History, Preservation, Road Trips

Old buildings in Old Washington

After 18 miles of laying waste to Ohio’s National Road, I-70 finally relents at Old Washington. US 40 even rejoins the National Road here. The blue line is the National Road’s original path.

You might think Old Washington is so named because it’s old. Well, it is old. It was laid out in 1805, before the National Road was built, as Guernsey County’s first settlement. But the town was actually named New Washington then. When the town incorporated some years later, the New was dropped and the town became just Washington. Then the U.S. Post Office got all worried that people would confuse Washington with another Ohio town improbably named Washington Court House. Thus Washington became Old Washington.

I drove through a lot of old little towns on this trip. So many of them were not even a shadow of their former selves, just a row of abandoned and dilapidated buildings. I drove right through them without stopping. But I stopped in Old Washington. It is what all those other old towns wish they could be. It is virtually a trip back in time to when the National Road was new, at least in terms of its buildings.

Old Washington, Ohio

Most of them are very nicely kept. Many have simple designs.

Old Washington, Ohio

Several have a tonier appearance.

Old Washington, Ohio

The tonier houses share enough design details that I would not be surprised to find the same architect behind them.

Old Washington, Ohio

While most of the buildings in Old Washington are brick, a few are wooden. This one could use a little loving.

Old Washington, Ohio

While Old Washington wasn’t exactly bustling the day I drove through, there were many clear signs of life, such as cars parked on the street, lamps in windows, and landscaping around many of the homes.

Old Washington, Ohio

Someone was busy building a garage next to this house!

Old Washington, Ohio

Sometimes a highway bypass is good for historic preservation. Transportation needs may demand a wider, straighter, or flatter road, but to achieve that in a town so often means destroying some of its buildings. US 40 was rerouted a block to the south at some point, allowing all of these great houses to remain. On the west edge of town, the old road comes to an end as US 40 curves around and resumes the National Road’s original alignment.

Dead end of NR west of Old Washington

Are you enjoying these posts about Ohio’s National Road? I’ve driven the road across all six of its states. Check out everything I’ve written about it.

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40 thoughts on “Old buildings in Old Washington

      • Bob Warne says:

        The very first name of Old Washington was Beymerstown according to the History of Guernsey County compiled around 1948. Sorry, I don’t have a copy and can’t recall the author.

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        • Bill Hiles says:

          My 3G-grandfather was General Simon Beymer. So I know the Old Washington site quite well. The author was Col Cyrus P B. Sarchet and it was a re-printing of his authoritative book, dated originally 1911. I have a copy of his work.

          Bill Hilles

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  1. Lone Primate says:

    Isn’t it amazing how there are roads and roads and roads, and then roads… but every so often one of them, humble little stretches of cement often without even painted lines, turns out to be what was once the most important road in the United States? But who’d ever guess? And how many know? That’s the sad thing. I like how you shine up these old brass buttons. :)

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    • I know, right?

      If it weren’t for a fellow named Christopher Busta-Peck, who researched the NR’s original route along its entire length and laid that route down on Google Maps for the world to see, I might have assumed that the NR followed the road one block to the south (as it carries US 40 today), and missed all of this!

      I consider it part of my mission to make sure that these brass buttons are shined so that others might find them!

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  2. ryoko861 says:

    It’s nice to know that some of those buildings are still around and being maintained!! I thought the whole road was just abandoned, but it still lives in some sections!

    It would awesome to go inside some of them to see what details are still there like moldings and doorways!

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    • I wonder too what these buildings are like inside. I’m not gutsy enough to ring somebody’s bell and ask!

      It’s really unusual for a road that was major at one time to be entirely abandoned. Building new-terrain roads is hugely expensive and is usually fought tooth and nail. Improving an existing road is pretty normal as a result.

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  3. Beautiful. Thanks for the virtual roadtrip.

    I love exploring old towns and trying to imagine what they must have been like when they were full of activity. It’s obvious that Old Washington still has plenty of people in it, because those buildings were being maintained.

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  4. I’m enjoying seeing somewhat familiar things through different eyes. I’ve been through Old Washingon several times but never studied the houses all that much. I’m sure I’ll see them a bit differently next time.

    On the Washington v. Washington thing. WCH didn’t officially become that until 2002. Supposedly early postmasters wrote “court house” on letters targeting the place that was a county seat to keep them from the place that wasn’t. Although road signs and pretty much everything else identified the place as WCH throughout my lifetime, it wasn’t until 2002 that it officially changed its name from City of Washington to City of Washington Court House.

    Just to verify:
    At the end of this post you mention having driven the National Road “across all five of its states.” I’m guessing those are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryvania.

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      • Apparently almost no one knew WCH wasn’t WCH until it was. If you ever get there, a visit to the court house building is worthwhile. The second floor has a series of murals by Archibald Willard. the “Spirit of ’76” guy.

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    • Denny, Thanks for your remarks on OW. Sounds like you’ve seen many of Jim’s photographed houses. I’ve been there too, to discover the place where my GGG-grandfather — General Simon Beymer — was tavern-keeper of the “Black Bear.” I’m writing about his life, and would dearly love to know just where his inn was. I’m presuming he was buried in the OW Cemetery. Do you know where I can get a listing the burials in that cemetery?
      Regards, Bill

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  5. You have my house pictured here…….I am happy to inform you to please stop and come in for a tour and a refreshing Coke. We love showing our house and most of our neighbors are the same. Christmas is especially awesome. Many evenings we think there must be lightening and then we giggle because we know someone is loving our 12 foot Christmas tree as much as we do! So please, stop by and enjoy our little slice of heaven.

