Author Archives: Bari Oyler Stith, Ph.d.

Director, Historic Preservation Program, Ursuline College

Historic Preservation: La Dolce Vita


By Ashley Hardison, Historic Preservation M.A. Candidate

In a neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland you can find a pocket of history and heritage linking the Italian culture to America, and they call it Little Italy. It’s a small neighborhood but they hold strong to tradition. The architecture shows Italian influence it the buildings, the color choices, and the decorations of the neighborhood. Populations and buildings have grown and adapted over time, but if you pay attention you can still see the true ethnic wonder that was and is Little Italy.

The influence of Italian architecture can be seen throughout Little Italy but most prominently in the construction of the Holy Rosary Church. Holy Rosary Church was built in 1892,[1] and Italian architecture can be seen in the use of brick as well as keystone arches over the windows and doors. The Church is the tallest and most prominent building as well as being centered in the neighborhood. Italians hold strongly to religion with local saints and feast days a very important part of village life.[2]

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Ursuline celebrates ‘Preservation Month’


Sarah and Hannah joined other HiPsters in presenting a booth at EarthFest 2014. Over 15,000 people attended Ohio’s premier environmental education event.

In Centennial, author James A. Michener asserts “During the few years allotted to each of us, we are the guardians of our earth, the custodians of our heritage, and the caretakers of our future.”

What an inspiring affirmation for preserving cultural memory and the intersections between Historic Preservation and environmental responsibility! The above statement encourages emphasis on the importance of the land and distinctive sense of place in our personal and national identity.

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An Ohio Historic Marker celebrating Victoria Claflin Woodhull stands in front of the Homer Public Library.

Did you know? First woman candidate for the U.S. Presidency was from Ohio

An Ohio Historic Marker celebrating Victoria Claflin Woodhull stands in front of the Homer Public Library.

An Ohio Historic Marker celebrating Victoria Claflin Woodhull stands in front of the Homer Public Library.

Who would have guessed that the first woman to run for the U.S. Presidency (1872), a nationally known campaigner for women’s suffrage and social justice, was born in the tiny community of Homer, Ohio?

Probably very few until the people of Homer had the foresight to erect an official Ohio Historic Marker in front of their library, reminding us of Victoria Claflin Woodhull and her commitment to women’s rights.




The main intersection in Homer, Licking County, Ohio

The main intersection in Homer, Licking County, Ohio

Homer, Ohio:  It’s a sleepy little place at the crossroads of two secondary rural highways and the Otter Run Fork of the Licking River, not far from where I was born and raised.  In just a few minutes, you can drive through this unincorporated community in Licking County, past the post office and the handful of clapboard commercial buildings at the intersection.  You might glance at the old brick school building that sits back a bit from the highway and, as you near the edge of town, you can see the United Methodist Church, an ancient cemetery, and the modern library where the historical society meets regularly.  This is, and was, quintessential Ohio farm country.


Victoria and her sister Tennessee were born in Homer, respectively in 1838 and 1845, to Roxanna and Reuben Buckman Claflin. Local legends abound about the Claflin family – that they were poverty-stricken, that the children only sporadically attended school, that Roxanna was a clairvoyant, that Buck burned down his own gristmill to collect insurance money, and that the family was semi-nomadic, using the children to sell homemade patent medicines, practice faith healing, and tell fortunes as part of their travelling medicine show.


Also according to local legend, community members “encouraged” the Claflins to leave Homer by raising funds at a benefit so that the family could join Buck who had been run out of town for alleged insurance fraud.  Can’t you just picture those scenes?  Do you think the fundraiser was held in the old town hall?  Or the church?


VictoriaInPrintWhatever the circumstances of her childhood in this minuscule town and what sounds to be an unusual family, Victoria rose above hardship to follow the courage of her convictions, some of which were considered exceptionally radical in the 19th century.  Many of her achievements were, and are, truly inspirational.





