Category Archives: Ohio Features

Hub of The 1800s

Historic Roscoe Village in Coshocton, Ohio

This is a story of resurgence for a bustling canal town that fell into ruin and has since reclaimed its glory days. 

The tale begins with a massacre and a girl who would grow to be known as the “White Woman.” This journey spans two eras of a community separated by a century. Both echo out with the sounds of molten metal being pounded into form, a helmsman shouting to a hoggee, a school bell ringing, and merchants asking, “How may I help you?” Both are known as Roscoe Village. Today, they coexist at a crossroads in time, ready to serve visitors with authentic goods, services, tours, meals, and unforgettable experiences.

But what makes a community sprout along the water’s edge or grow up among the trees of a forest? At first, it may be nothing more than a gathering place in an open space where nearby settlers, scattered about the frontier, can bring goods to exchange or services to offer. And so a market is born. Then it may grow into a transportation hub where the abundance of goods are shipped beyond the community to other towns and regions in a network of trade.

Well, New York City wanted what was from the wilderness to the west – Ohio country! And this western frontier wanted what was from the east. So came the Ohio & Erie Canal to inject an artery that would feed the wants and needs of the east and west much more fluidly than horse and wagon trails. In fact, eastern goods were reduced by as much as 80 percent. And Ohio’s product values rose because they were introduced to new markets, creating increased demand. Across Ohio’s frontier, canal towns sprouted across its fertile landscape, and America had a growth spurt.

Now, about that “White Woman.”

“Mary Harris was captured by Indians in the Deerfield Village Massacre of 1704,” said Alice M. Hoover, a volunteer historian at Roscoe Village. “Some 200 Indians and about 40 French marched their 112 English captives 300 miles to Canada.”

Harris was a 10-year-old servant girl who eventually married a Mohawk brave amongst a small community of Jesuits and praying Indians outside Montreal. In the 1740s, Harris, and others came to Ohio and settled. Perhaps the reason was for fur trading, as Harris practiced her husband’s customs.

“The forest was the Indians’ grocery store,” Hoover smiled.

This settlement became known as “White Woman Town” in honor of Harris. It was on the bank of today’s Walhonding River, which was previously known as White Woman Creek. This was a mere five miles downriver of Caldersburgh, which was renamed Roscoe Village in 1831 to honor an English Abolitionist poet – William S. Roscoe. The adjacent city of Coshocton annexed Roscoe Village in the 1950s, but both towns had a Main Street, so Roscoe’s was renamed “White Woman Street.” And it is so even today.

After the canal was dug 309 miles from Cleveland to Portsmouth, Roscoe Village would become a great wheat exporter. In 1830, the first canal boat to arrive in early Roscoe Village (Caldersburgh) was the original Monticello. The Monticello II served tourism needs from 1971 – 1989 along a mile-long stretch of the canal that had been restored. And the historically accurate Monticello III has been running ever since the summer of 1990. It is 74 feet long and carries 125 passengers.

Life on the towpath is relived through canal boat rides along a preserved section of the Ohio & Erie Canal aboard the Monticello III. This authentic canal boat is powered by two horses guided by a person known as a hoggee. The vessel itself is steered by the helmsmen tending to the tiller at the bow. Together, it all moves smoothly through the serene woodlands as the captain spins the most interesting tales describing the bygone era. Unlike the rest of the Village, the canal boat is not available year-round. It is available Memorial Day through Labor Day and during the fall Apple Butter Stirrin’ Festival.   

Locks were used to raise or lower canal boats to compensate for the new level of water they must travel in the next leg of the journey. This is a section of the canal closed off by gates in which the water level was raised or lowered before the boat continued through the other side of the lock’s gates. Locks are generally made of stone, and there were 146 locks to maneuver from Portsmouth to Cleveland. Roscoe Village has two sets of locks. Lock 26 and 27, known as double locks, are seen on the trail between Roscoe Village and the Monticello III landing in Coshocton Lake Park. This ruin is on dry land now, so you can walk through it. The other set of locks are known as Triple Locks 1, 2, and 3 and are on the west end of the Lower Roscoe Basin. These restored stone structures are modern-day ruins.