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    • Kerry, I was re-reading your response to Jim’s Down-the-Road series — the one on Old Washington. My GGG-grandfather was General Simon Beymer. I’m writing a story of his life as it revolved around his “Black Bear” tavern in OW. I have an 1870s land ownership map of the area, and have been trying to locate his inn — I believe it was next door to the old American Hotel in town. Which of Jim’s showcase was your house.
      When I was last in town in 1990s, I visited the old cemetery, taking lots of pictures, but my film was bad. Do you know who would have the list of burials there?
      Enjoyed your description of your earlier life in OW.
      Bill

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  6. Pingback: Excursion 4, Part 5 (Take Me to the River, Drop Me in the Water) | Unearthed Ohio

  7. I was delighted to find via Googling “Old Washington” your tremendous piece on the hometown of several ancestors — Beymer and Clark. My GGG-grandfather was General Simon Beymer who came to OW about 1805 and established the tavern, locally renown as “Black Bear.” I’ve been writing a story about his inn-keeper’s life along the Old National Road. Thank you for your story about some of the old houses still there. I’ve been there several times to comb the old cemetery for ancestral stones

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  8. I grew up here and have great memories of Halloween. We used to start on one side of town and make our way to the other. Then, there would be a hotdog/marshmallow roast at the firehouse. I also went to Old Washington Elementary for a couple of years until we moved away. Great pictures!

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      • It appears that might might be gone (I can’t quite tell)? It looks as if the school is gone (as in torn down) and they’ve all moved up the hill. The fairgrounds still look active–was there quite a bit as a child, too. Love the area!

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    • Bruce, I was re-reading Jim Grey’s pages of pictures Old Washington and the blog comments. I was pleased to note you spent some childhood years there. Is there a Chamber of Commerce, or library, that may be able to field some history questions. I’m writing a story about the life of my GGG-grandfather — General Simon Beymer, and am anxious to put myself into the setting of his “Black Bear” Tavern.
      Bill

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  9. Misty Liptak Warden says:

    My great great grandmother, Beulah Lowry, owned and operated the Colonial Inn. It is the fourth photo down. I grew up just 3 miles from OW. And Bruce, the school you remember in the middle of town was torn down many years ago. Unsure of the Halloween parties but they do have some summer fun.

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    • Thanks for your comment on your GG-grandmother’s connection to the Colonial Inn. My GGG-grandfather was General Simon Beymer, who operated the “Black Bear” tavern in OW. I writing a story of his life and the Old Washington area where so many of my ancestors lived. I’ve visited, so know the picturesque quaintness of the little community. I’ve been using an old land-holdings map of OW, and believe his tavern was very near the American Hotel — this may have been the Inn of your ancestor??
      Hope to hear from you,
      Bill

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  10. larry turley says:

    I was a grade school kid there in the 70’s. Went to Zane Trace. 1-12 in the same building which is long gone now. So many memories. Camping out in back yards, stealing neighbors apples, playing little league baseball, steam trackers shows at the fair grounds. I lived in one the old houses, it was at one time the towns funeral home. Real creaping when your 9 years old. Thanks for the look back. Larry Atlanta, Ga

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  11. TIM SIGMAN says:

    Beulah Lowery was my Great Grandmother and owned & operated the Colonial Inn and I used to play there in the lawn in the mid 50’s when my mom would go visit here grandmother. Back then when you walked in the front door there was a big baby grand piano and beautiful mural on the ceilings. I have lived out of state since the 60’s and stopped by about 5 years ago and the owners let us go in and check it out and the most of the original furniture and the murals are there and in great shape a real treat to see. also went to the Guernsey County Fair in Old Washington every year so much fun. Misty your mom Becky is my cousin.

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  12. Hi there! I grew up in this town and I’ve been inside several of the houses. You are correct, the 3 fanciest brick houses were built by 3 brothers at the same time. The one in your 4th photo is amazing, and the owner is happy to give tours. It’s been fully restored and is just stunning. Our token haunted house is not in your photos, but is next to the run down white building. They give tours as well. The entire town was part of the underground railroad, and the site of a historical Civil War battle known as Morgan’s Raid. If you visit again I can put you in touch with people if you would like to see inside the buildings!

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  13. Jerry Hall says:

    Thanks Jim for your Info on OW. I lived on a farm in Madison Twp. in the 50’s, and often went through OW on our way to ‘Town’ (Cambridge) to sell our eggs and get feed ‘ground’ at the mill, over the hill at the edge of town (off Wheeling Ave.) by the Kroger store. Also went to the ‘Fair’. My Grandfather was W.E. Jenkins and our farm is on what is now named Rinhart Rd.and we crossed the famous ‘S’ bridge @ old 40 between OW & Middlebourne. I motorcycle down there a couple times a year just to enjoy some of the best memories of my life. You have given me an ‘idea for a motocycle road trip’ that of following the National Highway. We did a bunch of it in WV, Pa, & Maryland a few years ago, but I’m thinking of just Ohio with time to stop and enjoy the History, Thanks again for your articles
    Jerry Hall, Akron. jhall14172@aol.com

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    • Jerry, thanks for writing! I can only imagine what all of that area must’ve been like before the interstate went in. It’s a shame how the old US 40 is all busted up because of the interstate.

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