Victoria’s achievements (SOME of them):

  • First woman to run for the U.S. Presidency (1872) representing the Equal Rights Party (She lost to Ohioan and Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant.  After all, the amendment granting women the right to vote would not be ratified for another 48 years!)
  • First American woman to address Congress (1871)
  • As two of the first women stockbrokers in history, she and her sister Tennessee Claflin opened Woodhull, Claflin and Company on Wall Street in 1870 with the backing of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt
  • Published the very successful Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly newspaper promoting a plethora of social justice issues
  • Leading membership in the National American Woman Suffrage Association and International Workingman’s Association


Victoria’s advocacy:

  • Woman suffrage
  • Equal educational opportunity for women (how keenly must she have felt her lack of it?)
  • Women’s right to control their own health decisions, including birth control
  • Labor reform including an 8-hour workday
  • Divorce law reform
  • Free love (can’t you just hear the consternation of the people of post-Civil War Ohio over that?)


Homer, Licking County, Ohio

Homer, Licking County, Ohio

So, the next time you drive through a tiny little burg, or across a lonely countryside, and see an Ohio Historical Marker, take a moment to stop and read it.  Who knows what rich, complex heritage it will reveal about a place that may seem quiet and unassuming?  I always appreciate the inspiration these marker stories provide, as well as the commitment of the community members who did the research, writing, and fundraising to bring you an important message about their/our heritage.



Like to know more about Homer, Ohio?  Visit the Homer Public Library at


Like to know more about Victoria Claflin Woodhull?  Visit the:

National Women’s History Museum at

National Women’s Hall of Fame at

New York Times obituary at

Ohioana Library Association at

Ohio Center for the Book at

Ohio History Central at

Ohio Memory at

Remarkable Ohio at

Women Working, 1800-1930, Harvard University Library Open Collections Program, at


Our own Ursuline College Besse Library for access to published biographies.

Whatcha doin’ Friday night? Like to get all starry eyed?

Perhaps you would like to join us in Geauga for our Park District’s “Women in Space” program celebrating the 50th anniversary of Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first woman to travel into space and 30 years since Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. This program examines the important contributions woman have made in space science.

AND! The stars not only dance over Observatory Park, but the skies are so dark you can clearly see them, which is why we are an official international dark sky park, one of only 5 in the country and 8 in the world as of 2011.  The planetarium, telescopes, and staff naturalists give you a clear view of the world above us.

When:  Friday, September 27 from 7-8 pm (park is open to 11 pm)

How much? FREE with no registration required

For more information:

Where:  Robert McCullough Science Center, 10610 Clay Street, Observatory Park, Montville, Geauga County, Ohio

How in the world do I get there?  Easiest route from Ursuline is straight east on Rt. 322/Mayfield Road (after Route 608 and before Route 528)  then north (left) on Clay Street.  Observatory Park will be north of Chardon-Windsor Road on the left (west) side of the road.   Map is online at

WHAT??? You haven’t visited Observatory Park yet?  There’s an observatory and telescope, over 1100 beautiful acres to hike, a one mile Planetary Trail that takes you on an imaginary stroll across the solar system, human sundial, sculptures, meteorite display, seismograph station, green building features, and so much more.  Interested in viewing what they offer?  Check out

Enjoy every minute in gorgeous Geauga!

Celebrate National Public Lands Day!


Saturday, September 28, is National Public Lands Day and a fee-free day at most federally managed lands, including our National Parks and many National Historic Sites.


National Public Lands Day celebrates our nations’ 600 million acres plus of public lands, educates about our natural heritage, advocates for shared stewardship of these irreplaceable resources, and promotes partnerships to enhance, restore, and improve public lands.  For more information and volunteer opportunities, explore


In northeastern Ohio, this is a great opportunity to celebrate and visit our own James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.


President Garfield, often referred to as one of our favorite sons, is near and dear to the hearts of many in northeastern Ohio.   The last of our “Log Cabin Presidents,” he was born in 1831 in Orange Township (now S.O.M. Center Road in Moreland Hills), drove canal boat teams on the Ohio Canal, attended school at the Geauga Seminary in Chesterland, taught classics at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College), served in the Ohio Senate, led Ohio troops and rose to prominence as a Major General in the Civil War, represented Ohio in Congress, and was a frequent visitor, with his wife Lucretia, at the Lake Erie Female Seminary (now Lake Erie College in Painesville).


