The opening of the first Fulton County Courthouse in Ottokee in 1851 was accompanied by a glamorous ball, described in writings of the time as “a happy, joyous assemblage” that lasted almost until daybreak.
In celebration of its new home in Dover Township, the Fulton County Historical Museum will recreate the festivities with an Opening Ball on Saturday, April 28, and the public is invited.
Held from 5-9 p.m. at 8848 State Highway 108, across from the county fairgrounds, the semi-formal event will be held in the lobby, the museum’s main gallery, and The Worthington Gallery for special exhibits. It will feature a catered meal authentic to the 1850s and instruction in antebellum dances. There will also be recognition of the new building’s donors and volunteers, and comments from local politicians and John Swearingen Jr., museum director.
And, although not required, guests are encouraged to dress in period clothing suitable to the original ball, which was held in 1851 on the second floor of the framed Ottokee courthouse. Swearingen said because the facade of the new museum building recreates that courthouse, he felt it appropriate to throw a similar ball for its opening.
Over 150 people have already registered to attend; the $25 cost for the 21 and over event will benefit the advertising and marketing budget for the museum and the county’s adjacent Welcome Center. The deadline for registration is Friday at 5 p.m. by calling 419-337-7922.
Following the catered dinner, Steve Percer of Forget-Me-Not, The Historical Dance Co. in Dayton, will call and teach reels, waltzes, and polkas through audience participation.
Swearingen said the Opening Ball will be the social event of the spring. “We’ve never had this big of a crowd. We have a lot of good supporters, people who have been waiting for this to happen,” he said.
In her diary of the era, Fulton County resident Mary Agnes Howard recalled the dedication of the county’s first courthouse, calling it “a grand affair and prominent citizens from different parts of the county were present to take part in the dedication. After listening to a number of addresses, a grand ball was given which continued until almost break of day.”
Frank Reighard reported that leading pioneers of the day were present. “They were not crude and primitive as one would expect but rather men and women of noble characteristics…The deportment of those who attended that first county ball was probably as gentlemanly and lady like as one would take pride in noting in one’s kin.”
The original courthouse burned to the ground in 1864. The reportedly mysterious fire may have had its roots in a dispute between county residents, who were divided over whether the courthouse should be relocated to Delta or Wauseon.
The ball will be preceded Friday, April 27, by an invitation-only preview for museum donors and members of two new exhibits. “Find a Way or Make Your Own” will feature Fulton County’s past, from the Neanderthal age up to the 1960s. “Partners for the People” will showcase paintings of nine northwest Ohio county courthouses by Defiance artist Hermann Weibe. The featured courthouses are within the Ohio Department of Transportation’s District Two, and symbolize the partnership between ODOT, Fulton County, and the Visitors Bureau and the museum.
Ohio Economic Director David Goodman will speak at the Friday event.
Swearingen said the Opening Ball could become an annual event if it’s successful.
He also encouraged citizens to attend the Visitor Center’s and museum’s May 5 opening. It will be accompanied by a Cinco de Mayo celebration of Latino food and music, and by an exhibit, “Latinos in Rural Ohio.”
“We have tapped every possible talent in our pool of volunteers for this opening,” Swearingen said. “And I’m amazed by their abilities, and proud of every one of them. It will show at the opening May. 5. It’s remarkable what they’ve done.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.
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