All Around Columbus, Ohio
Don Milne here again, your ROADTRIP-'62 ™ traveler. We’re seven days into the first of our travel routes, heading south on US-23. We’re at Delaware, Ohio and it’s time to go again, using the roads of 1962. Today we hit our biggest city yet, and when we leave we won’t see any city that size for weeks. I’m talking about our first stop today, Columbus, Ohio. In fact, the Columbus area has so much to do that we won’t get any farther than that today. I’m doing the driving on this virtual roadtrip, but if you see anything you like, I encourage you to get out on the road and enjoy it in person. And, as always, though this virtual roadtrip may be fun, there's nothing like the real thing! At any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Now, let’s buckle up and go!
Even though I said our first stop will be Columbus, if you didn’t get enough underground travel yesterday you could visit Olentangy Indian Caverns. It’s located down Ohio-315 or turn right on Home Road as we head south. Artifacts found here indicate the caverns were used by the Wyandot Indians until around 1810. Some of these are on display in the gift shop. But, Columbus has so much to do we could stay for a week, so I’ll skip the caverns. I’m going to try to get to the other side of town in one day, so we can only choose a few things to see. Our choices for lunch and dinner will also be numerous, as there are quite a few old places left in a city of that size. But for breakfast, we’re still in Delaware, so let’s go back downtown past all the new fast-food places. I’m trying the Hamburger Inn for some eggs and hash browns. And, I’ve heard they make the best fried cinnamon rolls you will ever eat.
Just five miles west of US-23 (right at our limit) is the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Adjacent to it is the former Wyandot Lake Amusement Park, which has some rides dating from 1956, including the roller coaster "Sea Dragon." That park was sold to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium by Six Flags in 2006, and was closed for renovations during 2007. Now, in the remaned Zoombezi Bay park, the Sea Dragon is the only ride that remains from Wyandot Lake. The 1914 Mangles-Illians carousel, which moved there from Olentangy Park, an earlier amusement park farther south on High St (US-23), was restored in 1999 and is now also at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, in a climate controlled home. If I went to the zoo, I would use half the day, so I’m not going this time. But I do recommend it if you have the time. If you did both the zoo and Zoombezi Bay waterpark, this would actually make a great all-day stop if you didn’t want to go anywhere else. The zoo’s gorillas are a highlight, and have been since at least 1956. In that year Colo was born, the first gorilla born in captivity. So in 1962 or today, we could see a world class gorilla exhibit.
Even though I'm not going to the amusement park, it's reminded me of a fun song from 1962 that conjures up all the fun of the rides: Palisades Park by Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon..New Jersey's Palisades Park, which once rivaled Coney Island, was made famous nationwide by two things: the song and Superman. The song is perfect for an amusement park, as it just blasts along like a roller coaster. It was written by Chuck Barris, who would later become famous for producing TV game shows including The Gong Show. The song went to #3 on the Billboard music chart and is still popular enough that you can view a video of one of Freddy Cannon’s performances on YouTube. As for the Superman connection, Palisades Park had a Superman ride. And they advertised in many Superman comic books of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I have several in my collection with a coupon that ran for years, for discounts on various rides. Palisades Park is now all gone, but the rides at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium still conjure up the memories. Let's listen along to 1962.
The next stop would have been in a suburb of Columbus, Worthington, Ohio. A left turn on Ohio-161 and another left about a mile west brings us to the Ohio Railway Museum. The museum was founded in 1948, and is one of the oldest railway museums in America, so we could have stopped here in 1962. And we're in luck: while they were recently closed for a couple of years, they re-opened in 2011! They began with Ohio Public Service Interurban Car #21, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and have just kept adding old interurban cars and many other pieces of history. The focus is on these old cars and you can take a 1-mile ride on one of the trolleys, which I highly recommend. After all, how many interurban rail cars have you ridden in? Some of the other things to see are steam engines and even Lego trains! You can also learn more about the interurban railroads of mid-Ohio at Alex Campbell's Columbus Railroads website.
I know that when we were back in Milan, Michigan I mentioned that few industries give factory tours any more, but there’s one in Worthington. The American Whistle Company is this country’s only metal whistle factory. It was founded in 1956 as Colsoff Manufacturing, so it was here in 1962. Today, most of their whistles are used for directing traffic, refereeing youth sports, by public pool life guards, and in recent years, provided to school students and neighborhood watch groups for emergency warning use. They are all solid brass, come in one size only, and can be engraved with company logos. American Whistle is a small factory, only 4,000-square-feet, but you can tour it and see the brass cutting machines, the 39-ton press for customized engraving, and more.
