A Brief History of the Covington Turnpike

Ohio's State Route 48 in Montgomery County, North of Dayton

Adapted and expanded from draft for a CRM report for ASC Group, Inc., 1999


This is an addendum to an architectural survey of a part of State Route 48 (Figure 1 and 2) in northern Montgomery County, Ohio, as described below.

In November 1998, ASC Group was contracted by Shaw, Weiss & DeNaples to complete a literature review and cultural resources survey for the proposed improvement of S.R. 48, MOT-48 21.64, in the cities of Englewood and Union, Randolph Township, Montgomery County, Ohio (PID 4515). B.C. and A.S. of ASC Group completed the data collection and literature review. An architectural reconnaissance survey of the project area was conducted between November 16 and November 18, 1998, by Kevin B. Coleman, M.S., architectural historian, and B.C., architectural assistant, and A.S., historian, under the supervision of D.D.B., M.S., principal investigator.

One of the buildings inventoried, MOT-138-12 (AL 006), was said to have been a tollhouse on the Covington Turnpike (now State Route 48). It is located at 120 North Main street, State Route 48, Englewood. It is a ca. 1854 or earlier, vernacular, brick-bearing Hall and Parlor-type house in excellent condition. The date is stated on the previously completed OHI form. The front center door is flanked by windows. The front stoop abuts the sidewalk, and the entire house is very close to the road. A center front gablet has a single window. Wood-frame shed additions are on the rear and side. The building houses a small business, and the interior has been renovated, though with little alteration to the historic materials. The tenants stated that this building was a tollhouse on the Covington Turnpike, and that the upper floor was used as lodging, and a building in the rear was stabling for travelers on the pike. For more complete information, consult the OHI form.

In May, 1999, the Ohio Historic Preservetion Office requested further work on the history of the Covington Turnpike.


State Route 48 in Montgomery County, which runs north from Dayton through the cities of Englewood and Union, has a long but obscure history, as do many important roads in the Old Northwest. A partial review of state and county records and local histories and archives has revealed some of its history.

Before it was designated State Route 48 in 1921, it was the 1839 Dayton & Covington Turnpike. Before that, it was the Stillwater Road, established by Montgomery County in 1805, and before that, a regional Native American trail probably referred to as the Stillwater Trail. Documentation has been found for these three early forms of State Route 48.

Like most roads, State Route 48 has been in a constant state of evolution, running on various alignments, with various roadbeds, through a varying landscape. However, the route that this pathway took - the Stillwater Route - has remained relatively the same, regardless of exact alignment, date, and character.


Roads are the result of a typical evolution, though this evolution is little studied and the specific transformations are scarcely documented and difficult to research. The following is a draft outline of the evolution that a road such as State Route 48 typically passed through (Brownstone 1984; Jackson 1994; Mariott 1998; Raitz 1996; Spangenburg 1992).

  1. Footpath. A barely established, often ephemeral path used by people who are usually following a path already established by animals. This is a pathway in a primitive state that existed before human occupancy, and continued to exist in areas where trails were not needed. Any recognizable deer path in a forest, or human path across a vacant lot would serve as examples of this.

  2. Trail. An established, worn path that is easily found and traveled. It may have received some realignments for the sake of efficiency, but otherwise is still in a mostly natural state. This is a pathway after being established by herd animals, such as buffalo, and after being discovered and used by humans. True trails date to the pioneer era, but modern examples (though not created by natural forces) include the Buckeye Trail in Ohio and the Appalachian Trail in the Appalachian mountains.

  3. Trace. A trail that has been marked by blazing (usually hatchet marks on trees) and has been roughly widened to allow horse and oxen traffic. This usually includes removing trees and undergrowth, though with little concern for removing their stumps. This is a pathway with the beginnings of human modification, dating to the late pioneer and early settlement era. Well-known examples include Zane's Trace in Ohio and Braddock's War Road in Pennsylvania.

  4. Improved Road. A trail or trace that has been widened, cleared, and usually roughly leveled, though not paved, creating a rough roadbed to allow wheeled vehicle traffic. This is a pathway that has become more than just a natural feature, and is now wholly a cultural structure. Good modern examples would be the average two-track farm lane or oil well access road.

  5. Pike or Turnpike. A road that has been more thoroughly prepared, usually with some type of pavement, such as gravel, planks, or corduroy. These imnprovements were typically done by a private company on a public right-of-way, with money collected at intervals (tolls at tollgates) to reclaim the expenses of road preparation. Good modern examples would be the average gravelled township or county road - much below the standard for today's roads, but above-average for the second quarter of the nineteenth century when these pikes became popular.

