Cornfields and Marshmallows
Don Milne welcoming you back to our 3,517 mile journey from coast to coast on historic US-6. Yesterday, Roadtrip-'62 ™ traveled 91 miles from Sandusky, Ohio to Napoleon, Ohio. We began the first of many days driving through farm country, and once again we will not see any big cities today. We also won’t pass through much in the way of forests or natural areas, but we will find museums, architecture, and a few surprises. If you see anything you like, get yourself out on the road and enjoy it in person. I hope you’re having fun on this virtual roadtrip, I know I am, but 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. Time for me to grab the wheel and head west through rural Ohio!
Something I noticed is that northern Ohio counties love BIG courthouses. Back in Sandusky, they had an art deco style block that was four stories tall with a significant clock tower above it. In Fremont, their courthouse is not tall but looks imposing because it boasts 16 huge Greek columns across the front. Of course the massive courthouse we saw in Bowling Green yesterday has the second largest clock in the country on its tower! Here in Napoleon, the Henry County courthouse and clock are not so big but there is a gold-trimmed, 15-foot tall statue of Justice atop the courthouse that was literally the first thing I saw as I drove into town on BUS US-6 last night. We drive right past the front of this courthouse today and through the small downtown of old brick buildings. Toledo architect David Gibbs designed this and a number of other courthouses in Ohio including a near twin to this building in Union County. This brick and limestone building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and renovated in 1998.
Up ahead in Bryan, Ohio, another large courthouse with clock tower will loom before us. Their 1891 building is in the Richardsonian Romanesque style we saw yesterday in Bowling Green. Also as in that city, Bryan’s courthouse has as its crowning feature a 160-foot tall tower with a clock. Meanwhile, here in Napoleon, they have another institution over a century old, the Henry County Fair. The 2014 Henry County Fair will be their 161st year. The Fair also holds a parade in connection with the annual Tomato Festival, which is now 55 years old so we could have attended that in 1962. Both events are in early August, so you might want to stop by then.
As for today, I’m not finding anything from 1962 to do in town, so I guess it’s time to leave. The Henry County Historical Society maintains a historical museum in the Bloomfield House, but they only began work in 1970 and the house has only been open since about 2002. The North Country Trail, which we have crossed before, passes by town, but it’s also not old enough for our attention. It does have an interesting route though, as much of the trail through western Ohio uses the old canal towpath of the Miami and Erie Canal, including from here east along the Maumee River.
Leaving Napoleon, Ohio, we cross the first of many US numbered highways today. Highway US-24 runs from Clarkston, Michigan west to Minturn, Colorado, where we will see it again. US-24 used to run right through Napoleon, but now has a freeway bypass. Just out of town I found these neat corn storage silos, painted with the product name, TV Time Popcorn. They’re a leftover from an early brand of convenience popcorn you could buy in 1962, long before the days of microwave popcorn. TV Time Foods was based in Bremen, Indiana, which is further west on US-6. Their claim to fame was a two-part package that held popcorn and butter flavored salt in one side and coconut oil in the other. This allowed the buyer to have everything in a single package, but kept it fresh while on the shelf. They hit the market in the early 1950s, as television took America by storm and people wanted to enjoy movie-style popcorn at home. Some of their early advertising was of course on TV, on the Annie Oakley show from 1954-1957. The company overspent on advertising though, and went bankrupt three times. TV Time was finally sold to Great Western Products in 1992 and the brand was last available in 2002. Great Western still sells their own version of the product though, in the same Dual Pak pouch.
Downtown Bryan, Ohio sits about 2 miles north of US-6, but there is a lot of interesting stuff there, so let’s go. As we approach, we see that courthouse I mentioned. The first place I’m going is the Spangler Candy Factory. Spangler’s is now run by the third and fourth generations of the Spangler family, and began making candies in Bryan in 1908. Their first candy brand was the Spangler Cocoanut Ball. Today, they make Dum-Dums and Saf-T-Pops suckers, and circus peanuts here, all candy that we could have bought in 1962. Besides these products of their own, they license the Jelly Belly, Smarties, and Sweethearts brands for lollipop, marshmallow, and candy cane items. Candy canes are made at their Mexican factory. The fun thing here is that you can take a trolley tour through part of the factory. They also have a candy museum and of course, a store. My favorite Spangler candy is the Saf-T-Pop. Whenever I need a bit of sweet but don’t want the calories of a donut, that’s one of the candies I grab. This is a great chance to stock up on flavors I don’t normally find, like orange or the swirled flavors!
