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May 2004
Cambridge, Ohio

    Driving Interstate 70 between Columbus and Wheeling, we pass by the city of Cambridge, located just northwest of the intersection of I-70 and I-77. Cambridge is the capital of Guernsey County and the county’s largest city with a population of about 13,000. It traces its history back to 1801 when the U.S. government granted most of the land where the town now sits to Zaccheus Biggs and Zaccheus A. Beatty. The odds on two guys named Zaccheus located right next to each other seem quite long—how many of us know even one Zaccheus? But it happened, and the town of Cambridge is a result.

    During the early years of the Ohio territory, much of the region I-70 travels through east of Columbus was known as the U.S. Military District. Land here was granted to individuals in recognition of military service during the American Revolution. The new American government was short on cash, but there was plenty of land so some claims were paid with deeds for acreage in Ohio. For many of the former soldiers whose homes were in the East, Ohio might as well have been the moon, so they turned around and sold their land to speculators. This might have been how the two Zaccheuses obtained these tracts.

    The community was located on both Zane’s Trace and the National Road—two of the earliest routes through central Ohio. Inns and taverns lined these old roads, many of which acquired reputations. Just to the east of Cambridge was an establishment known as the Fink Tavern, named after its proprietor, George Washington Fink. The Fink Tavern attracted a rowdy crowd, particularly on Saturday nights, when the revelries usually ended in a fight.

    Outside the tavern was a sign that read:

Don’t stop and think

Come in and drink.

George Washington Fink.

    Kind of anticipates the Burma Shave highway ads, don’t you think?

    Cambridge was named for Cambridge, Maryland, where many of its early settlers were from. The natural resources include coal and clay. The coal was mined; the clay was used to manufacture pottery, tile, and bricks. But the most important industry in Cambridge was glass. Cambridge is known worldwide for its production of fine glass: blown glass, etched glass, pharmaceutical glass, dinnerware, and thousands of other products.  From the late 1800s until the 1950s, the Cambridge Glass Company was the city’s largest employer, but then the company was closed and sold. Today, Cambridge Glass is sought after by collectors, and the city’s legacy is kept alive by two museums in the community that tell the history of glassware production in central Ohio.

    Cambridge is also the boyhood home of William Boyd. That’s probably not so familiar a name, but you might remember him as the actor who portrayed the cowboy, Hopalong Cassidy, in movies and on television.  William Boyd as Hopalong or “Hoppy” was prolific—he stared in 66 movies in that role. Then television came along, and the movies were edited down into shows that would fit in TV’s time slots. In addition, another 40 episodes were produced just for television. Fueled by this exposure, Hopalong Cassidy became immensely popular. At the peak, he received 2,000 fan letters a week and endorsed some 2,400 products. Maybe you have an old Hopalong Cassidy lunch box rusting up in the attic somewhere or, better yet, a Hopalong Cassidy bicycle—those things are valuable today.  

    William Boyd was 40-years-old, a mostly unemployed actor, when he read for a part in a movie—a character named Hopalong Cassidy who was depicted in the original script as whisky-drinking, profane and walking with a limp. Somehow, William Boyd transformed this character into a prince among cowboys, his all-black outfit set off nicely by his white horse named Topper. He never drew his gun first, and didn’t smoke, drink or kiss the girls. William Boyd, himself, said that he sought to make Hoppy an admirable character who always used grammatical English.

    This section of Interstate 70 in Ohio has produced a surprising number of cowboys. These aren’t the characters in modern westerns with complex motivations, character flaws, and occasional paralyzing bouts with self-doubt. No, they’re old-fashioned good-guy cowboys. Zanesville’s Zane Grey virtually created the good guy cowboy in the novels he wrote, William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy showed us what a good-guy cowboy might look like, and New Concord’s John Glenn—first American to orbit the earth, well, he is a good guy cowboy.

            There’s something about this central Ohio soil that produces solid, wholesome, self-sufficient, dependable folk with a strong work ethic. They aren’t flashy, and they might be kind of quiet; you might not even notice them in a crowd. But when you need ‘em, they’ll be right there to help, overcoming the bad guys and the bad girls, making things right, and then fading into the background to avoid the embarrassing spectacle of gratitude and praise.

For more about Cambridge and its surrounding communities, see the CD for I-70 West: Wheeling, WV to Columbus, OH or I-70 East: Columbus, OH to Wheeling, WV.

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