THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
LIBERTY CENTER, Ohio — The spirit of Liberty flaps red, white, and blue from flagpoles in this Henry County community where the personality of people and places proudly proclaims, “Hometown America.”
“There is everything you need right here in Liberty,” long-time village resident Louisa Strock said.
Cut your finger fixing farm equipment? There’s a doctor in town. Chip a tooth? There’s a dentist. Check out books at the library. Order a pizza. Cash checks at a bank. Consult with an attorney. Get gas and groceries at local stores. Get religion. A sign at a local church proclaims it is “prayer conditioned.” Grain moves at the local elevator near the restored Wabash Depot, a community project that has taken blood, sweat, and years.
At 97, Mrs. Strock is a striking example of the spirit of Liberty. Her energy, enthusiasm, and extensive recollections of village life can make your head spin and your heart sing. She talks about her childhood fascination with the clattering key of the depot telegraph. Of her excitement while awaiting arrival of her new baby doll via a train from Toledo. Of her beloved Papa, John S. Mires, editor and publisher of the Liberty Press for nearly 45 years.
Today, the restored depot on Wabash Street will be a focal point during Liberty Center’s Founders Day. It would take 150 candles to mark the town’s birthday. But never mind a cake. An old-fashioned, “Hi neighbor” ice cream social, topped off with a sing-a-long, will be the celebration’s centerpiece, beginning at 5 p.m. Activities on tap include walking tours of the historic town and live entertainment.
That Liberty Center, population about 1,000, has not only survived but thrived pays tribute to what Mrs. Strock calls determination, perseverance, cooperation, and leadership.
Roger Fisher, 65, who grew up in the village and lived in big cities for years, retired and returned to Liberty.
“I’ve lived all over and I knew when I retired, I would go back to Liberty. For me, it’s home,” said Mr. Fisher, planner-coordinator for sesquicentennial activities, including monthly summer salutes to the village.
It was 1863 when Alphaes Buchanan registered the first 12 lots that created Liberty Center, near the settlements of Colton and Texas that were booming because of proximity to the railroad and the canal. But business in Colton and Texas went bust.
“Liberty was born during the Civil War. We were born in a tumultuous time and we have survived,” Mr. Fisher said. “Strength founded it, and that strength carried us through. We’ve all been beneficiaries of that strength.”
That strength fuels the 150th anniversary activities.
As the ice-cream social approaches, ask this: what flavor best fits Liberty? Mrs. Strock hesitates not: “Neapolitan.”
Mr. Fisher says it would be a mix of homegrown fruits and vegetables, a scoop of “Agrarian.”
Might we suggest a serving or two of Rocky Road. The town has known tragedy. “Fires were common, bank closings were common,” Mrs. Strock recalled.
In the 1970s, four fires — three in schools — clobbered the sense of small-town safety. The first fire destroyed Liberty Center High School. Then two fires damaged the elementary school. The fourth hit Liberty Center Grain Elevator.
John D. Swearingen, Jr., LCHS Class of 1982, said the high school fire has been attributed to an electrical malfunction; causes of the other fires remain mysteries.
Director of the Fulton County Museum, he moved from Detroit back to Liberty Center, about 30 miles southwest of Toledo, “because I did not want to raise children in an urban area.” He has happy memories of Liberty Center, of when a hardware, pharmacy, and grocery store anchored the downtown. “It was like Mayberry RFD. Everyone knew everybody. They would help each other in any way they could.”
And of course, you can’t really talk about Liberty Center without mentioning football. It is one of those Friday nights-under-the- lights places. Or as Mr. Fisher put it, “There’s August to November here. Every other month is just anticipation for football season.”
Now there’s much anticipation for sesquicentennial events. On July 20, there’s a Kids Day carnival. On Aug. 10, Wheels of Progress rolls out a vintage car show.
On Sept. 21, Liberty Fest continues current traditions, including a production written and orchestrated by Mrs. Strock that teaches about the rich history and cultural heritage of the community, an annual sample of the spirit of Liberty.