Image by Carl Schlabach
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History

Scenic Ohio has a unique history as the only organization dedicated to the sustained beautification of Ohio’s byways and communities. Founded in 1933 as the Ohio Roadside Council, it has a distinguished heritage as the longest-standing not-for-profit organization in America dedicated to improving roadway environments and aesthetics. Scenic Ohio works with local and state agencies, communities and individuals to achieve its goals to conserve and protect Ohio’s many scenic byways; historic, prehistoric and ecological resources, and the appearance of gateways.

Historic Scenic Ohio Images

 
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Ohio Roadside Council

Scenic Ohio, originally called “The Ohio Roadside Council,” began in December 1933. The formation of the Ohio Roadside Council was inspired by the Garden Club of America's old Conservation and Roadside
Beautification Committee, later known as the National Roadside Council.

 

Eight visionary Garden Club of America women formed the Ohio Roadside Council in 1933 based upon GCA’s passion to improve America’s roadscapes. The mission of the Ohio Roadside Council was to:

  • Advance roadside improvements.

  • Establish billboard controls, eradicate unsightly billboards and protect
    Ohio jurisdictions rights to control the visual quality of their local village,
    city, township and county.

  • Conserve and protect our villages and cities through town planning.

Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather

* Woman on the Right

Among the eight visionary Garden Club of America members and founders of the Roadside Council was President, Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather. Mather was a leader in civic and cultural activities and was dedicated to making Cleveland a more beautiful city. She founded the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland, funded the development of a master plan for rebuilding the University Circle area into a cultural center, supervised beautification of the grounds surrounding the Cleveland Institute of Art, and organized relief projects and work programs during the Great Depression.

As the first president of the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland in 1930, Mather guided the center into becoming one of the nation's leading horticulture institutions. Her main focus in the beginning stages of the Roadside Council was on goal #1, Roadside Improvement, billboard 

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eradication & town planning. In investigating its possibilities, she found that everything about highways stemmed from the rights and privileges centered in Columbus with its Highway Department sensitive only
to public opinion. She reasoned that Ohio women, in groups, should collectively be able to muster some public opinion which might be effective. She surveyed the field of such groups in Ohio, and called a meeting 

Early Roadside Council Meeting

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of presidents representing the Farm Women's Association, Ohio Federation of Women's Clubs, Ohio Congress of Parents and Teachers, Garden Club of Ohio, Ohio Association of Garden Clubs, Ohio Daughters of the American Revolution and Ohio Business and Professional Women.


In the aggregate, eight women came, and they represented 187,000 voters! This created not only a very large influential power within the Roadside Council but also a singleness of purpose. In 1934, the Depression was at its height and work for men was needed. This made the power and voices of women extremely influential. They resolved to ask Governor White that $500,000 be expended on state highway landscape projects recommended and approved by the Ohio Roadside Council and that thereafter, 

one percent offederal appropriations for roads be allocated to the landscaping of state and federal roads in 1935. 

 

By June of 1934, 4,000 clubs were circularized urging that they produce projects all over the state. Of the 300 suitable projects submitted by the division committees (set up to cooperate with the division directors), 35 projects were accepted by the state, and were executed. Over $1,000 was spent on an educational program of pamphlets and notices related to the improvement of roadside planting. In 1935, a survey was conducted by the council to list objectionable billboards in 20 counties covering 375 main roads. 5,400 billboards were counted, and letters were sent to the advertisers stating that club members preferred products not advertised along state or county highways.

In 1940-1941, with war clouds close at hand, the council's work decidedly had to take a different course. Paul Walter, who was thoroughly familiar with the methods of organizing for political pressures, took the chairmanship which opened a new chapter in the council's work and policies, well designed to fit the emergencies of the war period. Under his leadership, the council supported the Remodifying the Highway Laws, the post-war development of a Memorial Highway program, the support of the Anthony Wayne Memorial committee work, and the subsequent organizing of 88 county committees for an educational program for the ultimate objective of a county zoning bill. Short courses on highway development were instituted at The Ohio State University, bringing Ohio prestige in line with other states that valued roadside development.

Since the war, Mrs. F.G. Hodell, our president, has kept the fabric of the Ohio Council together while those faithful to the purpose of arousing public interest in preserving the amenities of the highways and encouraging the best practices in highway development have given her assistance in working toward a program best suited to the post-war period. One might analyze the period of the council from 1933 to now as a 15-year period of barrage in trying to awaken Ohio men and women, and their representatives, to express their standard of thought as to whether Ohio roads will match any in the country in their fineness of
function and beauty of planning, or if we must concede ourselves a backward state and thus reflect our standards by neglected roads and legislation. Measuring the results of effort is often a disillusioning
process. All educators are faced with this dilemma and have to more or less grasp at isolated achievements rather than a collective improvement. That Ohio has benefited from the effort put forth by the Ohio Council can only be judged by the record:

  • Roadside planting and conservation practice has improved.

  • Roadside parks are an accomplished fact in limited development.

  • A state zoning bill is achieved, but billboards are still with us!

- Written by Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather

Protecting Ohio’s scenic resources, and advancing safe and beautiful highway corridors, is still central to our Scenic Ohio’s mission which celebrates its 88th Anniversary in 2013. Hopefully, this will connect you to our love of Ohio’s scenic resources and roadway corridors, a great American treasure.

Scenic America

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Scenic Ohio is an affiliate of Scenic America. Scenic America was founded in 1981 by a group of citizens from around the country who were concerned about the state of America’s visual character, particularly that of our country’s roadsides.

 

They are now the national leader of a network of 50 state and local affiliates that help us preserve and enhance the scenic character of America.


Scenic America believes all communities possess scenic assets. Scenic conservation occurs with:

  • An educated citizenry

  • A corps of committed scenic activists

  • A business community that understands the economic value of beauty 

  • Public policy that defends natural beauty and distinctive character

Every day Scenic America helps citizens, public officials and neighborhood groups improve the character and aesthetics of their communities. Scenic America’s current work is focused on the five issue areas of our white paper Taking the Long View: A Proposal for Realizing America the Beautiful.