One of the goals of this project is to finally get to some of those places that I’ve read about and said “I’d like to see that”, but have never actually taken steps to actually visit. I came across the Temple of Tolerance 5-6 years ago when reading through the entire Ohio section of the Roadside America website during an overnight work shift. For no good reason, it took me 6 years to finally go…here’s a look.
To set the scene a little bit. Wapakoneta is truly a tiny town in West-central Ohio. The population is just over 9,000 people…or about half that of the town I currently live in. It seems like a sleepy little town in general. Wood Street looks like pretty much every street in a nice small town… until you reach 203 S. Wood Street.
Let’s just say not many other houses on the block have a bomb (that has the word “PEACE” painted on it) hanging from the roof, or twin cannons pointed at the street. The adventure really begins once you walk up the driveway, and into the back yard. This is something that you are allowed to do any day of the year as long as it is daylight out. You don’t have to ask, and it doesn’t cost anything (although you can donate at the front door if you desire).
The first thing you’ll notice is the garage. The windows are covered in stories about the Temple, lyrics to songs about Wapakoneta, and the disembodied head of Abraham Lincoln. You could probably spend a half an hour just at the garage alone. I’ve read that the inside is full of stuff he just doesn’t have space to display.
The Temple of Tolerance is largely the work of one man named Jim Bowsher. The temple began in roughly 1980 when Jim was noticing that local farmers were plowing beautiful rocks underground. Rather than have them buried, Jim began collecting them in his back yard. He was also wanting to construct a place where the local kids could come together, hang out, and feel safe. So he began constructing winding paths using the rocks he found, and gates salvaged from demolition projects to construct a labyrinth in his heavily treed backyard.
Eventually, the temple took up more than just his backyard, it took up all of his neighbors’ yards as well. Today, the entire Temple of Tolerance site takes up over two dozen yards worth of space.
I’ll admit, I felt a bit uneasy walking through the yard at first. For one, we were the only people there…and we did just walk up some stranger’s driveway. Second, some of the structures and ornaments hanging around were just, odd. While the Temple is not based around any religious beliefs, I couldn’t help but think there was some weird voodoo happening here.
After maybe 15 minutes of making slow progress, and still in a state somewhere awe and bewilderment, I felt like I was miles away from the civilization I knew. Then we hit the first major “monument” on the grounds: The Barrel House.
The Barrel House is a roughly 30-35 foot long building, in the shape of a barrel. It is said to have been a speak-easy during the prohibition era in Wapakoneta. There are several bullet holes still visible if you look around closely enough. It wasn’t possible to go inside (padlocked), and you couldn’t see into the window (more newspaper articles on the window). There was a sign that told a little bit about the barrel, but as with many other things here…I had more questions than answers.
Around the corner from The Barrel House was another nifty artifact from Wapakoneta history. It was an old jail cell door from the Auglaize County jail. But not just any door, this door held some of the members of John Dillinger’s gang!
It turns out that Mr. Bowsher is quite a local historian (more about this in a bit), and is particularly interested in John Dillinger since he and his crew spent quite a bit of time in the area committing crime. There are supposedly other Dillinger related items in the yard. although very few items are actually marked as well as this one.
Finally, after probably a good 35-40 minutes or wanderous meandering, we finally make it to the actual Temple…
This massive rock structure sits in a large clearing near the back of the property. I’d estimate it to be around 20 feet tall, and maybe 100 feet in diameter. Around the outside of this clearing are some rock benches, a small Vietnam memorial, and even a stage. I’ve seen pictures of gatherings where dozens of people show up to play music and swap stories. There is actually a fire pit at the top of the Temple. I bet this looks amazing at night with a roaring fire going.
After taking nearly an hour to actually make it back to the Temple, we found a fairly direct route (past a collection of particularly unsettling gravestones that had been replaced from a local cemetery) that took us back to the original driveway in just 5 minutes.
Only half the story…
Our visit on this day was a bit of a double-edged sword. We had plans that required us to stay on a tight schedule. On that front we succeeded. We spent about an hour exploring Mr. Bowsher’s amazing structure and went to our next location (which you’ll read about in my next update!). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet the man behind the madness.
Jim Bowsher still lives in this house, and is known on occasion to not only walk people through the area, showing off some of the other unique (but unmarked) artifacts such as a rock from the Woodstock Concert field, or a bar top that John Dillinger supposedly slid over from a local bank during a robbery. But also, he invites guests into his house, which is also a veritable museum. I’ve read that he has an extremely impressive museum-quality collection of Underground Railroad memorabilia. He’s also photographed and documented each and every rock (said to be over 200,000) that exists on the entire site. He seems to be a truly fascinating person.
The Temple of Tolerance is free to visit, and is worth the stop if you’re ever in Wapakoneta.
If you’d like to see more photos of the Temple of Tolerance, please check out my Flickr album!
Thanks everyone for checking out my page, this makes 11 out of 88 counties. We are officially 1/8 of the way through the state!!