“Arnold Medberry was the mover and shaker of Roscoe Village during the canal’s heyday,” Hoover explained. “He owned a sawmill, flour mill, wood planing mill, a hotel, and other interests, including the big Empire Mill at the Triple Locks. These impressive and rare locks are restored and seen today across from the Visitor Center at Coshocton Lake Park.”

Roscoe flourished as the fourth largest port in Ohio, trading wheat, flour, corn, coal, pork, beef, lumber, glass, salt, and other staples of life. Meeting this demand largely were the mills and businesses owned by Medberry. Today’s Medberry Marketplace – a three-story brick building with a wrought iron balcony – was originally the Roscoe Hotel that opened in July of 1856 after an original wood structure burned down.

“There’s a suspicious pit under the floor thought to have been used to hide slaves, serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad,” Hoover said. “The hotel was also a stagecoach stop.”

When you walk inside now, it’s an old-world marketplace with a gourmet deli and café. The deli serves meats and cheeses fresh from nearby Amish country. You are bound to be greeted by its manager, Terry Hill. You’ll find her very cordial and accommodating. And she’s a wealth of information about the area and happenings. 

Around the time the hotel was up and running, so too were the railroads.

Canal towns felt the impact because trains could carry much more to market and do it much faster than a canal boat which topped out at a brisk walking pace. Oh, and there’s the fact that winter’s frozen waters posed little or no slowdown for these iron horses steaming here and there and everywhere.

“Still, the canal operated albeit at a fraction of the capacity it once had,” Hoover continued. “But around 1912 and 1913, it would meet its final demise almost instantaneously.”

First came a series of arson-related fires. There were also mill fires and natural fires. Together, coupled with the close proximity many buildings stood to one another, fires grew out of control despite the efforts of local bucket brigades. Bucket brigades were nothing more than people lined in a row relaying buckets of water from a water source to the fire and back again. Ironically, too much water would prove to be the final death knell to the Ohio & Erie Canal. For in the spring of 1913, a mass flood washed out canal locks, basins, aqueducts, towpaths, and so on. It would simply be too expensive to rebuild because the return on investment would be far from worth it.

Thus, Roscoe Village and other canal towns lost their livelihood and fell into disrepair as the years moved on. Mr. Medberry made a final trip to New York in 1861 aboard a canal boat. And as fate would have it, he fell sick, returned, and a month later, he died. His holdings were auctioned off, but as it was on the eve of the Civil War, this returned pennies on the dollar. His estate was left in financial ruin. However, his widow, Phebe, had an inheritance from her grandfather, Mathias Denman.  She paid off Arnold’s debts so that his name would not be besmirched.

One hundred years later, in 1961, Coshocton would celebrate its Centennial.

An artist – Dean Cornwell – was hired to capture its history in a painting. So he sought inspiration by walking around the area. That’s when he came across the Roscoe ruins. But in his mind, he saw what was a thriving canal town rather than the squalor it had become. His original canvas was recreated as a mural on the wall of Coshocton’s national bank. Later, the same mural would grace the main wall upon entering the Roscoe Village Visitor Center.

This piece of art paid it forward, further inspiring a modern-day mover and shaker in the community.

Edward Montgomery and his wife, Frances, looked at the mural and decided how wonderful it would be to revitalize Roscoe Village to its peak condition.

“It triggered Edward’s childhood memory of the great 1913 flood when he spent his formative years in Coshocton,” Hoover said. “He remembered the disarray it left in the canal system.”

Their vision was helped by a recent trip the couple took to visit Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. The timing was perfect. Edward was looking to retire from the successful venture he started during The Great Depression when he innovated the use of latex over fabric gloves. He now wanted to enjoy a project he and Frances could do together. Their new passion was embraced by the community. So in 1968, their first restoration was of the Toll House. For their remaining decades, the couple toiled together, helping to bring splendor back to the Village.  