Bryan is also famous for another product that was rather new that year, the Etch-A-Sketch. Ohio Art moved to Bryan in 1912, first producing picture frames with false woodgrain lithographed on metal. They expanded to producing mostly metal toys for many years, similar to Marx toys. The basic idea for the Etch-A-Sketch was patented in France by André Cassagnes in 1957. In 1960 he worked with Jerry Burger, Chief Engineer at Ohio Art, to create the familiar two dial screen and the first one rolled off the Bryan, Ohio factory line on July 12, 1960. Since then, Etch-A-Sketches have been produced in a variety of colors, sizes, with licensed character artwork, and even an electronic version. The company has not abandoned its roots though, and is one of the leading metal lithographers in the world, producing specialty packaging and containers. I don’t believe they have factory tours, though.
If you come to Bryan in August, you might find some 1962 artifacts in the World's Longest Yard Sale. This event is held on highway US-127, was established in 1987, and now runs for 690 miles along the route. Highway US-127 itself goes even farther, from Grayling, Michigan to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Unlike many US numbered routes that have been shortened due to interstate highways taking over their routes, US-127 was significantly lengthened in 2002 by Michigan, so that US-27 would not need to run together with interstate highways. If you come on a Thursday nights during the summer, you can watch cars from 1962 and more at the Bryan “Cruise-In”. The vintage car owners parade their cars around the public square and tell tales of road adventures.
Heading west back to US-6, we pass Bryan Lanes, a bowling center that has been here since the early 1950s. Perhaps these small bowling lanes were popular in this part of the country back then, because there is another one just up the road at Butler, Indiana. I’m not stopping at either one today for a quick game, though. Leaving town, I just realized that sometimes you just can’t plan a roadtrip as well as you want. You may remember that I had difficulty finding a good, old motel last night, but here’s the Plaza Motel looking very well kept. It’s been here since 1957 and is even AAA listed. And just down the street is the Four Seasons Diner. Before being sold in 2011, it was known as Lester's Diner and is rumored to be the inspiration for the TV show "Mel's Diner", especially the giant coffee cup sign. Even though it’s only been here since 1965, that’s close enough. You may have noticed that I skipped breakfast this morning; that’s because I’m having brunch today.
After brunch, our last stop as we leave Bryan is in case you didn’t buy enough sweets at Spangler’s. You can stock up on caramel corn at Pence's Carmel Corn Shoppe just as we leave town. Pence's has been traveling to fairs and festivals from their Bryan location since 1900 and now they have a shop here. They offer carmel corn, peanut carmel corn, kettle corn, chocolate carmel corn, fresh buttered popcorn, cheese popcorn and more. I wonder if their popcorn tins are printed at Ohio Art?
Our last town in Ohio is Edgerton. Just a small town, the most interesting thing I saw was a pleasant park alongside the railroad in midtown. It includes the Civil War monument shown above and would be a nice place for a picnic. At the west edge of town we pass a farm equipment dealership, which is typical of small towns throughout the midwest. Also typical back in 1962 would have been Burma-Shave signs. As with northern Ohio, northern Indiana’s countryside is filled with cornfields and family farms. This type of highway is where I remember seeing the signs when I was a kid. Burma-Shave was a shaving cream that advertised with small red-and-white signs along roadsides, arranged so that they presented a poem as you drove past them. It’s estimated that at their peak, there were over 7,000 sets of signs along America’s highways. They worked well at the lower highway speeds of the day but were really too small to read when you started driving past at 55mph or more. Sales had started declining in the 1950s, the company was sold in 1963, and the signs removed by 1966. We would have seen the end of an era. Today, you can find some of the signs in museums, such as the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
After passing an old concrete marker at the state line, the first city across the border is Butler, Indiana, another very small settlement that we quickly pass through. A mere eight minutes later we arrive in the slightly larger Waterloo, Indiana. Here we cross US-27, which currently travels from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Miami, Florida. Back in 1962, it extended north to meet our US-23 roadtrip at Mackinaw City, Michigan. It was shortened when US-127 was lengthened, as previously discussed. Waterloo has a historic train depot located in Francis Thomson Memorial Park that we would have used in 1962. For awhile, it looked like we would be able to use it once again for Amtrak trains. In 2005, Amtrak and the city discussed improvements to the building so it could replace the open-air structure then used by the 20,000 train passengers that stop in Waterloo each year. A Federal grant was received in 2010 to perform restoration, but the Town Manager notes that various issues have resulted in a change of plans and a new building is now expected to be constructed next year. The fate of the old depot is now unknown.
