US-223 - A Complete Roadtrip on One Page
Time for a short Roadtrip-'62 ™ journey today, on highway US-223. This offshoot of US-23 ran just 56 miles from near Somerset, Michigan to Toledo, Ohio in 1962. At Toledo, it connected to US-23. In 1977 and 1985, it was rerouted at the south, becoming only 46 miles long and ending at Sylvania, Ohio instead of Toledo. Despite it being a short route, it has one alternate, a business loop in Adrian, Michigan. Plans have been around since 1969 to rebuild the highway as a freeway, but little has happened yet. A review of maps of Michigan and Ohio shows that there is no interstate freeway between the capitals of Lansing and Columbus. This is one of very few inter-capital routes without a freeway connection. Congress apparently thought this was a deficiency, as they have designated this corridor, including US-223, as part of future I-73. But the two states do not seem to have a problem with the status quo, as neither state intends to upgrade the roads to freeways anytime soon.
So, what’s along this short route? Somerset is barely a settlement, so there is not much here. Under the man-made Lake Somerset though, twenty feet under water divers can find an old railroad bridge that is reputed to be an excellent fishing spot. Other than man-made lakes, we will pass through farmland and former farmland gone back to forests on our way southeast. The next settlement down the road is Rome Center, where there was a roadside rest area in 1962 with an artesian-fed fountain that has existed for at least 100 years. The roadside rest is gone and the spring may have been capped off a few years ago, due to water quality concerns. Springs Party Store is now at the site.
At Adrian, we have the choice of bypassing town or continuing into the city on the US-223 business route. In town, we could see a performance at The Croswell Opera House, which has been a center for arts and culture since 1866. It is the oldest theater in Michigan and one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the United States. In 1962, it was operating as a movie theater, which it had been converted to by the 1920s. But by 1967, movie audiences were declining, the building was deteriorating, and the building’s existence seemed doubtful. However, as we have seen in many cities on our roadtrips, a group of civic-minded citizens banded together, purchased the building and restored it to its original 19th-century grandeur, and revived the Croswell as a home for live theater. Today, we could see Broadway plays, music, comedy, and other live acts.
Though Adrian is a small town, it is home to three colleges or universities in the city, namely Adrian College (affiliated with the United Methodist Church), Siena Heights University (a Roman Catholic university), and Jackson College (the county public community college). The former Adrian Library is now home to the Lenawee County Historical Museum. The Lenawee County Historical Society began in 1868 in nearby Tecumseh and the organization has changed names over the years and merged with other historical societies. We could not have seen the museum in 1962, because it did not open until 1972
After Adrian, there is another fading farm settlement at Palmyra. Next, we pass through Blissfield, Michigan. Here, the old railroad, now known as the Adrian and Blissfield, still runs freight from the grain elevator. Since 1991, a tourist passenger train has operated between here and Lenawee Junction, just north of Palmyra. The Blissfield Train travels part of the original Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad that began operating in 1836, making this one of the first railroads west of the Allegheny Mountains. One of the local industries, Blissfield Manufacturing Company, has been here since 1949 and is now a world leader in manufacturing of heat exchangers, fluid coolers and gas coolers.
In 1962, we would have headed south through another farm settlement at Ottawa Lake, Michigan, but now we head east to the US-23 freeway. Then, we use that to go south to our end in Sylvania. I covered history and attractions of both Sylvania and Toledo on Day 6 of our US-23 roadtrip, so I won’t repeat here. Suffice to say that after Sylvania, US-223 used to run to downtown Toledo on Monroe Street, where it connected to US-23. Instead, let’s look at a few remaining older motels along the west side bypass of Toledo. While US-223 and other highways still went downtown, highways US-20, US-23, US-24, and US-25 also had a bypass around the north and west side of town, near the line of the present day I-475 freeway. On the north side, this road is now OH-184.
Since we’re at the end of our little US-223 trip, let’s look at a few old motels along the old bypass, which began on the north side of Toledo, where highways US-25 and US-24 entered Ohio from Michigan. Our first old motel on the Toledo outskirts is Traveler’s Rest Motel. It is very close to the beginning of the bypass, on US-24. I acquired the postcard below in 1970, but it dates from 1962 or earlier because the address on the back is pre-zip code. (Zip codes began in 1963, so 1962 was the last year without them.) The two-tone vehicle in the parking lot also places it in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The sender noted a private “garage” for each room, which appears to be a carport between rooms. The motel has since been renamed the Raceway Motel, but little else has changed. Up to a few years ago, even the tree in the center court was there, but about 50 years bigger! It was removed recently. Just a couple of properties south is the Sunset Motel, which used to have colonial style cupolas on top and what appears to be white siding. It’s now painted a garish yellow and red combination. And the Southern Motor Lodge Motel, once within sight of the Sunset Motel, is not gone.
Besides some motels near the beginning of the bypass, there were a number along the northern leg, Alexis Road. The Toledo Motel was near the beginning of the bypass but has been replaced by a shopping center. The Crown Motel is still in business, with the name slightly changed to Crown Inn Motel. And the Alexis Motel is also still open, though it’s so small I can’t see how they stay in business! Turning south onto Reynolds Road, which is US-20 today, we pass the Lighthouse Motel. This is still open and repainted a rather nice pink. The Bel-Air Motel is also open, though the mid-century modern, concrete screening block wall by the office has been removed. And finally, the Holiday Inn is closed. However, the buildings are still here, converted to the Genesis Village senior living center. Hope you find someplace comfortable to stay tonight. Roadtrip-'62 ™ may learn more about Holiday Inns for an upcoming installment of this column!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
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