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For the Passion of History

Centerville-Washington History Preserves the Past for the

Article by Jennifer Lorenzetti

Photography by Jennifer Lorenzetti - Cucumber Key Photography

Originally published in Centerville Lifestyle

In 1966, a group of Centerville individuals who cared deeply about preserving the past of the area started meeting to share their love of history. The following year founding member Lois Zizert approached the City of Centerville with an incredibly generous offer: If they would recognize the group as an official historical society, she would leave her house to the society upon her death.

That building became the Nutt Cottage Research Center. It would be joined by the Asahel Wright House, the Walton House, and a school museum in a former hatmaker’s shop.

“We can look at the past to understand the present and predict what will happen in the future,” says Cheryl Meyer, director of Centerville-Washington History. She shares stories of this historic farming town to visitors of all ages, cued by artifacts donated by community members or part of the museum buildings themselves. Here is a taste of some of the stories from the Walton House:

·       A look inside the stairs to the attic tells visitors a great deal about the geology of the area. The Walton House features a wall built entirely of limestone, a stone very common in the region. Iron rings drilled into the walls hold a rope that would have been used as a makeshift banister; and the chilly attic would have been where the children slept, in a cozy pile of quilts on the floor.

·       A bed in the museum features a webbing of rope, rather than a modern box spring, to give suspension to the mattress. Since the ropes would stretch as the bed was used, they would need to be periodically tightened. From this process came the saying “sleep tight.” The companion wish in that phrase, “don’t let the bedbugs bite,” is self-explanatory.

·       One of the most popular artifacts is the courting candle, which was used when a couple wanted to spend time together. Typically the girl’s father would set the candle, to keep the time that the pair was allowed to spend together. A popular beau might be allowed to stay until a couple of inches of candle burned down, while one who was not may be given just a short time. “Out, out, brief candle” indeed!

·       A crane situated in a fireplace showed an innovative way to cook without exposing oneself directly to a hot fire. The cook could suspend a pot on the crane, swinging it out to stir and to add ingredients, then swinging it back in to suspend it over the fire. Additionally women wearing long skirts would often wet the bottom several inches of their skirts, to reduce the risk of their clothing catching fire.

·       A display features a stereoscope, a device that allowed a viewer to look at two photos of the same thing, taken from slightly different viewpoints. This allowed the viewer to see the image in three dimensions, similar to an early View-Master® (or Oculus Rift, depending on your age).

These are just a few of the artifacts that Cheryl shows her visitors, with the society’s trademark passion for history.

The society offers several events, including tours (self-guided and other), rotating workshops, youth workshops, and a variety of publications. To learn more or to join the society, visit Hours: Tues.-Fri., 12-4 p.m.