Kendallville, Indiana is the next city up the road and is larger because it has real industry. Several companies have over 200 employees each, including auto parts plants, a packaging plant that produces cereal boxes, a producer of paint samples (well, somebody has to make those), and a textbook publisher. I don’t know how many of these were here in 1962, but the largest employer was: Kraft Foods. Kendallville is the home of Kraft Caramels and marshmallows of every kind. Production of caramel base began in 1935 in what had been a creamery producing Kraft cheese. The next year, the wrapping machines were moved from Freeport, Illinois and Kendallville has been the home of Kraft Caramels ever since. Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows and marshmallow creme were first made here in 1961, peanut brittle in 1962, and marshmallow bits for cereals in 1963. Kraft sold the plant in 1995 to Favorite Brands, who bought the rival Kidd & Co. marshmallow company in nearby Ligonier, Indiana two years later. The company closed the Ligonier plant and since then, Kendallville has been the world's largest producer of marshmallows. Through the strange workings of corporate finance, Favorite Brands was bought by Nabisco in 1999 and in 2000 Nabisco merged with Kraft, bringing the Kraft name back to town.
Let’s find something to do in town. I think the Mid-America Windmill Museum is a good first stop. Even though the museum wasn’t here in 1962, the windmills it displays were, spread around the farm countryside. The purpose of farm windmills was to drive a pump to provide water from a well. They were easy to maintain and beat the heck out of alternatives like hauling up water by a bucket and rope. After all, a 16-foot diameter wind pump can lift up to 1600 gallons of water per hour about 100 feet high if there is a wind of 15-20 mph. They were especially useful before the 1930s, when rural areas were finally electrified, but some windmills persisted in use much later and we may have seen occasional working ones in 1962. Most that we see today are non-working, broken relics, though it’s estimated that there may still be about 60,000 working windmills spread around the country. The over 50 examples at the museum span a wide range of years and models and include many manufactured at Kendallville’s Flint and Walling Company. Flint and Walling was still building and selling windmills until 1954.
Kendallville also has one of the best main street groupings of historical commercial buildings I have ever seen. Most of the architecture is from the 1880-1910 period, though you can find others. There are ornate cornices, unusual window trims, amazing brickwork, turrets, stairways, and more to see. Among all this, you can also spot some 1950s-1960s details like plate glass storefronts. Among the later is Weible’s Paint and Wallpaper. This Benjamin Moore Paints dealer was established in 1954 and the storefront looks the part. My dad used a lot of this brand of paint in the 1960s when building homes. It’s well worth a walk around downtown and the Kendallville Heritage Association has a walking tour brochure to help you do so.
Back on US-6, we head west through more farm fields and small hamlets like Brimfield and Wawaka, Indiana. Brimfield is home to Frick Lumber Company, which has been producing kiln dried hardwood lumber since 1924, though I don’t know how they do it as I don’t see any forests in the area. Wawaka has something for highway historians (or road geeks, as I have seen them called). About three miles west are the remains of some brick pavement for US-6. These brick pavements were common in Indiana in the 1910s and 1920s. Most, like this section, are out of service today, but are an interesting bit of history because they are still in reasonable condition if you kill the weeds.
