CINCINNATI -- Hank Williams’ recording studio. A tribute to the man who invented the Tommy gun. A memorial to a legendary group that hunted horse thieves.
Each instance has a historical marker. In fact, the Tri-State is full of them, which is a testament to the significance of our area of the world. Come with us as we take you on a tour of some of the more curious ones we’ve discovered.
Here, you’ll find some things interesting, funny and/or disturbing. But there are some caveats. We figured you already know enough about the Reds and Bengals, so none of those markers are here (though they do exist). Likewise for anything regarding William Howard Taft, the Wright brothers or anything about mounds. You know those stories. You’ve probably seen those markers.
Let’s go off the beaten path.
“I get requests all the time from people who would like a list of all of the markers around the state so that they can take a trip to see them,” says Becki Trivison, historical markers coordinator with the Ohio History Connection. “Many people do still go on road trips around the state to see markers and visit sites where their state's history occurred.”
Here are nine eccentric, fun and unusual markers that road-trippers must see when they’re traveling our historic back roads.
9. The Bunker Hill House, 7919 State Route 177 in Fairlawn, Ohio
The Bunker Hill House, built in stages between 1834 and 1862, was “a way station for pioneers heading west and for drovers driving their animals to Cincinnati stockyards,” the marker reads. But it was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Gabriel Smith, known as “Old Gabe,” was a member of the nearby Hopewell Church, which provided a network for runaway slaves. Old Gabe lived in a closet under the stairway in Bunker Hill House’s summer kitchen, which led to the servants’ quarters. Slaves would travel along Four Mile Creek and -- with Old Gabe’s help -- enter the back of the building for safety. The Bunker Hill House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
8. The Squirrel Hunters, Union Township Public Library, 27 Main St., Ripley, Ohio
In 1862, as the Civil War raged, word reached Cincinnati that Confederate forces were close to charging the city. Ohio Gov. David Tod issued a proclamation: "Our Southern border is threatened with invasion. I therefore recommend that all the loyal men of your Counties at once form themselves into military companies. Gather up all the arms in the county and furnish yourselves with ammunition for the same. The service will be but for a few days. The soil of Ohio must not be invaded by the enemies of our glorious government." More than 15,000 men came to defend the city, most armed with nothing more than weapons that would be used to hunt squirrels. A Confederate scout said, "They call them Squirrel Hunters; farm boys that never had to shoot at the same squirrel twice." The Squirrel Hunters stayed for two weeks. The Confederates never came.
7. The Thunderstorm Project, Lytle Creek Greenway near Wilmington College, 740 Davids Drive, Wilmington, Ohio
During World War II, the young American Air Force was not only susceptible to enemy fire: it was also threatened by thunderstorms. In 1945, Congress began studying the phenomena. The Thunderstorm Project was an undertaking of the U.S. Weather Bureau, Army Air Force, Navy and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (predecessor of NASA). Partly because the area received so many thunderstorms, Clinton, Brown and Highland Counties were chosen as sites where flights were monitored during inclement weather. Scientists used tools such as radar to better understand the structure of thunderstorms. Theories they implemented still help us understand weather today.
6. The Great River Tragedy, intersection of East Main and Second streets in downtown Warsaw, Gallatin County, Kentucky
At midnight, Dec. 4, 1868, two cabined passenger steamboats traveling between Louisville and Cincinnati collided on a dangerous bend of the Ohio River 2 miles above Warsaw. One steamer, the America, struck and drove into the other, the United States, which was carrying barrels of petroleum oil. The oil caught fire, enveloping both boats in flame and spreading over the surface of the river. The casualties were extraordinary: 162 lives lost and $350,000 in property damages (more than $8 million today). According to Explore Kentucky History, the United States was eventually raised and repaired. The America remains on the bottom of the Ohio River.
5. The first glass door oven, 2701 Spring Grove Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio
The first full-size glass door oven was invented and manufactured by Ernst H. Huenefeld of The Huenefeld Company in 1909. Specially designed and patented sheet metal frames in the door allowed for expansion and contraction of the glass. The large window, guaranteed against steaming up or breaking from heat, allowed users to view their baking without opening the oven door. The Huenefeld Company, established in 1872 on Pearl Street, moved its manufacturing in 1904 from its downtown Cincinnati locations. The company, in operation until its sale in 1966, was widely known as a manufacturer of ranges, stoves, ovens, heaters, furnaces, refrigerators, washing machines and other household products. A standard feature in homes today, the glass door oven was a technological breakthrough in 1909.
4. Freedom Summer, Miami University's western campus, next to Kumler Chapel, Butler County
In what was called the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, more than 800 volunteers, most of them college students, gathered at the Western College for Women (now the western campus of Miami University) to prepare for African-American voter registration in the South. Three of the volunteers -- James Chaney of Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner of New York -- disappeared on June 21, 1964 in rural Mississippi just days after leaving Oxford. Their bodies were discovered 44 days later, buried in a Mississippi dam. Ku Klux Klan members were later convicted on federal conspiracy charges. Erected in 1999, the outdoor amphitheater is a memorial to the slain activists, other volunteers and ideals of the Freedom Summer movement.
3. Herzog Studios, 811 Race St., Cincinnati, Ohio
At 811 Race St. sits the building that housed Herzog Studios, Cincinnati’s first commercial recording studio. Trend-setting tunes in country, bluegrass and R&B were recorded there -- including “Lovesick Blues,” which became, arguably, the most important song in Hank Williams’ career and one of the most influential singles in music history. (It got him an invitation into the Grand Ole Opry). Other songs recorded there: Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” by Flatt and Scruggs.
2. Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society, corner of Texas Street and state Route 41 in Adams County
Originally they were vigilantes. But the Bentonville Anti-Horse Thief Society was formed in March 1853 by landowners to recover stolen horses and to prosecute the thieves. Horse theft was a very serious offense in the day -- imagine if someone were going around stealing scores of cars -- so a captain and riders were nominated, and they received a $10 reward for a thief or stolen horse. The organization evolved into a social club, and its annual banquet, held each April, celebrates the tradition.
1. The Tommy gun inventor, in front of the Thompson House, 24 E. Third St., Newport, Kentucky
On Dec. 31, 1860, Brig. Gen. John T. Thompson, inventor of the Thompson submachine gun, was born in Newport. A West Point graduate of 1882, he was an early advocate of automatic weapons and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal as Director of Arsenals in World War I. He served for 32 years before retiring. Though some in the time frowned upon the use of automatic weapons, Thompson -- according to Explore Kentucky History – wanted “to create an effective rifle that could fire a significant amount of rounds very rapidly.” It became a weapon used by many of the organized crime gangs of the day. Thompson died in 1940, lamenting the notoriety of the Tommy gun as a gangster weapon.