One of my favorite places in Columbus is the Columbus Park of Roses, in Whetstone Park. This is an absolutely beautiful garden, with over 11,000 bushes showing off over 350 different varieties of very well cared for roses. All summer long, there are blooms of all colors, scents and sizes, on bushes of all heights. It includes a separate Heritage Garden of older roses, which are seldom grown today. This Heritage Garden has rose varieties as old as 1550, many from the 1800’s and some from the 1950’s that are out of favor. There is also a nice collection of hostas and other flowers, and a special blast of color in April, when the Daffodil Garden is in bloom. The Columbus Rose Festival is also held here in June each year, during peak viewing time for the roses. Most roses are tagged, so you can make notes on what you want to buy from your local nurseries to enrich your own garden. The garden has free admission and free parking, so you can’t beat it. Linger and wander around, because it not only looks great, it smells great!
I think we have time for one more stop before lunch, and in keeping with the floral theme we’re stopping at Franklin Park Conservatory. The main glass structure was built in 1895, in the style of London’s Crystal Palace. It was almost doubled in size by a 1992 addition and now has 6 very different rooms including tropical, desert, and Pacific island room, and 2 outdoor courtyards. The Himalayan Mountain Collection has jasmine, clematis and a grotto pool complete with fish. This whole building is like walking around the world: the Tropical Rain Forest Collection is home to showy orchids, mahogany and chocolate trees and you may see a Macaw or turtle. The Palm House contains over 40 species of palms, with one over 90 years old, just like the building. The conservatory is in Franklin Park, about 2 miles east of downtown along US-40 and US-62, and surrounded by 90 acres of outdoor botanical gardens and green space including the Grand Mall Way and sculptures. This is another place I come back to again and again, as my wife and I find walking through gardens very relaxing. And in recent years they have added something you could not have seen in 1962: a spectacular display of Chihuly glass sculptures.
Like the University of Michigan back in Ann Arbor, Ohio State University has a lot to see. However, most of it is too new for our trip. The Hopkins Hall Gallery is another art museum, but the Art Department at the university was only formed in 1968. The Wexner Center For The Arts only dates from 1989, and the Chadwick Arboretum opened in 1981. We could see the Snowden Galleries, part of the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection. This museum has the unusual mission of collecting and preserving textile and apparel culture. It contains over 11,000 item such as textiles and articles of clothing, including national dress costumes from the mid-18th century to current designers. They also have related items such as period fashion magazines, so there’s sure to be something from 1962 here. But as we’re pressed for time, I’ll just note a couple of famous 1962 graduates of the university. Both Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of FOX News, and Bobby Knight, basketball coach of several NBA and college teams, are alumni.
And for lunch, another of my favorite places: Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in the German Village. Now I know some of you want to stop at Wendy’s, after all Columbus is where the first Wendy’s opened. But it came too late for us as it started in 1969. So we’re going to someplace older, in a neighborhood that is older still. We cross US-23 and head south on Third Street, and about five blocks south of the freeway and US-33 we pass The Book Loft. You can drive from here to Schmidt’s, or you can walk. I like to park near The Book Loft because the parking is easier and the walk to Schmidt’s is scenic. It’s only nine blocks, and they are all short. The quaint brick houses and streets are well worth the walk to see: walking past the small buildings with their small gardens built right up to the sidewalk, it feels like the old world European cities. Some of the buildings remind me of row houses in London, and some are reminiscent of Seville, Spain with its front door courtyards in the old part of town. The whole area was built between 1840 and 1918, and was neglected for many years afterward, so very little demolition has occurred. It has now become a neighborhood of very expensive, historically restored homes.
No matter how you decide to get to Schmidt’s, find your way to Kossuth Street. Parking is tight here, but there are two adjacent parking lots. Schmidt’s has some great German dishes, and their own beer. And even if you don’t eat lunch here (there are several other good restaurants in the German Village area), you should at least buy a cream puff. They are overstuffed beauties, and I heartily recommend the peanut butter fudge puffs! These giant cream puffs have been rated the "Best of Ohio" in the dessert category by the Food Network. They will even keep in your cooler in the trunk until you need a snack at your motel.
The walk back to the car is short but useful to burn off a few calories. Try a few different streets for fun, and you’ll soon be back at The Book Loft. If you like books, this is one of the more unusual bookstores you’ll ever find. Instead of the warehouses we’re used to shopping in, this store is 32 separate rooms within 2 two-story buildings dating from 1863. I’m not sure how long the store has been here. Some of the rooms are no bigger than closets. Each room is themed so that you can conveniently find your favorite subjects. And each room has different music playing, so it feels like you’ve entered different stores. The unusual layout of the two stories adds to the fun: you can almost get lost in here! I nearly always stop on my way through Columbus. Let’s look for a history of amusement parks today.
