Bring Wilbear Wright Home From The Birthplace of Aviation

Thirty minutes on the treadmill raced by as I listened to Pulitzer prize-winning author David McCullough talk to WOSU’s Ann Fisher about two intellectually curious brothers who loved to read, to learn and to keep to themselves. These determined models of integrity who invented powered, human-controlled flight are the subject of McCullough’s new book, The Wright Brothers.Wilbear Wright

McCullough’s interview prompted me to visit some of the historic Dayton, Ohio sites associated with the Wright brothers, but a dapper aviator teddy bear turned it into an exciting day of discovery. Join me in my quest to bring home Wilbear Wright!

The Race to Dayton’s Amazing Aviation Places is an initiative of Wright Dunbar, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the revitalization of the Dayton neighborhood where the Wright brothers and their high school classmate, African-American author Paul Laurence Dunbar, lived.  To join the race, pick up a passport, tour the one required site — the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center — and a minimum of five of the remaining eight aviation sites in the Dayton area, receive a stamp at each of those sites, and turn in the passport to earn a free Wilbear Wright.

The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and the Aviation Trail Visitor Center are part of the National Park Service’s Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. A full-size replica model of the Wright brothers’ 1902 glider, which helped them discover balance and control, is on display here.Dayton Aviation Heritage

The center is filled with clever exhibits that tell stories of the brothers’ lives. For example, in 1878, their father, Milton Wright, brought home a toy “helicopter” for young Wilbur and Orville that was made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor. The boys played with it until it broke, and then they built their own. Later, they said the toy sparked their interest in flying.

That ingenuity continued when 12-year-old Orville saw a series of woodcut illustrations in a magazine and decided to teach himself how to engrave, fashioning a carving tool from a pocket knife and carving wood blocks. When he was in high school, Orville began a small printing business with his friend, Ed Sines, and later, Wilbur. During their stint as job printers, the brothers printed letterheads, business cards, tickets, programs, church-related publications, and a small current events magazine called Snap-Shots. They also printed the Dayton Tattler, a newspaper Dunbar edited for Dayton’s black community.

FDayton Aviation Heritagerom 1890 through 1895, the Wrights operated a print shop on the second floor of the Hoover Block on the corner of Third and Williams Streets, the building where the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center is located. Exhibits recreate the composing room, where they set type by hand, and the job press room, where they printed small jobs. The rooms feature some of the original printing equipment once owned and used by the Wright brothers.

Here, you can also learn about the Pinnacles, a once-popular picnic area located south of Dayton, near Moraine. The Pinnacles featured unusual 40- to 80-feet-high geological rock formations, known as the Devil’s Backbone. From 1897 to 1899, the Wright brothers came here to observe turkey vultures soaring above the Pinnacles. While watching the birds twist the tips of their wings as they flew, the brothers developed their wing-warping theory. The Pinnacles was destroyed during road construction and is now an abandoned farm.The Pinnacles

The brothers put wing-warping into action with their remarkable hip cradle, which allowed the pilot to roll the plane left or right. As he flew from a lying-down position, he swung his hips in the direction he wanted to go. The hip cradle then activated the warping cables, twisting the wings and turning the plane. At the center, see how the hip cradle works by placing your hand in a model of the cradle, moving your hand to either side, and watching how the wings of the model move.

Dayton Aviation Heritage

The Wright brothers became interested in bicycles in 1892, when this new form of transportation became a national craze, and decided to venture into the bicycle business, which they continued until 1908. In fact, my great-grandfather, Louis Stein, was one of the Wright Cycle Company’s employees.

The Wrights’ fourth bicycle shop, located at 22 South Williams Street and adjacent to the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, is now the only remaining building that housed their bicycle business. While running their business here from 1895 to 1897, the Wrights began to design and build their own models of bicycles, the Van Cleve, named after Wright ancestors who were among the first to settle in Dayton and the St. Clair. This restored site is also where the brothers researched and developed their interest in flying.

Dayton Aviation Heritage

Walk one block to 7 Hawthorne Street, the site of the Wright family home from 1871 to 1878 and from 1885 to 1914. Orville was born in the house in 1871, the brothers lived there while they were developing their flying machine, and Wilbur died there in 1912. The actual house was moved to Greenfield Village in 1936, but the site is now a commemorative area. Part of the home’s front porch has been reconstructed, while lines of concrete blocks trace the placement of its first-floor rooms.

7 Hawthorne Street

Huffman Prairie Flying Field, now part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, is an 84-acre prairie pasture a few miles outside Dayton. Here, the Wright brothers continued the work they did at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in teaching themselves to fly. During 1904 and 1905, they took a 10-minute Interurban electric trolley ride from their Dayton home to the Simms Station stop almost every day. The platform is still standing.

Huffman Prairie

At Huffman Prairie, the brothers learned to control and maneuver their flying machine. You can see a replica of the hangar and catapult launching device that they used to perfect the world’s first practical airplane, the 1905 Wright Flyer III. From 1910 to 1915, the Wrights operated the Wright School of Aviation here, training many of the world’s first pilots.Huffman Prairie

The meadow is also an excellent place to take in plenty of birds, moths, butterflies and prairie plants. In fact, Orville was introduced to the area by his high school biology teacher, who led his students on field expeditions at Huffman Prairie. When Huffman Prairie was being restored in the 1990s, scientists working there discovered a new species of moth, Glyphidocera wrightorum, naming it in honor of the Wright brothers and the work they did there.

The Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center contains exhibits focusing on the Wright brothers’ work at Huffman Prairie. Take a ride in a 1911 Wright Model B flight simulator, using outboard sticks to move the plane up and down and the center stick to roll the plane left and right. “On Great White Wings,” a 30-minute film narrated by Martin Sheen, recreates the brothers’ achievements by flying a full-scale replica of the Wright Flyer III on site at Huffman Prairie. Steps away from the center is the Wright Memorial on Wright Brothers Hill, a 27-acre landscape featuring a 17-foot pink granite obelisk that was dedicated on August 19, 1940, Orville’s 69th birthday.

Wright Memorial

At the National Aviation Hall of Fame, located in the National Museum of the United States Air Force on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, see a scale model of Orville and Wilbur preparing for their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903. The same materials found on the original aircraft were used, such as laminated spruce for the propeller, spruce and ash on the forward supports, and chain links punched from metal. The sculpted landscape it sits upon is covered with sand taken from the beaches of Kill Devil Hill at Kitty Hawk.National Aviation Hall of Fame

Wilbur and Orville purchased a 17-acre tract of land in the Dayton suburb of Oakwood in 1912 and began plans to build a home there. While Wilbur passed away before Hawthorn Hill was completed in 1914, Orville lived in the home for over 35 years.

Hawthorn Hill


In Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery, a blue flag with a white airplane flies over the Wright family plot, where Wilbur and Orville are buried. Following tradition, visitors to the gravesite place coins on the plain granite markers as a sign of respect.

Woodland Cemetery

The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park also includes the Wright Brothers Aviation Center in Carillon Historical Park. This site features the 1905 Wright Flyer III, which Orville helped restore, and the Van Cleve bicycles that the Wright brothers designed. In 1910, the Wright brothers opened the Wright Company Factory, the first factory in the United States designed especially for building airplanes. The factory is a new part of the park and is not open to the public yet.

Another Wright-related site in the area is the Wright State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives, home to one of the most complete collections of Wright material in the world. The collection includes the Wrights’ personal library; Wright family letters, diaries and financial records; and over 4,000 photographs documenting the invention of the airplane and the lives of the Wright family. The collection is open for public research, but making an appointment to do so is necessary.

Recently, the library partnered with the Dayton Metro Library to create an online archive of the most complete run of the Wright brothers’ newspapers available to date. Over 150 of the papers are now available to search and read online.

Finally, venture into eastern Indiana to Hagerstown, where you can tour the Wilbur Wright Birthplace. Wilbur was born in this small farmhouse on April 16, 1867.

Click here to listen to David McCullough’s interview about The Wright Brothers on the June 4 edition of All Sides With Ann Fisher. It begins at the 31:30 mark.

Posted in Dayton, History, Museums, Nature/Outdoors | 1 Comment

Start The Ball Rolling To Visit Minnetrista

When you see a Ball jar, you might think of luscious homemade jams, savory pickled cucumbers and ripe tomatoes, all preserved at the peak of their freshness so they can be enjoyed all year long.

Visit Minnetrista in Muncie, IndiMinnetristaana, and your image of Ball jars will conjure up thoughts of five lovely homes, beautiful gardens, an only child with a fascination for faeries who grew up to collect rare children’s books, and her art-loving cousin who transformed her family’s home into a cultural center for the Muncie community.

Minnetrista is a 40-acre complex that once belonged to the family behind Ball Brothers Glass Company, a well-known manufacturer of canning jars.

In 1880, Frank and Edmund Ball borrowed $200 from their uncle, moved to Buffalo, New York, and started manufacturing wood-jacketed tin cans for shipping oils and varnishes. The wood-jacketed cans gave way to tin-jacketed glass containers for kerosene. When John Mason’s patent on the screw top for glass jars used in food preservation expired in 1884, the Balls started producing glass jars for use in home canning. Frank and Edmund were joined in business by their three brothers — George, William and Lucius — and the Ball Brothers Glass Company was on its way.

When a fire destroyed their factory in 1886, the Ball brothers decided to move to the Midwest, where fuel to operate their glass furnaces was cheaper. Frank scouted out possible sites where natural gas was plentiful. Hungry for industry, officials in Muncie, Indiana offered the Ball brothers $7,500 to defray their moving expenses from Buffalo, seven acres of land on which to build, and free natural gas for five years. The Balls accepted and moved their business and their families to Muncie. Construction of the new factory began in 1887 and glass production started in 1888. Always on the lookout for ways to make better products, Ball developed an automatic glass-blowing machine that was revolutionary in how it increased the company’s productivity. By 1897, Ball had cornered the market. Its glass jars —adorned with “Ball” written in an artistic upward script with an underscore — were world-famous.

