Ashville, Ohio, is a quiet little town just a couple miles off US-23 in Pickaway County. Like many little towns, they have a museum dedicated to local history. This one’s probably not much different than most of them: a few famous people were born there, some other famous people visited or worked nearby…that sort of thing. The main thing that brought me to this location though…was a traffic light.
The Ohio Small Town Museum may be a bit of a misnomer. It’s not about Ohio’s small towns, it’s about this small town. Ashville was settled back in the early 1800’s when two brothers built distilleries in the area. Ashville wasn’t actually incorporated until 1882.
The museum chronicles the history of the town. Some of the oldest relics in the museum are artifacts found when nearby Native American earthworks were razed a couple hundred years ago in order to create farmland. The museum shows off memorabilia of some of the famous people that were born and lived here, and it even documents some of the famous people that just visited town. Along the way as we walked through the tightly packed rooms (led by our affable tour guide Jack) I documented a few of the interesting assortment of items inside. Here are a few of the highlights.
Fun Fact #1: The museum used to be a theater.
It was a popular destination during the silent movie era. They discovered pieces of a film under the floorboards when they tore out the theater seats. After the theater closed, it was converted into a filling station.
Fun Fact #2: Roy Rogers worked, and was fired, from Ashville.
There was a canning plant just outside of town. Roy would often stop working to play guitar and sing songs. He got fired mainly because everyone else stopped working to listen to him.
Fun Fact #3: 1970s porn star legend John Holmes was from Ashville.
In a far back corner was this display of movies filmed in the area, or were about actors from the area. One of the Munchkins from Wizard of Oz also came from Ashville. In lieu of displaying an actual John Holmes movie, they displayed a copy of Boogie Nights: said to be loosely based on Holmes’ life. Oddly enough, the tour guide didn’t really want to discuss Mr. Holmes much.
Cool thing #1: A buoy from the U.S.S. Maine
The sinking of the Maine became one of the catalysts of the Spanish-American War in 1898 (more recent studies suggest the explosion that sank the ship was accidental, and not Spain’s fault). In 1911, the ship was raised, and pieces were dispersed all around the country for memorials. Many pieces of the ship ended up in Ohio. Other towns got conning towers, anchors, and bathtubs (can’t wait to see that one!). Ashville got this life buoy.
Cool thing #2: A 17-Star American Flag
Ohio was the 17th state admitted to the United States in 1803. This flag was discovered in the attic of someone that lived in Ashville in 2001. This is called a “transitional flag” as there was never an “official” 17 star flag. Interesting to note the 6-sided stars.
Cool thing #3: The Oldest Working Traffic Light
Ashville’s biggest claim to fame is that they are the home of the World’s Oldest Working Traffic Light.
Now, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s the oldest actual light. There are reports of forms of traffic signals going back to 1860’s London. The light in Ashville is the World’s Oldest Working Light. It hung in the center of town from 1932 to 1982 when someone (of course) shot it. After it was repaired, the city was not allowed to rehang it, so it went into the museum. The actual outer casing of that original light is hanging on the wall behind this replica. This replica lights the way in the museum today, and is allowed to be hung outside for 4th of July festivities every year.
Below is a link to a video of the light in action (since I can’t seem to get the embed code to work right…).
If you’re ever in the Ashville area, this museum is definitely worth a stop. If you’d like to see more, just check out the Flickr album.
And the official website for the museum (for hours and all that good stuff).