The "Oberlin House" Museum

map to Oberlin House The Oberlin House stands at 225 East Cherry Street

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 all of the other various 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, out here in the country a young family had "space to breathe" and grow. Indeed, the young Canal Fulton attracted all kinds.

Immigrating from Germany, and residing for a time in 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 advice of his brother about the growing prospects available, William and his wife Elizabeth strode out west with thier young family in tow in order to carve out a 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

SLIDESHOW

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, as was not uncommon in that day, would know both hope and heart-ache. Sadly, four of thier children would die in infancy; however, they would also have the joy 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.

Christian and Sarah Oberlin on their 60th wedding anniversary

As a young man, 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. For a while, Christian would take over his family's farm but the couple would eventually sell it and move into town. By the late 1870's, they would own Tromp's two-story frame-house.

Christian would work for a time as a painter and wallpaper hanger, eventually working with C.R. Daily's undertaking business. His carpentry skills would also 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 - having been blessed with four daughters.

Maud Oberlin attended the Canal Fulton high-school

Christian would work and live a long full life before retiring, all the while watching his daughters grow to woman-hood and marry. Their youngest, Maude, was both born and married in the family home. The year 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.

In 1907, Maude and Warren would give birth to their own daughter, Gladys. Gladys herself was also born in this vary home (though the property at the time was owned by Frances - Maude's elder sister).

The Oberlin Family Legacy

In the years to come, Gladys (Burgert) Mitchell, would come to have very fond memories of the house where she was born and where her family had lived. However, Gladys wanted not only to preserve her ancestors' stories but also share them with the town. It became her goal to not just honor her parents and grandparents but indeed spur on the whole Canal Fulton community to work toward preservating its own history. Thus in 1972, she and her husband bought the property so they could donate it to the Heritage Society. Town residents responded in turn by donating time-appropriate furnishings to the Society and soon the house was dressed up in the style of an 1800's working-class family.

Refurbishing the Oberlin House was another big project that the Heritage Society took on to help preserve a piece of our past In colonial times, salt was frequently stored in boxes with tapered tops and lids.  This type of home gets its name from the similarity of the addition to these salt boxes

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 This type of home gets its name from its similarity to a style of salt box used in kitchens in the 1800's 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 anything from an owner's personal preferences to even popular social ideologies of the day. For example, within the 1700 to 1800's, the revival of Greek style buildings appealed on a philisophical level to the democratic sensibilities of these former British colonial subjects. Canal Fulton has many examples of this popular Greek Revival style*.

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 slope was standard in early European designs 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 Oberlin House decked out in Christmas trimmings for 'Christmas on the Canal'

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.