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Tales of 153 North Franklin
Written February 13, 2020

Some portions have already appeared on this site.
Other credited photos have been obtained from Facebook.


Richwood, the central Ohio village where I grew up, was once sufficiently “urban” to merit an “interurban” connection.

Wooden trolley cars operated on an 18-mile route from the city of Delaware, through the mineral-water resort called Magnetic Springs, and then on to Richwood with its Opera House.

Lynne Ledley

Franklin Street is quite wide, so the ties and rails and ballast could be laid right down the middle.

The photos on the left, apparently from 1906, are captioned “Building of the Columbus, Magnetic Springs and Northern Strang-Electric Railway, which runs from Columbus to Delaware, Magnetic Springs, Richwood, LaRue, Kenton, and Lima, Ohio, where it intersects with the FWVW&LT Co. for Fort Wayne, Ind.” 

That may have been the original plan, but I don't think this particular railway ever went farther north than Richwood.  Nor did it go farther south than Delaware.  However, in that city a Richwood resident could board the Columbus, Delaware, and Marion line for connections to anywhere in the nation.

“Strang-Electric Railway” refers to William B. Strang, who had very recently invented a gas-electric railroad car to connect Kansas City to his new suburb of Overland Park.  However, the Richwood trolley was not a “Strang,” as it drew its electricity not from an onboard engine/generator (like a diesel locomotive) but from an overhead wire.

Charles Lyn Barry, from Scott Jerew Collection

Robert Swisher

After making its stops in Richwood, the Delaware & Magnetic Springs Electric Rail Road's trolley car turned around to head back towards Delaware.  Actually I suspect it didn't make a U-turn; the motorman could have merely walked to the other end of the car and reversed the motor to head back in the opposite direction.  Or if it was late in the day, the car might have just parked in the middle of the street for the night.

Present-day councilman Reddy Brown says the end of the line in Richwood was near the intersection of Oak Street.  That's where Franklin Street narrows, and that's where an old map locates the freight house.

Reddy Brown

When I was a child, I remember hearing that the building on this corner had previously been one of Richwood's livery stables.

I also heard that after airplane pilots started trying to find their way around the country, a navigational aid was painted on the black roof:  an arrow   pointing north, plus RICHWOOD to identify the town.

Next to the freight house was a hotel, complete with steam heat and electric lights for the convenience of the traveling public.  Apparently the name was actually the Cottage Hotel.  Notice the largest of the trees out front; we'll see it again later.  Notice that the north half of Lot #212 is open space; we'll see used vehicles parked there later.  

Charles Lyn Barry

As the years went by, automobiles became the preferred form of transportation and there was no longer need for the interurban.  Service had been reduced to one round trip per day, and it was discontinued entirely in 1933.

Paul M. Curl and Jay Evans sold cars at a dealership known as Curl-Evans Chevrolet.  Where was that garage?  Jay's grandson Wayne writes on Facebook, “Originally, it was located at Pop's Pure Oil.”  I think that was around 120 North Franklin Street.

Later, Curl and Evans relocated to 153 North Franklin.  That was the aforementioned corner of Franklin and Oak.

Wayne Evans

The garage was of concrete-block construction with a wooden roof.  The larger rear portion along Oak Street was the repair shop, and the smaller portion facing Franklin Street had a floor about two steps higher.  The front half of this portion featured showroom windows; the back half housed the parts department and outer and inner offices.  To bring cars up from the shop into the showroom, there was a short ramp between the offices and the restrooms (the small windows on the right). 

Charles Lyn Barry

Notice the big black steel pole supporting a lighted vertical CHEVROLET sign in front of the garage, where it could be seen all the way down Franklin Street.  A portion of the Cottage Hotel is visible beyond what I'll call the Sign Pole.  If I had to guess, I'd date this picture to about February of 1950 because of another neon sign, this one in the center-right window.

In January of that year, Chevrolet introduced the new PowerGlide transmission, a first for low-priced cars.  There was no clutch, but there were only two speeds and the shifting wasn't automatic.  Once a driver reached about 35 mph, he had to move a lever from Low to Drive.

Wayne Evans says his grandpa subsequently sold his share of the business to Paul Curl.


Charles Lyn Barry

I'm not sure how well they got along at the end.  He said Paul took two vacations a year; each one was six months long.”

Kay Armstrong Unverzagt

Not long afterwards, Paul really did start taking vacations twelve months a year.  He retired.  He sold the franchise to my father, Vernon M. Thomas, who had been working at a dealership in Newark, Ohio.

Our family moved to Richwood in late 1952.  This snapshot, taken 3½ years later, shows Margaret and Paul Curl on the left and my father on the right.

As a bored young boy, I would sometimes wander out the showroom door with its GMAC Financing decal.  I'd walk to the Sign Pole and circle it, stepping carefully on the square concrete base while hanging onto the pole with one hand and avoiding kicking the switch that would turn off the neon.

Kay Armstrong Unverzagt

   1953 Richwood High School Tigrtrax

By 1953, the showroom was rearranged so a car could be displayed in the big left window, and a metal awning was installed over the front door.  Most importantly, there was a new name on the façade!

We soon purchased the Cottage Hotel and tore it down — but not the big old tree out front — to make room for a larger OK Used Cars lot.  The colorized photo below shows that by the time the 1956 Chevys arrived, an Oldsmobile logo had been added to the Sign Pole.

The following years brought us much properity and happiness.   We sold as many as 50 new cars every month, including many to customers in the nearby city of Marion (15 times Richwood's size).

Charles Lyn Barry

adapted from Charles Lyn Barry

Here's an aerial view of the garage from the opposite direction.  A and B are houses on the other side of Oak Street, with addresses something like 159 and 157 North Franklin.  H is the former site of the Cottage Hotel, M is the Masonic Temple, and E is the original location (I think) of Curl-Evans Chevrolet.

Unfortunately, in 1964 a great fire leveled the building at 153 North Franklin Street.  But it didn't destroy th Sign Pole, and it didn't destroy Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet & Oldsmobile.  My father relocated the residents of A and B ... 

... razed the houses, and erected in their place a brand-new building twice as large as the old garage.  

All the printed material read “153 North Franklin Street,” so the business retained that address, though strictly speaking it referred to what was now only a parking lot with a Sign Pole.

My father retired in 1973, and the Mills family took over the dealership.  Sadly, small automobile dealerships in small towns are a slowly dying breed.  Some 35 years later, Mills Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Pontiac went out of business.

But happily, the village of Richwood bought the building for its municipal offices.

The address of this showcase is still given as 153 North Franklin Street.

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