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  • Writer's pictureRobin Alexander

Eclipse Brings Small Town Surprises


2024 Eclipse

Everything got thrown up into the air


Last week, like a lot of the country, we got on the road to find the best spot to view the eclipse in its totality. Originally, the plan was to head down to Indianapolis to Butler University to join my girls' school in an event. But with family, plans always have to be fluid, and as luck had it, my oldest ended up getting sick the weekend before the event. Our plans were thrown into the air, and we spent the entire weekend going back and forth on our plans. Would she feel good enough to travel? Should we even go around other people not knowing for sure what was going on with her? We weren't sure what to do even the morning of, but we did know none of us wanted to miss an event that wasn't going to be back in this area until 2099.


Long story short, we ended up tabling Indianapolis for something a little closer. After checking out the map, we figured out we could travel about thirty miles down US-30 to Van Wert, Ohio, and be in the right place to view the totality for about four minutes. With a park mapped out, we got on the road and got ready to see the celestial event from the privacy of our vehicle.


It was worth every minute, but beyond that, we found out there was a museum in the Van Wert we decided to put on our list to check out, along with some historic homes to drive by and admire.


Everything was closed during Monday's eclipse, so we waited out the week, figured out it was allergies hounding my oldest, and turned around on Sunday to head back to Van Wert and see what we could discover.


Surprises sometimes come in small packages


Okay, being an author, I have to admit that I know better than to judge a book by its cover. But I'll be honest: when we set out to check out the Van Wert Historical Society, we weren't expecting much. From the road, the museum looked like a historical home (large home but not necessarily mansion material), and was with the impression that the house would, at least in part, be filled with cases of local bits and pieces.


What I was expecting and what I found? Two totally different things.


The first surprise came when we pulled down the side street and found a graveled parking lot behind a small house with a sign for the Van Wert Historical Society. The parking lot was pretty full, and for a small town of about 11,000 people in the middle of corn fields and windmill farms, I had fully expected us to be the only car.


The house in front of the parking lot wasn't a place to "check in", instead it serves as a small library for the Historical Society (it wasn't open so I don't know what treasures are inside).



So, instead, we headed across a small, white metal bridge and train car toward the large stone house.


We were quickly met by a woman and member of the historical society who greeted us. She was extremely friendly, and let us know there were actually six buildings on the property to explore. There was no admission, and aside from them only being open for two hours (from 2pm-4pm on Sundays), we could explore at our own pace.


My husband and I have always loved exploring old homes, so although we weren't sure how our teen and tween would like it, we started there first.


Stepping into the past


Like my daughter said, it's interesting to walk through an old house, knowing that 150 years ago, someone lived there and looked at those walls the same way we look at our own.


There's something so human about the experience.




House of Seven Oaks; Van Wert Historical Society



House of Seven Oaks; Van Wert Historical Society

This home was built in 1889 by John and Tracy Clark specifically for and by her specifications. The stone and timber home was built from local supplies: the sixteen-inch stone blue limestone walls made from stone brought in horse and buggy from a local quarry.

With 10 rooms, a battlement tower, and several chimneys, it was an impressive place to call home among giant oak trees.


Foyer House of Seven Oaks; Van Wert Historical Society
Entry

John and Tracy called this place home until finances became difficult in 1933 when they sold the house to their daughter and her husband but continued to live in it with her family until they died in the 1940s.


Their daughter's family continued in the home until its sale in 1955 to the Van Wert Historical Society.


The coolest thing about the home is the fact that there have been very few changes made to the home since the initial construction, I love that little tidbit because a lot of old houses have been changed over the years so that by the time they are open to the public, there is quite a bit of restoration and some guesswork to make the house as authentic as possible.



House of Seven Oaks; Van Wert Historical Society
Upstairs Sitting Room


House of Seven Oaks; Van Wert Historical Society
Carving on arm chair


Log Cabin; Van Wert Historical Society

Outside the main house stood a log cabin built in the 1860s. With one large room downstairs that served as the living/dining area and the upstairs for sleeping, it's a look into a past when families didn't have the option to retreat to different corners of the house. I'm not going to lie, my stomach did more than a few flips peering between the cracks of the second-floor floorboards.


The one-room schoolhouse, Bear School, first opened for classes in 1906. Not only does it now house furniture and objects from the past, but allows visitors a chance to look through photos from its past before it found a home on the Historical Society's property.


Bear School; Van Wert Historical Society

Finally, we stepped into a 1920s tourist cabin that was at one time located on Lincoln Highway:



Tourist Cabin; Van Wert Historical Society

Tourist Cabin; Van Wert Historical Society

We spent an hour and a half wandering through everything but could have easily spent the full two hours if we spent more time reading all the plaques and descriptions.


If you are going to or coming from Fort Wayne, Indiana, or Lima, Ohio, this is the perfect spot to take a break, stretch your legs, and come face-to-face with local history is an impressive way.


And then a quick drive through town will allow you the chance to see the exteriors of some other great historical homes and buildings.



Historical residential homes, Van Wert, OH

Historical residential homes, Van Wert, OH


Van Wert surprised us and surpassed all of our expectations. It's certainly not a destination in of itself, nor is it one that you'll put on your list to visit time and time again, but it is every bit worth a stop.


As a final note, if you're looking to pick up something to eat before you get back on the road, no worries. You'll find plenty of fast-food chain restaurants and a Walmart up the road (just off I-30). If you want a place to sit down and eat, check out The Edition, which offers anything from charcuterie boards to burgers to flatbreads at moderate pricing (think $10-$16 a plate at the time of writing this).


Happy traveling!






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2 Comments


Guest
Apr 22

These historic buildings all look so charming! What a lovely place to explore!

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Robin Alexander
Robin Alexander
Apr 24
Replying to

They were so cool. Never expected to find so much there. Glad you enjoyed the post :)

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