Colors of Ball jars ranged from aqua and amber to green and a smoky grey flint, but its most distinctive one was a rich blue, derived from the sand of Lake Michigan’s southeastern shore.

When it came to growing the business, the company was on the ball. It relied on a network of amateur forecasters who provided information about the weather and cDSCN9389rop conditions to estimate the number of jars to produce. It developed fruit jar “go-withs” to be used in canning, such as jar lifters, jar openers, pressure cookers, bubble freers, corn cutters and funnels. It created advertising literature, provided recipes for canning and sponsored canning contests.

In 1894, Ball began shipping its glass jars to grocers, developing an innovative practice of packing them a dozen at a time in wooden boxes and using strawboard dividing liners to prevent them from breaking. Later, Ball pioneered the use of corrugated paper shipping cartons for glass containers. Jars awaiting shipping were stored in Muncie fields, separated with straw. Flocks of migrating ducks landed in the shimmering fields, mistaking them for a lake.

That same year, the Ball brothers also decided to purchase a 40-acre tract of land on the north bank of the White River in Muncie. The view of White River looking toward downtown Muncie along Wheeling Avenue is one of the city’s most painted and photographed scenes.Minnetrista

Frank Ball and his wife, Elizabeth, built the first home there in 1894. They called it “Minnetrista,” a combination of the Sioux word “mna,”meaning “water,” and the English word “tryst,” creating “a gathering place by the water.” In 1902, the large frame house with porches and a gambrel roof was remodeled to reflect the Colonial Revival style that was so fashionable at the time. It was faced with Indiana limestone, and columns were added to the front portico. The home burned down in 1967, and the columns now mark the entrance to Minnetrista’s grounds.


George Ball and his wife, Frances, built their home in 1895 amid an oak grove and called it “Oakhurst” to reflect its surroundings. Their only child, Elisabeth “Betty” Ball, was born at Oakhurst and lived there her entire life.


Frances and George developed the idea for publishing a detailed home canning guide in Oakhurst’s kitchen. Frances used and tested her own recipes for canning vegetables and fruit, while George wrote the directions. In 1909, The Correct Method for Preserving Fruit was published. Later editions were known as the Ball Blue Book.

MinnetristaWhen Betty was a little girl, she played in a “Doll House” that was built around 1905. The original was destroyed in a storm, but a reproduction stands on the same site today. Betty also liked dressing up in a faerie costume and inviting her friends to faerie parties. One of Betty’s guests was Emily Kimbrough, a Muncie girl who grew up to edit the Ladies’ Home Journal and write more than a dozen books, including the classic Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, an account she wrote with Cornelia Otis Skinner about their experiences traveling in England and France after leaving college in 1921. How Dear To My Heart tells of Kimbrough’s growing up with the Ball children. The faerie tradition at Minnetrista continues today with related programming, such as a family faerie house workshop (July 25), a spa for young faerie princesses (July 31) and a faerie tea party (August 1).

Later in life, Betty purchased a cabin in Brown County, Indiana and had it reconstructed near Oakhurst. This is a reproduction of the original cabin.Minnetrista

As an adult, Betty was best known for her extensive collection of rare children’s books, which her father began. She donated portions of her collection to her alma mater, Vassar College; Indiana University’s Lilly Library; the Philadelphia Free Library; the American Antiquarian Society; and the Pierpont Morgan Library. Her gifts were celebrated in a Morgan Library exhibition and catalogue titled Early Children’s Books and Their Illustration, as well as in an exhibition and catalogue at the Lilly Library titled For Your Amusement and Instruction: The Elisabeth Ball Collection of Historical Children’s Materials: An Exhibition.

Betty also collected Fabergé objects, paintings and fore-edge books, rare items with hand-painted scenes on the outer edges of the pages that are not visible when the books are closed, but appear when the book is bent slightly.

Oakhurst is surrounded by several peaceful gardens. A shaded courtyard garden surrounds Oakhurst’s back porch, where a water feature winds its way through ferns and native ephemerals like trilliums, mayapples, Virginia bluebells and celadine poppies. Further down the path, find a rock wall garden and a formal garden filled with colorful perennials and annuals.

Lucius Ball bought an existing farmhouse and turned it toward the river. Later, he made extensive additions to it and faced it in yellow brick. Today, the home houses Minnetrista’s offices. Its gardens feature one of Minnetrista’s three lily ponds, a horn bean hedgemaze, and a colonnade garden where wisteria-covered limestone columns stand among mosaics and perennial plantings.


William Ball and his wife, Emma, built Maplewood, a Georgian Revival home in 1898. Today, it is a guest house for Jarden Home Brands, the current maker of Ball home canning products.Minnetrista

Edward Ball and his wife, Bertha, built the last home in 1905 and called it “Nebosham,” a Delaware Indian word meaning “bend in the river.” It was patterned after an English Tudor manor house, with an Indiana limestone exterior and a Spanish tile roof. Inside, it features stained-glass windows and doors, wood paneling, wainscoting, parquet floors, patterned ceilings, art-glass light fixtures and fireplace tiles from Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati. Today, Nebosham is used by Ball State University as an art center and a continuing education facility.Minnetrista “Now seems like a good time to start the Ball rolling!,” Margaret Ball Petty, daughter of Frank and Elizabeth Ball, remarked in 1978, when she suggested that the Ball Brothers Foundation establish an art museum and cultural center on the site of her childhood home. Today, Minnetrista’s staff work hard to share the Balls’ legacy with the Muncie community. Blog posts, artifacts and archival material describe and document the history of the company and East Central Indiana. Explorer bags and adventure cards offer hands-on activities for all ages, from discovering Minnetrista’s wetlands to exploring bird habitats across the campus. Helpful resources for Ball jar and Blue Book collectors are available here.

