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Ways Out
by [?]

In 1893 Jacob S. Coxey, a respectable citizen of Massillon, started a movement in favor of good roads which took the form of a pilgrimage to Washington to petition Congress for its object. Several armies, as they were called, from different parts of the country, met in Massillon, and under Mr. Coxey’s leadership, set out on a long and toilsome march over the Alleghanies to the capital, living by charity on the way. Many of the soldiers of these armies might well have been idle and worthless persons; there were doubtless others who were sincere and sane in their hope that the representatives of the people might be persuaded to do something for bettering the highways; but the affair was so managed as to meet with nothing but ridicule, and in trying to force a hearing from Congress Mr. Coxey and some of his followers were arrested for trespassing on the Capitol grounds, and were sentenced to several weeks in jail. This ended the latest crusade for good roads from Ohio; but there is no Ohio idea more fixed than that we ought to have good roads, and this was by no means the first time that Ohio men had asked the nation to lend a hand in making them. The first time they succeeded as signally as they failed the last time; but that was very long ago, and it may surprise some of my readers to know that we have a National Road crossing our whole state, which is still the best road in it.

Almost as soon as the Western people had broken into the backwoods it became their necessity to break out again, to find and to make roads between them and the civilization they had left. The ways of the different emigrations in reaching Ohio were: for the New Engenders, through New York state to Lake Erie, and westwardly along the shore of that water; for the Pennsylvanians, through their own state to the headwaters of the Ohio, and then down the river and inwardly from it; for the Virginians, Marylanders, and Carolinians, the valley of the Shenandoah and the mountain gaps to Kentucky, and so into Southwestern Ohio. At first the white men came by the streets, as the pioneers called the trails that the buffalo and deer had made; but they soon cut traces through the woods, and later these traces became wagon roads. Of course they used the rivers wherever they could and traveled by canoe, by flatboat, by keelboat, and by ark; and there grew up on the rivers a wild life which had its adventures and heroes like the Indian warfare. The most famous of the boatmen was Mike Fink, who drank hard and fought hard, and was a miraculous shot with his rifle. He was captain of a keelboat, which was the craft mostly used in ascending the river. The flatboats were broken up and sold as lumber when they had drifted down to their points of destination on the lower rivers, but the keelboat could make a return trip by dint of pushing with a long pole on the shore side and rowing on the other; sometimes even sails were used, and then the keelboat sped up stream at the rate of fifty miles instead of twelve miles a day.

But these means of traffic and travel soon ceased to suffice. Then the Ohio people felt the need of getting out with their increasing crops, their multiplying flocks and herds, and they made their need known to the nation, to which they were everywhere akin, and the nation answered through Congress by beginning, in 1806, the National Road, which was finished by 1838, from Baltimore as far as Indiana. This road first opened the East to Ohio; then in 1811 a steamboat made its appearance on the Beautiful River, and after that steam commanded all the Southern and Southwestern waters for us, as well as those of the inland seas on the North. Then, that all these waters might be united, the state began in 1825 to build a system of canals, from Cleveland to Portsmouth and from Toledo to Cincinnati. When these canals were completed, with their branches, they gave the people some nine hundred miles of navigable waters within their own borders. The main lines were built, not by companies for private profit as the railroads have since been built, but by the people for the people, and it may be said that the great prosperity of Ohio began with them. Wherever they ran they drained the swamps and made the land not only habitable but beautiful. They were dug by Ohio people, and the sixteen millions of dollars that they cost came back into the hands of the men who gladly taxed themselves for the outlay. The towns along their course grew, and new towns rose out of the forests and prairies.