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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

The Canal Era

~Tuesday, August 17, 2021~

Day 429

Had a bit of a sleep-in day since the accumulation of getting to bed too late, too often, is wearing me out. So it felt good to catch up (if there is such a thing?).

We had plans to do the Holmes County Trail (a Rails to Trails bike/walking path), but the weather was just not cooperating enough. But we also had plans to fit in the Historic Canal Town of Roscoe Village in the town of Coshocton. The drive was about an hour, but we didn’t mind as we drove through some of the most beautiful scenery of our trip. Large family lots with beautiful green pastures, dotted with sheep, goats, cattle and horses. The homes are so charming, nestled on their rolling properties. We also witnessed a mix of Amish and Mennonite families working the land either by traditional means (using horses to plant and plow their fields) or with more modern methods of tractors and combines.

When we arrived at Roscoe Village, we stopped by the visitor center first to get the lay of the land. Roscoe Village sets the stage of the restored 1830’s port town. You can’t help but feel immersed in the time period with the full-costumed interpreters and the practicing blacksmith and an activity center where you can make handmade crafts of yesterday. To fully understand the significance of Roscoe Village, we first watched a short film called the Ditches of Destiny. A wonderful film about the development and construction of the 350-mile long canal system which provided cheap transportation for goods and people. We had no idea that tow paths were added alongside the canals for the horses to be able to pull the canal boats. Mind you, this was all done without fancy machinery/tools….all by hand. The canal specifications were it had to be a minimum of 40 feet wide at the top, 26 feet wide at the bottom, and a depth of 4 feet minimum. With Roscoe’s status of being the largest wheat port along the canal, the town’s prosperity grew, fueling the growth of many businesses. For 100 years, it was a thriving port town, until the flood of 1913 left many businesses flooded and people homeless. The dawn of the railroad industry sealed the fate of this once flourishing town. Where the Erie/Ohio Canal bed was once built, is Highway 16 today, parallel with the refurbished old town.

On our tour, the first 2 stops had skilled artisans sharing their crafts with us. The village smithy was built in 1889 and home to the village’s blacksmith who demonstrated for us his use of tools and techniques of the canal era. The Hay Activity Center was about the trades of printing and broom-making. It was amazing to see these old printing presses and the tediousness that went into making a simple page of print. We also met the artisan herself, Becky, who showed us the many different broom styles and demonstrated how flat brooms are made.

I will never look at a broom quite the same way again. The remaining parts of the tour were self-guided by the use of our own keypad entry. When you walk in each building, there is a kiosk with an introductory film about each exhibit. The highlights for us were the Craftsman House (the oldest building (1825) in Roscoe), and the Roscoe Schoolhouse. We also got a lesson in the use of a few idioms, like where “sleep tight” came from. Back in the day, beds did not have box springs under them. To support the mattress there was a grid of rope that regularly would sag. For more firmness, they would tighten the rope with a tool, thus “sleep tight”.

Of course you would forget to tighten the ropes when the in-laws came to visit. 😉Another idiom was “mind your beeswax”. This came from women taking great pride in their pale complexions by applying beeswax and powder to their faces. If they were near a warm fire having tea or socializing, they would use fans to shield their faces from the fire to prevent the beeswax from melting, thus “mind your beeswax!”. Gosh, what we women do to stay gorgeous.

With most things closing down, we found a few more shops still open. One was a charming country store called Medbery Marketplace on the Roscoe strip.

We were starving anyway and decided to order a sandwich for Jeff and a salad for me. They had a few booths in the shop to enjoy your meal while gazing at the many items in the store. Jeff’s sandwich was HUGE and delicious, and the salad was probably one of the best I’ve ever had.

When we got back, we decided to get a bit of laundry done since it’s one task we didn’t want to worry about with Shane’s upcoming visit. Luckily, there is a laundry facility at our campground and a bargain at $1.50/load. There, I met a few Mennonite women dressed with prayer caps and solid colored dresses. Very sweet people. I even got a hand from one of them, helping me with a malfunctioning washing machine, as she demonstrated a little “Fonzi” move to get it to work. But what really fascinates me is how together these families are in running their households. Chores/tasks involve the entire family, from fields to laundromats I guess. It’s so refreshing to see. On the way back, Jeff and I saw a few fireflies flitting about. Nice to see those cute critters again.

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