Thursday, May 31, 2012

Travelling the Old Roads of Ohio

This is a long overdue update for my blog.

 

I’ve been meaning to take some day trips out from Columbus (geographically, near the center of Ohio) to visit some museums and historic sites in the region. When the weather first turned fair after our short winter this year, I set out to find a few such sites by following General Harrison’s military road. One of these roads runs roughly north from Columbus. I followed State Route 23 through Delaware and Upper Sandusky, and then turned onto Route 53 through Tiffin, Fort Seneca, Old Fort, and finally Fremont.

This route corresponds to one of the military roads that General Harrison built in 1812-13 to supply his forces. 200 years ago Delaware was a small settlement, astride the upper Whetstone (Olantangy) River. Upper Sandusky became the army’s main depot. The friendly Wyandot Indians here supported the United States during the war, and were rewarded by the construction of a grist mill—there is still an old water-powered mill on the site.

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A scaled down “blockhouse” on the site of Fort Seneca in Old Fort, Ohio.

Tiffin did not exist but a small post called Fort Ball (after James V. Ball of the US Dragoons) was built there to protect the supply convoys. Fort Seneca is a small town that was founded sometime during the 19th century—its neighbor to the north, the even smaller hamlet of Old Fort, Ohio, was the actual site of Fort Seneca. During the late summer of 1813, this was the site of Harrison’s main encampment. Route 53 north of Tiffin runs along the Sandusky River, which eventually empties into a wide muddy bay at the lakeshore. A few miles north, in Fremont Ohio (then called Lower Sandusky), Fort Stephenson was built to guard the fords of the Sandusky, near the highest point that sailing vessels could ascend the river from the lake.

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Old Betsy: the iron six pounder with which Major George Croghan defended Fort Stephenson against a British attack in 1813.

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The sidewalk here is roughly the same place where Lt. Colonel W.C. Shorrt led the grenadier company of the British  41st Regiment into the ditch surrounding the Fort Stephenson. Croghan used a six pounder loaded with canister or case shot to sweep the ditch, killing the Colonel and many of his men. See an earlier blog entry about the battle.

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The site of the fort itself is now a public library.

 

The history along these roads is commemorated by roadside plaques and the names that christen businesses and streets. Tiffin is home to a large Civil War museum (http://www.acwmo.org/). Fremont is the site of President Rutherford B. Hays’ estate, and presidential library (http://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/). Deep within the Hays museum there are actually some artifacts from the War of 1812, including a bronze six-pounder that was originally captured from the British during the Revolution—then changed hands when Detroit was captured and retaken during the war. There’s even a small chance that General Henry Procter brought this same piece with him to bombard Fort Stephenson during the August 1813 siege.

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The old six pounder—a prize of both the Revolution and the War of 1812.

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A DC-3 at the airstrip along Route 53, south of Fremont.

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The Hayes museum also contains many relics of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China, captured or looted from Tianjin or Beijing. This bronze cannon is engraved with Mongolian characters.

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“Peace and Friendship” an Indian medal exhibited with the Thomas Jefferson artifacts in the Presidential Library. Jefferson sought to create an “empire of liberty” at the expense of tribes who refused to adopt the agrarian lifestyle of the whites. Even tribes that did, like the Wyandots at Upper Sandusky, were later forced to move during the Jackson administration.

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The Indian Mill near Upper Sandusky. A gift to the Wyandots after the War of 1812, the mill went into private hands after the tribe was forced to relocate beyond the Mississippi during the 1830s. The existing structure dates from later in the 19th century.

One of the artifacts in the Hayes Museum was a silver Indian medal signifying one of the treaties between the United States and the American Indian nations during the Jefferson Administration. It brought me full circle, having passed the site of the Wyandot Reservation in Upper Sandusky and the Seneca Town where Harrison established his fort—two groups of friendly Indians who disappeared from Ohio during the 19th Century.