Courtesy Columbus Dispatch and Columbus Monthly, c. 1984, author listed at bottom
Scanned by Sandor Gulyas

Note: The chapter of the Ohio Revised Code mentioned below regarding honorary names is 5533 (part of Title 55) and can be accessed here.

While Columbus city officials debated whether to name a street or highway or something else for the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., one factor was overlooked.

It is a grand gesture to name a highway for a famous person or an outstanding organization, but - in Ohio at least - it has proved to be a sure road to oblivion.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, the Ohio General Assembly and the director of the Department of Transportation are the only two areas of officialdom with power to designate memorial highways. Since 1930, they have given 46 names to state routes and interstate highways. Many names were granted upon requests from citizens or civic organizations.

But how many can you remember? Probably only one. Well, if you're a James Rhodes fan, two.

Many Franklin Countians know I-270 as the Jack Nicklaus Freeway. The 50-mile Outerbelt was named for Nicklaus by former ODOT Director David L. Weiron May 1, 1981. The idea had been proposed by then-Gov. James A. Rhodes, who wanted the legislature to pass a bill bestowing the honor on the famous golfer to coincide with Jack Nicklaus Day, Aug. 4, 1980. The legislation, however, never was introduced, although four freeway signs were made at $105 each and the county designated I-270 as such on official maps, causing much embarrassment.

There also was debate among citizens and in the media about whether such a designation was appropriate. It spurred the late Dispatch columnist Tom Fennessy to write, "Columbus only has one Outerbelt, and it seems a shame to give the whole thing to one man, no matter how far he can drive the ball."

Weir came to the governor's rescue, though, and made the designation. Shortly thereafter, Nicklaus' son Steven, 18, was arrested on the freeway after wrecking his car. He forfeited $100 on a charge of reckless operation.

Another memorial highway still remembered is the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway, which is a misnomer, because four highways are involved: Routes 32, 124, 346 and 50. It was designated by the General Assembly in 1968. But this memorialization is not without woes. By 1975, most of the historical-style markers placed along the highway to honor Rhodes were snatched up or destroyed by vandals.

Here's one: For what is Route 40 remembered? Ten to one says you'll say The Old National Road. Ten to one also says you are wrong.

Although the road, stretching from Maryland to California, generally is called The Old National Road, Ohio calls it the Blue Star Highway. The State Highway Department made the designation in 1948 upon a request by the Garden Club of Ohio, a member of the National Council of State Garden Clubs. According to a Dispatch clipping, "The memorial is the plan of the (clubs) to create a living tribute to the men and women of America who served in the Armed Forces during World War II."

Former governors, military heroes, veterans and 'veterans' mothers are favorite highway designations. Most of the naming was done in the '40s and '60s.

There's the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, Rt. 6, for Civil War veterans. There's the General McPherson Highway, Rt. 20, for James B. McPherson, a Civil War hero from Clyde, Ohio.

Rt. 23 is the United Spanish War Veterans Memorial Highway. A section from Wyandot to Scioto counties, including Columbus, is called The Scioto Trail.

Rt. 3 - the 3-C Highway connecting Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati -was designated the 37th Division Memorial Highway in 1947. The 42nd "Rainbow" Division Memorial Highway is Rt. 42. Rts. 821 and 21 made up the 83rd Division Memorial Highway in 1947, but a look at the map shows that part of Rt. 21 was replaced by I-77, which is called the Buckeye Tourway.

Ohio also memorializes bridges when it isn't naming highways. Jeremiah Morrow, governor from 1823-26, has a bridge on I-71 over the Little Miami River in Warren County.

The state also has The Blue and Gray Trail. Rt. 33; Gen. Duncan McArthur Highway. Rt. 28 (McArthur was governor from 1831-32); the Sherman-Sheridan-Stanton-Custer Highway, Rt. 22: Gov. Thomas Kirker Highway (served 1807-08), Rt. 136; Gov. Robert Lucas Highway (1833-36). Rt. 124; the Gold Star Mothers Memorial Highway - women whose Armed Forces sons or daughters have died in the line of duty since World War I - Route 82; and Camp Sherman Memorial Highway, three miles of Rt. 104 in Ross County.

Also memorialized are the American Legion, I-75; Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Revolutionary War patriot from Poland who owned land in Franklin County, Rt. 257; Disabled American Veterans. I-71; Amvets, I-90; and the 104th Timberwolf Infantry Division. Rt.104.

