Van Wert History & Landmarks
Both Van Wert and Van Wert County were named in honor of Isaac Van Wart, one of three patriots who in 1780, captured the notorious British spy Major John Andre during the Revolutionary War. The City of Van Wert was founded in 1834 when James Wilson Riley and others bought 240 acres of land in the center of Van Wert County. Until that time, the County which was established in 1820 was inhabited primarily by Native Americans. Construction of the County Courthouse started in 1874 and was completed two years later in 1876. The Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Van Wert is home to the nation’s first public county library, the Brumback Library, which was built in 1899, and dedicated on January 1, 1901. The library was built with funds bequeathed by John Sanford Brumback, a former resident. His will directed that funds from his estate be devoted to the building and furnishing of a library as a gift to Van Wert County. In 1991, a complete renovation of the existing structure took place. Designed by D. L Stine of Toledo, the Library’s architecture is a combination of Gothic and Romanesque. With turreted towers and a Ludowici tile roof, the library resembles a castle nestled in a park-like setting adjacent to Downtown.
As with most successful cities, transportation hastened development. In the mid-1800's the nearby Miami-Erie Canal, followed by the railroads, spurred commerce. The nation’s first transcontinental road, the Lincoln Highway, connected the entire county to Van Wert’s Main Street at the start of the 20th century. The section of Lincoln Highway from Delphos to Van Wert is one of the finest examples in Ohio of highway engineering and construction from the period. In 2004, this highway designated an Ohio Scenic Byway.
The Marsh Foundation Campus is located on Lincoln Highway and since the 1920's has upheld its mission of providing a help to needy children. Following the will of George H. Marsh, the Marsh Foundation was first developed as an orphanage to serve Van Wert and surrounding Ohio counties, becoming home to hundreds of orphaned children.
The Van Wert Historical Museum is home to the Van Wert Historical Society, organized in 1953. Local attorney and teacher William Fosnaught donated a building to the society which was erected circa 1896 by the John Clark family. This original property has been maintained as a Victorian home and features many historic displays. The 1986 annex building depicts other phases of early Van Wert history, featuring a historic walking tour of Van Wert, Native American artifacts, a display of war items and pictures of old Van Wert. Additional exhibits are on display in a 1951 Pennsylvania Railroad caboose, 1906 one-room school, 1860 log house and a large red barn.
Wassenberg Art Center is named for Charles Wassenberg, a Van Wert County native who was a nationally known peony farmer. Thanks to Mr. Wassenberg and other local peony famers, the City is also recognized for its peonies, which blossom all over town in the beginning of June. When Lew Miller, a well-known Van Wert artist, invited Wassenberg and his wife Vera to visit his studio for
art lessons, they soon developed a strong interest in art. In 1954, when Mr. Wassenberg died, he bequeathed an endowment to develop art talent and promote Van Wert as an art center. In his will, he suggested that his home be turned into a center for the arts.
Another “landmark” in the city is the Balyeat’s Coffee Shop, which has been a popular gathering place on Main Street for many years, and purports that is has been “nationally famous since 1924.” Brothers Don and Louis Balyeat opened the restaurant on East Main Street in 1924 and in 1964, the business was purchased by Dale Davies. Dale and his wife Marcia still run the restaurant today.
Van Wert is also home to the Central Fire Museum, one of the finest privately-held collection of fire fighting equipment in the United States. In 1876, Central Insurance Company was founded in Van Wert as a fire insurance company. The threat of disastrous fire was always very real in rural communities, and equipment used to fight fire varied from the primitive to the ingenious. F. W. Purmort, Jr., president of the company from 1964-1994, collected fire equipment and was also particularly proud of Central’s heritage. He gradually developed his hobby into a museum dedicated to the name and heritage of Central Insurance. The collection includes equipment, protective clothing, and antique fire toys dating back to the 1700's.
Other significant historic properties include three churches located near the downtown. One of Van Wert’s finest examples of 15th century Gothic architecture can seen at the First Presbyterian Church, which features aspiring arches and stirring stained glass windows. First United Methodist Church features the City’s tallest steeple and is home to the community’s bi-annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. St. Mark’s Lutheran Church features beautiful English Gothic architecture and is located at the north end of downtown Van Wert.