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Celebrating a national hero in Norwalk

• Jun 1, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Our wonderful United States has no shortage of historic and/or scenic sites to visit, where we can learn something of our nation’s history. Some are close by, such as Perry’s Monument; the Marblehead Lighthouse; Johnson’s Island; the Edison Birthplace; and the Pres. Hayes Library and Museum in Fremont.

If you want to take a longer trip, there are countless museums and memorials to provide both education and entertainment. Of the several that my wife and I have visited over time, probably the most impressive is the Washington Home at Mount Vernon, Va. We’ve all seen photos of the house with its wonderful pillared piazza, meticulously restored and maintained interior, and well cared-for grounds. We’ve visited there twice and I can safely say that photos do not do Mount Vernon justice. Perhaps there is some historic aura about the place that give a visitor a special feeling — or which ought to give a visitor a sense of the plantation’s history and how it intertwines with the beginnings of our country.

George Washington himself remains a national hero and was especially idolized as long as veterans of the American Revolution survived. On Feb. 22, 1832, the General’s birth centennial, a grand celebration was planned in Norwalk, despite the unpredictable weather of that season. The day started off with a national salute and a gathering at the courthouse. There were the usual orations and “a best piece of eloquence” from attorney Thaddeus Sturges, who built and lived in the pillared house at 99 W. Main St.

The procession then adjourned to Obadiah Jenney’s Hotel on the site of the chamber of commerce building where Mrs. Hester Jenney had prepared one of her “rich and elegant” dinners. After demolishing Mrs. Jenney’s work, the toasts began. Some 24 of them were offered, each accompanied by a cannon discharge on Main Street. These toasts ranged from the memory of President Washington to our country, the state of Ohio, elected officials, and to Charles Carroll, the last survivor of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

A century later, in 1932, there were countless bicentennial celebrations in every community. Here in Norwalk, the public schools’  PTA sponsored a community program and the Garden Club of Norwalk planted two elm trees in the yard of the Memorial Hospital at 269 W. Main St. Not to be outdone, the Daughters of American Colonists planted a “Washington Elm” in the front yard of Pleasant Street School. At this latter event, four generations of one family took part. Mary Jean Goodell, a student at the school, assisted with the planting. Standing close by were her mother Mrs. Katharine Goodell; her grandmother Mrs. Cornie Shepherd Goodell; and her great-grandmother, Mrs. Ella Newman Shepherd. It was noted further that Mrs. Shepherd’s father, Charles E. Newman, had taught in the original school building on that site about 1850.

NEXT WEEK: More of the Washington story.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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