  6. Auto Highway. A road that has been surfaced with a solid pavement for early automobiles to travel on at high speeds. The pavement surface may be concrete, asphalt, or rarely brick. Constructed of Auto Highways begun in the 1910s and 1920s. Later versions are increasingly wider, more durable, and more intensively designed. Examples include the earlier, narrow two-lane highways still surviving and not upgraded, such as older stretches of U.S. Route 30 (the Lincoln Highway), 40 (the National Road), and 50 (the George Washington Highway).

Ohio Trails

The first routes used by the settlers were the Native American trails, which often dictated the first settlement locations. Ohio was far from a "trackless wilderness," having a network of trails weaving through the forests and prairies, and complementing the system of navigable waterways. A few trails were of trans-continental importance and "wide as wagon roads," some were of regional importance, and many were minor trails connecting one obscure and often unrecorded Native American village to another.

Trails generally used and followed the terrain to their best advantage, due to the instincts of the animals that often initiated them, and the needs of the Native Americans who utilized and improved them. Trails were as direct as possible between two important places, ran on ridges and uplands to stay dry and defensible, and tended toward passes in hilly terrain. Where they ran through valleys, trails followed the dry land alongside streams in oerder to be close to a source of water and water transportation. They crossed streams at reliable, shallow, natural fords or confluences. Trails were located on steep hillsides only to get from high to low points on the smoothest and most direct incline (Conway 1965; Hulbert 1900; personal communications, Emmett Conway, 1991-1996).

Mapping and descriptions of these trails tend to be ambiguous and conflicting, with early roads often confused with the older and somewhat different trails. The importance of some trails have been exaggerated or obscured simply because one was recorded and another was not. Various trails were in different levels of use at different times, as dictated by the shifting location of Native American towns, the availability of open land, and warfare (Conway 1965; personal communication with Emmett Conway, 1991-1996).

The Stillwater Trail

Dating from before settlement to c1801

The Stillwater Trail paralleled the Stillwater River, which was also known as the Southwest Branch of the Great Miami River. The Stillwater Trail would have provided a land route north-northwest from what is now Dayton and then northward (Figure 3). At what is now Dayton were Native American settlements at a confluence of three navigable rivers, an important place for settlement. Therefore, a network of trails radiating from the area would be expected.

The Stillwater Trail was probably most important for providing one of several routes from the Miami Valley to the Maumee Valley, complimenting one along the Great Miami River (Figure 4). It probably continued north along the Stillwater River to where the river veered west at what is now Covington. It then continued north to Loramies Creek, paralleled that for a distance, and then continued north to meet a tributary of the St. Marys River. It paralleled that for a distance before continuing further north to a tributary of the Auglaize River and on to the Maumee Valley.

The Stillwater Trail could also have been a route to the northwest from Dayton, continuing northwestward from the area of Union to what is now Greenville, the headwaters of the Stillwater River, and the vicinity of what is now Fort Recovery. This would have been a complimentary route to the one now represented by State Route 49 and State Route 571.

However, the Stillwater Trail is not indicated on any known trails maps. The best statewide map, Shetrone & Sherman (1919), shows only one trail in the Dayton area, and that is the Miami trail. Mills (1914) shows the same. One of the best regional trails maps, Lewis & Dawley (c1902), shows a few trails converging at Dayton, but only on the east side of the Miami River. Since this map focuses on the Virginia Military District, the region west of the Great Miami may not have been mapped as thoroughly.

The area west of the Great Miami River is in a district surveyed in the rectangular method for the Congressional Land Survey. Englewood and Union are in sections 10 and 15 in Range 5, Township 5, Congressional Land Survey East of the First Meridian. The sections were surveyed in 1805, and the surveyor noted trees and terrain in a grid every mile, but unfortunately, not trails (Ohio Auditor of State c1806).

This trail that became State Route 48 is mentioned in the history of the town of Union. After scouts determined that land around Dayton was available and ideal, emigrants from North Carolina traveled to Cincinnati and then to what is now Warren County, where they spent the winter of 1801-1802.

An exploring party made several trips up the Southwest Branch [the Stillwater River] and finally agreed to locate on the west bank of that river, ten or twelve miles from Dayton. . . . Cabin sites were selected, roads were marked out . . . and partially opened to the Indian trail leading to Dayton. In March . . . the colony left their winter quarters and arrived upon their lands March 20, 1802 (City of Union c1985: 2 [from Beers 1882]). In going from Dayton to their place of settlement it was necessary for them to cut a trail as they went (Drury 1909: 917). It was a frontier settlement . . . Indian war parties and trading parties were constantly passing along the trails, and hunting parties were roaming the woods. Fleets of their canoes were upon the rivers (City of Union c1985: 2-3 [from Beers 1882; underlining added]).

