Ohioans have a knack for making history.
The first European settlers came to what is now Ohio in the late 1700s, after its discovery by French Canadian explorers in the 17th century. Ever since then, Ohio residents have been luminaries and leaders who have shaped the course of events in the state and around the world.
Group travelers wanting to learn more about Ohio history should add these five historical attractions to their itineraries to learn more about the state’s early settlers, Ohio’s famous Amish community, slavery, the U.S. Postal Service and the inception of the Voice of America broadcast that continues its global news mission today.
Ohio History Center and Ohio Village
The Ohio History Center is the largest repository of Ohio history in the state, touching on wars, sports, nature and life in Ohio during different eras. One of its most popular exhibits touches on life in the 1950s through the eyes of one Ohio family. Visitors tour their fully furnished, ranch-style, all-steel Lustron home that was made in a Columbus factory after World War II. The homes could be ordered through a catalog and shipped to a customer’s property. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have a good business model and couldn’t keep up with production of the homes, said Roger Dudley, director of community and customer engagement at Experience Columbus, so only a few were made.
Another exhibit deals with Civil War battle flags, most of which are from Ohio military companies. Groups can take a special docent-guided tour of the flag room and see some of the more delicate flags that are not on display. Visitors will learn the stories behind the flag designs and why pieces of the flags are missing. Ohio Village is a collection of 1890s buildings from around the state that re-create a small town on the museum’s property. The Ohio Village Gossip Tour immerses group visitors in the workings of the town through the rumors and gossip spread by costumed docents who play the roles of shopkeepers and other town denizens.
Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center
Group visitors curious about the Amish and Mennonite communities in Ohio can learn about their history and culture in the Ohio town of Berlin through the Behalt, a 10-foot-high, 265-foot-long hand-painted mural-in-the-round that tells of their Anabaptist beginnings in Switzerland in 1525 to the movement’s spread throughout the world, including to the U.S. The Behalt Cyclorama was painted by Heinz Gaugel, a self-taught artist from
Germany who became fascinated with the Amish on a visit to Holmes County in 1962. The mural was completed in 1992. There are seven different Amish orders that live in the surrounding area. Combined with the Mennonites, a conservative sect that follows the same principles as the Amish but has embraced some parts of modern culture, like electricity, Ohio has the largest population of Anabaptists in the U.S.
Groups can take a tour of the museum, led by local Amish and Mennonite people who can answer questions and give interesting historical details about the people and how they live alongside modern society. In addition to learning about the history and culture of these people, visitors can see assorted styles of Amish carriages and wagons and visit a one-room schoolhouse on the property. If groups call ahead, the museum can organize longer tours, a question-and-answer session and even a meal with the Amish. The tour and full museum experience takes about an hour and a half.
Overfield Tavern Museum
The Overfield Tavern Museum is a two-story log tavern built in 1808. The building served as Troy’s first courthouse and as a frontier tavern and gathering place for the community. Today, the museum displays an extensive collection of early 19th-century decorative arts, such as textiles, ceramics, glassware and furniture. The downstairs is set up as a typical house museum; the upstairs highlights various aspects of frontier life, including stories of Native Americans, medicine on the frontier, religion, schooling, industry and stories of three African Americans who lived in the area.
Ohio was a free state, and the museum has documents showing that Black people lived in the area as early as 1809. The museum’s exhibit talks about the Ohio Black Laws, which restricted what free Black people could do, said Chris Manning, executive director of the museum. The laws prevented Black people from owning weapons or testifying against white Americans in court. Black people were required to show proof of their free status. If they were escaped slaves, they were in danger of being recaptured and sold back into slavery.
Groups can tour the museum with a docent. Larger groups are split into two, with half visiting the Overfield Tavern Museum and half visiting the Museum of Troy History across the street that details life in the area from 1850 through the early 20th century.
Delphos Museum of Postal History
The Delphos Museum of Postal History was started 30 years ago in the basement of the Delphos Post Office. It moved into its current 12,000-square-foot building on Main Street in 2007, with exhibits about the history of the U.S. Postal Service from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War; the many types of vehicles used by postal workers dating back to 1906; and the Hall of Stamps, which tells the history of stamps from their inception in 1849 through current mint sets. There are about 250,000 stamps on display.
A new exhibit deals with the philatelic aspects of the Holocaust and World War II. When visitors exit a re-creation of a German railroad car, they come face-to-face with a large mural of the Dachau concentration camp. The exhibit is based on a book, “And the World Closed its Doors: The Story of One Family Abandoned to the Holocaust,” which relays the story of a decorated Jewish WWI veteran in Florsheim, Germany, in 1937 who began corresponding with a cousin he had never met in Charles Town, West Virginia, in an attempt to get his family safely out of Germany. He perished in a concentration camp, but a surviving daughter made it to America thanks to the West Virginia cousin who corresponded with her father.
Groups can tour the museum by appointment. Curator Gary Levitt leads them through the exhibits, highlighting some of the more interesting pieces and explaining how stamps and written letters have played a role in some of the world’s most historic events. At the end of the tour, groups participate in a question-and-answer session.
National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting
Concerned about Adolf Hitler’s use of movies and radio to spread Nazism across Europe, president Franklin Roosevelt created the Voice of America (VOA) broadcast to counteract Hitler’s fascist ideas with stories about the United States, its culture and dedication to freedom and democracy. The first VOA transmission was from the Bethany Relay Station in West Chester, Ohio, north of Cincinnati, in 1942. The station, which now houses the museum, used six powerful short wave transmitters to send programs in 20 different languages to Europe, Africa and North America.
VOA ended up in Ohio because Powel Crosley Jr., an American inventor, entrepreneur and industrialist, lived there. He created the most powerful AM radio station ever to broadcast in the United States at 500,000 watts. Today, radio stations are only allowed to broadcast at a maximum of 50,000 watts. The museum exhibits the largest collection of Crosley inventions in the country, as well as exhibits on radio and wireless technology.
Visitors can listen to about 40 of the most important VOA broadcasts of all time, in English and other languages, including programs about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., World War II and the 1969 moon landing. Groups can take a guided tour of the museum, including a walk through one of the transmitters, which is the size of three city buses. A visit to the museum usually takes between 90 minutes and two and a half hours.