We reach the next larger city at Ligonier, Indiana. As Kendallville is now, Ligonier used to be a marshmallow city. It was the home of Kidd’s Marshmallows, still made in 1962 but later bought out by Famous Brands and closed when they consolidated production in the other city. If we had visited back then, you could get a self-guided tour and see the whole marshmallow production process. At the end of the tour, you even received a bag of mini marshmallows! Ligonier keeps its heritage alive today with a Kidd’s mural on the side on a downtown building, and the annual Ligonier Marshmallow Festival. The festival is now 62 years old and has gone through several name changes, most recently Strawberry Valley Days before 1992. As with most small town festivals, it includes parades, fireworks, and a carnival. The murals of local historic scenes are a recent addition to town and decorate about 30 buildings. Some include a 3D effect by using cutout figures.
Ligonier has a couple of museums, but I cannot find any information on whether they were here in 1962. The Ligonier Visitors Center is at the south end of town, in a 1920s filling station building. It houses a variety of local artifacts and some antique radios. Perhaps this was an operating station in 1962: it’s usually hard to find gas stations from 1962 that are still open today. The other musuem is the former synagogue Ahavas Sholom. It was built in 1889 as there was a large Jewish population in the area then and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It may still have been an operating temple back in 1962. One place that certainly was open back then and still is now is Creps Quality Bakery, which has been downtown since 1925. Time for me to buy a couple of donuts!
In addition to the historical anomaly of a large Jewish population in the Indiana farm country, there is another unusual population pattern today. Driving around town I found a lot of Spanish language only signing and census data shows over 50% Hispanic population. It might be an interesting study to see how and when this came about. But we won’t make that study today: it’s time to continue west. We meet another US numbered highway at the south edge of Ligonier. Highway US-33 joins us and we travel 5 miles west together, but it was on a separate road in 1962. The route is unusual among the US numbered roads, because although it should be signed as north–south like other odd-numbered routes, it is instead signed east–west nearly the whole length except here in Indiana. On its journey from Elkhart, Indiana to Richmond, Virginia, it crosses our US-23 roadtrip at Columbus, Ohio. The northern end used to be in St. Joseph, Michigan.
We’re ending today’s trip at Nappanee, Indiana. A good place to go first, before it closes for the day, is Amish Acres. This tourist attraction was created from an 80 acre Old Order Amish farm. Though the farm was only opened to the public in 1970, the culture it highlights has not changed since 1962, nor much in the past 200 years. Visitors can see exhibits of tools and other artifacts of yesteryear, view documentary films, and visit the several buildings of the 138-year old Amish homestead. You can also take a farm wagon ride around the farm and experience some of the sights and sounds of a working farm. To get an appreciation for the Amish you have seen while driving along US-6, you can also take a horse and buggy ride. After I see the grounds and buildings, I’m going to enjoy a hearty Amish style dinner. You can take your pick of family style dining around the big table or have dinner served at your own table, both in the Restaurant Barn. I imagine you could have found similar fare at some local restaurant back in 1962.
After dinner, you could do some shopping while still at Amish Acres. Maybe buy a quilt, a pie, or some jam. After that, I’m going to wander around Nappanee. One thing you’ll notice are the Amish buggies parked at hitching posts all around town. The area is home to more than 3,500 Old Order Amish. They began settling in Elkhart County and nearby counties around 1850 and Nappanee is the largest trading center. The most interesting place to stop this evening is Coppes Commons. It’s now a shopping center but was originally the factory for Coppes Cabinets, the company that produced the famous Hoosier Cabinet. These cabinets were produced here from 1905 through at least the 1940s, being mostly replaced then by modern style built-in kitchen cabinets which were also made here. If we stopped by in 1962 we would have seen the Coppes Kitchens in modern styles, as ordered by Frank Sinatra and President John F. Kennedy. The company went bankrupt in the 1990s. We mostly see their Hoosier Cabinets as antiques: the trademark “Napanee Dutch Kitchenet” marks them as authentic.
I’m staying tonight at the Shamrock Inn Motel, where a contact of mine has stayed. The motel now has two buildings, with one the original old building we might have stayed at in 1962 and the other a newer building. I guess it will depend on just how old school I wish to be tonight. So let’s end the day by reviewing the classic cars back in downtown Kendallville. Must be some 62s in there somewhere! See you tomorrow for the rest of Indiana on Roadtrip-'62 ™ .
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2014 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
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