The Toll House is a little red brick home with white trim and a quaint porch. The first recorded toll collector of the Village originally lived here when it was built in 1840. Today, upstairs of the Toll House, there are interactive videos sharing the restoration history of any building in the Village. The main floor has crafted items for sale.

Frances Montgomery planted a garden at this house using many of her favorite plants from her home. This garden would awaken a green thumb across the Village in the coming years. Pocket gardens would sprout up in just about any nook and cranny dotting the landscape. Pocket gardens, also known as cottage gardens, are planted in small spaces along a curb, between buildings, and in more imaginative places.

An avid gardener, Frances had a hand in most of the tiny gardens seen today. To her tribute, the Visitor Center created a grand garden and named it the Frances B. Montgomery Memorial Garden. It includes all of the little touches she left throughout the Village’s pocket gardens, such as incorporating stones into the landscape among her favorite trees and blossoms. It has become a popular wedding site in which to shoot exquisite photographs.

Perhaps the most fun window into Yesteryear is in the cellar of the Toll House. When you walk down the old staircase, you hear the magic that awaits. Get ready for a real-life toy story that goes to infinity and beyond. The storyteller around the corner, winding up his favorite toys, is a smiling Richard Hoover. He’s there most weekends from 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m., April – October. His eyes sparkle in the light every time he sees guests look with wonder at the enormous collection of vintage toys from the 1860s to the 1960s.

It feels like Christmas morning. And for the senior crew, you’ll hear the joy in the sound of, “I remember this one!”

But no matter your age, you’ll revel in the creativity and imagination these old toys generate. The Toy Cellar features gravity toys that had no batteries or springs, such as the peculiar contraptions that sent marbles rolling from high to low, flipping and moving things on their descent. Then there are the wind-up toys that spring into action like an airplane flying after a blimp around a lighthouse. Other delights have elements of wonder and surprise that you wish could find their way back into the toy chests of kids today. Unfortunately, these toys are on loan and not for sale.  

The same year that the Montgomerys restored the Toll House, they tackled the much larger Warehouse. Arnold Medberry originally built this warehouse and mill store in 1838. It is one of the more interesting pieces of architecture in the Village. It features a distinct railroad tie that juts from the second-story brick and connects to a vertical beam holding up a large wooden cube with a painted sign that says Lock Twenty-Seven. Inside is the Lock 27 Pub and the Steak N Stein Restaurant where you’re likely to be greeted by Becky Prosek’s smile. It is definitely one of the focal points and meeting spots in the Village. And next to it is a splendid rustic outdoor patio for dining as well. The tall weathered wood fence ensures a world unto its own. Light bulbs are strung in the enormous Maple shade trees to illuminate the evening diners. It also has a stage for periodic entertainment during the summer months.

As you roam the Village, you are bound to come across ladies in old-fashioned dresses working in stores or out for a stroll. Men, too, are seen in attire that may cause a double-take because they look like they just stepped off a canal boat from another era.

Again, this journey spans two eras of a community separated by a century.

Let’s delve into the Mid-Nineteenth Century on the Living History Tour.

The Living History Tours take you all over Roscoe Village, but several places are of particular interest. You’ll see life in this old canal town come into focus, and if you’re lucky, you may even get your hands on some authentic experiences you’ll talk about all the way home.

So on that note, meet the Village Smitty!

It seems the town’s blacksmiths always work up hearty belly laughs while they cast a story or two over the noise of red-hot metal being forged into something useful between a hammer and anvil. Roscoe’s blacksmith shop dates back to 1889. It was renovated in 1978. Today, the weathered red wood exterior is peeling and bowing in the artistry of decay, fitting the calloused hands hard at work inside. Between the stories and the roar of the flame when it gets a big breath of air, visitors may be mesmerized, thinking they’ve entered a wrinkle in time.

Just down the red brick sidewalk, made wavy from tree roots, is the Hay Craft & Learning Center. Inside you are greeted by an enormous old printing press. This 1870s gem still works, and the printer there will demonstrate it and explain the ways of the old print shop. In an adjacent room, a broom squire will gather everyone around to see brooms made by hand. The process begins with what is called broomcorn.