Minnetrista offers frequent educational programs, including popular two-hour canning workshops, in this building. Upcoming programs include making green tomato salsa verde (July 21), chicken no-noodle soup (August 18), beef stew meat (September 15) and cranberry sauce (November 17). 


Minnetrista is also known for its extensive gardens featuring culinary herbs, plantings to attract butterflies and birds, gardens refreshed by captured stormwater, a rose garden, a four-seasons garden, and blue, white, yellow and silver-hued plants that are enhanced by moonlight. A nature area represents three Indiana native habitats: a tallgrass prairie; a pond; and a woodland area.  A wishing well that Frank Ball and his family purchased on a trip to Venice is the focal point of another garden.


Antique and modern apple orchards are next to the Orchard Shop, which hosts a monthly farmers market during the growing season.  The shop sells local art, food, handmade goods, and Ball jars and accessories year-round. 


The Ball family contributed their fortune to several philanthropic endeavors. They established Ball State University in Muncie, placing many items from their art collections on permanent loan in the Ball State Art Gallery. The Balls also purchased and presented the Indiana land on which the cabin where Abraham Lincoln lived as a boy (now the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial) and restored the Fredericksburg, Virginia home that George Washington bought for his mother in 1772.

Ball no longer manufactures glass canning jars, but it has expanded and grown into a worldwide metal packaging company based in Colorado that makes recyclable metal containers and is involved in the aerospace business. 

For more information on the Ball family, read Beneficience: Stories about the Ball Families of Muncie, by Earl L. Conn; The House and Its History, by Thomas A. Sargent, the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center and the Ball Corporation; and Stone on Stone, by Hope Barnes and Frances Petty Sargent. Ball Corporation: The First Century, by Frederick Birmingham, and A Collector’s Guide to Ball Jars, by William Brantley, are books about the Ball family’s company and the Ball jar. Discover home food preserving tips, an Introduction to Canning Guide and more here.

On July 22 at 6:30 p.m., the Westerville Public Library will host “Life Hacks: Canning & Preserving.” In this program, The Ohio State University Delaware County Extension will discuss how to properly can and preserve fruits and vegetables.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Books, Gardens, History, Indiana, Museums | Leave a comment

Bear’s Mill Pancake Mix, Cornmeal And Flours Aren’t Your Run-Of-The-Mill Pantry Staples

Piqua Public LibraryAs it meanders through western Ohio, U.S. Route 36 passes interesting sights like the historical marker in Saint Paris for A.B. Graham, the founder of 4-H agricultural clubs for young people; the Urbana home of John Hough James, a pioneer in the development of western banking and railroads; and the old Fort Piqua Hotel, built in 1891 and recently transformed into the new home of the Piqua Public Library.

One particular landmark on the National Register of Historic Places makes this leisurely drive no run-of-the-mill excursion: Bear’s Mill.

Just outside Greenville, a sign points visitors down a picturesque country road to one of the last operating water-powered stone-grinding flour mills in Ohio.Bear's Mill

Gabriel Baer, a miller from Pennsylvania, built the mill in 1849, siding it with hand-hewn black walnut timber. Farmers brought Baer their grain to grind it into flour and meal. Using the barter system, they gave Baer some of the grain for grinding it, which he then sold to people who needed flour and meal for their pantries.

The mill’s source of power is nearby Greenville Creek. When the mill was built, schoolchildren were paid 50 cents a day to first dig by hand the channel carrying the swift current of water to drive the mill and then line the bed with stones. This was no small feat, considering that the millrace is 800 feet long, 10 feet deep and 25 feet wide.

Bear’s Mill doesn’t have the traditional water wheel that you might expect. Because the mill is located in a flat area, it uses turbines that are about 10 feet under the water. Dating from 1862 and 1870, the turbines sit on a concrete floor that has a hole under each one. They turn as the pressure of the water bears down on them.

Bear’s Mill is a gravity-fed mill. Corn, wheat and buckwheat brought to the mill for grinding are lifted from farmers’ wagons up through a fourth-floor door using an overhead pulley system. Then, the grain travels through a hole in the floor to a bin where it is stored before it is cleaned.

Elevator legs — long, thin wooden tubes with a system of cups and belts inside them — transport the grain to the first cleaning machine. Then, it’s scooped and carried to four more cleaning machines. As the grain passes over screens with various sizes of holes, it’s shaken, causing smaller pieces of grain to Bear's Millfall through the screen and down to a storage bin on the first floor. Oversize kernels, cobs and things the miller doesn’t want in the finished product are blown into metal dustbins above each cleaning machine.

