Family Train Day: Touring the Warther Museum and Dennison Depot Museum

Blog Date
Julie Smith
Stuart O. Smith, Jr.

Mike, Kevin and Julie viewing Frieda Warther's Button Collection
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On March 7, 2019, we decided to plan a family day. We first thought of places we had enjoyed in the past, but decided what we really wanted was a day together exploring places we had never visited as a family. Luckily, we remembered seeing a sign for The Warther Museum (@WartherMuseum) as we drove down Interstate 77. Every time we drove past the sign, we would say that we needed to find a time to visit The Warther Museum. Julie had great memories of visting The Warther Museum when she was a Girl Scout (@GirlScouts), and had been telling us for years that we needed to go there someday. She knew we would enjoy seeing the carvings, which included very detailed models of trains.

As we explored Google Maps for other places to visit in Ohio's Tuscarawas County, we decided to make trains the theme for the day, and go to the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum (@DennisonDepot).

We made our plan to visit these two Ohio museums which are located in the City of Dover and the Village of Dennison -- just about an hour and a half south of Cleveland.


The Warther Museum

The Warther Collection is unlike any other in the world. The Warther Museum showcases sixty-four of Ernest Warther's ebony, ivory, and walnut hand-carved masterpieces. In addition to his carvings, the collection contains his wife, Frieda's 73,000 piece button collection, Swiss-style gardens, and 5,500 piece Native American arrowhead collection.

Our sons have been hearing about the The Warther Museum (@WartherMuseum) their whole lives from Julie, so it is great that we finally went as a family. The Ernest Warther carvings are incredible! While it is the type of museum that you would enjoy by just touring on your own, The Warther Museum's added value is that they provide a tour guide who shares the personal stories behind the works. These stories and personal anecdotes about the Warther family make you appreciate the art in the carvings even more.

Here is a video from the The Warther Museum website that shows a little bit about the detail, but you can't fully appreciate the detailed work unless you go in person and ask the tour guide lots of questions about the art pieces.

Ernest Warther was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln and carved not only the Lincoln Funeral Train, but also other items to commemorate the president's life. It was also interesting that Ernest Warther designed and made special carving knives that perfectly fit his hand, and had interchangeable blades. The family business -- Warther Cutlery and Warther Cutting Boards -- continues to this day. We later found out that Stuart's mother had purchased a set of Warther knives years ago.

See the Warther Collection web page to read more about not only the carving collection, but also Frieda Warther's Button Collection and the Arrowhead Collection that are also featured in the museum.

After the tour of the museum, we were fortunate to have the staff person at the front desk open up Ernest Warther's original workshop over which the lobby of the museum was built. Be sure to have the museum's staff show you the clever way that Ernest Warther used this tiny space to store his tools and supplies. There are hidden storage areas in the floor and behind the arrowhead displays.

Our @sos_jr tweets and retweets have photos we shared during our tour.


As we were writing this blog post, we remembered so many details of what we saw and learned while visiting The Warther Museum -- more than we can include in this blog post. We recommend visiting the The Warther Museum and seeing for yourself.


Lunchtime - Over the Rail Diner

Over the Rail Diner
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After the morning at The Warther Museum, it was time for lunch, so we headed to the Village of Dennison to eat at the Over the Rail Diner (@RailDiner). It was great that the diner is located in the same restored train station building as the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum (@DennisonDepot). It was the perfect place to eat for our family's train-themed day.

Here are some videos from the Over the Rail Diner Facebook page that show the restaurant's decor.


Dennison Railroad Depot Museum

When planning to visit the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum (@DennisonDepot), we thought that it would be a nice little museum about the impact of the railroad on the community, like other old railroad stations which we have enjoyed in the past. We found that the museum did an excellent job of presenting the usual displays that we would expect, but we were pleasantly surprised that the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum was much more than just the station and a few trains.

First, we learned of Dennison's citizen volunteers' work at the depot during World War II. Here is information from the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum website about the depot's importance that led to its designation as a National Historic Landmark:

In 2011, after a decade of research and determination, the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum was designated as a National Historic Landmark. The National Landmarks Commission and the National Park Service recognized the Dennison Depot as the most significant remaining example in the nation of a railroad canteen still reflecting its WWII heritage.

The Dennison Depot historically represents the movement of millions of servicemen and women across the United States during WWII and the mobilization of civilians on the Homefront during the period of 1942-1946. During the war, nearly 4,000 volunteers served meals around the clock and provided moral support to 1.3 million soldiers that traveled through the Dennison Depot Salvation Army Servicemen’s Canteen.

Click here to see the National Historic Landmark Dedication Ceremony invitation

Here is the video shown to museum visitors entitled Saving a National Landmark: The Dennison Railroad Depot, that shows the national importance of the depot:

It was fascinating to learn of the significance of the depot, and how volunteers organized by The Salvation Army (@SalvationArmyUS) gave so much to help the young servicemen.

In addtion to the depot building, the museum uses train cars to display the interesting information about railroad history. When we arrived, we assumed that the train cars would just be showing the interior of the trains. Instead, the museum uses each car to creatively display different aspects of trains and life in train towns. We enjoyed exploring each car, and were surprised how much the museum fit in each display area. This good use of space greatly expands the size of the museum!

Many of the exhibits in the train cars are designed to be interactive -- yes, you are encouraged to touch and try things. They also have a scavenger hunt featuring the story of Bing to encourage children to explore the train cars at the museum. Bing was a military working dog in World War I -- "...the three Grey brothers from Dennison found their new mascot, the white bull dog with a black spot around one eye who was destined to become one of the most famous World War I veterans Dennison ever had."

One of the museum's exhibits had a special meaning to our family for two reasons. First, our son, Kevin, has been a collector of Cleveland's Euclid Beach Amusement Park memorabilia (the park closed in 1969) for years. He displays his collection at the Remembering the Sights & Sounds of Euclid Beach Park event each year at the Cleveland Metroparks Euclid Beach Park (@CleveMetroparks). Secondly, in January 2019, both Julie and Kevin were invited to serve on the Board of Directors of Euclid Beach Park Now. Since, historically, many amusement parks were created as destinations for train and trolley lines, the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum had one of their exhibits featuring amusement park memorabilia. We were very pleased to see pennants from three Cleveland-area former amusement parks (Euclid Beach Park, Puritas Springs Park, Geauga Lake Park). There was also a pennant from Cedar Point, which still operates in Sandusky, Ohio, as the second-oldest operating amusement park in the United States, having opened in 1870. Kevin has items in his collection for all four of these parks.

Amusement park pennants displayed at the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum
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We were told that some of the museum's exhibits are temporary, so that if we returned again, there would likely be new items to see. Touring the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum was a great way to spend the afternoon.

Here are our photos and those of others that we shared in our @sos_jr tweets and retweets while we were visiting the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum.


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Thank you to the staff members of The Warther Museum and Dennison Railroad Depot Museum for our enjoyable family day.