My Campus Martius Scavenger Hunt Was Like Finding Paradise in the Ohio Valley

During a recent visit to the Worthington Historical Society’s gift shop in the Old Rectory on West New England Avenue, a Wedgwood transferware plate depicting Campus Martius caught my eye. Made in England for the Ohio Daughters of the American Revolution, the plate reminded me that I hadn’t visited this Ohio Historical Society site for years.

The Campus Martius Museum is located on the site of the fortification built by the Ohio Company of Associates as their headquarters when they founded the first organized American settlement in the Northwest Territory in 1788. Today, the museum is home to the restored Rufus Putnam house and the Ohio Company’s Land Office, the little building which was constructed in 1788 for Putnam’s use as superintendent of the company. Exhibits focus on migration in Ohio’s history, particularly the early settlement of Marietta and Ohio.

Making plans to stop in Marietta on the way home from Virginia, I asked Bill and Cliff what their favorite parts of the museum were. When I arrived, that list of recommendations resulted in a terrific scavenger hunt through this interesting museum.

“Tour the Rufus Putnam House,” Cliff said, so that’s how the visit began.

Rufus Putnam was a soldier and an early settler of Ohio. Born in Massachusetts in 1738, Putnam became a farmer and a miller after fighting for the British in the French and Indian War. At the start of the Revolutionary War, Putnam enlisted in the Continental Army, prepared defenses for the Americans surrounding English soldiers in Boston, and later assisted George Washington in preparing New York’s defenses. After the Revolution, Putnam was a real estate investor and a surveyor. In 1786, he became one of the founders of the Ohio Company of Associates, a group of Massachusetts men who planned to purchase land in the Northwest Territory.

In 1788, Putnam established the first Ohio Company settlement on the banks of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. Known originally as Adelphia, the 5,000-acre community became known as Marietta, named in honor of Marie Antoinette, queen of France. To protect the settlement from attacks by Native Americans, Putnam and his fellow settlers built a fortification known as Campus Martius, Latin for “field of Mars,” or “field of War.” Log walls surrounded the outside of the fortification, while four two-story blockhouses were within it. One of the blockhouses served as the community’s school; another was used as a church. Town meetings and court proceedings were also held at Campus Martius.

To save expense and labor, the Ohio Company came up with an idea. The four eighteen-foot-wide strips between the blockhouses were divided into house lots of various sizes that were leased to individual settlers for 20 years. Lessees were obligated to build row houses that would have a rear, or outside, wall that would be at least 12 feet high and made of heavy materials. These walls, with an outer row of pickets, would form the fort’s curtain.

Putnam was one of the first settlers to lease a house lot. Built from 1788 to 1790, Putnam’s four-room, two story frame house measured 30 by 18 feet and was adjacent to the southeast blockhouse. Carpenters built each wall in a prefabricated manner that was customary in New England. Hewn oak timbers four inches thick and 12 inches wide were assembled to form a braced frame building. Each timber was mortised and tenoned, and fastened to the other with wooden dowels. Diagonal corner braces were cut and fitted similar to the way that New England sailing ships were built. As the frame lay on the ground, planks were fitted into the frame vertically to form the completed wall. Each plank was numbered with Roman numerals which corresponded to matching numerals cut close to the planks on the plates. Before the frame was raised in place, the planks were removed and reinstalled by matching up the numerals when the frame was in place.

When the Indian wars ended in 1795, the Ohio Company decided that the fort was no longer needed and sold the blockhouses. Putnam purchased the one adjacent to his home for $70 and had it torn down. He used the lumber to more than double the size of his house, adding four new rooms across the front of the original structure. The original home included a kitchen, a parlor, two bedrooms, and an attic; the addition provided the Putnams with a living room, another parlor, another two bedrooms and a summer kitchen.

Putnam became a leader of the Northwest Territory, serving as a judge, a brigadier-general in the United States Army, and the surveyor-general of the United States. He lived in his Campus Martius home until he died on May 4, 1824.

The house was the residence of several families and other tenants until Miss Minerva Tupper Nye persuaded the Daughters of the American Revolution to preserve it. The Marietta chapter of the D.A.R. leased the house for meetings and social gatherings from 1905 to 1907. In 1917, the Ohio General Assembly authorized the acquisition of the Campus Martius site and placed it in the care of the state historical society. In 1917, the D.A.R. secured an appropriation from the General Assembly to purchase the house. The purchase of an adjacent lot in 1928 provided additional space for a museum. The Putnam house was enclosed as part of the museum building in 1930. A complete restoration of the house took place in the late 1960s. Today, the house is enclosed in the museum’s south wing.

