Kaleidoscope: Museums, neat mansions abound around Sandusky

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Because there's so much to see in Sandusky and it is a charming, historic town, I wasn't able to take it all in during my Easter weekend trip, so I decided to drive back to the lakefront city the last weekend in April.

In addition to the Merry-Go-Round Museum, which I mentioned in a previous column, I wanted to visit the Eleutheros Cooke House, Maritime Museum of Sandusky, Follett House Museum and Ohio Veterans Home Museum. And on the way home, I checked out the Huron lighthouse.

THE MARITIME MUSEUM

Just a stone's throw away from Sandusky Bay is the Maritime Museum of Sandusky. The main building was erected in 2000, with another building added behind just last year.

Although not a large museum, it has some very interesting displays, such as information about Sandusky area shipwrecks, wetlands, the convict ship named Success, a large passenger boat named Chippewa, the Johnson Island conspiracy, Sandusky's role in the Underground Railroad, ice harvesting in Sandusky Bay and pirates on Lake Erie.

There are photos of historic ships and even some large models, such as that of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which was lost in a storm on Lake Superior in 1975.

In the addition are displays focusing on some firms which built pleasure boats in the Sandusky area, including the Lyman Boat Works and Matthews Boat Co.

A half-dozen vintage boats from those companies are in the building. Between the two buildings under a canopy is a huge Sandusky Fire Department rescue boat.

The museum also features a number of interactive computer stations, and knot-tying and model boat building stations. A gift shop contains a variety of items, including many books about shipping, boating and lighthouses.

ELEUTHEROS COOKE HOUSE

Cooke was Sandusky's first lawyer and served in the Ohio Legislature and United States Congress. He drew up the charter for the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad and built several houses for settlers in the community.

The stone house, which stands in a neighborhood of old, mostly two-story homes just south of downtown, was completed in 1844 at a downtown location. After the Cookes' deaths in the late 1870s, it was disassembled stone by stone and moved south several blocks.

Prior to building this house, Cooke built Sandusky's first stone house downtown, which is no longer standing, and another stone house not far away, which is still there.

A very knowledgeable docent led me on a tour that lasted more than an hour through the house, which is essentially square and two stories high.

After the Cookes died, their granddaughter and her husband lived in the house, and two other owners resided there until the house was turned over to the Ohio Historical Society in 1994 when Estelle Dorn willed it and most of its contents.

The house now looks pretty much like it did when the Dorns lived there and has a strong 1950s atmosphere. They moved into the house in 1953. Randolph Dorn was a local industrialist, who died in 1965.

The lower floor features a library/study and living, dining and powder rooms, with a kitchen in the back and enclosed porch on the side. The upper floor features the master bedroom, dressing room and bath, a guest sitting room and other bedrooms.

Cranberry and ruby glass decorate the living room. Some spectacular furnishings grace the house, such as an early 1800s grandfather clock from England, various paintings and murals, Bristol lusters on the mantel, figurines, polished marble mantels, a banjo clock and mirrored medicine cabinets.

Remnants of a greenhouse are in the back yard, but sadly it was crushed last summer by a limb of a 100-year-old maple tree which fell during a storm. The docent said if OHS funds can be secured, it hopefully will be rebuilt.

FOLLETT HOUSE MUSEUM

This branch of the Sandusky Library houses a collection of historic items from Sandusky and Erie County. Oran Follett built the Greek Revival-style limestone house in 1934-37. It's just down Adams Street from the library and across the street from the former Sandusky High School.

It contains four floors of items related to Johnson's Island, Victorian clothing and toys, Civil War artifacts, photographs and artifacts from local businesses and industries and a collection of World War I and II military uniforms and posters.

The items tell the story of domestic life and leisure time activities such as Lake Erie fishing, ice harvesting, stone-cutting, shipping and tourism.

A 6-by-8-foot authentic confederate flag is displayed in a hallway on the upper level. There are an old painting of the large former Kuebeler-Stang Breweries Kuebeler-Stang in one room, and a 6-foot high Mr. Punch clown statue, which stood in front of a Sandusky cigar store back in the 1800s, in another.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Follett House tour was a climb to the widow's walk on the roof. From there, one gets a magnificent view of downtown Sandusky, including homes, the Erie County Courthouse, old high school and the lakeshore.

VETERANS HOME MUSEUM

This interesting museum is housed in the I.F. Mack Memorial Building on the grounds of the Ohio Veterans Home on the south side of Sandusky.

The beautiful Richardsonian Romanesque building was erected in 1888 and served as the original administration building of the Ohio Veterans Home, which then was called the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Home. Mack, by the way, was among a group of citizens who led the effort to establish the home.

The museum opened in 1996, and has increased its visitors' ranks ever since. Several more of the original cottage buildings, most of which no longer house residents, are near the Mack building.

Newer buildings in the complex are west of the Mack building, and a large cemetery containing graves of many former residents are even further west. The newer buildings were added in the 1950s and 1970s.

Artifacts from many U.S. wars -- Civil, Spanish-American, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and Dessert Storm -- are housed in various rooms of the three-story structure.

The items include flags, banners and posters, military uniforms, weapons, medals, photographs, draft notices, murals, newspaper front pages containing war stories and even a field music organ.

One room is devoted to Ohio Veterans Home history, including documents and photos, information about early life at the home and artifacts from the various cottages, the assembly hall and other buildings.

Another room is devoted to veterans organizations such as the GAR, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps, Military Order of the Cootie and United Spanish War Veterans.

One room is occupied by the Johnson's Island Preservation Society, but it was not open when I visited. It features artifacts from the confederate Civil War prison on Johnson Island off the Marblehead peninsula.

It was fun to walk around the sprawling building and into the many rooms to see the historic artifacts. I believe I was the only person in the building at the time; I did not cross paths with any other human being!

Outside the museum is the Memorial Walkway, where veterans and affiliates have purchased engraved red paver bricks to honor themselves and their colleagues. The walkway leads to a small memorial shelter building and patriotic flagpole.

The walkway was established in 2002 and now includes more than 900 pavers. It is managed by the Ohio Veterans Home Volunteer Advisory Committee, which seeks to improve the quality of life of OVH's veterans.

THE HURON LIGHTHOUSE

After heading back east from Sandusky, I cruised through the port city of Huron (population about 7,100), where I viewed the Huron Harbor lighthouse.

A pier extends into Lake Erie for about 3/4-mile, ending with an observation deck from where great photos can be taken of the lighthouse with a decent telephoto lens. I walked to the deck.

A rocky breakwall runs from the deck to the lighthouse, and can be traversed, but I saw all I wanted to see without going the additional 1/4-mile. The lighthouse is not open to the public.

Huron's first lighthouse was built in 1835. After that light was destroyed in a storm, a second was built in 1857, and it has been enhanced several times since. The current 72-foot high tower was built in 1936.

The light was automated in 1972. Its lantern room was removed and a modern beacon consisting of a solar-powered 375mm lens was installed. The light has a focal plane of 80 feet, can be seen over a 12-mile radius and flashes a red light with three seconds on, then three seconds off.

On the east side of the pier is a large concrete plant with white smoke belching from its stacks.

Huron Harbor once was the site of a large coal / ore dock. The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway transported millions of tons of coal there from eastern Ohio, and Hulett unloaders emptied ore ships. The coal dock / train yard was retired in 1961 under the jurisdiction of the Nickel Plate Road.

The harbor today is pretty quiet except for the concrete plant, and those who knew it 50 years ago would not recognize it today. A couple of abandoned railroad tracks are still visible leading to the old coal / ore dock and yard.

Email: klahmers@recorpdub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.