Sometimes the skilled craftspeople of old may have had a mishap landing them at Dr. Maro Johnson’s office further down the red brick sidewalk. You can’t miss it. The stark white brick building is tucked between two red brick buildings. It was originally built in 1842. There, someone will explain the medical instruments and procedures of the Nineteenth Century. The good doctor’s house is just next door and has furnishings true of the 1830s. Costumed interpreters are happy to share the lifestyle of the family of six who lived there.

The doctor’s children likely studied together at the one-room schoolhouse just down the road. If you hear the school bell ringing, hurry up; you best not be late for class. On the other side of the door, you hear the creek of the worn wood floor. The teacher is at the head of the class, a wood-burning stove off to her side. The authentic wood and iron-made desks look like they are straight out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder story. Grab one and enjoy a lesson on what school entailed in the 1800s. 

Let the lessons of the 1800s continue next door at the tiny red-brick Craftman’s House. It seems so much larger inside. Although it’s the oldest building in the Village, it’s the only one that isn’t a Village original. It was moved from a nearby location. This 1825 construction is where a weaver toiled at his craft. The backroom has a couple of large old looms. No doubt you’ll hear wood smacking together to tighten a weave. The front room looks like a pioneer could come home any minute to light a fire and take a seat at an old wood desk, feather pen and inkwell at hand, to write to a relative back east.

Now that you’ve seen others with their hands hard at work, it’s your turn to roll up those sleeves.

Back at the Visitor Center, you’ll find the Diorama Room. If you want to learn something, just ask Stacie Stein. She loves to help inquiring minds. This is where imaginations fly, and keepsakes by one’s own hand become proud souvenirs no matter your age.  Since this is a canal town, a rope maker may be handy. Participants get to twist jute twine, hoping it’s strong enough to secure a canal boat to its moorings. Become a tin smith and learn the craft of tin punching and create a decorative ornament using a hammer and nail. Moonlight as a candlemaker and actually hand dip a wick into warm wax and voilà – a pair of candles. Use a slotted wood frame and yarn to weave a little something special or design a quilt square. Since canal life may have been hard, you have to make sure there’s still time for play. A simple top spinning could bring fun to just about anyone. Learn about canal-era games as you decorate your own Nineteenth Century wooden top.

The River Ridge Leather Company has modern-day tradespeople hard at work. Their workshop doubles as a store. The leather goods for sale are hand-crafted before your eyes using nothing but traditional tools and techniques of the trade. The friendly guy working on the other side of the counter with others is Dennis Knight. He knows his business so ask him anything.

If shopping for conversation starters is of interest to you, welcome to modern-day Roscoe Village, where ma and pop shops abound. As you walk about marveling at the wonderful architecture from one building to another, you will notice about a dozen places that offer novelties such as Annin flags, a winemakers cellar, antique books, handcrafted homewares, cottage-style accessories, jewelry, fresh-cut flowers, American bench-made furniture, and handcrafted acoustic guitars. Of course, there’s much more, but why spoil the adventure of exploring these historic buildings for the find of the century?

Perhaps the anchor store of the Village is the General Store. It sits in a central location across the stage area for special events. With a small third floor, it stands taller than the buildings around it. Even way back in 1870, it was a general store. Edward and Frances Montgomery restored this red brick landmark in 1971. If any place harkens to a bygone era, just walk inside. To the right are usually two ladies in canal-era dresses behind an aged wood counter. Above are lamps hanging down, along with the ceiling fans lazily circulating the air. But it’s the mammoth and ornate cash register that still rings up sales that is the crown jewel of this trip back in time.

During the canal era, there was another general store over at the William Roscoe Building. Today, it’s the Uncorked Wine Bar & Restaurant. This impressive three-story brick building with sidewalk seating was built in 1840. It’s a place where you’ll want to pause and take a load off over coffee or wine and a bite to eat. Another notable trip down memory lane is at Sweets and Treats. This old-fashioned candy shop has it all. From vintage favorites like a giant lollipop to hard-to-find pieces, you’ll delight in over a thousand confections.

