The "Heritage House and Old Canal Days Museum"
The City Hotel
These two buildings are located on the site of the former City Hotel, which was also known at various times as the Walzer Exchange and the Babst Tavern. The Hotel was a prominent stop along the Ohio & Erie Canal. Originally built in 1835 by Daniel Babst, this site would host 3 of our nation's Presidents (William Henry Harrison in 1840, John Quincy Adams in 1843 and James Garfield in 1850). One commentator noted that for such a building to have hosted three Presidents a monument should have been erected in commemoration. Indeed, several townsfolk in the mid-1900's fancied that this historic site, situated at the entrance to the community park, would make for a fabulous museum. Unfortunately, not all dreams become a reality and in the 1950's the building was razed.
However, the notion of such a community museum residing on the property would not be forgotten, and it would be realized before too long.
The Heritage House
By the late 1800's, Canal Fulton could boast of more than a dozen saloons, but by 1912 there were only three. One of these establishments was located immediately west of the Tuscarawas River along Market Street (between what is now the Canal Fulton Glassworks and the river). It was originally opened by Dan Sheldon who lived by the slogan he kept hanging on a sign in his front window - "Live and Let Live." The saloon would adopt and retain this name. However, within the early 1900's, local residents within the temperance movement were able to use a technicality to force one of the town's saloons to close (laws of the day only allowed for so many saloons per population). Ironically, its founding motto would not be able to save it and the 'Live & Let Live' would be the establishment forced to shut its doors.
So... why have we gone into this random story about a forgotten saloon? Well, aside from it being a great tid-bit of local history, the saloon was part of a complex of buildings on the property. Another of the buildings would become our very own 'Heritage House.' During the days of the saloon, our building would be used variously as a dance hall, warehouse and even dwelling. Eventually, the property would come to be owned by Ralph Hardgrove and would be utilized in his coal business. While the adjoining buildings had been torn down, Hardgrove wanted to aid the newly founded Heritage Society's preservation efforts by giving us the existing building.
And so in 1968, the year of our conception, we were given the deed to the building. Already, the Heritage Society was feeling the generosity and civic pride of the Canal Fulton community! Not long after this, the decision was made to relocate the little house to the entrance of the community park. By 1974, renovation was complete and the structure became the Society's headquarters. It would house our collections, displays and office for years.
The Old Canal Days Museum
When the sesquicentennial celebration of 1964 rolled around, Clyde Gainey put on display his collection of Canal Fulton artifacts. Enthused and encouraged by the response he received during the event, Mr. Gainey fixed up the old storage building in his backyard and transformed it into a museum. Gainey would continue adding to his collection over the years, making his Old Canal Days Museum the "biggest little museum in the U.S.A." (or at least that is how many of the locals regarded it). Never charging any admission and always glad to welcome guests, from the time he opened in 1966 to 1979 (when he deeded it to the Heritage Society), more than 50,000 visitors would be entertained and enlightened by this local treasure trove.
Clyde Gainey would continue to play an active part in preserving and promoting Canal Fulton's history (including helping to found the Heritage Society). However, a time came when even his energy and efforts would run-out. So, in 1979 he donated the building and much of his collection to the Heritage Society. The museum was then relocated and adjoined to the Heritage House.
The little building itself has played several roles throughout the town's history. Clyde and his family lived in the residence at 118 North Canal Street, which during the late canal era was the home of Dr. Hiram Dissinger. As any good country doctor of that era would do, Dissinger would frequently make house calls in and about the surrounding countryside. As such, he kept a horse and carriage and the little two-story building at the back of his lot was the summer house for his carriage driver/stable boy/handyman. Through the years, the building was also used as a warehouse and a summer kitchen.
It is because of the efforts of Gainey and the many others like him that our community continues to have these wonderful connections to this history. Truly, preserving and promoting our heritage is a task that we all should take seriously. Because of Gainey's steadfast devotion, we can continue passing on our past to future generations. Even today, there are local residents who recall touring through Gainey's museum as a child and looking in awe at the wonderful lessons that our history has to offer (or maybe they were just awed that he could cram so much information into one little building :-).
The Museum Today
These two buildings comprise the Heritage Society's Museum where visitors and residents alike can stop in to absorb some local history. On display are some interesting and unique pieces of Canal Fulton memorabilia and a number of photos depicting a variety of aspects of early Canal Fulton life. There is also an assortment of maps, photos and displays regarding life along the Ohio & Erie Canal.