally told by Fisher to partially explain his interest in improving roads and their marking. I’ve heard and read multiple versions of the story and am totally unequipped to distinguish embellishments from additional accurate details. So here’s a version of the story which I believe to be true at its core and possibly in some of the details, too.

Fisher and some friends had taken a day trip from Indianapolis and were returning in the dark and rain. They came to a point where three roads joined together but none of them could remember which they used earlier in the day. After some inconclusive discussion, they noticed a sign which they thought might indicate which road led back home. It was mounted high on a pole and unreadable in the dark and wet. It was somehow determined that Fisher would climb the pole to read the sign. Some say he climbed the pole once and had to return to the ground for matches. Some say that the first few matches sputtered or were doused by the rain. Some say that it was his very last match that provided a glimpse of the sign’s message. All versions agree on what that message was. Hoping for the name of a town or other landmark, all he saw was “Chew Battle Ax Plug”.

Prior to Tuesday, that funny and revealing story supplied 100% of my knowledge of Battle Ax Plug. On Tuesday I was on my way to Greenville, Ohio, and had left home with enough time in the schedule to try out a new restaurant on the way. I jogged off of my normal path to reach the town of Arcanum. It is a small town in the county I grew up in but I don’t remember much about it and doubt I ever knew all that much. I’d heard good things about the restaurant’s food but knew almost nothing about it beyond that. It was quite a happy surprise to see the big Battle Ax sign that heads this article on the side of the building housing the restaurant. I’ve since learned a little more about the brand.

Battle Ax Plug was the very definition of a “loss leader”. Between 1895 and 1898, US tobacco companies were embroiled in the “Plug Wars”. Another aptly named combatant was the Scalp Knife brand from Liggett  and Meyers. The American Tobacco Company lost about a million dollars a year with their Battle Ax brand but emerged from the wars with approximately 90% market share. The fading slogan on the sign’s ax head is “A GREAT BIG PIECE FOR 10 CTS.” Those were, back in the day, fighting words.

The building behind the sign has its own story and it’s a great one. Built by John Smith in 1851, it housed the family store until 1985. At its closing it was the longest operating family owned business in Ohio. It began as a typical general store offering an assortment of dry goods but eventually meat, produce, and other grocery items were added as were men’s and women’s clothing.

Yes, I certainly got distracted but I did eventually make it to breakfast. One of the places where I’d heard good things about Old Arcana was Ohio Magazine which named their French Toast the best in the state. The magazine quotes co-owner Leslie Handshoe-Suter calling the toast “decadent” and it certainly is. The full name is Bourbon Praline French Toast. Following the meal — and some really good coffee — I chatted with chef and co-owner Jeff Besecker about the menu, the business, and the building. Jeff pointed out the building’s owner, Angie, sitting at one on the tables and I also chatted with her and a table mate who had worked in the store that once filled the entire building. Angie operates Smith’s Merchants which shares the building with the restaurant.

When I first saw the round windows in the Smith Building, they made me think of the round openings I had seen in electric train power stations. When I later learned that the electric powered Dayton & Union interurban once occupied the gravel path in the left half of this picture I’d have almost certainly grasped the power station theory even tighter if I didn’t already know that it wasn’t at all possible. Before I even spoke with Jeff, I’d learned from my waitress that the windows were original from the 1850s and from Jeff and Angie I learned that the building was in constant use as a store during the interurban’s coming and going in the early twentieth century. Headquarters for the Arcanum Historical Society is just out of frame to the left of that last picture. It’s open on some Saturday mornings so I think I’ll come back, learn some more about this town I grew up near, and try another item from that inviting breakfast menu.

Finding It Here

The goodies at right are what Oven Master Mary calls “a few cookies”. They certainly added some color and sweetness to a gray first day of my 2016 Christmas Escape Run. That first day ended in Athens, Ohio, and is now posted. The next two nights will be spent in Burr Oak State Park near Ohio’s version of Rim of the World. 

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Trip Peek #40
Trip #25
Bi Byways

pv15This picture is from my 2004 Bi Byways trip. The two byways involved were the Miami and Erie Canal Scenic Byway and the Maumee Valley Byway. On the first day I drove the full length of OH-66 which includes the entire Miami and Erie Canal Scenic Byway. The second day was filled with driving the Maumee Valley Byway then getting home from northern Ohio. I got to ride a canal boat on both days. Both were on what are now very disconnected segments of the Miami and Erie Canal. The first ride took place near Piqua, Ohio, and the second near Toledo. The photo was taken on the second day as the boat approached a working lock which we would actually pass through.


Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

New Old Ohio

ov1890A couple of Ohio History Connection sites are reopening this weekend after pretty big makeovers. On Saturday I visited Ohio Village which moved from the 1860s to the 1890s since I last saw it. I’ll reach the Hayes Presidential Center, which reopens with new displays after a major renovation. Saturday’s journal has been posted.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Ohio Predictions

ghd2016_01If I’d had any confidence that I would actually attend a Groundhog Day event this year, I might have posted a canned article last week and saved the Happy Imbolc piece for today to be fleshed out with the latest news. But the truth is that I wasn’t sure I would make it to Buckeye Chuck‘s dawn pronouncement until just minutes before I was on the way. I was noncommittal when I went to bed on Monday. If I woke up in time and in the mood to go, I would, but I set no alarm clock and told myself that sleeping through the whole thing would be just fine. I awoke at 4:04, four minutes past what I had decided was the ideal departure time. There was slack in that ideal time but I waffled for a few minutes before finally deciding to go. I hit the shower and then the road and reached Marion, Ohio, right about 7:00. The photo of Buckeye Chuck in his cage was taken at 7:03.

ghd2016_02The gathering in Marion isn’t nearly as large as the one in Punxsutawney but it is respectable. Radio station WMRN has been offering localized groundhog predictions since the late 1970s when Charlie Evers started sharing those provided by groundhogs in the neighboring woods with listeners. That led to a naming contest that produced the name Buckeye Chuck and Evers was instrumental in getting the Ohio legislature to proclaim Buckeye Chuck the state’s official groundhog in 1979. The original Buckeye Chuck was present today, patiently posing for photos. Evers has moved on but is still a force in the area with a show on radio station WWGH.

ghd2016_04ghd2016_03A WMRN Groundhog Day tradition is providing free ground hog, in the form of Spam sandwiches, to everyone present. That’s Buckeye Chuck’s current partner and translator, Scott Shawver taking the first bite of his. I had my own which I consumed with less ceremony but possibly more enthusiasm.

ghd2016_05ghd2016_06Broadcasting from the stage near Buckeye Chuck went live at 7:15, just a few minutes before Shawver bit into that sandwich. Sunrise was at 7:41. The time in between was filled with the reading of a couple of proclamations, including one from Marion Mayor Scott Schertzer and assorted banter from Shawver and co-host Paul James. When they began wondering about who had come the farthest, I thought I might be in the running but the first question, “Anyone from out of state?”, turned up a couple from New Jersey. They visit a different groundhog each year. Last year it was General Beauregard Lee near Atlanta, Georgia, and they have been to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania “many times”. Clouds continued moving steadily on and by the time the sun popped over the horizon the sky was pretty much clear. Buckeye Chuck saw his shadow, an indicator that six more weeks of winter should be expected, instantly.

ghd2016_07The mildly disappointed crowd dispersed rather quickly although some took advantage of the daylight to get a better view or a better picture of Buckeye Chuck while Shawver and James wrapped up the program. I dawdled a bit before walking to the car. Deciding to drive to Marion was as far as my morning planning had progressed. Just before climbing into the car, I asked the only person standing nearby if he knew of a good place for breakfast. “No,” he said with a laugh, “I’m from Cleveland.”

ghd2016_08Scanning signs and storefronts as I drove back through Marion,I spotted a likely looking place near the center of town. I took the photo as I left. The street in front of Baires Restaurant was completely empty when I arrived. A guy at the counter and another in a booth were drinking coffee and chatting with each other when I entered. Service was somewhat slow but the lone woman on the business side of the counter seemed pretty busy in the cooking area so I didn’t think too much of it. The first person to enter after me was a fellow on a walker. As he worked his way into the seat next to me and against the wall, I asked, thinking it might be easier, if he would rather sit where I was. “This one’s got my name on it,” he laughed and he meant it. He pointed to a small brass plate on the back of the swivel stool marking it as his regular seat. The cook/waitress immediately appeared with his grapefruit which I had noticed her preparing earlier. My food arrived as I chatted with my new neighbor and learned that the restaurant normally opened at 8:30. It was not yet a quarter past when I entered and what I took to be slow service was more than I had a right to expect. Now that the place was officially open, a number of people entered with new folks greeted, usually by name, by those already there. As I paid my bill, I joked with the person I now realized was cook/waitress/owner about me busting in early and she grinned. “Oh, you’re alright.” In case there is any question, I had sausage & eggs.