Any day is a treat in the historic Roscoe Village. But there are a few times during the year when its spirits really dance.

During the fall apple butter festival, the chill of the night air beckons the call of Roscoe’s secrets. Seasoned storytellers will walk groups to places around the Village on so-called Spirit Tours. Listen closely to the Firebug story, and you’ll learn the haunting truth behind the rampant arson that helped end the canal era. The White Woman tale shares the gruesome details of the horrors Mary Harris experienced in her lifetime. Or how about Matilda Wade? She was murdered in a hotel basement doing laundry. When she was found, her head had been nearly chopped off. These are just some of the accounts you may dare to hear.

Did someone mention apple butter?

Pots of these are churned throughout the Village during its annual October Apple Butter Stirrin’ Festival. Artisans, crafters, and food vendors galore set up tents up and down White Woman Street. Apple Butter simmers in the crisp fall air. Live music has people dancing in the street. Everything is open, and the Village is never more alive with living history around every corner.

But if it’s the holiday spirit that calls, don’t miss an enchanting day and night like no other. Three dates every December are reserved for Christmas Candlelighting. Horse-drawn carriage rides are one way to experience the magic of the holidays. So too, are the multiple groups of carolers gathered on various street corners filling everyone’s heart with warmth …along with hot-mulled cider. But Christmas magic really appears with the evening stars. That’s when thousands of people gather in front of the General Store, candle in hand, and gaze toward the stage. A giant Christmas tree on a hillside towers overhead. When the flock sings the first verse of Silent Night, the Christmas tree lights up, and then a flame is passed from one candle to the next until the entire Village is alive with the sound of music flickering in the night.

With all its history, mystery, and intrigue, Roscoe Village is as it was – a mixed community of small shops, eateries, residential homes, and historic buildings with amazing architecture and stories to share.  One of today’s more controversial stories is told in the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum. It holds the controversial Newark Holy Stones. During the 1860s, these were discovered at the Newark, Ohio, Earthworks of Hopewell Indian culture. The stones are inscribed in Hebrew, begging the question, where did they come from?

“Historic Roscoe Village isn’t just any restored village,” smiled Alice M. Hoover. “Many restored villages are old farm villages, and you get that flavor. But canal history is an essential part of American history. Other places may have a canal boat ride but no village or a canal village with no locks. Roscoe has it all!”

Roscoe Village is open year-round. For more information, visit If you are looking to experience the hub of the 1800s today, this is the place that rebuilt it, so you will come.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, Your Tour Guide to Fun!

Yesteryear is Here

Model T Garage Museum Smithville Ohio

All history is local. If you are traveling the modern streets of Rome, look to one side or another, and you may see over a railing down to an excavation revealing what the community looked like thousands of years ago. The contrast is such that you lose yourself for a moment in wonder. So too is it – albeit on a smaller scale – when you drive through a small town in America, and suddenly there’s a downtown within a downtown, both hundreds of years apart.

With globalization we have learned so much about so many things on a grand scale, we yearn for new discoveries. Adventurous minds have made remarkable finds in the nooks and crannies of history, often unearthing a vein of gold in the form of fascinating stories that capture the imagination at a local level. As the saying goes, sometimes less is more.

horse-drawn school bus from Smithville OH

When history comes alive before your eyes, all five senses dance in rhythm. It’s one thing to look at an old baseball card behind glass and another to hear the crack of a bat and see the ballplayer of the 1800s sprint to first base in his loose fit uniform. Or see sparks fly in the hot and soot-smelled confines of an old blacksmith shop. Or feel the spray of water sprinkling from a potter’s wheel.

Even when you travel to well-known places, it is often the obscure, little-known gem that is particularly striking and gets stored in long-term memory. Smithville, Ohio is one such place – a diamond in the rough. And in 1990, Joe Irvin and a handful of others decided it was worth mining and polishing. He became the first president of the Smithville Community Historical Society and served for the next 20 years. Joining him at the time were current president, Harold Downey, Nita Downey and a team of volunteers.