And all this before he launched his famous Front Porch Campaign for the U.S. Presidency from his home at the old Dickey Farm in Mentor!  (Little wonder that the newspaper reporters of the time dubbed the property “Lawnfield” by which it is known today).


Garfield’s tenure as President was cut short when he was shot in 1881.  Today he is interred in the Garfield Monument in Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery.


But his legacy lives on at his home in Mentor where our James A. Garfield National Historic Site features the beautifully and accurately restored Garfield home, a state of the art visitor center and museum in the restored 1894 Carriage House, a brief introductory film, a campaign headquarters, windmill, various outbuildings, and lovely park grounds.


Several free special events will be held on National Public Lands Day, including a presentation on the President’s last days and subsequent death as well as the public unveiling of a new portrait of Garfield during the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga by Ohio artist Amy Lindenberger.  For more information, explore

So join us on September 28 in celebrating the incredible legacy of preservation of public lands that we enjoy in the United States.




Fall is a “Grape” Time of Year for Adaptive Reuse: South River Vineyard

Does anything smell better this time of year than the aroma of grapes ripening on twisty vines in the autumn sun?  If that appeals to you, I can highly recommend a country drive down Route 307, South River Road, and South Ridge Road along the borders of Geauga and Lake Counties into Ashtabula County.

Route 307 on the Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trail

Route 307 on the Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trai

The drive itself is a feast for the senses.  The crisp fall breezes carry the scent of the grapes as you follow the winding roads over gently rolling hills past vineyards and forests.  If your car is a quiet one, you’ll enjoy the serenading of the songbirds and peepers amid strains of live music (all kinds!) wafting on the wind on weekend evenings.

There are some truly delicious grape juices and several dozen vineyards on this, our own Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trail.  Did you know that “northeast Ohio boasts more wineries per square mile than in any other region,” including over half of Ohio’s winegrape acreage?  (“Ohio Wine Producers”)   And that the “largest number of wineries are located in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties?”  (“Ohio Wines”).  Many of those wineries are open to the public with indoor and outdoor seating that allows visitors to enjoy pastoral settings as well as delicious meals, snacks, and beverages.

My favorite wineries just happen to be in older structures (surprise, surprise!  The greenest building is the one that is already built) that have been creatively and beautifully adapted to encourage visitors to sit a spell and enjoy the company of good friends, tasty food, and the tranquility of rural surroundings.

One winery in particular provokes many questions about how one feels about the original intended use of a structure versus adaptation to new uses.

South River Vineyard's winery in a Methodist Episcopal Church

South River Vineyard’s winery in a Methodist Episcopal Church

At South River Vineyard, a lovely, traditional white clapboard Methodist Episcopal Church perches quietly atop a hill overlooking acres of vines and woods.  This 1892 church, long since abandoned at its original site, was moved from Shalersville to its current home on South River Road then carefully converted so that much of the exterior and interior architectural integrity remains.





Interior of the winery at South River Vineyard

Interior of the winery at South River Vineyard


On your visit you can still enjoy the colorful stained glass windows and rich patina of the original wooden floors, pews and wainscoting.  Where the pulpit was once located, you will find double glass doors that open onto a veranda featuring Greek columns and a view of the vineyard beyond.  There’s also a beautiful stone fireplace for chilly fall evenings.

A view of the vineyards from the winery at South River Vineyards

A view of the vineyards from the winery at South River Vineyards

Many of the wines here are even aptly named for the setting – Creation, Exodus, Trinity and Temptation.  (“South River Vineyard”).

As much as I enjoy this setting, it does make me wonder what the members of that original congregation, the ones who contributed their time and treasure to build a church for their community, would think of this newest use?  Would they be happy that the structure they labored to construct had found a new life (and a valued one, judging by the number of people who visit regularly)?  Or would they be saddened?  After all, Methodist congregations historically supported temperance movements and abstinence from alcohol.

How do we define “appropriate” and how do our life experiences influence that definition?Are there “appropriate” ways to reuse sacred space once a congregation dwindles and the structure is abandoned?  The National Trust for Historic Preservation addresses some of these issues in its “”Ten on Tuesday” series with two segments on “How to Preserve Places of Worship.”

