KALEIDOSCOPE: Round and round, other venues in Sandusky

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Recently, I focused on the history of several Northeast Ohio amusement parks. Of course, one of the fun things to do at an amusement park is ride a carousel, or as it has been called by many, the "merry-go-round." Many vintage machines have survived the demise of parks.

Since 1990, visitors to Sandusky's Merry-Go-Round Museum have been able to learn the history of the carnival machines, which actually got their start in the 1500s.

Just across the street from the Erie County Courthouse, the museum occupies a former U.S. Post Office. The beautiful concrete building with a rounded front was built in 1927 and served as a post office until 1987.

A 501c(3) corporation purchased the unique post office, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and began raising funds to preserve it. The museum opened July 14, 1990, but the idea for it was born Oct. 1, 1988, when the U.S. Postal Service issued four stamps depicting famous carousel horses. One of the featured animals was from Cedar Point's Kiddieland carousel.

The block of stamps included a Gustav Dentzel deer (carved in 1895), a Charles Looff goat and camel (1880) and the King armored horse from Cedar Point by Daniel Muller (1925). The latter is considered to be one of the rarest and most beautiful of all carousel figures.

When the stamps were unveiled, a group of local citizens borrowed the vacant post office and assembled a carousel display to celebrate the Cedar Point horse and the other figures.

SURPRISNGLY, more than 2,000 people came from across the nation to share the joy of carousels. In the following months, the non-profit corporation was formed with the mission, "to preserve and promote the art and history of the carousel."

Dentzel carving shop tools are a permanent exhibit, along with a working woodcarving shop and the museum's own machine built in 1939 by the Allan Herschell Corp. The museum continues to collect artifacts from amusement parks, carnivals and private individuals.

There are many styles of hand-carved animals displayed in the museum, the oldest going back to 1895. Horses, by the way, are not the only animals used on carousels; there are camels, zebras, tigers, giraffes, dogs, roosters and others.

The museum features information about all the famous carousel makers, including the Philadelphia Toboggan Co., Allan Herschell, C.W. Parker, Charles I.D. Looff, Marcus Illions, W.F. Mangells, Spillman Engineering (later merged with Herschell) and the Dentzel family.

The museum also has its own female carver, who repairs carousel horses and carves one each year for a fundraising raffle. It also has two band organs -- one on the working carousel and one that is 100 years old.

The Carousel Works in Mansfield is the largest and one of the few modern carousel makers in the world. The firm began restoring historic carousels in 1986 and built its first new one -- in downtown Mansfield (which I've ridden) -- in 1991. It has built about 45 so far.

A trip to the Merry-Go-Round Museum is a treat not only for youngsters, but adults alike. A ride on the museum's portable machine comes with admission, and I thoroughly enjoyed mine. For adults, it brings back memories of those exciting carousel rides of our childhood.

COURTHOUSE AND INFIRMARY

To see the Erie County Courthouse today, it would be difficult for visitors to recognize that it is the same building erected in 1874.

It was extensively remodeled from 1936 to 1939 as a Works Progress Administration project, and the redesign caused great controversy. Many people didn't like the changes, and in viewing an old photo of the building and seeing the new one, it is easy to understand why.

The original courthouse was a Second Empire-style building, with the facade rising three floors up and the roofline containing dormer windows.

The corners were capped with a mansard roof-styled tower, and the center was capped by a pediment and rose into a tall tower capped with a widow's walk.

In the 1930s remodeling, the style was changed to art deco, and the smooth stone facade no longer projects at the corners, but has a central projection.

The roof is flat and is still topped by a central tower, but much of the original decoration was stripped away. The tower has a triangular cap stone.

The existing building is somewhat boring compared to the original one.

One of the oldest "Boy with the Leaking Boot" statues -- there are many nationwide -- is displayed inside Sandusky City Hall. It dates to 1876 and stood for several decades in the late 1800s-early 1900s at a small downtown park, but was damaged by weather and vandals and eventually moved inside.

A replica statue has been placed in a fountain in Washington Park surrounding the courthouse. Across the street is a floral clock.

