By Larry Moore
The summer heat has many wishing for pristine beaches and a cool ocean breeze. Others simply want to recline in air conditioned comfort. It’s a great time to enjoy some boating on our lakes or maybe that lazy canoe trip down the Little Miami River. Vacation often means long hours of travel to a selected destination.
I often prefer to explore Ohio. There is so much here including natural beauty and lots of history. Recent trips to the Grand Lake St. Mary’s area combined some of the best of fishing and boating plus local history. The area around the lake offers some great dining where I enjoy the locally owned restaurants but many major chains can also be found if that is your preference.
Grand Lake St. Mary’s was created as a canal lake so there is plenty of canal history. The New Bremen Historic Association operates a canal museum in a restored lockkeeper’s house. Outside there is plenty of green space to enjoy plus a restored lock. Inside is a fascinating look at the heyday of the canal boats. Today our crops and goods move quickly and efficiently across the country. But in the early 1800s, getting goods to market was significantly different. The options were few and the pace much slower.
In 1825, the Ohio Legislature approved funding to construct an Ohio Canal system. It took 20 years, from 1825 to 1845, to complete the Miami-Erie Canal. It was a huge improvement that changed life along the canals. The life of a canal boat family was hard. The entire family might live in rather cramped quarters on their boat. The museum features scale models of the canal boats giving the visitor a chance to learn more about life on a canal boat. By the early 1900s the railroads were replacing the canal system as the preferred method to move goods. The Miami-Erie Canal was abandoned in 1929. The museum provides a wonderful historic account of a critical period in Ohio history. The museum is open by appointment only. For more information see www.newbremenhistory.org/
I found a most entertaining surprise right around the corner from the canal museum. It is The Bicycle Museum of America. Bicycling is growing today and most of us grew up riding a bike. We’ve all seen pictures of the early bicycles. The most recognizable may be the high-wheel bicycles, such as the Columbia Expert, of the late 1800s. The museum takes the visitor from the earliest bicycles from about 1816 through today’s modern bicycles. There are several floors of bicycles on display. I marveled at the earlier models. A video about the bicycles, including how to mount and dismount the high-wheel Columbia Expert is available and well worth watching. Moving to the more current section of the museum, I easily recognized bikes from my childhood that brought back fond memories. The museum is located at 7 West Monroe Street in New Bremen. It is open 9AM to 5PM daily and 10AM to 2PM on Saturday with only a small admission fee. Summer hours are slightly expanded. More information can be found at www.bicyclemuseum.com/. There is public parking that is easily accessible for both the canal and bicycle museums.
I’ve driven along I-75 many times viewing both the signs and the unique shape of the Armstrong Air and Space Museum but had never visited. So I stopped and was treated to an absolutely wonderful experience. I am old enough to remember watching much of the space exploration on television during a time when rocket launches were still prime time news. The museum provided many wonderful memories and also a reminder of some of the tragedies along the way. I marveled at the displays, such as the space suits.
One of the most impressive items was the space capsule. The most amazing part was how small it really is. It’s a little incredible that we went into space in such a small capsule. While the space program was a marvel of technology of the times, there is more computer power in our smart phones than what was contained in a Mercury capsule. However the museum goes well beyond simply displays. It brings to life the time when the United States was catching up in the space race. These beginnings to where we are today with the International Space Station today is an exciting journey. Perhaps the most important part is it puts the human face onto the astronauts.
Astronauts were heroes to the youngsters of the 1960s. The life of Neil Armstrong, the events that shaped him and the path to the moon are on display for all to understand. It comes together to bring the space program to life through the men who made it great. Of course the spotlight is on Neil Armstrong.
The museum offers special programs, as well as films, in the Astro Theater. The tour is well worth the time as knowledgeable guides provide additional information and answer questions about all the displays. The Armstrong Air and Space Museum is open daily except Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. It is located at Exit 111, Wapakoneta, on I-75 about an hour north of Dayton. Additional information is available online at: www.armstrongmuseum.org/.
If you are planning a last minute summer trip before the youngsters head back to school, look around the Grand Lake St. Mary’s area. It’s a great place for outdoor activities combined with a lot of Ohio history. Additional information is available at the Auglaize and Mercer Counties Convention and Visitors Bureau online at www.seemore.org.