It is probably one of the biggest small museums in Ohio and few persons living in or outside Vermilion know about it. The building was constructed on a vacant lot on the east side of Grand Street way back in 1904. For the next 60 years, it was the home of The Vermilion News weekly newspaper as well as the place where nearly all printed materials for the community; church bulletins, tickets, flyers, signs, business cards, posters, smaller newspapers, catalogs, and school annuals were printed. When the business abruptly closed in 1964 the lights were turned off, the plug was pulled on the clock at four minutes to 3 a.m. – and The Vermilion Newsprint Shop went to bed and slept for a half-century.
My grandparents Pearl and Bessie Roscoe purchased the business in 1901. The newspaper and printing business was established by George Whitmore in 1897 and was located in the old Wells building (now gone) on the north side of the railroad tracks on Grand Street. My great-grandfather who was a carpenter and millwright oversaw construction of the existing building just south of the rails on Grand that would house the printing business downstairs and provide my grandparents with nice living quarters on the second floor.
After their deaths in 1946 my mother, Ella, and father Bill Tarrant continued to operate the business. Mom died in 1963, and the business closed the following year – the property remained in the family in the years that followed.
In 2011 my wife, Georgianne, and I purchased the property from my sister Nancy Alice Emery. For over a decade we had wanted to transform the property into a museum. Finally acquiring the wherewithal to buy the property we formed a nonprofit corporation, acquired a board of directors, and went to work.
It took the better part of a year to make the print shop part of the building presentable. While none of the equipment had been moved the area had morphed into a storage area for persons who had occupied the apartment over the years. Once those items were properly dispatched the equipment had to be carefully cleaned and oiled. In the meantime, a new roof was put on the building, the shop was wired to code, and a new low-pressure steam boiler heating system, replacing the original coal-fired system, was installed.
Today the print shop is very presentable. It is basically as it was when it was in full operation – although none of the presses are currently functioning. In time we would like to have several of the presses working. But they pose some safety issues. The presses have hundreds of moving parts and operating them in close quarters with people – especially little ones – around is a concern.
We’d not intended to do anything to the apartment during the ensuing 10 or 15 years because my brother was living there. But he died rather unexpectedly in November of 2012, and as we had to clean it out, we decided to make further renovations to make it part of the museum experience.
Thus, we began renovating the museum apartment to provide people with some idea as to how many late 19th and early 20th century businesses once operated – with business downstairs and living quarters upstairs. (The daily commute for my grandparents had gone from 15 miles to just 15 steps.)
With the apartment available the museum became more than a print shop museum. We’re now capable of displaying more than just letterpress machines and other related artifacts. Several local residents have contributed photographs, documents, and a number of physical artifacts that are on display in the apartment. We have also partnered with the Vermilion Area Archival Society to share information and sundry other things we have collected over the years. Our exhibits and themes for exhibits will change as we move ahead. Though our main focus is Vermilion history there are some items, like furniture, that weren’t necessarily made in Vermilion, but might have been found in homes and offices during the early years of the 20th century.
We are forever a “work in progress”. It will probably take another decade or two to really get things the way they need to be – but the task is well worth the time. Despite the fact that we’re still putting everything together there is a great deal to see and experience in the museum. I grew up in this environment, and I’ve worked here virtually all-day every day for the last decade. There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t learn something or come across something new. The history museum is like an uncut diamond; “A Real Ohio Jewel.”
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: email@example.com
© RNT Sunday, August 15, 2021