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Published: 1/24/2011

Civil War museum finds home in 1915 Tiffin building

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN -- An oversized, 35-star U.S. flag circa 1863 hangs from its original wooden flagpole inside the soon-to-open American Civil War Museum of Ohio in downtown Tiffin.

A regimental flag for the 164th Ohio Voluntary Infantry, which protected forts along the Potomac River, the 8-foot-by-6-foot flag is dirty and tattered, but impressive all the same.

"As worn as it is, it's actually in incredible condition for a Civil War flag," Mark Young, president and director of the museum, said.

The flag and a small black trunk containing 20 letters from two Seneca County veterans who served in the war between the states were found in the attic of a home near Old Fort, Ohio, in what once was the town of Watson's Station, Mr. Young said. They are on long-term loan from the Hoover family to the new museum, which opens to the public on Saturday.

With the completion of a $600,000 building renovation, the museum is holding a grand opening celebration beginning at 10 a.m. with free admission until 2 p.m., free refreshments, gift shop discounts, and a drawing for a free, one-year family membership.

Mr. Young, a Civil War enthusiast who operated a smaller-scale version of the museum in Bowling Green for two years, is eager to get people inside the museum, which is in the stately Cornerstone Building, 217 South Washington St. The Federalist-style building was constructed around 1915.

"From the standpoint of historical value, that building was originally a post office and it was in need of something that would be a good fit," said an enthusiastic Jim Boroff, the mayor of Tiffin. "It reeks of museum when you look at it."

When Mr. Young was invited to Tiffin in January, 2009, to look at prospective homes for the museum, he was sold. "I walked in here and I just knew it was the right building," he said. "To me, it looks like the Lincoln Memorial without Lincoln."

The legacy of Abraham Lincoln is, of course, detailed inside the museum, which has eight exhibit rooms on the first floor and a basement level that tell the story of the Civil War from the events leading up to the war through its end with a special emphasis on Ohio's role.

Informational panels guide visitors through the building, with artifacts and documents to examine along the way. Most of the rooms have some kind of hands-on activity geared toward capturing children's interest, and the basement includes a research room filled with books about and records from the war.

Mr. Young said he plans to have a speaker or other event each month for the next few years as the nation observes the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Local supporters say the opening of the museum was well-timed.

"Lots of people are caught up in Civil War history -- everything from a mild interest to people who really get into it," Mayor Boroff said. "It's not a one-time attraction. I can see people coming back month after month because there's going to be a wealth of information there."

That's certainly what the mayor and others are hoping.

"It's going to translate certainly into more tourism, and more tourism translates into more development activity particularly at that end of town," John Detwiler, president and chief executive officer of the Tiffin Area Chamber of Commerce, said.

"The more of these types of projects we're able to put together, the more it helps from a tourism standpoint," Rich Focht, president and chief executive officer of the Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp., said.

Among those projects, he counts the planned restoration of Seneca County's 1884 courthouse just two blocks north of the museum, as well as the already restored Ritz Theater and the former Shawhan Hotel, now an assisted living center.

Karen Bowers, director of development with the development group, brought the project to the attention of the Ohio Department of Development, which ultimately contributed $200,000 toward the renovation of the old post office and $10,000 for the group to oversee the renovation.

"I think the state saw an opportunity to create a tourism destination out of that building," she said.

Three local foundations, the National Machinery Foundation, the Tiffin Charitable Trust, and the Gillmor Foundation, contributed a combined $275,000 to the project, and the city of Tiffin gave nearly $100,000 from its revolving loan fund, community development block grant money, and its North Star Industrial Park Fund.

Mr. Young is grateful for all the support. "This wouldn't have happened if any one of those monies wouldn't have come together," he said. "The mayor really did stand up and get behind the project, and it wouldn't have happened without his support."

After Saturday's grand opening, the museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The normal admission fee for adults is $6, with different pricing for seniors and students. For more information, go to acwmo.org.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 418-724-6129.



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