Oberlin has a lot to be proud of. There’s Oberlin College, the first institution of higher learning to admit women and among the first to enroll African-Americans. Today the liberal arts college and music conservatory has an enrollment of around 3,000 students.
There’s the Allen Memorial Art Museum, one of the finest college or university collections in the United States, and the Weltzheimer/Johnson House – a late example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses completed in 1950.
Oberlin Heritage Center
Oberlin was dedicated, from the beginning, to equality. A major stop on the Underground Railroad, the town is described as The Town That Started the Civil War in Nat Brandt’s book of the same name.
The best place to begin a visit here is the Monroe House — home of the Oberlin Heritage Center. Tour guides weave facts about Oberlin’s history with the residents of the house.
The Monroe House, built in 1866 was originally the home of Civil War General Giles W. Shurtleff, the leader of the first African-American regiment from Ohio to serve in the Civil War. The house was later the home of James Monroe and his wife, Julia Finney Monroe.
Monroe was an important abolitionist, a friend of Frederick Douglass and advocated voting rights for African Americans. Monroe taught at Oberlin College, served as the U.S. Consul to Brazil and was a five-term US congressman.
Oberlin was founded in 1833 by two Presbyterian ministers – John Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart. The men were dissatisfied with what they saw as the lack of strong Christian morals among the settlers of the American West. So they decided to establish a religious community and school for training American frontier missionaries.
Finding what they felt was the perfect location about eight miles south of Elyria, Shipherd convinced the land owner to donate 500 acres and sell an additional 5,000 acres. He also persuaded some of his friends to join in the venture and others to contribute money towards the construction of the community.
From its beginning, Oberlin was an integrated community. Toward the middle of the 19th century, Oberlin became a major focus of the abolitionist movement in the United States. Many Oberlin College graduates were dedicated abolitionists who traveled throughout the South working to help slaves escape to the north.
The tour continues as the guide takes visitors to The Little Red Schoolhouse. Built in 1836, it was the first public school in town and interracial from its inception.
An etching of Sarah Margru Kinson is displayed in the school. The little girl was aboard the infamous Amistad slave-trading ship. She was returned to America and became one of the first African Americans to attend the school.
The Jewett House
Next on the tour is the The Jewett House, built in 1884 for Oberlin College chemistry professor Frank Fanning Jewett, and his wife Frances Gulick Jewett, author of books on public health and hygiene.
One exhibit at the back of the house, “Aluminum: The Oberlin Connection,” recreates Charles Martin Hall’s 1886 wood shed experiment where he discovered the cost-effective process for commercially manufactured aluminum.
Oberlin has a lot to teach about the years leading up to the Civil War. Additional information about Oberlin and Lorain County can be found on the Lorain County Visitors Center website.
Make sure and visit Martin Luther King Park, dedicated to the Civil Rights leader, the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue and the three Oberlin men killed as a result of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.