Although the wording is somewhat misleading, these passages imply that there was an established trail from Dayton that the party widened to allow their wagons to pass through. This was not an unusual practice for large emigrant groups traveling into the frontier, and was probably modeled after the practice of frontier military campaigns to build war roads atop established trails. With this action, the Stillwater Trail became a blazed road, and with the advent of settlement, was on its way to becoming an improved road.

Early Ohio Roads

The history of official road designation and road building in Ohio can be traced back to 1792, when a Northwest Territory act established work obligations for citizens, and permitted public roads to be established after a petition of at least twelve landowners (United States Bureau of Public Roads 1927: 15). In 1799 a more comprehensive territorial act, the Road Law, thoroughly described citizen work obligations and road specifications, and required signposts at important crossroads. This road law became the basis of the modern highway laws of Ohio (Bond 1941: 444m). In 1802, the Ohio Enabling Act dedicated three percent of federal land sales in the state for laying out roads; however, little construction resulted (Utter 1942: 202-203).

A state law of 1809 obliged all men of majority to give two days a year to do road work or hire a substitute. This law also gives counties the responsibility of building roads authorized by the state (Utter 1942: 206b; Unknown c1978 "Board of County Commissioners"). This meant that the state designated state roads, but that the counties the roads ran through had to build them.

The system for establishing new roads, as defined in 1799 and later refined, had six steps. First, a petition from local citizens was...


[Always check your backup! The rest of this file got eaten, and I suspect Windows/MS Word as the evil fascist culprits. (Oops, did I say that?)]

The Stillwater Road

Stillwater Road = "roads were marked out and partially opened to the Indian trail leading to Dayton" in March 1802 (City of Union c1985: 2) from 1882 history

Stillwater Road 1816 = "State road leading from Dayton to Greenville and St. Mary's" (City of Union c1985: 3) from 1882 history

Authority and exercise of state in making roads - and townships... The counties of Ohio have the power to construct "local highways" within their jurisdiction, as authorized by the state assembly between 1804 and 1916 (preface to microfilm of Montogomery Commissioners Journal, Volumes 1-4).

The counties of Ohio underwent significant genesis, metamorphosis and contraction in the early history of the state. Thus, early legal actions within the current county may have begun in a predecessor county, and legal actions by the current county may pertain to activities or land in what are now other counties.

When settlement began in the 1790s, the land west of the Great Miami River, where the Covington Turnpike was later built, was under the jurisdiction of Knox County, Northwest Territory, formed in 1790. In 1792, Hamilton County was enlarged from the east side of the river to include the land west of the river to the future state line. It was separated from Hamilton County and established soon after statehood, on May 1, 1803, extending northward and westward beyond its current boundaries. Montgomery County had only a brief five years before it attained its current boundaries. On March 1, 1807, Miami County was formed from Montogomery County, and on March 1, 1808, Preble County was formed. At that time Montogomery County attained its current boundaries, and thus, any discussion of county roads in the county records pertains only to those within the county. (Downes 1927).

Since the Stillwater Road is first mentioned in the Montgomery County Commissioners Journal in 1810 as already built, and was depicted in an 1807 map as in existence (see below), the road was presumably built by the county's predecessor, Hamilton County.

Stillwater Road called Southwest Branch (of the Great Miami River) also (City of Union c1985: 2). therefore passed over many entries in journal! augh!

[Montgomery County Commissioners]

1823 "Commissioners Journal, Volume A Number 1." Microfilmed; on file at OHS, Columbus Ohio.

The preserved Montgomery County Commissioners Journal begins in 1804. At the end of this first volume is a two-page map, "Plat of part of Montgomery County with the Roads 1807." It indicates about 17 roads radiating from Dayton, with several more interconnecting them. Stillwater Road is clearly indicated. Though when traced onto a modern map, the alignment is not quite the same as modern State Route 48 - in some places, as much a mile distant. But the alignment matches the route through original Englewood and Union, from U.S. Route 40 northward to almost the county line. This is apparently the only segment of the road that has remained in its original location since at least 1807. Additionally, River Road, in the east edge of Englewood, is indicated, continuing due north to the county line.