To fill the remainder of the afternoon, we’re going to the Columbus Museum of Art and the State Capitol; they’re just four blocks apart in downtown. First, the Ohio State Capitol. This is one of two capitol cities we’ll pass through on US-23; the other is Atlanta, Georgia. Like many state capitols, the Statehouse is built in the Greek Revival style. This design, based on the buildings of ancient Greece, was very popular in the U.S. in the early and mid-1800s. It differs from many other capitols however, because instead of a dome at the top it uses a round tower. The building took 22 years to construct, and is built of local limestone. It was opened to the public in 1861, just over 100 years before our trip. It’s hard to say what condition the building would have been in 1962, because by 1989 it was in a state of disrepair and suffered from poor internal remodeling. It had lost so much of its original architectural integrity that some parts had seven stories cobbled up instead of the original three. What we see today is the result of a complete renovation made during 1996, including replanting of the grounds to replace dead trees.
While we’re downtown, we cross three more US-numbered routes. US-33 is labeled east-west throughout its route except in Indiana, even though the odd numbered routes are intended to be labeled north-south. Back in 1962, US-40 crossed the country from Atlantic to Pacific, though it’s been shortened on the west end all the way back to about 50 miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah. It began in the east on the alignment of the National Road, which started in 1806 as the first federally funded highway construction project. And finally, US-62 also runs though downtown Columbus on it’s way between El Paso, Texas and Niagara Falls, New York.
But before we leave downtown, let’s see the Columbus Museum of Art. It houses an outstanding collection of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century American and European modern art. The collection includes works by Monet (one of my wife’s favorites), Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Hopper (one of my favorites) and O'Keeffe. It has examples of Impressionism, German Expressionism, and Cubism and houses the world's largest group of works by Columbus native George Bellows, who is often regarded as the finest American artist of his generation. Here’s a new wrinkle for an art museum though: use your cell phone to learn more about the art. They have a system called Guide by Cell, where you dial a phone number and then type the code that appears next to a piece of art to learn more about it. That feature did not exist in 1962, because cell phones did not exist then. But not only was the museum itself here in 1962, most of the art on display, except for any special exhibitions, is older than that. Before we leave, the sculpture garden is a nice conclusion.
If you wanted to cheat just a bit, you could substitute the COSI for the Museum of Art. COSI is a science museum with all kinds of fun, and big, exhibits oriented to for the kids in your car. It has dinosaurs, a giant maze, a 3D theatre, and gadgets galore. The museum is right in downtown, just across the river from the Statehouse. The reason I said it’s cheating is that it opened in 1964, but planning began in 1957. Funds were allocated in 1962 though, and construction construction began then in a previous building. The current COSI is in an all new building, so it definitely is cheating. But if you want something different than another art museum, squeeze it in.
And the day is almost over, just that fast. Time to grab a motel and dinner, and one last outing. There are only a couple of older motels along US-23 as it heads out of town to the south. You may find a comfortable one, but why try when we have a wonderful old hotel right downtown? The Westin is the former Great Southern Hotel, which opened in 1897, so it was surely available back in 1962. This fine example of French Renaissance architecture still has the marble in the lobby and spacious rooms, so enjoy. For the evening’s entertainment we have the South Drive-In, here since 1955 and now the only drive-in theatre in the greater Columbus area, right here on US-23. Or, we could try the Columbus Motor Speedway, here since about 1958 and about 5 miles east. But since we’ve already been to a drive-in and an auto racing track, I’m going to see some horse racing. Beulah Park, founded in 1923, was the first Thoroughbred racetrack in Ohio. However, Scioto Downs beckons, just 2 miles south of the ring freeway and right on US-23. It’s a 5/8 mile track for harness racing that’s been here for over 50 years. Besides the excitement of live racing in season, you can also watch and bet on simulcast races year-round. Because we’re running late, I’m going to eat at one of their three restaurants. There is a glass-enclosed, multi-tiered restaurant for a finer dining experience while watching the races, or the theater-style, 3,500 seat Grandstand, where I could try some of the numerous food stands for dinner. But I’m going outdoors on the Patio where I’ll be as close to the action as you can get without climbing onto the track. Wish me luck! I’ll wish you a good night and see you in the morning on ROADTRIP-'62 ™ .
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.