Chutes channel the grain from the bins to the second floor of the mill, where it is ground using a set of French buhr millstones. While the top stone turns, the bottom one stays stationary. The grain is fed at a controlled rate from the storage bins through the center of the top stone to the space in between the two stones. It is crushed as it travels from the center to the outer edge of the stone. A paddle on the edge of the turning stone gathers the flour and channels it to a chute that leads to the bagger on the first floor.

Millers love the abrasive, porous qualities of buhr millstones because the slow, constant grinding process produced a superior product. If too much grain is fed through the millstones, it isn’t ground up completely; too little grain makes the two stones touch and overheat, making the grain smell burned. That’s why a miller keeps his nose to the grindstone, making sure that the stones are leveled and turning at the right speed.

Besides learning about the milling process, you can also see plenty of antiques at Bear’s Mill. For example, historic Darke County Fair posters and over 200 sale bills originally posted as advertisements on the mill’s door now paper some of the walls.

Bear's MillMilling takes place at Bear’s Mill on Saturdays, but every day the mill is open, you can buy cornmeal, soft whole-wheat flour, rye flour and cracked wheat ground there. Other products include pancake mixes made with the mill’s stone-ground flours, yellow cornmeal ground from locally grown yellow corn, whole wheat cake flour ground from locally grown soft red winter wheat, whole grain rye flour ground from locally grown rye, whole wheat bread flour ground from western hard red spring wheat, and whole grain spelt flour ground from locally grown spelt.

The mill’s store also carries gourmet foods, heirloom popping corn, coffees and teas, locally produced jams and jellies, and unique kitchen-themed gift items. Specialty baked goods are delivered to the mill weekly, including breads from the Bakehouse Bread & Cookie Company in Troy and other locally made items that use Bear’s Mill stone-ground flours and meals.Bear's Mill

A first-floor gallery features rotating art exhibitions from regional artists and locally made pottery and jewelry. There’s even a special area for children to draw and read a copy of David Macaulay’s Mill, a classic picture book about the planning, construction, and operation of mills that were developed in New England throughout the 19th century.

Posted in Food, History, Ohio | Leave a comment

The Wallpapers In Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Dayton Home Are As Lovely As His Books

Margaret Armstrong’s decorative bookbindings are beautiful representations of this talented book designer’s interest in botany, the distinctive lettering that she developed, and the rich colors that she used in her work. The designs she created for When Malindy Sings, Li’l Gal aMargaret Armstrong's binding design for Candle Lightin' Timend Candle-Lightin’ Time introduced me to the author of these books, an African-American poet named Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Born to former slaves in 1872, Dunbar attended high school with Orville Wright, the future inventor and aviation pioneer, in Dayton, Ohio. Young Dunbar wrote poetry prolifically, even while working as an elevator operator in a Dayton bank building. When William Dean Howells praised the 24-year-old Dunbar’s second book of poetry, Majors and Minors, in a Harper’s Weekly review, the fledgling poet became famous.

Dunbar wrote two kinds of poems: those in standard Victorian-era English, which he considered his better work; and others in a dialect reflecting how he heard African-Americans speak, for which he became famous. Frustration over this is said to have led him to write the poem, “Sympathy,” which includes the famous line that inspired Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography: “I know why the caged bird sings.”

Dunbar wrote over 400 poems, novels, plays, short stories, and lyrics for musicals and an opera. At the height of his career, he traveled the world, giving lectures and poetry recitations, but it was too much for his naturally frail constitution. By 1899, he was suffering from tuberculosis and alcoholism.  He returned to Dayton, bought a home for his mother, Matilda, in 1903, and completed his last work there before his death in 1906 at age 33. Matilda lived in the home until her death in 1934.

Dunbar House

The Dunbars’ 1880s Italianate home was restored by the Ohio Historical Society in 2002 to show what the house would have looked like when the Dunbars lived there.

Tours of the home begin in the front parlor where the Dunbars received guests and the family parlor where Dunbar died.

Dunbar House

The kitchen includes modern conveniences like a telephone, a gas stove, and a hot water heater, while the dining room features the bench on which Matilda rocked her only child and a hutch with a built-in hideaway bed.

Dunbar House

Upstairs, visitors walk through Matilda’s sewing room and bedroom before coming to Dunbar’s bedroom, where his Remington typewriter is on display.

Dunbar House

Dunbar’s study, or “loafing holt,” is where the poet liked to read and rest, surrounded by shelves of his books, souvenirs from his travels, and photographs of his friends and family. It must have been like the “sylvan cool retreat” that he described in his poem, “At Loafing-Holt.”Dunbar House

The bathroom has lead pipes and a special hot water tank that released steam into the room, serving as a kind of humidifier.  A small section of the original yellow-and-blue wallpaper patterned to imitate Delft tiles was found behind the bathroom cabinet during the home’s renovation. A surviving scrap on a wall under a shelf indicated that the paper once covered all the walls of the room in the early 1900s, when Dunbar lived in the house, so a reproduction of the original wallpaper was made. Reproductions of other wallpapers found in a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog of the period were also created to hang throughout the home.

