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Historic Roscoe Village recalls canal's heyday

Sunday, May 19, 2002

By Doris Dumrauf

COSHOCTON, Ohio -- Historic Roscoe Village in Coshocton, Ohio, had been on my "to do" list since a friend had told me it was worth a visit.

Northwest of Zanesville and a little more than 100 miles from Pittsburgh, Coshocton is a pleasant ride on well-maintained Ohio roads through farm country. From the main parking area, you step into the modern visitors center, where you can purchase tickets. The visitors center features a full-screen theater presentation, a modern exhibit hall with dioramas showing the construction of the canal, a working miniature lock model and a Discovery Room.

If you go . . . Historic Roscoe Village

GETTING THERE: You can reach Coshocton by way of I-70 west, then north on I-77 and west on US Route 36; or you travel west on Routes 22, 250 and then 36. Follow the signs to Roscoe Village. Tickets cost $9.95 for adults; $8.95 for senior citizens or AAA members; and $4.95 for children (ages 5-12) at the Visitors Center. Call 800-877-1830 for a brochure and information on special events or visit http://www.roscoevillage.com.

The living history buildings are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through December. Retail shops are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through November. Daily beginning in August, the village will offer the Spirit of Roscoe tour, a candlelight tour featuring events and personalities of the historic town.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Annual Dulcimer Days, ending today; Corvette Cruise-In, June 9; Annual Heritage Craft & Olde Time Music Festival, June 15-16; Annual Civil War Re-Enactment, July 20-21; Annual Coshocton Canal Festival, Aug. 17-18; the Annual Apple Butter Stirrin', Oct. 18-20; Amish Country Quilt Shop Hop, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1; and Christmas Candlelightings. on Dec. 7, 14 and 21. The Roscoe Village Inn will host Sleuth Mystery Weekends on Sept. 14 and Nov. 16.

CANAL BOAT RIDE: The Monticello III Canal Boat leaves on the hour daily from 1-5 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It operates weekends only from Labor Day to mid-October. Rides are $6 for adults; $5 for seniors; and $3.50 for youth (5-12). 740-622-9310 or 800-877-1830.

LODGING: The Inn at Roscoe Village (800-237-7397); Travelodge (800-578-7878); Super 8 (800-800-8000); Roscoe Motor Inn (800-221-4667); there are also a number of B&Bs in the area.

DINING: The Old Warehouse Restaurant, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; Lock 27 Pub, 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily; King Charley's Tavern, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; The Inn at Roscoe Village Dining Room, 7 to 10 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday brunch, and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.


Roscoe Village was once a bustling port on the 308-mile Ohio & Erie Canal, which opened in 1832 and connected Portsmouth on the Ohio River with Cleveland on Lake Erie.

Once called Caldersburg, Roscoe Village has been beautifully restored to resemble its appearance around the year 1830, when the first canal boat landed there. Work on the canal had begun in the northern part of Ohio to enable merchants to ship goods from the New York region and beyond.

Roscoe is an open village with private residences, shops and restaurants among the living history buildings. The red brick sidewalks are decorated with old flower-filled whiskey barrels and benches where you can sit. Visitors actually walk along the back side of the buildings since the house fronts faced the canal (now state Route 16).

In the living history buildings, interpreters dressed in period costume explain the exhibits and describe daily life was in a variety of professions.

The school house docent explains that the children would attend school for three months during the winter wherever they happened to be when the canal froze in November. School also was held in the summer for smaller children.

Old school benches, books, diplomas and clothes show what it was like to attend a one-room school. The children had to bring in firewood to feed the stove. Teachers were usually male because they had to be boarded by the children's parents. We also learned that half of all babies born did not survive to their first birthday.

My husband and I were particularly fascinated by the Montgomery Press. Although we arrived too late for the scheduled demonstration, the enthusiastic interpreter gave a tour just for the two of us. "It took four people, the printer and three apprentices or helpers, to operate the large press," he said. It was used to print the newspaper or posters announcing special events. Precision and muscle power were needed to run the press efficiently.

We were surprised to learn that many expressions we use every day, such as "bad impression" or "upper case," are actually printing terms. It took 24 hours to set the type for the Roscoe Village Spy, a one-page village newspaper. At the end of the tour, we were able to print a little card all by ourselves to take home with us.

The Roscoe Village printer also was capable of binding books in beautiful covers. These jackets were so handsome that we thought they were wallpaper. Out in the street, a young peddler dressed in period clothing handed us a copy of the Roscoe Village Spy. "I wasn't sure whether he is an employee or I missed the latest fashion fad," my husband joked.

Our next stop was the Dr. Maro Johnson House. Contrary to the town's previous doctor, who believed in blood letting, Dr. Johnson was an herbalist who grew herbs in his garden.

Judging from the appearance of his house, he seemed to have been more successful and prosperous than his predecessor. The ground floor kitchen has a huge fireplace and shows many gadgets, such as an apple peeler, a lemon squeezer and a sauerkraut press. The first and second floors show fine furniture and wallpaper.

The Craftman's House displays a cooper's shop and weaver's residence. Barrels were in high demand to ship farm products on the canal boats. The cooper showed us the different steps of barrel-making. Precision was key, since the pieces had to fit together perfectly to avoid leakage. The old-time cooper also needed several apprentices to hold the wooden staves in place while he pieced the barrel together.

The Caldersburg Pearl Canal Boat Exhibit is near the end of the village. Visitors can view the living quarters of the captain and his family -- up to 10 children lived there, too.

Other Village highlights include a blacksmith shop, a broom-maker and the toll house. The artisans demonstrate tinsmithing, candle dipping, rope making, bird carving, pottery, spinning and weaving. A new addition this year is a woodcarver who offers demonstrations at the Roscoe Hardware Store, where she sells her Basket Santa, walking sticks, figurines and other Appalachian folk art.

The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum shows invaluable treasures on its two floors. The Native American Collection presents old hunting weapons, pottery, Kachina dolls, beadwork and carvings. The Americana Collection includes farm tools, rifles (one dates to the Revolutionary War), clocks, pottery, glassware and the interior of a pioneer cabin. The Oriental Gallery displays porcelain, wood sculptures, hand-carved screens, and numerous other antiquities. Special exhibits fill up the remaining gallery space.

Visitors who work up an appetite can choose among a variety of restaurants on Whitewoman Street. Several shops in the village sell items that were made in the museum.

Roscoe Village is not very big and we could easily walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. This was an advantage considering the opening times of the museum buildings. It required considerable time management skills to figure out which building to see at which time. One day is certainly too short to enjoy all the exhibits. The museums close at 5 p.m. and the stores at 6.

We never even managed to take the canal boat ride on the Monticello III. This horse-drawn boat offers short trips on a mile and a half restored section of the Ohio & Erie Canal, a short walk along the towpath from the visitor's center. Near the visitor's center, you also can view the three remaining locks by the Lower Basin.

The heyday of the Ohio & Erie Canal lasted only until the 1850s, when the emerging railroads began to replace the canal in transporting goods to the eastern markets. In this short time, the canal made Ohio prosperous and, in the 1850s, the Union's most populous state.

By 1877, much of the canal was abandoned, and the great flood of 1913 damaged such a large part of the canal that the system was abandoned. The prime of the canal era has been captured in Roscoe Village, and it is something travelers who are interested in history will enjoy.

Doris Dumrauf, a Coraopolis resident, is also a contributor to Pennsylvania Magazine.

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