Three counties, 30 miles of history along Ohio’s first State Road

This marker is in Baltic and marks the halfway point of the first State Road that begins in Millersburg and ends in Port Washington. (Photo by Beverly Keller)

By Stacey Carmany
The Budget

Take a journey through history along Old Port Washington Road, Ohio’s first state road.

Designated as Ohio Road 20 on February 6, 1832, the road’s route spans just over 30 miles and weaves through both Tuscarawas and Holmes County connecting the historic district in downtown Millersburg with Port Washington and passing through the Village of Baltic at its midpoint.

The road was vital to the economic growth of Holmes County in the mid-19th century, providing area farmers with a route to transport their goods to the Ohio-Erie Canal to be shipped to markets across the country. Prior to the construction of the canal and its designation as a state road, the roadway was also used by mail carriers as it was part of the main postal route between Marietta and Mansfield.

Today, Old Port Washington Road is comprised of more than twenty segments of paved and gravel road weaving throughout two counties and five townships. The route includes portions of Township Roads 177, 183, and 188 in Clark Township; County Roads 600, 119 and 68 in Holmes County; Township Road 312 in Hardy Township; County Roads 46 and 31, and Evans Creek, Little Buckhorn, Fry’s Valley and Wolf roads in Tuscarawas County; Indian Springs, Troendly and Fiat roads in Bucks Township; Dunkle Road in Jefferson Township and Bethel Hill Road in Salem Township.

Sound confusing? Fear not. The Holmes County, Baltic-Area and Port Washington-Salem Historical Societies have produced a handy brochure and erected numerous signs to guide every step of the way.

Brochures can be obtained from the Baltic Area Historical Society’s museum, located on the ground floor of the Baltic State Bank at 101 E. Main St. The museum is only open to the public during community events and selected weekends. Be sure to contact the society prior to a visit by calling 330-897-7794 and setting up an appointment.

Old Port Washington Road follows a portion of the Great Trail, a migratory path upon which vast herds of buffalo made their way from the shores of Lake Erie near modern-day Detroit southeast to the upper banks of the Ohio River. The wide pathways carved into the landscape by the migrating herds were later utilized by the Mound Builders and other local tribes for their own travels before being adopted by Eu- European settlers in the early 19th century to be developed into bridle paths and wagon roads.

Fertile soil and an abundance of resources led to prosperous times for early settlers to the area that would later become Holmes County. However, a lack of suitable roads by which to transport their goods to eastern markets and obtain desired commodities ultimately led to discontent and an overabundance of farm products. This issue was remedied by the construction of the Ohio canal beginning in 1827. In the first ten years after the construction of the new canal system, the population and wealth of Holmes County more than doubled.

In order to get their goods to the canal to be shipped away to the eastern markets, the settlers needed good roadways that would be easily passable with their high-wheeled wagons. Thus, the Ohio legislature came to designate certain roads, like Old Port Washington, as state roads. With the designation also came appropriations from the state Treasury for construction and upkeep.

Using the newly designated state road, farmers and merchants from Holmes County were able to transport their products between Millers- burg and the port city of Salisbury, later renamed Port Washington. Salisbury quickly became a bustling city and major port and remained so until the first railroad arrived in the area in 1852 and the usefulness of the canal began to wane.

During the 19th century, the trek from Millersburg to Port Washing-ton by horse-drawn wagon took about two full days to complete, and weary travelers would rest overnight in Baltic before beginning the second leg of the trip the next day. Luckily, thanks to the modern convenience of motorized vehicles today’s travelers won’t have to worry about bringing their overnight bags. The entire trip can be driven straight through in less than 90 minutes, but with so many scenic views to take in and historical landmarks and museums to visit along the way, travelers would be wise to clear their schedules for an entire afternoon.

From State Route 39 in Millers- burg, travelers begin the journey across from Millersburg Elementary by turning onto Port Washington Road, Hardy Township Road 312. From there, follow the path of Old Port Washington Road, as it winds and curves its way through sprawl- ing fields and farmland and the vil- lages of Beck’s Mills and Saltillo and continues on to the Village of Baltic.

Before moving on to the second leg of the tour, be sure to check out some of the Village’s landmarks including the restored 1819 cabin, and the Historic Baltic Mill Winery. The three-story flour mill was first built in the mid-1800’s by William Miller and Jacob Mast. The building was consumed by fire in 1908, only to be rebuilt just six months later on the same site. In 2013, the historic building was purchased by a local couple, Dan and Judy Garver, and repurposed as a winery that can host events.

Whenever done exploring Baltic, hop on Tuscarawas County Road 46 and head southeast. From there, continue to follow the signs or consult the handy guide all the way to Port Washington, weaving around numerous woodland areas along the way. There are many areas that beg to be photographed.

After you have arrived at your destination, be sure to visit the historic Port Washington Town Hall. The towering three-story, red brick structure was built in 1879 and served as a hub for community activities until it was decommissioned from use in 1970 following the construction of a new government building. Today, the building is used by the Port Washington-Salem Historical Society as a museum for its collection of local artifacts. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Feb. 22, 1979.

For a more detailed history of Old Port Washington Road, pick up a copy of An Ohio Sesqui-Centennial Story of Canal Days: The Old Port Washington Road Out of Millersburg, Ohio’s First State Road by the late Dr. Albert W. Elliot. The book is available for purchase at a cost of $10 at the Baltic Area Historical Society’s museum.