What book was a real eye-opener for you after you read it?
For Civil War Major General William Starke Rosecrans, it was John Milner’s The End of Religious Controversy, a “friendly correspondence between a religious society of Protestants and a Roman Catholic divine” that an Irish book peddler persuaded him to read in 1844. Baptized a Methodist, Rosecrans converted to Catholicism after finishing the book. The next year, he wrote to his brother, Sylvester, a student at Kenyon College, and suggested that he read the book too. Later that year, Sylvester also converted to Catholicism, and he went on to become a priest and the first bishop of the Diocese of Columbus.
That’s just one of the interesting things that I learned from Polly Horn, retired director of the Sunbury Community Library, who is now the curator of the Big Walnut Area Historical Society’s Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury, Ohio.
One room of the museum is dedicated to this brilliant man who was born in Delaware County in 1819. Rosecrans had little formal schooling growing up in the nearby town of Homer, but he was so determined to secure an appointment to study at West Point that he practiced taking exams at Kenyon College. His strategy was a successful one; he was admitted to West Point in 1837 and excelled in his studies, particularly in planning military maneuvers. After graduating in 1842, he worked as an engineer, including a stint in Newport, Rhode Island, where he designed and built military fortifications and supervised the construction of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier would be married in 1953. He was also involved in the construction of St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus.
“Old Rosy” also invented a way to perfect kerosene so that it would burn safer in oil lamps. He designed a glass lamp with a shorter chimney, a round, tightly woven wick that burned longer and with less smoke, and a wick-raiser for which he secured a patent. He later served as ambassador to Mexico, registrar to the U.S. Treasury, and as a Congressman from California, where he concentrated on mining and railroads before he died in 1898.
Rosecrans may attract Civil War buffs to the Myers Inn Museum, but there’s much more to appreciate here, especially during Sunbury’s bicentennial year.
Sunbury was founded in 1816 by Lawrence and William Myers, two young brothers from Pennsylvania. The museum also features the one-room home where Lawrence and his wife, Eliza, raised their three children. Here, you can admire handmade furniture that once belonged to early Sunbury residents, as well as a notice that Lawrence placed in the local paper on Christmas Day 1823, asking residents of the village and surrounding townships to meet at his home to form a library.
In 1820, an inn was built next door to accommodate the many travelers that began passing by this intersection of two major stagecoach routes. In 1824, Lawrence connected the two buildings and created a tavern room and hall. Both frame structures were enclosed into one large building in the 1870s that was known as the Union Hotel.
Upstairs, an exposed portion of one wall reveals pegged tendon and mortise joints, a construction practice popular in Tudor England that was brought to the United States by the early settlers.
Outside, the porch and upper-story gallery stretching across the front of the building led Ihna Frary to speculate about its construction in his Early Homes of Ohio.
Frary believed that the design of the gallery’s cornice and frieze are similar to the design for an eave cornice that Asher Benjamin included in his influential 1830 design handbook, The Architect, or Practical House Carpenter. Early builders were craftsmen, not architects, so they often relied on Benjamin’s book for inspiration as they prepared their plans.
Frary also noticed traces of the old tavern bar and cupboards; the porch’s stone flagging, which was once a section of the sidewalk; the foot scrapers at the ends of the porch; and a semicircular stone mounting block preserved from stagecoach days. He also shared that three of the porch’s original fluted columns, turned from solid logs and set on cut stone plinths, were destroyed when runaway horses crashed into them.
Guests the inn and tavern welcomed included William Henry Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes and Henry Clay, who is said to have given a speech from the upper gallery, according to Frary.
After Hosea Hopkins purchased the inn at the turn of the 20th century, it became a boarding house known as the Hopkins House, and later was an apartment building. In 1978, retired Otterbein College professor Harold McMillan bought the building and gave it to the Sunbury Community Library, which in turn eventually transferred ownership to the Big Walnut Area Historical Society. After extensive renovations, including the construction of a new fireplace with stones from the Burrer Tavern, which was built next door in the 1830s, the building reopened as the Myers Inn Museum in 2008. Displays of many local historical artifacts fill the rooms; a neighboring blacksmith shop and livery barn were dedicated in 2012.
The museum faces the Sunbury Village Square, home of the town hall built in 1868 that has served as a Masonic lodge, office building, jail, fire station, community library, bank and a location for church services and Farmer’s Institutes. In 2013, sculptor Alan Cottrill’s equestrian statue depicting Rosecrans and his horse, Bony (named after Napoleon Bonaparte), was dedicated. The statue is mounted on one of the five largest Glacial Erratics in Ohio, a 20-ton boulder of igneous rock formed from ancient volcanic magma billions of years ago that was dropped as the glacial ice melted.
The square is also the setting for a new carved wooden statue of Johnny Appleseed, who is said to have stopped at Rosecrans’ boyhood home in Homer during his travels through Ohio. Stop by the nearby Sunbury Community Library to see a needlework rendition of the Myers Inn Museum building on the quilt of Sunbury landmarks that community members made to raffle off as a fundraiser for the American Bicentennial in 1976.
Located at 45 South Columbus Street in Sunbury, the Myers Inn Museum is open 12-3 on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and 10-5 on Saturdays. A gift shop features handmade items by local craftspeople, Civil War-themed gifts and local history books. Upcoming special events at the museum include a candlelit ham dinner and entertainment on Saturday, March 19 at 6:00 p.m. and a mother-daughter tea on Saturday, May 7 at 1:00 p.m. For more information, and to read many interesting items that Polly Horn has written about Rosecrans and Sunbury’s past, visit www.bigwalnuthistory.org.