Monday, May 21, 2001

Museum honors 'end of the pike'

Clark County city celebrates place on the journey west

The Associated Press

        SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Transportation made this west-central Ohio city important from frontier times until today, and is the focus of a museum that's opened in its century-old former City Hall.

        Clark County exploded with growth in 1836 when federal funding for the National Road — the nation's first interstate — dried up and construction ended in Springfield.

        Until the roadwork resumed a decade later, hundreds of wagons and stagecoaches landed daily in what became known as “the city at the end of the pike.”

        “It was because of transportation that we became what we are,” said Floyd A. Barmann, executive director of the Heritage Center of Clark County, which opened in March.

        “When that National Road stopped, we grew. When the road got going again, everyone who headed west still came through here. Some stayed; others returned.”

        In the 56,000-square-foot museum, visitors can “travel” the road, which changes from gravel to brick to concrete.

        Transportation modes evolve as well.

        At the start of the road sits an original Conestoga wagon, the vehicle of choice for pioneers who lumbered westward.

        Down the road through time, visitors see a stagecoach, a horse, a biplane and an interurban rail car.

        At the end is an International Harvester Travelall from 1973, which was built in Springfield by the company now known as Navistar.

        “It was really ahead of its time,” Mr. Barmann said. “It was like today's SUVs, but International stopped making it in the '70s.”

        Other sections of the museum highlight the military service of Clark County residents, pioneer life in the area and local industry.

        “What happened here — the rise of an industrial and agricultural revolution, and then the fall — happened in towns all across the Midwest,” Mr. Barmann said.

        “Someone from any town in the heartland could walk in here and say, "That's just like home,' or, "Remember when our community was changing like that?'”

        A third of the museum's funding came from a half-percent sales tax that county commissioners enacted in the mid-1990s.

        More than $5.5 million, and an additional $6.5 million in state and federal money, completed the project.

        So far, nearly 13,000 people have visited the museum. For now, admission is free.

        Mr. Barmann said he hopes rentals of space within the building, along with gift shop sales, will help offset operating costs that could exceed $800,000 a year.


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