Harold Downey - Smithville Historical Society

Ever since, they’ve saved, renovated and moved historic buildings from around the area to a central place downtown, creating Pioneer Village. And with it came together a community of 200 volunteers who spin history before your eyes.

But before we explore pioneer life in this village, the story begins down the street at the second campus. Here is where the historic Mishler Weaving Mill still operates today.

Mishler Weaving Mill - Smithville Ohio

Before the “c” went missing from his surname, John C. Mischler immigrated to the United States from Switzerland bringing with him his wife, Rosina, and his first three children. It was just after what was known as the Long Depression, sparked by The Panic of 1873. It gripped both the United States and Europe. In nearby Dalton, Ohio the Mathias Gerber family sponsored the Mischlers. When the Mischlers got off the train, they had a small trunk of belongings and five dollars to their name. Soon, they added six more mouths to feed and became a family of eleven.

The Mischlers were farmers in Switzerland but also did their share of weaving to make ends meet. Since land was too expensive for them to buy and farm in the United States, they honed their craft as weavers to make a living. Five years later, they moved from their little log cabin to Smithville. If anything, it was to have better access to the railroad depot – which is preserved along with a caboose in today’s Pioneer Village. This allowed them to move their products such as rugs, towels, and cheesecloth more easily.

Mishler Weaving Mill in Smithville

Over the years, they made a name for themselves weaving and selling cheesecloth. In 1915, electricity was added to the mill, fueling large power-driven looms which spun a more extensive weaving operation. It was previously powered by steam from a coal-fired boiler. Before that, it was done manually. Business records show their family-made cheesecloth was purchased all over the world. As you may expect, the main use of cheesecloth was in the cheese making business. Cheesecloth was primarily used to remove the whey from cheese curds. This helped hold the curds together as cheese formed. It was also used in a variety of other ways in food processing and beyond.

Inside Mishler Mill

John B. Mishler (notice the “c” missing in the surname), the eldest son of John C. Mischler, died in an accident. The youngest son, Daniel Mishler, eventually took the reins of the family weaving business. By that time, he was the only family member still heavily involved in it. Although, his sister Lena – one of the original three children who emigrated from Switzerland – helped.

The hand-powered and mechanical-powered looms in the old mill are still used to produce goods for sale today. There are large leather belts extending down from the ceiling throughout the mill, running off of the line shaft. They are being operated today by a coal-fired steam engine and electric motor. It’s an unusual sight that is rare to see in production today in any part of the country. The old floor looms are also in production as volunteers throw shuttle through and beat it.

Volunteers operate the looms every Wednesday and during special events. It’s one of the ways the Smithville Community Historical Society, now owners of the mill, fund the present-day acquisitions, maintenance and operation of the Pioneer Village and Mishler Weaving Mill.

“We try to be self-sustaining by weaving towels, cloths, rugs or just about anything you want,” smiled Nita Downey.

From one family business to another, the Mishler stomping grounds are now the stomping grounds of the Downeys. Harold runs things, Nita weaves in addition to numerous other duties and their son, Vance – along with Harold – owns a Model T automobile.

Model T at Mishler Mill in Smithville

What does owning a Model T have to do with the weaving mill and historical society?

The garage of the old Mill is home to the Model T Garage Museum operated by The Greater Akron Model T Club. It features several restored Model T automobiles along with a cutaway engine, various other auto parts and hard-to-find memorabilia such as a license plate and steering wheel collection. There, too, are knowledgeable enthusiasts who very much enjoy a conversation about the antique car.

Smithville Model T Garage Museum

One of the old car enthusiast stories you might hear is that of the Depot Hack. It’s a unique form of Model T.  It was not an official Ford body style at the time. Private companies or individuals purchased the chassis from Ford and custom built the body on top of the chassis to that of their need. Depot Hacks were largely designed to carry a high volume of travelers plus their luggage from train depots to area hotels. Today, you would get on a shuttle bus that serves the same purpose to get lots of travelers from the airport to nearby hotels. But in the 1920s, most travel was done by train, so these vehicles were used to get people from the train depot to the nearby inns and hotels. In short, it was a taxi – which is what Hackney means.

