Uncovering Ohio’s Literary History
By Damaine Vonada

Uncovering Ohio’s Literary History

Five destinations that prove Ohio is for book lovers.

Ohio is famous for producing U.S. presidents, inventors, astronauts and athletes, but did you know that it’s also been home to numerous authors who helped to shape the nation’s history, culture and best-seller lists? Since venues throughout Ohio showcase authors and their works, visiting these novel attractions is a great way to take Ohio literally. Here are five destinations for uncovering Ohio’s literary history:

Malabar Farm

The Big House at Malabar Farm State Park ranks among Ohio’s most fascinating places. In the late 1930s, novelist and Hollywood screenwriter Louis Bromfield left France with his wife and daughters and returned to his native Ohio. He bought 1,000 acres near Mansfield and created Malabar Farm, a model of the eco-friendly practices that Bromfield called “horse-sense” agriculture. Not content with a simple farmhouse, Bromfield built the 32-room Big House and entertained visiting movie stars like James Cagney and Dorothy Lamour in idyllic Ohio style.

Since the Big House today is filled with original furnishings, every room reveals something different about Bromfield’s multi-faceted life and career. Doors still have long scratch marks made by his beloved Boxers; the main staircase was the place where his good friend Humphrey Bogart married Lauren Bacall; and in his study, Bromfield’s old royal typewriter remains in front of the big window where he liked to write.

Also displayed in the study is a treasure few people ever get to see: a Pulitzer Prize award, which Bromfield received in 1927 for his novel, Early Autumn.

For more information about Malabar Farm, click here.

Oak Hill Cottage

Although the Big House reflects Bromfield’s success as a writer and farmer, Oak Hill Cottage in Mansfield inspired “Shane’s Castle” in his 1924 debut novel, The Green Bay Tree. A masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, Oak Hill Cottage was the showplace home of Bromfield’s wealthy great aunt, and as a boy, he often spent time there. Its lovely gardens and fine Victorian furniture must have impressed him, for Bromfield begins The Green Bay Tree with a description of Oak Hill Cottage’s gentile setting.

Beautifully preserved by the Richland County Historical Society, Oak Hill Cottage is open for tours. “It’s a unique relic,” says historical society president Alan Wigton, “that relates directly to Bromfield and makes his writing seem more real.”

For more information about Oak Hill Cottage, click here.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller that fueled the nation’s anti-slavery movement and made author Harriet Beecher Stowe a celebrity. Stowe based much of her book on stories she heard about the Underground Railroad and its freedom-seeking passengers while residing in Cincinnati at what is now Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Built by her abolitionist father in 1833, the two-story brick dwelling serves as a cultural and historic center whose programming includes tours focusing Stowe’s experiences and social causes.

For more information about the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, click here.

Paul Laurence Dunbar House

Born in 1872 to former slaves, Paul Laurence Dunbar was known as the “Poet Laureate of African Americans.”  Paul Laurence Dunbar House, his former home in Dayton, has become a National Historic Landmark that not only contains personal memorabilia but also keeps his literary legacy – including a dozen volumes of poetry, short story collections and several novels – alive.  Dunbar mastered the art of writing in dialect as well as standard English, and no less than Frederick Douglass praised him as “one of the sweetest songsters.”

Thurber House

In Columbus, Thurber House is both a literary center and museum dedicated to humorist James Thurber.  A talented writer and cartoonist, Thurber was known for his dog drawings, and I love that several sculptures of his dogs now inhabit the yard of the Victorian brick house where he lived while attending Ohio State in the early 1900s.

While Thurber probably is best-known for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” many of his other comedic short stories – including “The Night the Bed Fell” and “The Night the Ghost Got In” – are set in Thurber House.

For more information on Thurber House, click here.

The Clyde Historical Museum

The Clyde Museum displays many of the works of Sherwood Anderson.  The novelist and short story writer grew up in Clyde, and Sherwood’s indelicate writing style scandalized his hometown when he published his composite novel, Winesburg, Ohio in 1919.

“Each of the characters in the book,” says museum curator Gene Smith, “was somehow related to someone who lived here in Clyde.” Anderson is now considered a founder of realism in American literature, and Winesburg, Ohio is his most acclaimed work as well as required reading in college classes.

For more information on The Clyde Historical Museum, click here.

History, art and culture. Find It Here on Ohio.org.

 

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