Dunbar House

Dunbar fell out of favor soon after his death, but there has been a resurgence of interest in his work in recent years. Herbert Woodward Martin, professor emeritus at the University of Dayton who gives live portrayals of Dunbar, joined Ronald Primeau to collect Dunbar’s previously unpublished short stories, essays and poems. In His Own Voice: The Dramatic and Other Uncollected Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, published by Ohio University Press in 2002, is the result of their work.

Posted in Books, Dayton, History, Museums, Ohio | Leave a comment

You Won’t Be At Wit’s End Finding Erma Bombeck’s 15-Ton Rock At Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery

In this modest Ranch-style house in Centerville, Ohio, Erma Bombeck sat at a makeshift desk fashioned from a wooden plank and cinder blocks and used an IBM Selectric to type the “At Wit’s End” columns that launched her career.

Bombeck home, Centerville

Erma, her husband and their children lived here from 1959 to 1968. Many of the events that inspired her humorous stories about family life took place in this private suburban Dayton home, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in May.

Born in 1927, Bombeck graduated from the University of Dayton and got married in 1949. Soon afterwards, she stared writing her “Operation Dustrag” columns for the women’s section of the Dayton Journal-Herald, which she continued until 1953. After a 12-year break to start a family, she returned to the Dayton Journal-Herald to write her “At Wit’s End” column, which eventually was nationally syndicated. Her “Up the Wall” column in Good Housekeeping, her interviews on “Good Morning America” and her 12 best-selling books — including The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank and If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? made her a popular household name.

After the Bombecks moved to Arizona, Erma enjoyed writing atop a large rock in her neighbor’s yard.  When she died in 1996, her husband had the 15-ton boulder measuring six feet long and over five feet tall moved to Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery, where it marks her grave.Erma Bombeck grave, Woodland Cemetery

The rock sits close to the entrance of the cemetery, which was established in 1841. Adolph Strauch, the landscape gardener who created Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery, helped with its layout. It’s a beautiful place, with its rolling terrain, a lookout point that’s the highest point in the city, and a variety of championship-status trees, including a sassafras, a sycamore maple, a birdnest spruce, a redbud and a pawpaw.  The cemetery’s Romanesque gateway, chapel and office were completed in 1849.

Woodland Cemetery, DaytonIn 1904, New York’s Tiffany Studios created a signed stained-glass window depicting a river flowing from a mountain lake, surrounded by cedar trees, poppies and lilies, for the chapel. Other highlights of the chapel include a mosaic containing over 100,000 pieces of hand-cut ceramic tile and stained-glass windows depicting woodland themes from literature, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” and “Evangeline,” Marjorie Rawlings’ The Yearling and Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Other well-known Daytonians buried at Woodland include George Huffman, the founder of the company that manufactured Huffy bicycles; Charles Kettering, who developed the electric starter for the automobile; John Patterson, who founded the National Cash Register Company; and Paul Laurence Dunbar, the noted African-American poet. A simple Tiffany bronze plaque fastened to a boulder features the first stanza of Dunbar’s poem, “A Death Song.” A memorial stone for Dunbar’s wife, Alice, rests alongside it.

Paul Laurence Dunbar monument, Woodland Cemetery

The Wright family plot, including the graves of Orville and Wilbur Wright, is the cemetery’s most visited location.Wright family plot, Woodland CemeteryAnother popular monument marks the grave of five-year-old Johnny Morehouse, who fell in the Miami & Erie Canal and died around 1860. Legend has it that Johnny’s dog was so sad that he sat at the boy’s grave and visitors began leaving small plates of food for him. The custom continues today, as people often leave little toys at the grave.

Johnny Morehouse monument, Woodland Cemetery

For more information on Woodland Cemetery, see Woodland: 150 Years, by Norris D. Hellwig. The cemetery’s office offers a free map and reference guide to the best trees and most historic of the over 100,000 monuments on the grounds.  It also offers walking tours to the gravesites of famous Daytonians, the cemetery’s mausoleum, and its upper loop, starting and finishing at Lookout Point.  Other walking tours focus on Woodland’s birds and trees.  Visit its website for more details.

The University of Dayton remembers Erma Bombeck through some interesting initiatives. The university’s archives holds her electric typewriter and some of her personal correspondence. is an online museum about Erma Bombeck’s life. It also holds the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop every other year. The next workshop will be March 31-April 2, 2016, on the campus of the University of Dayton.

Posted in Books, Dayton, History, Ohio | Leave a comment

Ride Roller Coasters In Sandusky? No, Thank You, I’d Rather See The Dorns’ 1950s Home And The Hotel Breakers

Most people travel to Sandusky, Ohio to experience daring drops, corkscrew turns and spinning swings from hundreds of feet above the ground, but I prefer the thrill of going there to see a porch with a rubber ceiling and walls, a Carnegie Library, a widow’s walk and a recently renovated historic hotel.

My first stop was the Cooke-Dorn House, a castle-like stone house with Greek Revival crenelated parapets. On the inside, it is a showplace of 1950s interior design.