Vance helps during special events by operating a tractor-pulled wagon. It’s a replica of an old horse-drawn school bus once used in the community. Today, it is used to get folks from the Mishler Weaving Mill to and from Pioneer Village. Riding the backstreets of Smithville aboard this ole jalopy between the two historic campuses is something the kids will definitely remember.

Like times of old, the best way to enter the village is at the Train Depot. And if you’re lucky, you’ll hear an old sputtering engine just outside. It is used to churn out fresh, old-fashioned, homemade ice cream.

The train depot was rundown because it was unused for years. The railroad offered it as a gift to a local farmer, Arden Ramseyer, under one condition – he had to move it.

“So it was one of those expensive free things,” chuckled Harold.

So the depot was moved downtown to Pioneer Village and restored along with an old caboose as a package deal. The caboose is a 1929 B&O (Baltimore & Ohio) caboose. Inside the depot is the bicycle that the station master, “Rush” Webner, rode to work every day for 40 years.

Rush Webner Bicycle Smithville RR Depot Museum

Next to the depot and caboose is a mural painted by Rusty Baker. Webner is in the mural handing a packet to the train engineer while a Model T waits to cross the track. This image was inspired by a photograph taken by Dan Mishler, the Mill owner. He was a gifted amateur photographer. Many of his photos are displayed throughout the depot museum.

Stepping back outside, if you hear organ music in the air it’s coming from the historic Church of God next door.  The organ was made by, then, a farmer named A.J. Tschantz. Later, he founded the Schantz Organ Company from nearby Orville, Ohio. Notice the “T” from his surname was dropped in the company name. It is the earliest Schantz Organ known to exist. It is one of only four knowns of its kind. The Schantz Organ Company was founded in 1873 by A.J. Tschantz. It is the oldest and largest pipe organ maker in the United States that is still managed by the founding family.

The church is where it’s always stood ever since its bricks were fired on site in 1867. Unfortunately, in its later years, it fell into disrepair and had a congregation that has all but disappeared. The Smithville Community Historical Society was asked to take it over, and that’s what they did.

Pioneer Village has another Schantz Organ in the Sheller House dating back to the 1880s. This old house was owned by a tailor in town named G. Sheller.

“It later became a rental, so there are a lot of people who spent time calling this their home,” smiled Nita. “And when they visit the village, it is a literal homecoming and peak back to their childhood.”

Pioneer Village Smithville

The Sheller House was moved from Main Street. The historic buildings in Pioneer Village were either moved as a whole or dismantled, moved and rebuilt.

The Blacksmith Shop was originally a small horse-and-carriage barn moved from just up the alley. It was owned by “Rush” Webner, the train depot station master. It is crafted with hand-hewn beams with pegged construction. It had been two stories tall but the ground floor was so rotted out it leaned severely. Consequently, the second story became the ground floor and now it’s a one-story building. Several blacksmiths volunteer to work the shop during special events.

Another building, The Spring House, is typically a one-story structure but this one is two stories. A farmhand used to live on its second floor which was big enough to have a cot and small stove. Spring houses were built over springs or running streams before there was refrigeration. The water would keep a steady temperature of about 55 degrees for food lowered into it. This isn’t that cool by today’s refrigeration standards, but it kept milk, eggs and other foods cool enough in the 1800s. Excess space was used for storing kettles, utensils and preserved foods.

Cooking was done in the large open fireplace as displayed inside the Pioneer Log Cabin. The fireplace was the heat source for winter and provided light after sundown. So families often would huddle at the hearth which was the heart of the home much like today’s kitchens. Outside is a small, stand-alone, brick bake oven which was used for the kind of cooking the fireplace couldn’t provide.

outdoor brick over

A summer kitchen was kept close too, but away from a farmhouse because it was a fire hazard. It served as a full-fledged kitchen in the summer when it would be too darned hot to have a fire inside the cabin.