ghd2016_10ghd2016_09One of the reasons I had been so nonchalant about possibly sleeping through Buckeye Chuck’s emergence was that I had a Plan B. The day’s big event at Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, where I’d watched a groundhog named Rosie make her prediction in 2013, was aimed toward a much younger crowd and was scheduled for a comfortable 10:00 AM. I hadn’t even thought about it after starting toward Marion but I got curious as I was about to select “Home” on the GPS, and tapped Boonshoft instead. When I did, I realized that, without the breakfast stop, I probably could have worked in both Chuck and Rosie. Since it made the time to home only slightly longer, I proceeded to the museum. The last load of attending school children were about to climb aboard their bus when I arrived. Rosie’s appearance had taken place more than forty minutes earlier but I coud see the official result. She agreed with Chuck.

Not many did. Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring as did all the other U.S. groundhogs on my short list consisting of Staten Island’s Charles G. Hogg, Illinois’ Woodstock Willie, and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee. The only groundhog of note that I found agreeing with Chuck and Rosie lives in Canada but not all Canadians are of the same mind, either. In Ontario, Wiarton Willie sided with the Ohio rodents in predicting more winter while Shubenacadie Sam claims an early spring is on the way in Nova Scotia.


imbolc2016As stated in last week’s post, I had no plans to be awake at 4:30 AM Thursday. That was when Imbolc, the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox, occurred this year. Neither did I have plans to assure that I was asleep at that time but that seemed the most likely and it is indeed what transpired. I didn’t miss it by too much, though. The picture at left was taken at 5:22, a mere fifty-two minutes past Imbolc. Admitedly I can’t prove it but I strongly suspect that the view from my bed was pretty much the same at the magic moment as it was less than an hour later.

Book Review
History of the Dixie Highway in Allen County, Ohio
Michael G. Buettner

hdhac_cvrI could have called this a pamphlet review. That’s technically what it is. Or, since one definition of pamphlet is “a small book”, I could have called this a small book review. I decided to leave the title be but, in line with the publication’s size, I’ll try to be brief and do a small small book review.

Michael Buettner is a past president of the Ohio Lincoln Highway League. He has written several articles on the Lincoln Highway and other historic roads. This pamphlet, which he wrote for the Allen County Historical Society, draws from his 2006 article In Search of…The Dixie Highway in Ohio but only slightly. In contains details, plus maps and photos, that do not appear in the earlier article. An increased level of detail comes rather natural when the focus is on a county rather than a state.

The first several pages provide some early Dixie Highway history as it relates to the full ten state system, to the state of Ohio, and to the route in Allen County. Instructions for two driving tours follow. Both originate in the county seat of Lima. The first goes north to the county line and the other goes south. Descriptions and photos of points of interest accompany the turn-by-turn instructions.

When the U.S. Numbered Highways came into being in 1926, Allen County’s share of the Dixie Highway was essentially absorbed by US 25. I-75 subsequently absorbed much of US 25 and replaced all of it. A series of maps helps describe this sequence.

History of the Dixie Highway in Allen County, Ohio, Michael G Buettner, Allen County Historical Society, November 2015, 8.5×5.5 inches, 40 pages, available for $6 at the Allen County Museum

Dancers and Prancers

lhp15_01The last time I was at a Lebanon, Ohio, horse parade was in 2011 and it was part of what I called a trifecta. On three consecutive weekends I attended horse parades in Greenville, Springfield, and Lebanon. This year Greenville held their 12th annual Hometown Holiday Horse Parade on November 21. I missed it. As happened in 2011, an open weekend separated the Greenville and Lebanon parades but I have found no evidence of Springfield filling it. The 2011 parade was their first and it may have been their last. Pictures in this post are from the 27th annual Lebanon Carriage Parade held yesterday, December 5.

lhp15_02lhp15_03Lebanon actually has two parades and a sizable street festival to go with them. The Red Hot Dancing Queens, who I’ve seen on a few other occasions, were part of the pre-parade entertainment. They are indeed red hot and seem to always have every bit of fun that the law allows.

lhp15_05lhp15_04Lebanon has both a daytime and nighttime parade. The nighttime parade, which was the one I attended in 2011, is harder to photograph but electric lights on the carriages and and horses do look cool. Obviously I attended the daytime parade this year and it’s just as obvious what is being celebrated.

lhp15_06lhp15_07lhp15_08I haven’t seen an official count but there must have been just about 100 entries. I recall seeing tags in the 90s with a few carriages behind them plus I spotted a pair of entries wearing A and B versions of the same number. There may have been more.

lhp15_11lhp15_10lhp15_09The posted photos show just a small fraction of the entries. There is absolutely nothing scientific about their selection. They are merely some that I like. Since I have no idea who any of these people are, I can’t really be accused of slighting anyone. Ignorance can be useful.