Cooke-Dorn House

The house was built in 1843 by Eleutheros Cooke, a Sandusky lawyer and politician. His son, Jay Cooke, later financed the Union cause during the Civil War and built his own castle on Gibraltar Island.

While the house originally stood at the corner of West Washington Row and Columbus Avenue in downtown Sandusky, a subsequent owner moved it a mile south to 1415 Columbus Avenue. Randolph Dorn, president of the Barr Rubber Products Company, and his wife, Estelle, purchased the house in 1951 and lived there for the rest of their lives. Estelle bequeathed the home to the Ohio Historical Society in 1994; today, it looks just as it did when the Dorns lived there.

The Dorns were collectors of Royal Doulton figurines and cranberry and ruby glass…

Cooke-Dorn House

Venetian glass mirrors, a Bavarian Hutschenreuther porcelain dinner service, an 18th-century pear wood marquetry table with tamboured doors, an Empire sideboard, a writing desk with a mirrored surface and a brass desk set with petrified wood handles…

Cooke-Dorn House

and a marble fireplace mantel adorned with carvings of grapes, recalling the Dorn Winery that Mr. Dorn’s father owned.

Cooke-Dorn House

They tastefully decorated their home to display their collections to their best advantage. Mural wallpaper in the style of what Jacqueline Kennedy chose for the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House hangs in the dining room. A suite of painted French Provincial furniture fills the guest bedroom. The house follows Mrs. Dorn’s feminine color scheme of yellow, celadon, pink, peach and rose, except for the master bathroom, which illustrates Mr. Dorn’s preference for a more masculine gray.

Cooke-Dorn House

Mrs. Dorn served lemonade to her guests on an enclosed porch with grooved rubber ceiling and wall treatments so unique that the guide said this was the only place you’d see anything like it.Cooke-Dorn House

The Dorns were also products of their time. Smoking accessories are everywhere, from decorative matchbox covers and a music box that stores cigarettes in the living room to a pink tile ashtray fixture in the guest bathroom.

Cooke-Dorn House

The couple incorporated many features popular in the 1950s into their home, such as reactive lighting switches in the closets, colorful Princess-style telephones in the hallways, Dutch doors, radiant heating registers, Executone intercoms and mirrored medicine cabinets with hidden shelves over his-and-her sinks in the master bathroom.

Cooke-Dorn House

The kitchen includes a stovetop island, a Formica countertop with rounded corners, dark linoleum flooring, under-cabinet lighting, and painted steel cabinets with pull-down shelves to house mixers and other kitchen items are all typical of 1950s innovations. It actually made me homesick for my house in Oxford.

Cooke-Dorn House

That didn’t last long, when I caught sight of the Sandusky Library’s turreted limestone building.

The Sandusky Library is one of Ohio’s earliest libraries partially funded by wealthy philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Ohio Governor George Nash and William Oxley Thompson, president of The Ohio State University, attended the building’s dedication on July 3, 1901. Ever since, it has been one of the landmarks of the Sandusky community. In 1996, the former Erie County Jail, a neighboring building dating from 1883, was renovated and connected to the library, creating an attractive complex that takes up most of a city block.Sandusky Public Library

The Follett House Museum, a branch of the Sandusky Library, is home to a local history collection that documents the history of Sandusky and Erie County.  The 1834 Greek Revival house features a widow’s walk where visitors on a nice day can enjoy a panoramic view of Sandusky.

Follett House Museum

All this was grand, but I decided I shouldn’t go home without experiencing something of Cedar Point, the Roller Coaster Capital of the World.

Cedar Point is situated on a seven-mile-long peninsula separating Lake Erie from Sandusky Bay. Once covered by groves of cedar trees and clean sand, the peninsula was home to a fishing business that capitalized on the area’s bountiful supply of perch, pickerel and sturgeon. To keep in step with the popularity of summer resorts and amusement parks at the end of the 19th century, entrepreneurs built boardwalks, a dance hall, bathhouses, picnic tables and a baseball diamond on the beach. A Grand Pavilion contained a theatre, concert hall, photographer’s studio, bowling alleys, a bar, an ice cream parlor and soda fountain, and a cupola where guests could look out over Lake Erie. A water toboggan, two roller coasters and a sea swing were the first rides at Cedar Point.

Cedar Point

An Indiana businessman named George Boeckling thought that the longer guests stayed at Cedar Point, the more profitable the resort would be, so he built the Hotel Breakers, a grand 600-room hotel with running water and private baths.

Hotel Breakers

After the hotel opened on June 12, 1905, guests enjoyed a lobby furnished with round seats, imported wicker furniture, a pressed tin ceiling and chandeliers and stained-glass windows crafted by Tiffany artisans. Hotel amenities included a barber shop, news stand, ice cream parlor, a shop that sold taffy, felt pennants and other popular Cedar Point souvenirs, and the services of a manicurist, tailor and stenographer.