The summer kitchen at Pioneer Village is now The Tin Shop. Inside you’ll find tin master Fred Wetshtein and apprentice Patty McFadden hard at work in between their laughter. Fred used to be a professional sheet metal fabricator. He worked into retirement as the tin smith at Historic Zoar Village, an 1817 active village housing some 75 families today. After some years, Fred longed for a shorter commute from his Barberton, Ohio home. One day, he drove through the small town of Smithville and noticed the town within a town and stopped to take a closer look. He saw tinsmith tools displayed and asked if he could put them to use. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fred Wetshtein - Tin Man at Smithville Pioneer Village

Another pair of craftsmen has their shop in Pioneer Village’s Carriage Barn. It accompanied the Sheller Home generations ago. Built in the late 1800s, it is constructed of rough sawed lumber and pegged construction. It was used for a time as the horse stable for the stagecoach on Portage Trail which is now Ohio State Route 585. Today, Sam Sheller and Dave Sollenberger run a pottery business inside. Stop in this active shop, and you’ll find these men at their potter’s wheels, hand-crafting and then firing colorful pottery of all kinds. Gather round and watch the hypnotic spinning of the spiral marked wheel while these gentlemen explain their craft in storyteller fashion. The shop is both artists’ studio and store, hawking their wares.

All of these buildings and craftspeople bring the life and times of the Nineteenth Century alive for guests every season of the year. These occasions kick off in May and are billed as Open Houses. The June open house features all of these activities again. The July festivities add a community band and ice cream social. August features an antique market at the Mill. A classic car show highlights the September open house outside the Model T Garage Museum. The bake oven spits out fresh cookies and bread during the Apple Butter demonstration in October. And then comes the Christmas in The Village over the first weekend in December. This special event features Christmas decor throughout the buildings, marshmallows roasting in the fireplace, carols sung to organ music and of course, Santa makes an appearance.

Lydo Barn at Smithville Pioneer Village

But a pioneer village could never be complete without showcasing and re-enacting America’s favorite pastime – baseball. Yes, this village has a ballfield where the Smithville Stars play live Base Ball games. Watch and learn how the game was originally played. The players are dressed in their vintage uniforms from 1868 and demonstrate the rules as they were during the 1860s – Civil War era. By the way, did you know that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing the game in Cooperstown, New York back in the summer of 1839?

In the late 1800s, baseball was a part of the popular Chautauqua Circuit.

Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the United States that enthralled communities with speakers, teachers, preachers, musicians and other entertainers. The original annual event was held in Chautauqua, New York. But its popularity spurred offshoots that flourished across the country. The community-based education and entertainment were well-anticipated events lasting a week or two until the Great Depression of the 1930s. Smithville had there own Chautauqua, and it drew people from all over the region.

Now, people from all over the region are rediscovering Smithville and its growing Pioneer Village.

By Rocco Satullo, your Tour Guide to Fun!


Sponsored by the
wayne county convention & visitors bureau


Pioneer Village 1

Pioneer Village 2

Pioneer Village 3

Pioneer Village Ice Cream Social

Smithville Pioneer Village Church

Schantz Organ

Smithville Pioneer Village 11

Pioneer Village Smithville Historical 12

Smithville Historical Pioneer Village 21

wood out house

Smithville Train Depot

Nita Downey Smithville Hitsorical Society

Mishler Weaving Mill in Smithville Ohio 9

Nita Downey Weaving at Mishler Mill

 Kids at Mishler Weaving Mill

weaving at mishler mill smithville ohio open house

inside mishler mill 33

Model T Garage Museum at Mishler Weaving Mill

Model T at Model T Garage Museum Smithville Ohio

Mishler Weaving Mill Outside

Front of Mishler Weaving Mill Smithville

Mishler Weaving Mill and Sign

tour of pioneer village

Pioneer Village 37

Pottery at Pioneer Village

Pottery at Pioneer Village 2

Pottery at Pioneer Village 3

Smithville Veterans Memorial