ST. MARYS — From the many modes of transportation, including the canal, St. Marys River and the interurban to the many businesses and entertainment establishments, seven classes of local third-grade students had a hands-on experience Thursday morning with the history of their hometown.
St. Marys Intermediate School and Holy Rosary School third-grade students had their fourth annual walking tour through downtown St. Marys, giving the students a visual of what they had been talking about in class.
“This is our fourth year, and all the St. Marys third graders, including those at Holy Rosary, go on the tour,” Event Chair Kimberli Rompilla said. “They talk about St. Marys history in the third grade, so we try to include the local tour with that ... It’s a great way for the kids to see their local history.”
The field trip for the students spurred from the adult walking tour, Rompilla said.
“I was the Historical Walk Committee Chair for an adult walk in St. Marys, and one of the third-grade teachers couldn’t make it but really wanted to go on the tour,” she said, noting that she and the teacher worked out a tour for the students to go on.
The walking tour included seven historical locations around downtown St. Marys. Students in Nan Huckeriede’s class began their adventure at Lock 12. In addition to some history about the Miami and Erie Canal, students learned about the many businesses that were along the canal. The tour guide told students that canal boats would deliver goods to the businesses, noting the windows on several surrounding buildings that were used to get the goods inside the businesses.
Students then crossed the street to visit Heritage Park. The land for the park, the students were told, was donated in 2004 by Ron and Ruth Langsdon. The park now features a fountain – that was in city storage for approximately 50 years before being placed in the park — and areas that showcase the St. Marys’ sister cities.
“Heritage Park shows the history of St. Marys, but it also is a tribute to the two sister cities, Lienen, Germany, and Awaji City, Japan,” the guide told the students.
The students also learned about the three murals in the park that depict important times and people of St. Marys’ past, present and future.
At Lock 13, Tour Guide Neal Brady told Huckeriede’s class more about the Miami and Erie Canal and canal boats.
“The towpath followed the canal,” he said. “This canal went from Cincinnati to Toledo — 256 miles. The canal opened up the Ohio wilderness for commerce and settlement.”
A canal boat, he said, could carry up to 80 tons of goods, compared to the 20 tons that semis carry now.
“It was a great transportation system,” he said. “But, it was slow ... In a canal boat, it would take you four days and five nights to go from Cincinnati to Toledo.”
Stan Davis told students about the history of Fort Barbee, which was built in 1889 and did not have running water to all of its floors.
“It was first called the Fountain Hotel,” Davis said. “Later, it was bought and renamed to Hotel Fort Barbee.”
To get water to all the rooms, buckets of water from the spring were carried up to each floor, he said. The hotel, he said, was needed in St. Marys, as the city was a transportation hub, with traffic on the St. Marys River, the Miami and Erie Canal and, later on, on the interurban.
“Why was the hotel built in the first place,” he asked the students. “It was because a lot of people were coming to St. Marys.”
The students then walked up to First National Bank and learned about John Dillinger, whose story the students recalled from class. The bank, the students were told, was robbed in 1933 by Dillinger’s gang, who then went on to Lima to break Dillinger out of jail.
Brenda Holtzapple then told the class of students about the Grand Opera House.
“The Grand Opera House used to be one of the most exclusive theaters in the area,” she said.
The theater opened on Nov. 7, 1885, showing “Nancy,” starring Fannie Rice, and throughout its history was home to vaudeville, a variety of theater performances, concerts and a bowling alley.
The students finished the walking tour at the St. Marys Armory, the oldest operating armory in the state. Sgt. William Brewer showed students a variety of Army equipment, including a vest, helmet, binoculars and a gas mask, and took the students outside to sit in the driver’s seat of a humvee.
At the end of the tour, the seven classes gathered on the canal boat in Memorial Park for a picture. Rompilla noted several area businesses that stepped up to help with the walking tour.
“We appreciate the items that were donated by Pantry Pride, McDonald’s, Joint Township District Memorial Hospital, the St. Marys Community Public Library, Minster Bank, Burke Insurance, Messenger Press, Mercer Savings Bank and the St. Marys Community Partnership,” she said.