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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

U.S. 20 roadside rest area harks back to 1940s

BY MIKE TRESSLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Eighteen miles west of Toledo is a rest area with pit toilets, no sidewalk, and no parking lot. Eighteen miles west of Toledo is a rest area with pit toilets, no sidewalk, and no parking lot.
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LYONS - For a half-minute, motorists on east-west U.S. 20 whiz through a time warp - a site known a half-century ago as a “Roadside Rest.”

If they stop, they find a throwback to old-fashioned car travel, a modest “rest area” on the highway that cuts across the northern part of Fulton County.

“Stopping here - it's like you're back in 1944, isn't it?” quipped a motorist.

Modern interstate highways cater to travelers with rest areas that have acres of paved parking, spacious shelters, and modern restrooms.

Rest areas of 2001 have vending-machines, large picnic areas, and spacious lawns for pet owners to walk their dogs. Some have welcome centers and information desks staffed with smiling hosts. Many have artistic statuary scattered amid the manicured sites.

Maintenance workers clip hedges, sweep sidewalks, and keep restrooms sweet.

But the little rest area 18 miles west of Toledo has none of those fancy trappings. No tiled floors, no sparkling building. No separate off-road parking lot. No sidewalks.

Here, only a wide spot makes room for a few cars and fewer trucks to pull over. A loop drive that once led to an actual, small parking area is closed off.

The restroom is a few hundred yards up a path. Travelers should not expect flush toilets or running water or electric lights. The Ohio Department of Highways doesn't call them “primitive rest areas” for no reason.

Only a few old-time roadside rests remain on Ohio roads.

“True enough, there aren't many left, with their pit toilets and water from a pump,” said Al Rakas, assistant to the director of the District 2 office of the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“That particular site in Fulton County came real close to disappearing a few years ago. The vast majority of old 1940s-style rest stops were closed,” he said. “But a study was made and there was enough public comment so that place was left standing. Some people told us it was needed. We left a few of them open.”

Only three primitive rest areas remain in the northwest corner of Ohio, said ODOT spokesman Joe Rutherford.

“Besides the one near Lyons, there is one on U.S. 6 near Sandusky [Erie County] and one on U.S. 24 near Okolona [Henry County],” Mr. Rutherford said. The stop near Okolona is going to be converted to a modern rest area.

“There are no plans to modernize any others,” he said.

Most motorists breeze right past Fulton County's only old-time roadside rest. But some drivers screech to a stop.

“It's handy,” said an eastbound semi-truck driver one fall morning.

Several houses are along U.S. 20 there and Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church is directly across the busy road.

The roadside rest site has a few concrete picnic tables, some under shelters.

A weathered plaque was placed at the area 63 years ago and it recognizes the help offered by the National Youth Administration.

The roadside park's most distinctive feature is a hillside that abruptly slopes up from the highway. Tall pine trees form a shady wood where a truck driver or traveling salesman can stretch his or her legs on the way to the restroom.

“Actually, with the hill and those pines, that Fulton County site is a beautiful piece of ground,” Mr. Rakas said. “I know it as a pleasant place to stop - if you have to stop.”



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