The Putnam home features oak floors, a shingled roof, plastered walls, a cellar, and windows that were fitted with heavy shutters after the Indian attack on Big Bottom. The ceiling framing, which would have been lathed and plastered, has been left exposed to show construction details. Gouges on the surface of the kitchen fireplace’s sandstone lintel indicate that it was used for knife-sharpening.

The house is furnished with the kind of things listed in an inventory of Putnam’s personal belongings. In the restored parlor, where Rufus’s wife, Persis Rice Putnam, taught weaving and spinning, you can see the cello played by their daughter, Elizabeth Putnam, and Rufus Putnam’s silhouette. It also contains a cabinet made in Ohio in the 1790s, as well as a bench from the land office. In the kitchen hangs a reproduction of Putnam’s powder horn, on which the following phrase is inscribed: “A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds.”

Other exhibits at the Campus Martius Museum complement the Putnam house and provide an additional picture of domestic life in Marietta and this region of Ohio. Oil portraits, furniture, silver, and china and other artifacts from the city’s founding years can be found on the first floor of the museum. I admired a coverlet and samplers made in Newport, Ohio; surveying instruments used in Ohio; and Persis Rice Putnam’s silver spoons, made by Paul Revere.

Then, I spotted the cherry secretary with satinwood inlays that’s one of Cliff’s favorite pieces. The secretary was made for General Joseph Buell. Elected to the Ohio Senate four times, Buell built the first brick house west of the Allegheny Mountains. Looking at Sheraton and Hepplewhite furnishings from Harman and Margaret Blennerhasset’s home, built between 1799 and 1801, made me want to learn more about this nearby historic attraction and visit it another time.

Objects in the second-floor galleries of the museum relate 19th-century details of Marietta’s history. I spotted Cliff’s favorite firearms and items from the shop of John C. Vincent (1809-1882), who was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker and later worked as a gunsmith.

At the other end of the mezzanine, I saw Death Scene, an oil painting that Bill likes. The painting was created by Jarvis Frary Hanks, an itinerant painter who lived from 1799 to 1853. After painting several Marietta citizens in 1825, Hanks was commissioned by Augustus Israel Stone to paint this remarkable mourning scene circa 1840-1841. The painting (H 19182) centers on Stone’s wife, Elizabeth Spencer Stone, and their twins, Augustus Israel and Elizabeth Spencer, all of whom died within five months of the infants’ birth in April 1840. It also shows Stone, his mother-in-law, Prudence Cook Spencer, and his surviving son, Seldon Spencer Stone.

Campus Martius also celebrates the contributions of Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902), an artist who was born in Exeter, England and settled near Marietta with her family in 1833. After studying art in Cincinnati, Lilly married Benjamin Spencer, a cloth merchant and tailor, in 1844. The couple moved to New York and eventually settled in Newark, New Jersey, where they raised 13 children. Lilly became a successful painter of portraits and charming scenes of family and domestic life, while her husband worked as her business manager, selling her paintings and promoting her work through lithographs and engravings of them. Shake Hands? (1858; H 24655) and This Little Pig Went To Market (1857; H 19178) are two of my favorite Lilly Martin Spencer paintings in the Ohio Historical Society’s fine art collection.

When Lilly was 12, she drew portraits of Julia Maria Devol; her sister, Letha; and their father, Francis. Oral history records reveal that Lilly used charcoal out of the fireplace to draw these pieces. These circa-1838 portraits — as well as a self-portrait she painted in oils when she was about 18 years old — are on display at Campus Martius.

In the basement of the museum, an exhibit titled “Paradise Found and Lost: Migration in the Ohio Valley, 1850-1970” explains why people moved, experiences of migration, and places to which they moved. Artifact-based displays that exude Bill’s creative talents are combined with telephones that feature audio voices of migrants telling their own experiences. “Pick up this stereoptic viewer and imagine yourself back on the farm on a winter evening, dreaming of big cities and bright lights,” one display encourages the visitor. In the section that describes how the anonymity of city life meant freedom for a young person from the farm who was watched closely by family and neighbors, I found the Vaudeville costume that Bill loves.

Two more Ohio Historical Society sites are in Marietta. At the Ohio River Museum, you can learn about the history of the steamboat and of the Ohio River. Outside the museum, on the Muskingum River, you can take an escorted tour of the W. P. SNYDER JR., the last intact steam-powered stern-wheeled towboat in the United States.

For further reading about Campus Martius, see “The Rufus Putnam House at the Campus Martius Museum,” by Daniel R. Porter, in Ohio History (Volume 73, Number 3, Summer 1964), pages 183-187 and “Campus Martius,” by Donald A. Hutslar, in TIMELINE (Volume 18, Number 1, January-February 2001). Both of these articles provided excellent complements to and additional details about the information that our guide Ron shared with us during our tour.

This entry was posted in Art, History, Museums, Ohio, Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society), Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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