This first volume of the commissioners journal is indexed, unlike following volumes. Thus, any mention of the Stillwater Road can be scanned from the index, under the subject "Roads." Although an indexed listing of the Stillwater Road is for page 27, in 1805, this listing appears to be an error. The first reference to the Stillwater Road is on page 123, on Tuesday, June 5, 1810. The manuscript entries tend to omit punctuation, ancluding commas, periods and apostrophes, but are quoted mostly verbatim here:

The return of a view or review of a road from Thomas Newmans northerly by D Hoovers mill to Miami County line was made and the viewers report "that they believe the road when opened will be of public utility as it is on better ground & nearer direction than the old road" signed George Sinks [or Links] Jnr, George Sinks [or Links] Senr. Daniel Yount whereupon it is ordained to be opened three poles wide and to be recorded and established a public highway. The survey is as follows: Surveyed a road beginning in Thomas Newmans lane at a stump 10 1/2 miles from Dayton according to former survey. [...List of Surveyeor's Alignments...] The whole of the new survey being 1 mile & 48 chains & 75 links.

April 24th 1810 Daniel Hoover Senr. Surveyor

A pole is 16 1/2 feet, so the three-pole wide road was 49 1/2 feet wide. this probably referred to the right-of-way, since the early rural roads were usually little more than 16 to 25 feet (about one to 1 1/2 poles) wide. The mention of "the old road" and the short length of this road project (little more than one mile) indicates that the Stillwater Road was already in existence and that this was merely an adjustment of part of its route. This probably began just north of the north end of the project area.

The next mention of the Stillwater Road is on page 198, on Tuesday, March 10, 1814:

On the petition of Robert Park praying an alteration of the Still water road on his land Ordered that Joseph Kennedy John Kerr & Samuel Brier viewers view the same according to law & report at our meeting on the first Monday of June next.

But no return was reported on that date, June 6, and there are no other indexes around that time. The next mention of the Stillwater Road is on pages 208-209, on Monday, December 5, 1814. This is for another road that connects with the Stillwater Road:

On a petition presented & Judge George & Victor King having executed a bond in the sum of $20 Ordered that Daniel Neff John McCleary Junr & John Kerr viewers with Samuel Sr. the Surveyor meet at the house of William George Esq. on the 12th instant and proceed to view a road beginning at the Still water road at or near Judge Georges thence by his mill to intersect the same again at or near Robert McClay's and also another road beginning at the aforesaid contemplated road near said mill & running thence across the Still water to intersect the road leading from Dayton to Joseph Kennedys near John Wolfs and that they make their report to us on the first Monday of March next.

The the end of that day's entry, a line reads "several returns of roads were made & read." This indicates that some road returns were not recorded vebatim, or even at all, in the journal; thus the returns mentioned above were probably made but just have not been documented.

The next mention of the Stillwater Road is on page 213, on Wednesday, December 7, 1818:

The review of an altereation of the Still water road passing thro Jacob Wybrights land near Razors mill was made as follows beginning at the fork running S15E 106 poles thance S35W 54 poles thence S87W poles total 246 poles measured the road and found it 224 poles. It is reported that the ground on which the new survey is made will make the best road. Ordered that when it is sufficiently opened it shall be declared a public highway.

The next, and last indexed, mention of the Stillwater Road is on page 261, on April 28, 1818. This is for another road that connects with the Stillwater Road:

Read the report on the road Beginning on the State road leading from Dayton to Staunton at or near the Stllwater road thence through H G Phillips farmland to cross the Miami River where the old road went...and ordered that the said report be set aside because the viewers departed too widely from the course laid down in the order directed to them.

Gephart, William F. (William Franklin), b. 1877

1909 Transportation and industrial development in the Middle West, by William F. Gephart. [New York] 1909.
The The History of the State of Ohio series probably drew heavily from this. Few maps, charts; biblio. 275 p. maps (part fold) diagrs. (part fold.) 23cm. Vita: p. 275. Published also as Studies in history, economics and public law, ed. by the Faculty of political science of Columbia university, vol. xxxiv, no. 1. Thesis (PH. D.)--Columbia university. Bibliography: p. 266-273. OHS: 380.977 G299t , Englewood / SR 48 turnpike research, June 29, 1999.
New York : Octagon Books, 1976. Studies in history, economics, and public law, edited by the faculty of political science of Columbia University ; Columbia studies in the social sciences ; no. 89. Reprint of the 1909 ed. published by Columbia University, New York. OSU: BUS Stacks HE209 .G4 1976

Two maps from this give clues to the pre-turnpike history of the road, for lack of a better name, referred to as the Stillwater Road since it runs along the Stillwater River. An 1810 road map of the state does not indicate the road, implying that if there was a road there (and there probably was) it was not designated a state road. Since the map also shows significant county and township roads, this implies that the road had not been developed or used enough to make it a road of regional importance.