Hotel Breakers

Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Warren Harding, Annie Oakley, John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, John Philip Sousa, Helen Keller and a young Tyrone Power are some of the famous people who have stayed at the Hotel Breakers. Metropolitan Opera stars gave impromptu performances in the hotel’s four-tiered, balconied rotunda. While working as lifeguards at the hotel in 1913, Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais, two students at the University of Notre Dame, perfected the football forward pass during their free time on the beach.

Hotel Breakers

A two-year renovation of the Hotel Breakers began in 2013, including repainting the hotel, replacing its roof, and remodeling the interior. The hotel reopened this past May, and it is comfortably fancy, reminiscent of Walt Disney World’s Yacht Club and Beach Club resorts.  Now, the hotel has a new grand entrance, an updated lobby and public areas, renovated guest rooms, and a new Starbucks and a cocktail lounge in the rotunda.

Hotel Breakers

 Silhouettes of carousel horses circle fire pits on the beachfront patio, near an expanded outdoor pool deck.Hotel Breakers

To read more about the history of Cedar Point, see Cedar Point: The Queen of American Watering Places, by David Francis; Images of America: Cedar Point, by David W. and Diane DeMali Francis; and “Cedar Point’s Coasters and Carousels,” in the July/August 2015 issue of the Ohio History Connection’s Echoes.

If Ohio amusement parks are your thing, visit the Ohio History Center at 2:00 pm on three upcoming Saturdays. Curators will show slides of amusement parks in Southern Ohio, such as Coney Island and Kings Island, on July 11; amusement parks in northern Ohio, including Cedar Point, Seaworld, and Idora Park, on July 25; and central Ohio amusement parks like Buckeye Lake and Olentangy Park on August 22.

Posted in History, Libraries, Museums, Ohio, Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society) | Leave a comment

Start Feeding Your Lawn at O.M. Scott’s Original Marysville Hardware Store

White Linen and Lalique de Lalique are lovely fragrances, but to me, the headiest scent of all is the one that permeated my dad’s hardware store: Scotts lawn fertilizer.

I contentedly took a big sniff of it recently, when I walked into The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company Store in downtown Marysville.The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company Store

This isn’t just any place to pick up lawn fertilizer. This is Orlando McLean Scott’s original hardware store.

After being discharged from the Union Army in the Civil War, Scott opened a hardware store in Marysville in 1868. He specialized in selling 99.9 percent weed-free seed to farmers, helping them achieve clean, weed-free fields.

By 1907, Scott and his sons had expanded the business, selling grass seed by mail to customers who wanted better lawns. Soon, Scotts products were available at retail locations. As the years passed, Scotts introduced Turf Builder, a fertilizer specifically designed to meet the special nutritional needs of grass. It offered a spreader for even, accurate application of fertilizer, essential for better results. It opened the first automated grass seed processing and packaging plant. The work of its turfgrass research division led to the development of Weed & Feed, the first selective weed control and fertilizer combination, and Halts, the first pre-emergent crabgrass control.

Recognizing the importance of know-how, Scotts began educating its customers about the art of creating a lush lawn. In 1928, the company started to publish Lawn Care magazine. That commitment to sharing good advice led to the establishment of the Scotts Training Institute in 1962. Scotts offered special training classes to help retailers and their employees better assist customers in selecting a program of Scotts products that were guaranteed to develop thick, green lawns.

Cohagan Hardware promotional Scotts photographMy dad was one of those Scotts Training Institute students. As a teenager, he started working as a stockboy for the Cohagan Hardware Company, first located at 4000 East Brood Street and later at 3003 East Livingston Avenue in Columbus. He eventually owned the store, prescribing Scotts programs to his customers until he closed the store in 1985.  Here he is in a circa-1961 photograph promoting Cohagan Hardware and its Scotts products.

That’s how I came to love the smell of lawn fertilizer, the feel of running my hands through barrels of grass seed, the sound of the key-cutting machine, the sight of a Quikrete pocket protector packed with pens and pencils, and the taste of Pepsi in chilled glass bottles from the store’s vintage vending machine.

So when we walked into Mr. Scott’s recently restored hardware store, it was like reliving our Cohagan days.

The store’s wooden floors and ornate ceiling provide the perfect backdrop for displays of historical Scotts items like spreaders and lawnmowers. Vintage packaging, employee group photos and Scotts advertisements are displayed throughout the store.

The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company Store

Product categories and eye-catching drawings handwritten on black chalkboard paint wall borders direct customers to product displays for weed control, lawn care, Gro-ables seed pods, bird seed and more. There’s even a selection of Scotts promotional merchandise to buy, from Scotts clothing and lanyards to stationery items and iPad covers.

The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company Store

The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company Store is located at 119 South Main Street in downtown Marysville. It’s open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 8:00 to noon. Call 937-738-7238 for more information.

While in Marysville, drive by a big, dark bMarysville house attributed to Frank Lloyd Wrightrown home on the northwest corner of Maple and Fourth Streets. Owned by O.M. Scott & Sons Company from the 1950s to 1987, the Scott House was used as a guest house for visitors and a place to hold meetings, including some that my dad attended as part of the Scotts Training Institute. The home was built between 1910 and 1912 and is said to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Here’s what it looked like last winter.

Posted in History, Nature/Outdoors, Ohio | 1 Comment