Or is it enough that the building be used sensitively and as a positive contribution to the community?

What benefits can wineries such as South River bring to a community?  Well, there’s the obvious – a gathering place for friends and families.  Ohio wineries also help limit urban/suburban sprawl and preserve rural green space by putting farmland back into agricultural production. And the economic impact is considerable, especially in rural areas.  In 2008, the impact of wine and grapes on the Ohio economy totaled $528.8 million.  (MKF Research LLC 2010, 2-3)


South River Vineyard is a very successful adaptive reuse of a structure that would likely have been demolished had the vineyard owner not inquired about it, then been given the structure with the proviso that it be dismantled and moved.



Adaptive reuse is a serious strategy for environmental responsibility.  “Every year, approximately 1 billion square feet of buildings are demolished and replaced with new construction in the United States…. The Brookings Institution projects that some 82 billion square feet of existing space will be demolished and replaced between 2005 and 2030 – roughly one-quarter of today’s existing building stock.”  (Preservation Green Lab/National Trust for Historic Preservation 2011, ix)  Savings as a result of reuse can be significant, ranging “between 4 and 46 percent over new construction when comparing buildings with the same energy performance level…. Moreover, it can take between 10 and 80 years for a new, energy-efficient building to overcome, through more efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts that were created during the construction process.”  (Preservation Green Lab/National Trust for Historic Preservation 2011, vi)

There are plenty of examples of adaptive reuse to enjoy on the Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trail – a barn, a mill, a firehouse, a fruit stand.  Just a little pondering as I wander these beautiful back roads and smell the grapes of autumn.


Bari Oyler Stith, Ph.D., is the Director of Historic Preservation at Ursuline College.


MKF Research LLC, . The Economic Impact of Wine and Winegrapes on the State of Ohio 2008: A Study Commissioned by the Ohio Grape Industries Committee. St. Helena, California: Frank, Rimerman and Co., 2010. (accessed September 9, 2013).

“Ohio Wine Producers Association.” (accessed September 9, 2013).

“Ohio Wines: Love at First Sip.” (accessed September 9, 2013).

Preservation Green Lab/National Trust for Historic Preservation, . The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse. National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2011. (accessed September 9, 2013).

“South River Vineyard.” (accessed September 9, 2013).

“Ten on Tuesday: How to Preserve Places of Worship, part 1.”

“Ten on Tuesday: How to Preserve Places of Worship, part 2.”

Something for Everyone – Even Preservationists and Historians! – at Our Great Geauga County Fair


Our fair, with its inspiring and sometimes comedic history, is distinguished in Ohio preservation circles because it:

The Ohio Historic Marker  is unveiled at the Great Geauga County Fair.

Unveiling the Ohio Historic Marker awarded to the Great Geauga County Fair by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission.


1.  is one of only 10 historic sites in our state chosen for an Ohio Historic Marker for its importance to our agricultural development by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission.


Domestic Arts Hall (1889) at the Great Geauga County Fair.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places




2.  has 2 buildings, the Domestic Arts Hall (1889) and the Flower Hall (1890), listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Domestic Arts Hall (1889) at the Great Geauga County Fair. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

 The Burton Interurban train station that became the Great Geauga County Fair Office.

3.  includes a fair office housed in an old interurban train         station, skillfully adapted for reuse after it was moved from across the street to the current fairgrounds.

The Burton Interurban train station that became the Great Geauga County Fair Office.

4.  is organized by what is likely Geauga County’s oldest, existing organization – now called the Geauga Agricultural Society

Fairgoers are so used to watching the livestock, eating pie at the Grange, slurping down Tex’s lemonade, riding the rides, and seeing the shows that it is easy to forget that this is a time-honored institution with a rich heritage and a very important, longstanding mission.

The first recognized “modern” county fair was held in 1810 on the square in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  It was the brainchild of Elkanah Watson and the Berkshire Agricultural Society.  Watson clearly intended that his agricultural fair and cattle show would:


1.  promote agricultural improvements and pride in farming

2.  provide a holiday of the harvest, celebrating the variety of agriculture

3.  include pleasure and profit (material AND intellectual) for  all ages, every class, and both sexes.