I encountered a similar leaking boot statue about four years ago near the flood wall murals in Wellsville, along the Ohio River.

Sandusky, by the way, has its own greenhouse, which for more than 100 years has grown plants to beautify parks and public areas, including Washington Park.

Meanwhile, another historic building in Sandusky that is still impressive is the old Erie County Poorhouse or Infirmary, a massive four-story structure built in 1886 with a still-existing tower near one end.

The structure housed infirmed and poor elderly residents until 1976, when they were transferred to the Erie County Care Facility in Huron Township, east of Sandusky.

In its early days, the facility was surrounded by 60 acres farmed by residents. A hospital was available on the grounds.

Jean Lafitte Johnson, a resident buried at the infirmary cemetery, supposedly was the adopted son of Dan Rice, who had a traveling show called "The Great Quadruple Exhibition." Johnson, who died in 1895, was a horseman who performed "unequaled feats of horsemanship," according to advertisements of the day.

Robert W. Tavener, a colorful figure in Sandusky for many years and known as the "Prince of Storytellers," lived at the facility in 1918-19 before his death.

OTHER SANDUSKY LOCATIONS

One of Sandusky's longtime businesses is Toft's Dairy, where I enjoyed dishes of Buckeye Bits and mint chocolate chip ice cream during my two recent visits to Sandusky. The dairy goes back to 1900, when Chris and Matilda Toft began selling raw milk from their farm in a horse-drawn wagon.

It is said to be Ohio's oldest dairy, and is being operated by fifth-generation family members.

The dairy now produces milk, many flavors of tasty ice cream and other dairy products since 1900 at its 75,000-square-foot factory on the west side of town.

Toft's became even more popular in 1935 with the purchase of Oswald Dairy, when wholesale and retail routes were established. The original location was enlarged in 1940 and the current plant was built in 1985 and enlarged in 1993 and 2003. It was the first area dairy to begin using plastic jugs in the 1960s.

The ice cream parlor features 70 flavors, plus frozen yogurt, and still uses the original soda fountain and parlor seating. There are picnic tables out front for enjoyment of the sun during summer months.

Although it wasn't open to go inside during my visit, the State Theater in downtown Sandusky is a real treasure. Built in 1928, the 1,500-seat theatre was a vaudeville and movie house. In 1992, it underwent a major renovation and has become Erie County's largest not-for-profit arts organization.

It was called "The Million Dollar Entertainment Center" in its early years, and was placed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 1982.

Sandusky has many buildings dating back decades, including the old Bavarian Brewery (1854), Barker School (1874), Freeman T. Barney House (1850), Campbell School (1885), Carnegie Library (1901), Converse-Mertz Apartments (1848), Emmanuel Church (1866),.

Engine House 1 (1915), old Erie County Jail (1883), First Congregational Church (1895), Monroe School (1894), First Presbyterian Church (1853), St. Mary's Church (1873), West Market School (1843), Kerber's Marine Grocery (1888) and Adams Street Double House (1845).

A number of miniature lighthouses dot the landscape along Sandusky's downtown streets. In early 2010, the lighthouses -- each with a specific theme -- were painted by 28 artists from across northern Ohio and were displayed outside during the summer.

Then in the fall, several were auctioned off and about 10 were purchased by sponsors. Some have remained on the downtown streets. The money raised benefited the American Red Cross, United Way of Erie County and the Merry-Go-Round Museum.

I photographed two of the lighthouses which are located across the street from the Merry-Go-Round Museum.

The lighthouses, which are about 6 feet high, reminded me of the 7-foot tall pottery vases that are placed around the city of Zanesville, including in a circle adjacent to the famous Y-Bridge.

The lighthouses represent a number of real ones along the shores of Lake Erie, while the vases celebrate Zanesville's long history as a pottery and ceramics making center.

I enjoyed checking out a Works Progress Adminisration era football stadium which serves Sandusky High School -- now called Cedar Point Stadium -- and the 1892 Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (later New York Central) train depot, which has been restored and is the headquarters of the North Central EMS and Sandusky Transit System. It also serves as an Amtrak stop.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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