Stepping out the door into the past

The bottom right corner of the map reads, in the ornate copperplate script of the time, “Platted and Surveyed March 27th A.D. 1869 by J.B. Strawn of Salem.” This first map of Winona shows the Friends meeting house on the north side of Winona Road, the first meeting house, replaced in 1895 by a larger building. Both still stand, and the Winona Area Historical Society is in the process of moving and restoring the first structure.
The map is in the middle of the book “Winona Centennial 1869-1969,” issued when the town celebrated its 100th birthday on July 4-6 with contests, 19th-century costume competitions, pageants, a parade and a square dance. This work, clad in orange, stapled together, and showing a photo of Winona in the late 1800s, is one of many diminutive local history books that occupy one end of a long shelf in my library. Most are thin paperbacks with stapled binding, although one book, “150 Years With Middle Sandy Presbyterian,” is a sturdy green hardback. But their small stature belies the tremendous amount of time involved in bringing them to life.
It’s important to remember that volunteers researching, writing and proofreading devote scores of hours while working jobs and attending to chores and families to produce these little books, driven by an abiding affection for the history of the communities in which they live. No one pays them for their time, yet they continue to find local history projects that demand their attention, and the result is books, brochures, calendars, maps, museums and festivals.
These local history books and the local historical societies fill in the gaps, flesh out the details and breathe everyday life into what for many people is a dry subject. We learn broad history in high school and college, but for many the local connection is what grabs hold. My cousin Kevin, for example, a member of the Winona Area Historical Society, told me he never cared for history but is having a good time with Winona.
I like both the broad stage of history and the books that poke into the corners of townships and towns and explore the streams and back roads of rural areas. A good example is the inside cover of the Middle Sandy book, which is far more than a history of a church. The map inside the cover shows northwest Columbiana County in 1805 and the John Thomas Road that ran through Homeworth and North Georgetown and to points beyond. The map includes Indian trails, rivers and creeks, drawings of an Indian and white settlers, and a compass rose at the top pointing north.
My batch of local history books includes “History of Lexington Township and its Schools,” published in 1956; “Marlboro Township Heritage Handbook,” published in 1976 and revised in 2003; a history of Quail Hollow State Park that includes a few paragraphs on Indians of the area and early Hartville settlers; “Reminiscences of Dover,” a facsimile of an 1879 history; “Louisville — The Way It Was 1834-1975”; “History of Deerfield”; “Valley of the Tuscarawas,” a history of Tuscarawas County published in 1972; “Damascus Through The Years 1808-1983”; and “View from Behind the Counter,” a treasury of tales about a store in Randolph liberally spiced with humor, written by the mother of a friend.
Here’s an excerpt, about a visit from a cigar salesman: “Papa would sit on his high stool at his desk, while Mr. Mason would hover over him, full of good humor and questionable jokes. Not that my brother and I could hear his stories, since they were related in low muttering, but we could hear the laughter that followed; so we were quite sure that the topic was not the weather. And it couldn’t have been tobacco, either, for after all, there is little that is humorous in a five cent cigar or a can of Prince Albert tobacco.”
It’s a story of everyday people related by a woman I knew in a town close by. Its counterparts abound, in the calendars produced by the Washington Township Historical Society, in the Atwater Historical Society’s John Grate Day, and in sites such as the Haines House and Mabel Hartzell House in Alliance. Our connection to our past surrounds us.

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