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I-70 West
Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Indiana

     As we enter the Midwestern plains—which are flat, flat, flat—we might anticipate a drive that is boring, boring, boring. But not so fast. Just after we leave Columbus, we drive through a region that the Nature Conservancy has designated as one of the twelve, “Last Great Places in the Western Hemisphere.” Then we make our way through two metropolitan areas—Springfield and Dayton—that have been called the “silicon valley of the 19th century.” Why? Because this region was a center of inventiveness that changed American life. Finally, when we reach Richmond, we’ll find ourselves in a small Midwestern city with Quaker origins that is considered the “cradle of recorded jazz.”

·        If your journey began in the eastern half of I-70’s route across Ohio, you might notice a change as you proceed west of Columbus. Yes, the land changes, but if you stop and visit a small town, you might notice that the local accent is different too. The Appalachian twang of eastern Ohio is replaced by the flat diction of Midwestern speech. Flat land/flat speech: they seem to go together.

·        Soon after leaving the Columbus exurbs, you will cross a creek—you might spot the sign in the median, the Big Darby Creek. At that point, you will be driving through the Darby Watershed, named by the Nature Conservancy as a region of unusual ecological importance. It’s an area of natural prairie, unlike most of Ohio that was forested land when the American settlers first arrived. Today, the Darby Watershed still hosts a diverse collection of rare plants and animals—over 100 species of fish and 38 species of mollusks live in the Darby Creek system. 

·        This region was once hotly contested in battles between Native Americans and American settlers. When we enter Clark County, we’ll be a county named for General George Rogers Clark who led a band of Kentucky militiamen, including Daniel Boone, in the Battle of Piqua that forced Native Americans to leave the area and resettle to the northwest of here. Perhaps the greatest Native American leader, Tecumseh, was a twelve-year-old when he witnessed the Battle of Piqua.

·        As we travel through the Springfield area, we’ll be just south of a small Ohio town where an experiment took place. It seems that the town of Bellefontaine was having trouble with its dirt streets. They were muddy and impassable much of the year. A new guy in town had a solution: a new product which no community in the USA had yet tried. He called this new product, “artificial stone.” The city of Bellefontaine tried it to cover a small section of road by the courthouse, seeking a guarantee that it the new surface would last for five years. That surface lasted well over 5 years. Today, well over a century  later, it’s still in use, but no longer called “artificial stone.” Can you guess what we call it now?

·        I-70 passes to the north of Dayton, a community that has one of the highest patent rates per capita of any city in the nation. Dayton, of course, gave us the Wright Brothers and their flying machine. But other Dayton inventions include the stepladder, the black light,  anti-knock gasoline, carbonless carbon paper, the gas mask, time-released medications, the LCD liquid crystal display, digital thermometers, the photoelectric cell, the motorized wheelchair, and the movie projector. The world’s first aerial photograph from an airplane was of Dayton, taken in 1910. The world’s first emergency parachute jump was over Dayton. And another Dayton’s inventions, the “mechanical money drawer,” became the foundation of this city’s first truly big business: the National Cash Register Company.

·        After Dayton, I-70 goes through farmland, then crosses the Indiana border and passes to the north of Richmond, a small Quaker city that once was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Richmond also produced a stream of legendary jazz recordings. During the early years of jazz, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Biederbecke, Hoagy Carmichal, even Laurence Welk made the trek to Richmond to record for Gennett Records, in a little wooden studio by the railroad tracks where recording had to cease whenever a train rumbled by. These recordings gave many Americans their first exposure to what was to become this nation’s most distinctive contribution to music. Why did it happen here? Well, as you might expect, there’s a story that explains why Richmond became the “cradle of recorded jazz.”

This program is available for purchase on CD. The narration runs for about 70 minutes in 5 segments that take you from Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Indiana on I-70. The CD sells for $9.95.

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