Kaleidoscope: Tiffin museum provides glimpse at the Civil War

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Ohio and its residents played a major role in the Civil War, and a museum I visited on my first road trip of 2014 hammers that point across. It's the American Civil War Museum of Ohio in downtown Tiffin, which is about 95 miles west of Akron.

Although the weather was still a little chilly, I ventured to the Seneca County seat on March 21 and stayed overnight, checking out many historic and interesting places all day March 22.

The spot where I spent the most time was the Civil War Museum, which is housed in the town's former post office built in 1915. The two-story building has several concrete fluted columns across its facade facing South Washington Street.

Exhibits are displayed on the main floor and in the basement; the second story is off limits to the public. There are eight themed rooms, and a 20-minute video about Ohio's role in the war is shown in the basement.

Overall, the museum features 10,000 square feet of exhibit space. There also are a research library and gift shop, where dozens of books and other items are available.

Some of the topics covered are life of a soldier, Andrews' raiders, medicine of the period, prisoners of war, life at home and war leaders, including a Hayes Presidential Center traveling exhibit on war leaders from Ohio.

The third largest contingent of soldiers in the Civil War -- more than 300,000 -- came from Ohio; New York and Pennsylvania were Nos. 1 and 2. Ohio lost 35,000 residents on the battlefield and to diseases during the four-year war.

The medicine room is especially interesting. It features medical equipment and medicine used by Civil War surgeons who tried to save lives. But even when surgery was successful, many soldiers died of infections afterward.

THE MUSEUM houses several confederate and union flags, a small cannon, and tells about Camp Chase in Columbus and Johnson's Island in Sandusky Bay -- two prisoner of war camps -- and the commandeering of The General steam locomotive by union spies and the ensuing chase from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tenn.

Details of Morgan's raid through Ohio also are given. That topic always has interested me, and I've visited a handful of sites along the raiders' route.

From June 11 to July 26, 1863, Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan led more than 1,000 soldiers on a 1,000-mile raid from Sparta, Tenn. through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, causing chaos along the way.

Morgan entered Ohio at Cincinnati on July 13, destroying bridges, railroads and government stores. The raiders fought the closest Civil War battle to Ohio at Buffington Island in the Ohio River (Meigs County), where union forces captured 700 raiders.

The raiders continued north and east through Zanesville and Guernsey County. In Old Washington (Guernsey County), a historical marker that I've seen tells about a skirmish along the Old National Road.

The raiders headed north pursued by Brig. Gen. James Shackelford, and on July 26 union forces captured Morgan near West Point in Columbiana County. Residents of that county celebrated the 150th anniversary of the capture in 2013.

Morgan and six of his officers were taken to the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, from where they escaped on Nov. 27 by tunneling from an air shaft beneath their cells into the prison yard, and scaling the walls.

Only two of Morgan's men were recaptured, and the remainder returned to the South, where Morgan was killed less than a year later in Tennessee by a union soldier after refusing to halt while attempting to escape.

The route of Morgan's raid through Ohio has been commemorated with the erection of more than 600 directional markers and 56 interpretive signs. Signage was installed last spring and summer, and a previously erected Morgan's Raid Heritage Trail tablet was rededicated at the farm where he was captured.

OTHER TIFFIN MUSEUMS

I visited one other museum -- the Tiffin Glass Museum -- while in Tiffin. There are a couple of others which I didn't have an opportunity to explore.

The glass industry came to Tiffin in 1889 with the opening of the Beatty factory, which in its early days turned out 500,000 pressed pieces of glass in a single week. It later was acquired by U.S. Glass Co. and operated until 1984. It has since been demolished.

The glass museum downtown displays items made at the factory from 1898 to 1980, as well as glassmaking tools and photos of glassblowing operations. It has a gift shop offering original Tiffin Glass pieces and other items.

The Tiffin museum is one of about a half-dozen glass museums I've visited in recent years. Others are in Fostoria, Lancaster, Bellaire, Wheeling, W.Va. and Moundsville, W.Va.

After the old factory closed, a studio shop was opened to keep alive the art of glassmaking in Tiffin. It became known in 1997 as Crystal Traditions of Tiffin Inc., and it welcomes visitors and buyers of its products. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to stop in.

I would've liked to browse through the Seneca County Museum, but it is only open in the middle of the week.

It is housed in a Greek Revival house built by Rezen Shawhan, Tiffin's first millionaire, in 1853. Sixteen rooms, an annex and a carriage house contain exhibits relating to Seneca County.

THE HOUSE at 28 Clay St. was given to the Seneca County Historical Society in 1942. Rooms house artifacts relating to music, early American glass and Tiffin Glass, quilts and needlework, natural history, toys and war.

The carriage house features a collection of historic firefighting equipment, including a steam fire engine, a covered wagon and farm equipment.

In 1904, the Shawhan Hotel was built downtown by the Shawhan family. It was considered to be one of Ohio's finest hotels, hosting fancy dinners and parties in the Emerald Room. After a fire heavily damaged the building, it was renovated and opened in 1999 as an assisted living facility called Elmwood.

One museum which probably is of more interest to women is the Enchanted Moment Doll Museum and Gallery, which boasts a collection of more than 3,000 dolls and other items from many nations and cultures. Its slogan is "Where special friends come to life."

That museum is adjacent to the historic Grammes-Brown House, owned by Tiffin Historic Trust Inc. The nine-room Second Empire-style home was built in 1884 by local confectioner-baker Peter Grammes, and features fine woodwork, antiques and collections belonging to three generations who lived there.

FAMOUS TIFFIN FIRMS

In addition to the defunct Tiffin Glass Factory, the town is or was home to a number of famous manufacturing facilities.

Ballreich's Potato Chips was founded in 1920 by a couple who began making potato chips in a dirt floor garage, with a copper kettle heated with wood scraps. The husband -- Fred Ballreich -- eventually brought his brother to the business.

The original factory expanded after World War II. It is now located in the middle of a residential area and distributes chips and many other snack products to northwest Ohio, northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

I bought a bag of the firm's signature product -- marcelled (wavy) chips -- and they are very tasty.

In 2003, the firm and other Ohio chipmakers created the "world's largest bag of potato chips" at the Ohio State Fair. The bag contained about 288,000 chips and used about 4,250 pounds of Ohio potatoes.

Ballreich's is the official chips of sports teams such as the Toledo Mudhens, Lake Erie Crushers, University of Toledo Rockets, Bowling Green State University Falcons and Toledo Walleyes. In 2010, the firm earned the Small Business Administration-Cleveland District's family-owned business of the year award.

The National Machinery Co. still operates in Tiffin, having moved there from Cleveland in 1882. It is a global leader in advanced cold forming machinery and process technology.

Other firms which still operate in Tiffin are Webster Industries, which moved there from Chicago in 1906, and Tiffin Parts, founded as the Hanson Clutch and Machinery Co. The latter's plant has existed at the same site since the 1920s.

Sadly, the American Standard Co. factory, which once was the city's biggest employer, closed in 2007. It opened in 1899 as the Great Western Pottery Co. It made ceramic toilet bowls and tanks. American Standard has a plant in Salem.

A second part of this road trip column to Tiffin will appear in the near future.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.