The "Oberlin House" Museum
Built in 1847, this typical frame-house, with two rooms downstairs and two upstairs, was modified into the popular colonial 'salt box' style. It stands today as a vignette of how and where one canal-era family lived. The house, named in honor of one of the several families who lived here, is furnished in an 1800's style. Frequently a costumed tour guide leads visitors through the property.
Mr. and Mrs. Tromp
In the mid-1800's, Canal Fulton was an attractive little place to settle. The opportunities brought by the Ohio & Erie Canal would shape the course of history for the community. Business was booming along the Ohio & Erie Canal which in turn created economic opportunities in this former frontier village. Immigrants and migrants alike began arriving to take advantage of not just the situations available to canal boatmen and merchants, but also of the other jobs needed to support a growing community. Whether newly-arrived from the 'old country' [i.e. Europe] or just relocating from a crowded family homestead in the colonial states, here in the country a young family could breathe and grow. Indeed, the young Canal Fulton attracted all kinds.
Immigrating from Germany, by way of New York, William Tromp heeded the attraction to this 'new world' bringing with him the skills he learned form his furniture-making family. On the word his brother about the growing prospects available, William and his wife Elizabeth, struck out on their own to carve out life for themselves here in this bustling little in-land port. Calling this little house their home, William would put his skills to use by offering his services to the town through the late 1800's.
The Oberlin Family Tree
Born in what would become the Canal Fulton area, Joseph Oberlin entered this world in 1813. Throughout his early married life he, like many others in the surrounding countryside, was a farmer. His family, who hailed from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were among that pioneering generation who had forged through virgin wilderness via ox-drawn covered wagon, warily crossed mountain trails and subsisted on frontier hunting and gathering. They survived through their "determination to make their wishes materialize and supported by a strong faith in the God of our fathers."
Joseph and his wife Sarah, while seeing four children die in infancy, would have the honor of watching five of their children grow to adulthood. Their eldest son, Christian, born on the family farm on Dec. 24, 1841, would live to become known as Canal Fulton's oldest citizen (at least as of his death in July, 1929).
Christian would serve the Union during the conflagration with the Confederate States. However, national events did not tie up all of his time and on Oct. 22, 1863, he married Sarah Kittinger. She herself was born in Lancaster, PA and migrated with her parents and surviving siblings to Canal Fulton. Christian would take over his family's farm for a time, but would eventually sell it and move into town. By the late 1870's, he and Sarah would own Tromp's two-story frame-house. He would work for a time as a painter and wallpaper hanger, eventually working with C.R. Daily's undertaking business. Christian's carpentry skills would be put to good use when he added an additional two rooms to the back of the house; thereby, converting it into the "salt box" style, which had been a popular trend on such houses since the colonial period. No doubt, Christian and Sarah were ensuring they would have all the space needed for a growing family (their marriage having been blessed with four daughters).
Christian would work and live a long full life before retiring, all the while watching his daughters grow to woman-hood and to marry. The youngest, Maude, was both born and married in the family home. 1886 heralded both Maude's birth and the opening of Canal Fulton's new school, located directly across the street from the home. She would graduate from this same school in 1904. Soon after graduating, she would marry Warren Burgert. His father, Joseph, found tremendous success working as a coal prospector/driller in the Canal Fulton area. Joseph later traded in his coal career and lived out his days on a comfortably-sized farm he worked with his sons.
In 1907, Maude and Warren gave birth to a daughter, Gladys. Gladys was also born in the 'Oberlin House,' (though the property at the time was owned by Frances - Maude's elder sister). The property would continue to change hands at various times through the years (Maude and Warren themselves owning it from 1931 to 1936). The last 'Oberlin' to have resided on the property was their niece, Grace, in 1941.
The Oberlin Family Legacy
Gladys (Burgert) Mitchell, would come to have very fond memories of the house where her parents and grandparents lived. However, Gladys wanted to not only preserve her ancestors' stories but also share them with the whole community. It was her goal to honor her parents and grandparents as well as spur on the Canal Fulton to work toward preservation of its history. So in 1972, she and her husband bought the property and donated it to the Heritage Society. Time-appropriate furnishings were given by town residents to dress the house in the style of an 1800's working-class family.
This whole project was an impressive undertaking for the young Heritage Society, but with hard work and the generosity of the community, it paid off.
What Old Architecture Can Teach Us
This style of frame-house became popular in the New England colonies during the 1600's. As English immigrants who had settled in the colonial states continued spreading westward, this style home followed. It increased in popularity because a simple extension of the roof line down to the first floor allowed a further addition onto the house, making it easy and affordable to accommodate a growing family. Such an addition resembled the look of the boxes where salt was stored in the kitchens of early American homes during the colonial period; thus arose the 'Colonial Salt Box' style home.
Building designs are one of the wonderful tools that historians can use to interpret the events of the past. Architectural styles can indicate to us an owner's personal preferences and even popular social ideologies of the day. For example, the revival of Greek style buildings appealed to the democratic sensibilities of the former British colonial subjects living in the country during the early 1800's. Canal Fulton has many examples of Greek Revival. Old architecture also reveals available types of building technologies and techniques. Take for instance the steep slope of a roof, evident on many of Canal Fulton's earliest houses. This roof slope was standard in early European design in order to allow water to readily drain from the semi-permeable thatching used as roofing material. As technologies advanced and materials improved, roof slopes were able to become much more shallow. Compare one of the many Italianate style houses you can see around Canal Fulton from the late 1800's to any of the various frame-houses that had been popular prior to this. In a way, each new generation of architect, having improved materials and methods, is saying to its predecessors, "Look at what I can do..."
The frame-style of the Oberlin house reveals it was built for the simple utility of providing a home for a modest working class family. Contrast this with the more regal 'Victorian' style of the William Blank House.
Canal Fulton, like many old towns, shows a fascinating mixture of building styles, indicating the variety of architectural changes the town has seen throughout the years.
The Oberlin House Today
This home continues to model the lifestyle lived by early Canal Fulton residents. It is a look back at a simpler time era--a reminder of both the hardships and accomplishments of our ancestors. The house also stands as a sign of the commitment a daughter had for the memory of her parents' and grandparents' stories. In general, it represents the dedication that this community has shown to preserving a piece of its own past.