But an 1828 road map of the state indicates the Stillwater Road, though slightly different from the route of the Covington Turnpike: instead of crossing the Stillwater River north of Milton and Ludlow Creek, the road stays on the west side of the river, running up to and ending at a Troy-to Greenville road. (Indicated on Kelley 1828; not on Anderson 1828. See Smith 1978.)

Covington Turnpike

Although the turnpike is usually referred to as the Covington Turnpike, the formal name was the Dayton & Covington Turnpike. It has also been referred to as the Dayton, Covington & Piqua Toll Road (City of Union c1980).

[Where are original incorporation papers / duplicates?]

Ohio, Public Works 1836 Report of the Board of Public Works. [Printer? Place?]. [Document 16: "Special Report of the Board of Public Works, Relative to the Skeleton Map of the State of Ohio, December 30, 1837." Lists the incorporations of 78 turnpike companies (and other transportation companies), after explaining that the maps are unfinished but are being presented to the state; presumably the list of incorporations was information intended to be put onto the map. Found at the State Library of Ohio. ] On page 6, item 22: "Dayton and Covington Turnpike. Incorporated February 23, 1833 1.1.v.31 p228."

This states an incorporation date different from the local histories - 1833 instead of 1838. The local historian may have mistaken the 8 for a 3, and later historians repeated the error. Or, a comany was incorporated in 1833, and then it dissolved and another was incorporated under the same name in 1838.

[Fouer, Samuel] 1838? "Dayton and Covington Turnpike." Manuscript map on file at Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio. Map, manuscript. Three squarish pieces, smaller scale, more finished. Turnpike ends at "Troy & Greenville Pike." Copied. Found at the Ohio Historical Society. OHS # MAP VFM 0457-4. Englewood / SR 48 turnpike research, June 29, 1999 [Fouer, Samuel] 1838? "Dayton and Covington Turnpike. As Located by Saml. Fouer (sp?)." Manuscript map on file at Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio. Map, manuscript. Two rectangular pieces, larger scale, less finished. Turnpike ends at "Troy & Urbana Pike." Part copied. Found at the Ohio Historical Society. OHS # MAP VFM 0645-2 Englewood / SR 48 turnpike research, June 29, 1999

These two maps appear to be presentation maps for the turnpike company, one an unfinished draft, the other finished. Samuel Fouer is credited on one map, probably being the chief engineer. OHS has several maps like these for other turnpike companies at the same time. Since in the catalog they are attributed indirectly to the Ohio Department of Public Works, the maps were probably presented to the department, and that, bccause the company had a contract to use a state road and were required to document their work. Or, the maps were turned over to the department years later when the turnpike company was dissolved.

[Ohio General Assembly] 1840 Executive Documents. S. Medary, Columbus, Ohio. Found at the State Library of Ohio. Search for "Dayton & Covington Turnpike:" 1838 - no index, not searched 1838-1839 - no index, not searched 1839-1840 - not listed in index 1840 - listed in index: Document 19 (copied)

Englewood (originaly named Harrisburg) was platted in 1841, no doubt to take advantage of the junction of the National Road and the Covington Turnpike. Since the town was platted along the Covington Turnpike instead of the National Road, this indicates that the Covington Turnpike was more important than the National Road at this location. That corraborates with the statement that the National Road near Dayton was superceded by a county road that drew traffic off the road and into Dayton (Knepper 1989?).

The second report found for the Dayton & Covington Turnpike is dated December 28, 1842. It indicates that the turnpike is finished, since there is no mention of construction. It also mentions three requisite accessories for a turnpike: "...toll houses, [toll] gates, mile stones..." The president is still N. Hart. The previous and additional construction expenses, as well as repairs, total $88,081. The total of tolls for 1842 amounted to $3,342.

The last report found for the Dayton & Covington Turnpike is dated November 28, 1845. Apparently company officers were re-elected in June 1844. The report mentions that the road runs from "Dayton, in Montgomery County, running through Union in M...


[Always check your backup! The rest of this file got eaten, too...evil fascists... (Oops, did I say that again?)]

- end -

  • Englewood, Montgomery County, is a former Village on SR 48, which is also a Pike Town on the National Road.
  • And Union, too...

  • You are at "Brief History of the Covington Turnpike"

    "Transp - Story - CovTpk.html" v1.0 - 10/26/02
    Intrepid Historical Services - Kevin B. Coleman - Columbus, Ohio, USA
    (Adapted 06/23/02 from the first part of the file "Covington tpk"
    and the second part of the file "Covington tpk1,"
    both entitled "Covington Turnpike" - both being drafts
    for a CRM report for ASC Group, Inc., 1999,
    on file at the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.