Walk down the red brick path and take a tour through Oberlin’s history.
That’s what I got to do recently with volunteer Anne Elder on an Oberlin Heritage Center upstairs/downstairs guided tour.
I had an in-depth look at three historic buildings in town — the Monroe House, the Little Red Schoolhouse, and the Jewett House.
The 75-minute walk began in the Monroe House with a history of James Monroe and the first Oberlinian, Peter Pindar Pease.
Elder said the house was originally on College Place and was moved to where it sits now at 73 1/2 South Professor St.
“This property has gone through a lot of changes,” said OHC museum education and tour coordinator Amanda Manahan. Trying to trace its history and restore it to original condition is no easy task. “Unfortunately, we are going off a lot of receipts and styles of the period. A lot of things that you see around here are not original to the Monroe family but (they are) original to Oberlin and its families.”
A few pieces in the house belonged to Monroe, his wife Julia Finney Monroe, and her father, Charles Finney.
At the start of the tour, Elder flipped through James’ Holy Bible Teacher’s Edition which sits next to Charles’ picture and his chair in the corner of a room. A clock Finney owned also sits on the fire place mantel beside the Bible.
Elder said the Heritage Center tried to envision how the house used to look, painting the walls a certain color and putting furniture in certain locations.
John Shipherd and Philo Stewart came to the area along Plum Creek from Elyria wanting to create their own community.
Manahan said the two men hired Pease to move to the area to clear the land and was Oberlin’s first resident.
Pease lived in a cabin near the intersection where the Oberlin Inn is located today.
The city and Oberlin College were founded in 1833. Forty-four students enrolled in the college in its first year.
The founders created a covenant for everyone to sign and obey, which included being Christian and praying daily. By 1839, 140 people signed.
Living quarters were much different back in the 1800s than what people are used to today.
Manahan said people slept on very thin mattresses filled with hay or straw and ropes were stretched across the frame of the bed to serve as the springs.
Many blankets and quilts were layed on top of the mattress to provide extra cushion, Elder said.
“Everybody had to work hard to grow food and clear the land,” Elder said of the early years of Oberlin.
The Little Red Schoolhouse was built in 1836 and was in operation until about 1850.
It’s a one-room school with a wood stove in the center and a long bench and table for children to work at. At each seat there’s a small blackboard, book, cloth, and piece of chalk.
The Jewett House next door to the school was purchased by Oberlin College chemistry professor Frank Fanning Jewett for $6,000. He lived there 40 years with his wife Frances Gulick Jewett, an author of books on public health and hygiene.
“This place was built as a jewel,” Elder said.
The house was used by Oberlin College students for a number of years. They slept in the attic and studied on the second floor.
The Jewetts did not have any children so Frances devoted her life to writing.
The home also has an exhibit of Charles Martin Hall’s woodshed and his discovery of aluminum.
The Underground Railroad is always a source of questions. Most people who take the tour ask about slaves and want to see underground tunnels — but there are none. “Underground” describes the covert network of abolitionists who provided safe harbor to slaves sneaking north toward safety.
Elder loves giving tours to children and showing them what life used to be like and how people survived with very little technology. “This is eye-opening for kids to think about,” Elder said.
Tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at the Oberlin Heritage Center.
The cost is $6 per adult and free to OHC members, college students with current IDs, and children accompanied by an adult.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @ValUrbanik on Twitter.
Photos by Valerie Urbanik | Oberlin News-Tribune
Oberlin Heritage Center volunteer Anne Elder looks through James Monroe’s Holy Bible Teachers Edition.