Other highways honor the 52 American hostages held by Iranians for more than a year and the eight servicemen who died during an aborted rescue attempt; Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne: former Miss America Jackie Mayer; U.S. Sen. John Glenn; George Washington; Johnny Appleseed: Benjamin Franklin; Thomas A. Edison (he also has a bridge, spanning Sandusky Bay); and pioneer Simon Kenton. A designation has been proposed for astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Ohio can't make up its mind about I-70. In 1970, the State Highway Department designated it the Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Highway upon receiving a General Assembly resolution. But - oops - legislators then named it the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Highway in 1976.

If most of the designations are unfamiliar, don't feel uninformed. The signs that marked many of the highways have deteriorated or disappeared over the years. According to Steve Fought of ODOT. the state now puts memorial markers only in rest areas and does not maintain signs erected in years past. Fought said priority lies with directional signs; and there are no funds appropriated for memorial sign maintenance, although the state is responsible for them.

There's another problem with memorial highways: Little information explaining their memorialization has been kept. ODOT has a listing of the designations but no discussion of why which highway was named for whom. The legislature has no record of debates. The Public Library of Columbus and Franklin County has little - a librarian said she'd appreciate any information we could turn up. Ohio reference books were useless. The State Library had crumbs - a day of digging through dirt-encrusted maps and crumbling annual reports turned up a few paragraphs on the Lincoln Highway, Rt. 30. The Ohio Historical Society also came up empty.

Don't bother to search reference books about the first legislative memorialization: federal and state highways crossed by the notorious Morgan's Raiders in 1863. If you want to know where markers were placed, you'll have to gas up and search for yourself - if the markers still are there.

More unanswered questions: Why did legislators name I-80 the Christopher Columbus Highway when it doesn't even go near Columbus? For whom is the White Highway named? Are those persons memorialized by the Zwallen Way, the Dix Expressway and the Donald H. Rolf Circle Freeway lost in the pages of scrapbooks in somebody's basement?

It's enough for an anxiety attack.

Using back issues of The Dispatch, the director's journal of the Ohio Department of Highways and many telephone calls, we were able to dig up some information on obscure memorializations.

Take the Tom Jenkins Memorial Highway, Rt. 52 through Lawrence County. The Main Library offered three possibilities: a boxer from Cleveland, a physicist from Cleveland and an educator from Cincinnati. But a call to the Lawrence County engineer turned up the real Tom Jenkins, a veteran Congressman from Ironton.

The mystery of Zwallen Way. 3.5 miles of Rt. 43 in Stark County, ended in Summit County with a series of phone calls tracking down Marion Zwallen, still alive and kicking after her memorialization in 1966. Although state records list the designation, the highway department's journal entry is missing,

Zwallen, now of .Hudson, Ohio, headed the Rt. 43 Improvement Committee of the Sandy Valley Junior Women's Club in 1962. Committee members pushed officials to make improvements along the road, particularly a 10-mile stretch on which 40 people were killed in accidents between 1952-62. Their motto, emblazoned on badges: A New 43 by '63. They got their wish.

The Dix Expressway, all l.7 miles of Rts. 3 and 83 by Wooster, is named for the Dix family of the Dix Newspapers Group, which owns the Wooster Daily Record. The family was active in leading the development of local highways.

The White Highway, originally Rts. 77 and 37 between Zanesville and Marietta, now Rt. 60, appears to have been named for former Gov. George White, who served from 1931-35. However, a call to the public library in Marietta, where White once resided stumped the librarian.

There's one highway which has everyone blank, including several librarians up north. It began as route 90 in 1930, named the Road of Remembrance. Somewhere along the line, it became Rt. 170, then Rt. 193. Worse yet, no one can remember what the Road of Remembrance was supposed to remember.

And bow about the Donald H. Rolf Circle Freeway? State Rep. Dale Van Vyven, R-Sharonville, sponsor of the bill designating part of I-275 in 1982, solved the mystery. Rolf, a state representative from 1943-50, state senator from 1951-54 and former Hamilton County commissioner, was instrumental in the creation and construction of the Cincinnati outerbelt.

Van Vyven's office said that state Sen. Theodore M. Gray. R-Upper Arlington, opposed the bill because Gray supposedly didn't believe in honoring persons while living. It didn't make much difference: Rolf died three days after the bill passed on March 30, 1982.

But Gray says now that he doesn't believe in naming highways after anybody, period.

"Highways belong to the people," he said, adding that, while Rolf was vital to the freeway construction, "10 to 15 to 20 years later, you won't know who the highway was named for."

It didn't take but two years, Ted. Case closed.

Karin A. Welzel Is a DISPATCH reporter