In 1835, a Greek Revival house at 145 East Main Street in Lancaster, Ohio was built for William James Reese and his wife, Mary Elisabeth Sherman Reese, the eldest sister of General William Tecumseh Sherman. During the 1990s, the elegant brick building was renovated, transforming it into the current home of the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. While I’ve visited that arts facility many times, I finally paid my first call on its next-door neighbor recently. I can’t show you what the house looks like inside because it’s camera-shy, so use your imagination as I tell you about what makes the birthplace of Mrs. Reese’s brother such a worthwhile place to visit.
Looking at 137 East Main Street today, it’s hard to believe that the brick-fronted Sherman House Museum was originally built as a four-room frame New England saltbox-style house in 1811. In 1816, Charles and Mary Hoyt Sherman added a parlor and a study to the home. On February 8, 1820, the Shermans welcomed their sixth child, William Tecumseh, the future Civil War general who led troops through Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, the March to the Sea and Columbia, South Carolina.
The interior of the house has been restored to look as it would have when the Sherman family lived there. The Victorian parlor is furnished with pieces that General Sherman and his wife owned when they lived in New York City after his retirement, such as dining chairs carved with Shakespearean scenes and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1888 bust of General Sherman. Other downstairs furnishings include needlework pieces that the young Mary Hoyt Sherman made while attending a finishing school in Poughkeepsie, New York; a wingback chair made in Ohio during the early 1800s; a circa-1801 hand-loomed rug; and a desk and chair on which General Sherman carved his initials as a boy.
Upstairs, you can see the cradle in which General Sherman and his 10 siblings slept when they were babies. The hand-stenciled walls of the master bedroom feature a reproduction of a pattern by Moses Eaton, a well-known New England stenciler of the period. A deliberate mistake in the pattern is a reminder that only God is perfect.
A recreation of General Sherman’s Civil War field tent is in another room. Other items on display here include the portable desk and trunks that Sherman used during the war. The flag he designed for use at his headquarters bears the insignias of the four corps that accompanied him on his March to the Sea.
After admiring Sherman family memorabilia, such as reproductions of drawings General Sherman made when he was a West Point cadet in 1838 and later for his six-year-old daughter, Minnie, you can view another exhibit of artifacts, paintings, prints and maps from the Civil War.
Before leaving, browse the gift shop, where I bought a cornhusk doll of a Civil War nurse. Then, walk alongside the house to see several gardens that have been planted outside the home’s original side-facing front door. These include kitchen herbs, medicinal plants and native plants that grew wild in the “Fairfields” of Ohio when the early pioneers arrived.
Steps away from the Sherman House Museum, you can see the bronze statue of Lancaster’s “faithful and honorable” native son that Mike Major sculpted in 2000. You can also read the Ohio Historical Marker commemorating Sherman’s accomplishments.
Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, a new biography of the general by Robert L. O’Connell, is something else I’d like to read.
Why did I finally tour the Sherman House Museum? Because I took the Ohio History Connection’s Travels Through Time Civil War bus tour of Sherman’s March to Atlanta! I’ll tell you about it soon.