River Town Preserves Past
Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler by Jackie Sheckler Finch
The folks at Marietta had a great idea for preserving the historic home of Gen. Rufus Putnam. They built a museum around it.
“If Rufus Putnam came up out of Mound Cemetery today, he would recognize a lot in this house,” said Andy Verhoff, museum manager.
Among the belongings once used by Putnam are a dining room chair, a settee and a large parlor chair. “General Putnam was very important in the history of our area,” Verhoff said. “He and George Washington were friends. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington told General Putnam about the beauty he had seen in his travels through the Ohio Valley.”
In case people cruising down the river don’t know where they are, Marietta has its name spelled out in large letters on the riverbank. A gazebo, fountain, benches and old-fashioned streetlights make it a pleasant place to sit and watch the water.
“Back in the day of the steamboats, every boat’s whistle had a unique tone,” Verhoff said. “You knew which boat was landing in Marietta just by its whistle.”
Founded in 1788, Marietta is alive with history and culture. Along with Putnam, the area was settled by a group of Revolutionary War veterans.
“It was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory,” Verhoff said. “It was named for Marie Antoinette of France who helped so much in the struggle for American independence.”
In April 1788, Rufus Putnam, who served as a general under George Washington during the Revolution, led 48 men into today’s location of Marietta. They built a walled fortification with four blockhouses to discourage Indian attacks. Putnam coined the name Campus Martius, which means “field of wars.” The Treaty of Greene Ville in 1795, however, virtually ended hostilities in the region.
Along with Putnam family memorabilia, the museum exhibits hundreds of items from Marietta’s early days, including antique musical instruments and surgical equipment from Dr. John Cotton. The doc practiced medicine in Marietta from 1815 to 1847.
Lavish gowns and dresses from the 19th century and weapons also are highlighted at the Campus Martius Museum. The sword used by General Putnam during the Revolutionary War is displayed along with old rifles, muskets, uniforms and dress swords. Putnam later gave his sword to George Washington. A Civil War exhibit includes a Confederate flag captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville, along with uniforms, saddlebags and a drum and fife.
Once a thriving port, Marietta honors its river history at the Ohio River Museum. Just down the street from the Campus Martius, the museum is located on the banks of the Muskingum River. The museum is actually four separate buildings connected with covered outdoor walkways. The origins of the Ohio River, the role of glaciers in its development and the natural history of the region are presented at the museum.
One museum building features dozens of detailed models of stern-wheeled paddleboats along with other riverboat memorabilia. Outside of the museum is one of the last steam-powered stern-wheeled towboats to operate in America. The 175-foot, 342-ton W.P. Snyder Jr. is now permanently docked on the Muskingum River behind the museum. Walk the gangplank to explore the vessel that once plied the rivers from 1918 to 1955.
If all this river memorabilia has you yearning for a cruise, the Valley Gem is happy to oblige. Docked adjacent to the Ohio River Museum, the 300-passenger excursion vessel travels down the Muskingum and Ohio rivers on 50-minute cruises, fall foliage tours and dinner cruises. Every year on the weekend after Labor Day, the landing is the site of the Ohio River Stern Wheel Festival. Stern-wheelers from all parts of the inland waterway system compete in races and show visitors what made them famous.
Downtown Marietta is filled with great shops and boutiques including Mad Hen, Needful Things, Two Peas in a Pod, Turquoise Spirit and Twisted Sisters with its unusual women’s clothing and gifts. A striking sight from the river, the Lafayette Hotel is one of the last riverboat-era hotels. Opened in 1918, the hotel was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, who visited the city in 1825. With its distinctive triangular shape, the hotel offers guest rooms with views of either the Ohio or Muskingum rivers.
The hotel is said to be haunted, manager Jennifer Auville said. “There is supposed to be a ghost and we’ve heard stories from guests about it,” she said. “One husband and wife who stayed here said that every time the husband got in the Jacuzzi tub, the water would go cold. He would get out and the water would warm up again.”
The hotel dining room has a nice collection of long rifles, including one made by J.J. Henry that accompanied the Benedict Arnold expedition to Quebec in 1775. An 11-foot pilot wheel from the steamboat A.D. Ayres is suspended from the lobby ceiling. The hotel has a Marengo Institute Spa and some interesting guest rooms, including one that resembles a riverboat stateroom.
In the lobby beside the elevator are two benchmarks that show the raging power of the river. The 1936 flood put 4 1/2 feet of water in the dining room. The 1937 flood brought 10 1/2 feet into the lobby of the hotel. A plaque located just below the balcony of the second floor on the outside corner of the Lafayette shows the watermark of the 1913 flood.
Marietta is an excellent town for walking and offers a walking guide for visitors. You’ll really get your exercise trying to enjoy it all – museums, the Ohio Company Land Office (oldest existing building in the five states of the original Northwest Territory), and historical homes and churches galore.
Along with all this, Marietta’s hallmark attraction is the prehistoric Hopewell and Adena Indian mounds. Covering 95 acres, the carefully preserved mounds have been studied since the 1780s. The mounds were the first in Ohio to be accurately surveyed, mapped and described. The Conus Mound was built by the Adena Indians (800 B.C. to 100 A.D.). The square enclosure and other structures were built by the Hopewell Indians (100 B.C. to 500 A.D.)
The mounds have long been considered to be among the most perfect works of the early mound builders, says Marietta Mayor Michael Mullen.
“Thousands of these mounds once covered the Midwest but many of them were destroyed,” he said. “These were protected and preserved which is why we have them today.”
The mounds are among the many reasons to visit Marietta, Mullen said. “We’re one of the friendliest places you’d ever want to see,” he said. “Once people come here, they have such a good time that they want to visit again.”
If you go, more information is available by calling the Marietta/Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-288-2577.
By Jackie Sheckler Finch