When Charlie Morrison was a boy, he wanted to own a museum. So it should come as no surprise that he has championed Ohio’s Small Town Museum since it began down the street as just some shelves in his family-owned grocery store. “I graduated from the school here and didn’t know a thing about my own town,” he said. “People need to know about where they’re from.”
Today, the 88-year-old still works most days at the museum he co-founded along with friend Bob Hines and a host of volunteers. Established in 1975, the museum is run by the Ashville Area Heritage Society and a group of volunteers who pitch in to help wherever needed – cleaning, giving tours, curating artifacts and simply keeping the museum ready for visitors.
The museum occupies the corner of Long and Wright streets in buildings that once were the post office and Dreamland Theater which once showed silent movies. It’s packed with photos, artifacts and memorabilia from Ashville and other small towns in the area.
A museum tour with Charlie is a treat for a history buff as he shares stories and personal experiences that give life to the items that line the museum’s cases and walls. In fact, point to an artifact and wait for Charlie to pull from his personal experiences and tell a story.
The old dairy? He’ll tell you about washing bottles there for fifty cents a day and about the horse drawn wagon used to deliver quart bottles of milk to houses up and down Ashville’s streets. “That horse knew the route better than any of us,” he exclaimed.
Charlie was there to assist in digging items like old class photos and a classroom clock from the trash when Ashville High School closed – ask and he’ll show you his and his wife’s senior portraits on graduating class composite photos that were destined for the dump.
He can tell you about the technology used to test a driverless car on Ashville’s streets in 1969 and about the tinkerer who invented the world’s first traffic light. Charlie’s enthusiasm for the history of his community is contagious as he muses about the stories preserved as well as the ones that have been lost to time.
His expertise on the town was gathered over a lifetime. Born here, he graduated from Ashville High School and took over the family grocery store in the 1950s. He and wife Mona will soon celebrate 69 years of wedded bliss, living in just one place – the home he built for them his senior year of high school. He’s a former town mayor and councilman and the locals call him Mr. Ashville.
That’s why, even though many have worked to make the museum successful, it’s difficult to separate the museum’s story from Charlie’s own story. Luckily, the museum has an arsenal of fascinating things to say on its own.
The prized item here is the world’s first traffic light which was invented by an Ashville man named Teddy Boor. A prolific inventor, Boor used common household items to create a traffic light that looks like something from the Jetsons. It operated continuously from installation in the thirties until 1982 when it was given a permanent home in the museum. Here, it continues to operate and delight museum visitors.
There’s a collection of books by Ashville authors, military memorabilia, antique toys and a display dedicated to James Reeves Hulse V – the only Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz who hailed from Ohio. The Pickaway County man was born March 16, 1915 and, at the height of 4 feet, 6 inches, was ideal to play the part of a Munchkin villager in the 1939 classic.
The last edition of The Pickaway County News, printed July 31, 1969, rests atop an old newspaper proof machine. An entire section is dedicated to longtime Ashville physician Dr. Ralph Hosler while a sign for the Ashville Cab Company occupies a small but prominent spot beneath an antique telephone. Offering 24-hour service, they requested that customers “Call us for pickup and delivery service” at YU 3-2501.
Museum guides will even tell you the story of Buster, the dog who voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928, and of Chic-Chic, the pet chicken who bought his own lunch at a local restaurant for years. Chic-Chic was the pet of Mrs. A.B. Cooper. Every day, Mrs. Cooper would drop a dime on the kitchen floor and say “Chic-Chic, go down to Clyde Brinkers’ and get yourself something to eat.” The chicken would pick up the dime with his beak, and walk to Clyde Brinkers’ restaurant on Ashville’s Long Street where he dropped the dime down on the step. Then he would peck on the door and wait to be fed. Locals still called him the King of Ashville at the time of his death in the 1950s.
There literally is a treasure or charming story in every nook and cranny of the museum and new items are added all the time. One local resident dropped off a vintage camera while we were visiting and someone else had donated a box of pictures from an attic a few days earlier. “When we were getting this started, I think we were in every home and every attic in Ashville looking for things,” Charlie exclaimed with a laugh. “Attics are the best because people put stuff up there and forget about it. Unlike a basement which is always damp, the attic stays dry and the items are preserved.”
Charlie laments how little people know about their own communities – not just in the past but today as well – as modern people prefer television and iPhones to sitting on the porch and visiting; internet shopping over supporting a small business; and driving out of town for entertainment over letting their kids ride bicycles and play with their neighbors.
Yet he recognizes that times have changed and that this is just a natural part of life. “I just want kids and people in this community to know where they came from, to know about their towns whether it’s Ashville or South Bloomfield or some little town that people have forgotten about,” he said. “I like telling about the little town of Ashville and all the crazy things that have went on here over the years.”
Ohio’s Small Town Museum is located at 34 Long Street in Ashville. Call them at 740.983.9864, follow them on Facebook or visit their website. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to noon. Admission is free but donations are welcomed.
Want to help? They are always looking for Ashville area people to volunteer. You can also join the Ashville Area Heritage Society – rates start at $10 a year for senior citizens and $20 for individuals. Families, organizations and small businesses are $25 a year and large businesses are $200.