Something for everyone, as a publicist would coin for a fair slogan decades later.

It was this tradition of agricultural education and celebration for all that our early New England pioneers packed into their cultural baggage and then transplanted in their new communities in what was then known as Connecticut’s Western Reserve and became northeastern Ohio.

Lewis Hunt of Massachusetts was one such pioneer who settled in Huntsburg (yep, named after his father Eben), Geauga County, Ohio, in 1817.  He was liberally educated, well travelled in England and Europe, and well connected in Massachusetts’ horticultural community.  Even as he planted his apple trees and travelled the county selling his produce, he spread the word to his friends and customers about Elkanah Watson’s new county fair.

In a heroic effort to establish the Geauga Agricultural and Manufacturing Society, prominent citizens from all over Geauga County travelled by horseback and wagon to CHARDON on FEBRUARY 10, 1823,  (CAN YOU IMAGINE RIDING HORSES AND DRIVING WAGONS TO THE SNOW CAPITAL OF OHIO IN FEBRUARY????  WHAT DETERMINATION!) for an organizational meeting.

The resulting first Geauga Cattle Fair and Show was held on Oct. 23, 1823, in Chardon.  Railpens were constructed on the square to hold the livestock and the smaller productions were on exhibition in the small Courthouse, located on what is now Water Street.

Thirteen premiums were awarded – 6 to women in the “feminine arts” and 7 to men for livestock.  They were:

$10 for best bull

$8 for best heifer

$6 each for buck, best ewe, and best piece of woolen cloth

$5 each for second best bull and best piece of bleached linen

$4 each for best table linen and best grass bonnet

$3 each for second best buck, second best ewe, and second best piece of woolen cloth

$2 for second best straw bonnet

From 1840 through 1854 the location of the fair alternated between the communities of Chardon and Burton until a spirited competition for a permanent fairgrounds developed between those two villages and the township of Claridon, with each offering acreage and support.


Burton won and the permanent fairgrounds that we know and love today was established initially on eleven acres leased from H.H. Ford where it grew in size and influence.  By 1863 the Geauga County Fair boasted 285 premiums awarded in 48 classes, many housed in small exhibition buildings that have not survived.  This, in spite of the contention by the reporter for the Jeffersonian Democrat, that the 1863 fair was not “as good as usual, [but] was as good as could be expected, under the circumstances.”

1863? Fair not as good as usual?  Under what circumstances?

You might be surprised to learn that in a listing of three reasons why the fair was NOT as good as usual, a recent drought and the movement of the date of the fair from the end of the harvest in October to early September managed to outrank the Civil War, which we happened to be in the midst of fighting.  Our Fair has ALWAYS been a priority to Geaugans.

The fair, however, continued to grow, requiring more acreage, more track for horse races, and more buildings.  The Domestic Arts Hall was erected in 1889 with the Flower Hall following in 1890.  Both are still in use today.

In 1913, a reporter from the Geauga Republican claimed that the 82nd annual fair was “the same old Fair in some of the same old ways that we have always known, of course, but, bless your soul, it will always be the same in those ways, for some things never change to a casual observer.  There will always be the livestock, sheep, swine, grain, fruit, and vegetables, exhibits of fancy work and culinary products, side attractions, catch-penny devices, etc., and the special events.  That’s why we go and it wouldn’t be a County Fair without the exhibit and attractions mentioned.  It is the same old time-honored institution we have always known.”



Those words ring true even today, in 2013.  The Great Geauga County Fair remains an educational and celebratory institution with a big, beautiful, bronze Ohio Historical Marker and an architectural heritage to remind us of its past and continuing importance in Ohio agriculture.

At the 4-H Horse barn at the East Show Ring at the Great Geauga County Fair

At the 4-H Horse barn at the East Show Ring at the Great Geauga County Fair

— Bari Oyler Stith, Ph.D., is Director of the Historic Preservation program at Ursuline College and proud to be a Geaugan.

Selected Bibliography

Geauga Republican, 27 August 1850.  Microfilm.  Geauga Public Library. Chardon, Ohio.

