Driving on Morse and East Dublin-Granville Roads has become something akin to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Fiery fatal crashes, high-speed car races and pedestrians wandering into oncoming traffic all seem to be happening at an alarming rate on these busy east-west thoroughfares of our capital city.
Whenever I drive these roads, I think of the jalopies that made sudden turns, sped towards an obstacle that moved out of the way at the last second, and hurtled toward oncoming collisions in the now-closed Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom ride based on The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s novel about the adventures of a toad, a rat, a mole and a badger in pastoral England.
Leaving the wild rides to other motorists, we determined to take a more leisurely route to the Granville Daffodil Show. We found it along Routes 62 and 37, which pass through Johnstown and Alexandria.
We sauntered along, admiring the scenery as John O’Conor sensitively played John Field’s sonorous nocturnes for piano. And then I spotted a curious landmark on South Main Street in Johnstown, next to the Church of the Ascension — a one-room schoolhouse!
The Cornell School was built on Duncan Plains Road near Alexandria in 1886, and students attended classes there until 1923. In May 1991, the 100-ton brick building was moved four and a half miles to its current site, on Johnstown Monroe School District property near the community’s high school. In the years that followed, the Friends of Cornell School rounded up period desks, benches, maps, portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, McGuffey Readers, quill pens, inkwells, slates and other historic furnishings to recreate what it might have been like to attend school there in the late-19th century.
In 1996, the restored schoolhouse opened to the public. Ever since, it has hosted living history programs for area schools. Kindergarteners to college students are encouraged to dress in period costume, while teachers work hard to recreate an authentic experience of a typical school day at a one-room schoolhouse. The day includes elocution lessons, instruction in penmanship and old-fashioned games like jacks. Midday fare of peanut butter with home-baked bread and cookies is wrapped in a towel and served in a lunch pail. This is what we saw when we peered in the windows.
Traveling a few miles farther, we spotted another curious landmark down the road in Alexandria, on the grounds of the Alexandria Public Library — an historical marker honoring the accomplishments of someone named Willoughby Dayton Miller.
William Penn Miller was born in Alexandria in 1853. Four years later, the boy took a fancy to the first name of his favorite playmate, Willoughby Condit, and asked his parents to call him Willoughby too. That wasn’t all; the Millers changed their son’s middle name to Dayton, after William Dayton, the 1856 Republican vice-presidential candidate.
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1875, Miller became interested in mining engineering and studied the physical sciences at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. There, he met an American dentist who encouraged him to study dentistry in Berlin, Germany, where he also taught English and literature to uprooted Americans at the American embassy. Another expatriate dentist there observed Miller’s skills in metallurgy and asked him to explore different combinations of metals that would produce a better material to fill teeth.
When Miller hoped to explore the possibility of marrying the dentist’s daughter, her father proposed a plan. If Miller returned to the United States, earned a degree in dentistry, came back to Berlin, and became his partner, he would consent to the marriage. Miller accepted his future father-in-law’s proposal.
Two years later, Miller began researching the effects of tartar deposits on teeth and how oral bacteria causes tooth discoloration and decay. In 1889, he published his findings in a book called The Micro-Organisms of the Human Mouth, which is considered the first accurate description of the process of tooth decay. Held in high regard by his peers, Miller also had the honor of serving as chief dental surgeon to Kaiser Wilhelm II and Kaiserin Augusta Victoria. He also collected butterflies and wrote a book about them, and became a champion of both golf and rifle marksmanship.
Miller visited Alexandria often, purchasing the family farm in 1892 and asking his nephew to be its caretaker. In the spring of 1907, he returned to the United States to become the dean of the University of Michigan College of Dentistry; in July of that year, he suffered fatal appendicitis and was buried in Alexandria.
In 1909, a local orthodontist presented a resolution at a Columbus Dental Society meeting to raise money for a memorial to Miller. Frederick C. Hibbard, a sculptor from Chicago, created a bronze statue for the International Dental Federation that depicted a whiskered, frock-coated Miller. An inscription on the base of the statue proclaims Miller as an “educator, benefactor of his profession, friend of humanity, a native of Ohio, a citizen of the world.” The statue was unveiled on the Ohio State University campus, southwest of Thompson Library, by Miller’s grandniece on December 8, 1915, in the presence of 300 dentists attending the annual meeting of the Ohio Dental Society. In 1978, it was moved to its present home beside Postle Hall, the home of the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, at 305 W. 12th Ave.
According to Elma Lee Moore’s Ohio’s Covered Bridges, this 47′ covered bridge was built in 1871 and first stretched across Lobdell Creek in Licking County. In 1977, it was moved to Fireman’s Park in Alexandria and was renovated. An illustration of the bridge was incorporated into the logo for St. Albans Township’s bicentennial in 2013. A poem attributed to the bridge’s builder, Frank Phillips, still hangs above one of its entrances:
“All things save this have changed within our day
Beside this quiet road nestled in these joyous hills
You point your modest structure toward the sky
Unsought and all unchanged you give us still
Some fragrance of your peace as we go by.”
The discoveries continued on the way home. Rocky Fork Metro Park, a park north of New Albany that opened in August 2015, features more than three miles of walking trails, a bridle trail, a dog park, an off-leash trail for dogs, a play area and a large picnic shelter where you can sit in Adirondack chairs and look for wildlife in the open fields.
For more on Willoughby Dayton Miller, see “An Ohio Boy: Willoughby Dayton Miller,” an article by Donald F. Bowers in the May-June 2004 issue of the Ohio Historical Society’s TIMELINE.