LANCASTER, Ohio — Although not beloved in parts of the American South, William Tecumseh Sherman is certainly a hero in his hometown.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Sherman’s famous March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah, the Civil War campaign that effectively ended the Confederacy’s ability to wage war (and left Atlanta a mass of smoldering ruins).
Fortunately, Lancaster fared better than Atlanta.
Sherman’s childhood home has been lovingly preserved along with several other historic buildings, allowing downtown Lancaster to boast a small museum district worthy of a day trip or weekend visit.
Visitors to Lancaster will see Sherman’s image reproduced on statues, murals, plaques and banners around the town, where his rise to greatness began in a relatively modest house on Main Street.
Named after the great Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh, “Cump,” as he was known, was born in the house in 1821 and lived there until age 9, when his father, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Charles Sherman, died.
The family was left without money, and the 11 Sherman children were mostly farmed out to family and friends who could care for them. Cump ended up with the prominent Ewing family, whose mansion still stands a few doors down from the Sherman House (and today remains a private home). It was through his adoptive father, Thomas Ewing, that Cump Sherman got his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The Sherman house was built in stages beginning in 1811. The original frame structure included just a dining room, kitchen, and two bedrooms — one for the parents, one for the children.
By 1816, a growing family and the professional needs of Sherman’s father required the addition of a parlor and a study.
The rooms have all been restored to look as they would have when the Sherman family lived here.
In the study, visitors can almost feel Charles Sherman at work (and Cump pulling at his pant legs). On display are Charles Sherman’s original desk; documents signed by Presidents Jefferson, Madison and Monroe; and a beautiful (and rare) Hough and Bourne wall map of Ohio, one of the first depicting the new state.
The house also includes a brick addition erected by owners in the 1870s. The Victorian-era furniture on display in the addition wasn’t used in the Sherman House, but it did decorate the New York home of Sherman and his wife, Ellen, after the general’s retirement.
The museum also displays Sherman family memorabilia, including some surprisingly adept sketches and watercolors painted as an adult by Gen. Sherman.
One room has become a re-creation of Sherman’s Civil War field camp, including his tent and several items he used during the war.
The last room visitors see houses the exhibit “Sherman at War,” which includes maps, period paintings and prints, weapons and other artifacts. It explains Sherman’s role in the war and explores his stature as a hero in the North and a demon in the South.
The exhibit also touches on Sherman’s postwar activities, including speeches when he declared that “War is all hell” and when he refused to seek the presidency with the immortal line “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.”
Next door to the Sherman House is the magnificent 1835 Reese-Peters House, now the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio. Visitors can tour the first floor of the restored Greek revival mansion to see intricate architecture including wonderful “egg and dart” crown molding as well as period furniture.
Upstairs, the mansion houses exhibit space. Opening June 7 is an exclusive exhibit of costumes by famed Hollywood designer Edith Head, who won eight Academy Awards. This marks just the second time the collection has left the Paramount Pictures Archive.
Another magnificently restored mansion, a block from the Sherman House, is also open to the public.
The Georgian Museum was built in 1832 by Samuel Maccracken, a wealthy entrepreneur who helped raise money to bring an extension of the Ohio Canal to Lancaster.
Another worthy stop downtown is the Ohio Glass Museum. The museum tells the story of the area’s prominence in glassmaking and has a large archive of beautiful glass items on rotating display. Visitors can also see a working glass studio that offers glass-blowing demonstrations and classes.