I-90 West: Erie, Pennsylvania
to Cleveland, Ohio
This route starts near Erie, PA where I-79 intersects with I-90. It continues southwest through western
Pennsylvania and then into Ohio, passing the cities of Conneaut, Ashtabula,
Geneva, Madison, Painesville and Kirtland. The program concludes in the eastern suburbs
The program starts in the outskirts of Erie, the third largest
city in Pennsylvania (behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). Shipbuilding has been
an important industry in this community since it was first settled. In 1813 a
fleet of battleships was hastily constructed in Erie and sent in search of
the British Navy. Under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry, a young naval
in his late 20s, this outclassed and undermanned flotilla defeated the British.
It was a crucial battle which gave the Americans control of Lake Erie and helped
secure US claims on Ohio, Michigan and the
territories to the west.
This section of Pennsylvania has been the subject of intense
competition: just about everybody has
wanted it. First, Native Americans fought for control, then
the French claimed it, then the English, then New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania all contended
that this land was their land. The reason? Lake Erie. The US Congress finally awarded the so-called "Erie
Triangle" to Pennsylvania since, without it, the state would have had no
access to a major waterway. Erie became
Pennsylvania's only port city.
The name comes from the Erie Indians, who we might
conclude were a dominant presence when white settlers arrived. But it isn't
true; the Erie never even lived in this region. Western New York is as far west
as Erie territory stretched. The settlers who did the naming got it wrong. So the most
common Native American name in the region is of a tribe from somewhere else.
As you make your way along this highway, the path you are following
has been well-traveled. Mountains to
the south made it difficult to get through so just about everybody coming from
the northeast used this route. They came on foot, by horse, by wagon, by
stagecoach and then finally by motorized vehicles. If the traffic seems heavy
now, it's nothing new: this route has been crowded since the late 1700s.
Watch for the water tower as you approach the exit for
Madison. It's just to the right of the highway and features carousel horses
painted all around it. The reason? Just good old-fashioned publicity. The city
figured that people would be driving down the interstate and notice those
carousel horses and wonder why. Well, just like we did. The paintings are
getting a little faded, but if you look closely, you might spot a
company insignia on the hindquarters of each horse: those are the companies that
paid to get those horses up on the water tower.
This area saw intense activity on the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was a network of blacks and whites who helped escaped
slaves from the south make their way to freedom in the years before the Civil
War. It was "underground" in the sense that it was against federal law to offer
such assistance and so participants evolved a complex set of signs and practices
to help move the fugitives along the route. On some of the older highways of
northeast Ohio, there are still buildings that served as stations on the
This route is available for purchase on CD or cassette tape.
The narration runs for about one hour in 4 segments that take you from Erie,
Pennsylvania to Cleveland's eastern suburbs. The CDs and cassettes sell for
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