Governor James Rhodes brought the dream of the Appalachian Highway to life with a lot of political capital earned over the span of a long political career. Born and raised in Southern Ohio, his efforts on behalf of the people and the economy of Appalachian Ohio are still remembered. Jimmy, as the old timers call him, is a local hero.
Others traveling through the region might read the roadside sign dedicated to his memory. As one newspaper reported:
On its long, empty stretches, the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway gives drivers green vistas of southern Ohio’s rolling hills. This is not the green that planners had in mind.
The need for connecting roads was felt long before Governor Rhodes. H. R. Wylie, the owner of the pottery in Huntington, was very active in politics on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River. Mr. Wylie lobbied for support, invested a great deal of money to effect change and even entertained the idea of running for state office. Roads were essential for commerce – which as every school boy knows is good for the people.
In the mid-nineteenth century, railroads were built connecting large urban centers like Cincinnati and Pittsburg with track laid through towns and cities to haul coal to industries to the north – and clay to the potteries. In the state of Ohio, pottery owners joined together to bring the modern efficiency of the railroad to haul clay, coal and finished goods. By the turn of the century, Ohio was the capital of pottery production in the United States. Yet, the story diverges in the twentieth century. Southern Ohio lost many of the coal mines and potteries eventually becoming the poorest region in the state.
Now we have a highway that connects us to the world, the information superhighway. Negotiating this new highway is a challenge that has been at once perplexing, frustrating, amazing and rewarding. But the harder that I worked at understanding this new mode of communication, the more people responded. The internet is based on the exchange of information and ideas or put another way, it is an economy. Very quickly, the number of online orders increased until it became impossible to manage both the storefront and the online business. The store hours were cut back . . . tried hiring staff but weekend retail hours are unappealing.
My entire focus which was the history of the economics of pottery in Ohio was pushed off the desk as I tried to do the other things . . . but I could not let go of the great story that unfolded in front of my eyes. And I could not let go of the world that opened to my wonder – the world market. It is really a world that our ancestors could not have imagined . . .
Soon we were shipping to nearly every continent . . . coats to Russia, picnic baskets to Australia and pottery made in Ohio to every corner of the world. All this leads to the tough decision that I have made to move the place of business from Eclipse Company Town to the Barn near Amesville. It will take time to make everything ready . . . hopefully by Spring. And the new place is a lovely place to spend a day. I cannot wait to open the doors!