Dicey Route 315 junction's proposed fix worries barn boosters
The Civil War-era barn has stood strong for more than 155 years, as the nation went through two world wars, the Great Depression and, now, a deadly pandemic.
But the stately 30-by-40-foot structure with hand-hewn timbers is being threatened by intense residential and commercial growth in southern Delaware County and plans to alleviate traffic congestion and crashes along state Route 315, a state scenic highway.
"I think it's a gem," said Dan Troth, an expert on barns and co-founder of Friends of Ohio Barns, of the barn at the southwest corner of Jewett Road and Route 315. "It's in excellent condition."
A core-sampling of timbers from the barn is being studied to verify its age, but it's estimated to have been built in the 1850s. The tree-ring analysis is accurate to within months, Troth said.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Transportation has been studying the intersection for years, looking at ways to prevent crashes and alleviate congestion.
A 330-page report released this year compared several options, including a three-way traffic signal or a roundabout.
The latter, according to ODOT engineering plans, would cut directly into the barn. It also would require widening or adding lanes closer to other nearby historical homes.
Dee and Mark Rush bought their reconstructed 1870s home near the barn about a year ago and consider the area emblematic of Delaware County's founding.
"These are historically significant houses, and they're right next to the road already," Mark Rush said.
Historians say Major Bartholomew, a sheep farmer, just before dying from a farming accident, made his wife promise him she would build their home "bigger and better" and closer to the Olentangy River, then called the Whetstone.
A local builder, Frank P. Case, designed the home. Five generations of the Case family lived in the Rush house until 1990.
Other older homes nearby served as stops for freed slaves along the Underground Railroad near where the barn, now privately owned, had been erected, local preservationists say.
The preservationists say the homes should be protected and that empty land to the east of the intersection instead could be used to add another lane and create separate through-traffic and turn lanes.
"The plans they've already drawn don't include that," Rush said of expanding to the east. "They show everything coming out of the west side."
ODOT has said the land to the east is close to the Olentangy River, which runs parallel to Route 315 and is prone to sudden flash flooding.
Metro Parks owns the 11-acre tract of land to the east of the intersection as part of Highbanks Metro Park.
Tim Moloney, Metro Parks executive director, said the parks district couldn't commit to anything without examining a definitive project plan.
"With the proximity of this project to the park and river, we look forward to doing what we can to assist ODOT with this project," Moloney said.
ODOT has received dozens of comments at meetings and a public-input process that ended a week ago.
Some residents, in anonymous responses, said they were frustrated because they believed ODOT officials weren't listening to their concerns.
"When other less impactful and lower-cost options were raised, your responses demonstrated a lack of willingness to listen, discuss and review accordingly," one commenter said.
Other residents, such as Cindy Owens, said the best option is to leave the area alone.
"This scenic road with the beautiful trees and river alongside it seem too important to 'mess' with," she wrote.
Another resident compared the area to Route 315 and Powell Road, where a traffic signal, new lanes and massive earthen embankments were created a few years ago to ease traffic congestion and prevent erosion.
Timothy and Catherine Ball, who live along Jewett Road, called that project "a concrete monstrosity."
"PLEASE leave this intersection as it is. We would rather have to wait a minute or two to turn than to lose this scenic spot," they wrote to ODOT.
Motorists turning left onto Jewett from northbound Route 315 back up traffic during rush hour. Leaving Jewett to get onto 315 can be challenging and dangerous, as well.
Reducing the 45-mph speed limit has been suggested as a simple, effective remedy.
But ODOT spokeswoman Breanna Badanes said motorists must abide by posted speed limits.
"Reducing the speed doesn't mean that people are going to drive that speed," she said.
The intersection saw about 25 crashes per year between 2015 and 2017, ODOT's report states. About two-thirds of those were rear-end collisions.
"My grandchildren, children and I have tremendous fear and anxiety whenever we attempt to turn left (north) from Jewett," wrote Diane Cordial.
Rush said the community does not want to be "belligerent" but wants a partner in ODOT that will find a safe but nonintrusive solution.
The website thisbarnishistory.com has more information about the barn, land and intersection.
"I think they may have underestimated the historic value of the property," Rush said.