Geauga Republican, 17 September 1913. Microfilm.  Geauga Public Library. Chardon, Ohio.

History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts. New York: J.B. Beers and Company, 1885.

Jeffersonian Democrat, 3 July 1863.  Microfilm.  Geauga Public Library. Chardon, Ohio.

Jones, Robert Leslie. History of Agriculture in Ohio to 1880. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1983.

Neely, Wayne Caldwell. The Agricultural Fair. New York: Columbia University Press, 1935.

Painesville Telegraph, editions: 19 February 1823, 24 April 1823; 13 August 1823; 15 October 1823; 8 April 1824, 29 January 1825; 16 January 1826; 26 January 1827.  Microfilm.  Morley Library. Painesville, Ohio.

“Report of the Geauga County Agricultural Society” presented by Seabury Ford to the Ohio House of Representatives, 1838, doc. #85.  Western Reserve Historical Society.  Cleveland, Ohio.

Wells, J.C.  “The Old Agricultural Society: A History of the Geauga County Fair.” 1898.  Typescript. Burton Library.  Burton, Ohio.



“Grave” Concerns in Preservation

Now that warm weather has arrived in Ohio, it is time for me to return to one of my first loves – exploring the country roads and villages of our state to see what is going on in the preservation of cultural memory.  And since we recently celebrated Memorial Day I suppose it is appropriate that some of my first road trips this spring have been to small, out of the way cemeteries.

Trail to Bear Run Cemetery

It was my parents who guided me up this “road?,” south of New Lexington in Perry County.




Our objective was the Bear Run Cemetery, perched precariously at the top of a hill in Bearfield Township.  (Naming patterns are usually important indicators of community heritage in preservation.  Do those naming patterns take you back to pioneer days? )


I was delighted to see how well preserved the cemetery was, given its remote location and the age of the graves.  Local scuttlebutt is that the area around the cemetery was strip-mined for coal and that the company must maintain the cemetery as part of its land reclamation.  That bears some research (pardon the pun!).


Yes, that’s Dad behind the grave we were seeking, that of my grandfather (many greats back) John Jacob Storts who at the startling young age of 14 served under General George Washington at Valley Forge during our American Revolution.  As we always do in my family and as I’m sure do many others, we brought a decoration for the grave in anticipation of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day as a national holiday can be traced back to efforts by Union veterans of our American Civil War who gathered in organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) to press for recognition of the sacrifices made by their fallen comrades.  Formally decorating the graves of veterans developed as a tradition even as ideas were changing about where loved ones ought to be laid to rest and how that landscape ought to be treated.

The locating of cemeteries has changed.  Today’s cemeteries whether private or government (city, village, township) are highly regulated for sanitation purposes.  But in early Ohio?  In addition to burying grounds teetering precariously on hilltops as Bear Run does, graveyards popped up at the edge of farmers’ fields and surrounded small country churches.


We made another stop in Perry County at Drumm’s Bottom, named after my mother’s great grandmother’s family.  The little Lutheran Church and Cemetery were carefully groomed in anticipation of Memorial Day.   How different from 200 years ago when horses, cows, and sheep were let loose to wander the “grave yard” and eat down the grass, their hoofprints in the soft spring earth later hardening in the summer sun to create some very unsteady footing.  Practical and pastoral perhaps, but hardly what we are used to today!


Cemeteries have not always been the beautiful, hushed, park-like landscapes (think of Cleveland’s gorgeous Lake View Cemetery) that we know today. Several hundred years ago, Americans didn’t talk about cemeteries (what a formal name!) but rather referred to burial grounds as graveyards.  The difference in our naming conventions marks a shift in our cultural consciousness from simply burying remains after the soul has fled to creating a place where we can truly lay our loved ones “to rest” and remember that we are part of a continuum, something greater than ourselves, and that those memories and those places need  their own brand of preservation if they are to continue to teach us lessons about who we have been and who we are now.


Interested in cemetery preservation?

The National Preservation Institute offers seminars with details available at .

Information focused on Ohio can be found on the Ohio Historical Society webpages at and the Ohio Genealogical Society pages at

Take it easy and happy trails!