Book Review
Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio
Cyndie L. Gerken

mtmatnrto_cvrThat’s a pretty long book title. There’s a subtitle, too, which makes the whole thing Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio: A Survey of Old Stone Mile Markers on Ohio’s National Road. It’s long because it, just like the book it identifies, is accurate and precise. The book accurately and precisely locates the 175 mile markers originally set, as accurately and precisely as early nineteenth century technology and local politicians would allow, beside the Ohio portion of the very first federal highway. With all that accuracy and precision you might think this volume would be completely dry and boring but that’s not the case. Stories about the road, the countryside, and even the markers themselves lighten and soften things considerably. Color photos and maps make the book attractive.

Marking the Miles… opens with the full complement of preface, foreword, and introduction. The preface is written by Dean Ringle who, in addition to contributing much to this book, is a past president of the Ohio National Road Association (ONRA) and the current — and very active — chairman of its Mile Marker Committee. The foreword speaks of the book’s purpose and organization. The introduction is where, as wagon masters may have once said, the hoof meets the road.

The introduction is fifty pages long. It talks about mile markers in general, National Road markers in other states, and the Ohio markers as a group. It talks about differences in engraving styles and it points out some errors made when erasing a mistake might mean chiseling it out of the solid rock to create a clean surface. It provides a “where are they now” summary and discusses recent replacement programs. It tells of the incorporation of actual mile markers in a near future National Road exhibit at a Dayton Museum. And it covers much more in providing a solid background for looking at individual markers.

mtmatnrto_int1Seven of the ten Ohio counties through which the National Road passed are covered in individual chapters following the introduction. No markers were ever placed in the three westernmost counties on the route as federal funding ended near Springfield in Clark County. Each of these chapters begins with an overview of the county that includes a summary of how many original markers there were, how many remain at their original location, how many exist elsewhere, and how many are lost. Each marker is then addressed individually. With few exceptions there is at least one picture. If a given marker survives, a current photo is included and one or more historical photos are usually presented regardless of whether or not the marker is still around. Understandably, markings on many of the older stones are not exactly legible. Not to worry. Appendix B contains crisp drawings of the inscription of every marker. Markers can often be seen, accidentally perhaps, in old postcards and other photos and many of these appear in the book. Each marker’s history is given and stories about the marker or the area around it frequently add a little fun and background. Placed among the individual marker descriptions are sections of US Geological Survey 7.5 minute topographical maps showing the location of the markers three at a time. Other National Road related landmarks are often shown on the maps as well.

When the federal funding and mile marker placement stopped at Springfield, locally financed turnpikes filled the gap to the Indiana border. Known as the Dayton Cutoff, these turnpikes dipped south through Dayton and Eaton while the unimproved straight-line National Road languished. Mile markers on the eastern portion of the Cutoff mimicked those on the National Road to give the impression that the federal route went right through Dayton. Gerken includes a chapter on this and even provides location and other information about the markers.

Hard facts are without question the backbone of this book and numbers representing miles, dates, percentages and the like are plentiful. There are even several tables filled with numbers and bare facts which might justifiably be called dry. Some might also call them boring but not I. And not anyone else with a serious interest in the history of the National Road. At its most basic level, Marking the Miles… is a cataloging of every marker’s inscription, location, and fate. This is invaluable information not available anywhere else. Its usefulness to researchers is obvious but it is also of use to someone wondering about that old stone they drive by each day or the one they used to see near Granddad’s farm but which disappeared sometime in the past. Incidentally, some of those vanished markers are reappearing thanks to a grant program administered by that ONRA Mile Marker Committee I mentioned earlier.

mtmatnrto_int2Bringing all of this information together is clearly a major accomplishment but Gerken, a past ONRA president herself, says the information is only a portion of what she has collected on the National Road in Ohio. A well deserved breather follows wrapping up Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio. Nothing is currently scheduled or promised but the future could see a Gerken penned treatise on bridges or taverns or toll houses or something else. I certainly hope so. I like accuracy and precision and I also like anecdotes and insight. Marking the Miles… provides a pretty good mix.

Marking the Miles Along the National Road Through Ohio: A Survey of Old Stone Mile Markers on Ohio’s National Road, Cyndie L. Gerken, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, November 4, 2015, 11 x 8.5 inches, 338 pages, ISBN 978-1517317034