WPA Project Turns 70
The Ohio Guide: "Better
One of the most thorough guides to the Buckeye State ever compiled, The Ohio Guide, debuted 70 years ago this month in October 1940.
Sponsored by the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society – now the Ohio Historical Society - it's one of 48 state guides created from 1935 to 1942 as part of the American Guide Series compiled by the Works Progress Administration - the WPA - through its Federal Writers' Project.
Lots of Information
The Ohio Guide offers a window on Ohio during the Roosevelt era, but most of all, it provides lots of information, much of it timeless, and it remains one of the few guides offering information on some of Ohio's more out-of-the-way places.
"This volume combines the features of a handbook for tourists and a reference work on Ohio. The traveler will find it indispensable and it should have its place in the automobile of every touring Ohioan," said a 1940 review.
Ohio author Louis Bromfield called the American Guide Series "better than Baedeker's," referring to the classic German-published travel guides, and if you can overlook the references to streetcars or the fact that some points of interest may be long gone (many are not), The Ohio Guide remains a good companion to have along while traveling the state today.
Employed Out-of-Work Writers
Professor Harlan Hatcher of Ohio State University, author of several books on Ohio topics himself and later president of the University of Michigan, served as state director for The Ohio Guide project. According to Hatcher, writing in the introduction, The Ohio Guide was compiled by "hundreds of workers in various capacities..." reflecting the purpose of the Federal Writers' Project, which was to employ out-of-work writers, editors, historians and others in related fields.
Following the format of all 48 books in the American Guide Series, The Ohio Guide has three major sections. Part One features 17 essays on the historical, economic, industrial and cultural life of the state. Part Two profiles 19 cities, each with a short historical sketch, points of interest and a map - Akron, Canton, Chillicothe, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Hamilton, Lorain, Mansfield, Marietta, Newark, Oxford, Sandusky, Springfield, Steubenville, Toledo, Youngstown and Zanesville. The third part consists of tours following the main highways of the time. If you prefer interstates, you won't find them in The Ohio Guide, but if you love traveling state routes and other secondary roads, it's still a handy reference, fun and useful to have along.
Photos and Guide Are Now Online
Thousands of photographs were compiled for The Ohio Guide. Only a handful made it into the book. The originals, now in the collection of the Ohio Historical Society, have recently been digitized and posted online at Ohio Memory as the Ohio Guide Collection, where you can explore Ohio near the close of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. Or, see the originals in the Archives/Library reading room at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus – ask to see State Archives Series 1039 AV.
Though out of print for many years, The Ohio Guide is still on the shelves in many libraries. Copies turn up in used book stores, too, and thanks to Google Books, today you can explore The Ohio Guide online.
Learn more about Harlan Hatcher and his role in The Ohio Guide in this 1998 story from the University of Michigan magazine Michigan Today.