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Berlin Heights Historical Society is treasure trove

Tom Jackson • Dec 8, 2012 at 5:21 AM

Just ask Irvin Schatz, a member of the Berlin Heights Historical Society.

As he stood next to a cabinet filled with sports trophies for Berlin Heights student teams — dating back to 1922 —he recalled the brushes with disaster.  

“When Berlin Heights and Milan schools merged, the trophies were thrown out in a dumpster,” he said.

They were rescued, cleaned up, and housed in a cabinet donated to Berlin Heights schools by the 1955-56 student council.  The school district passed the materials to the historical society, and the cabinet now stands inside the historical society’s headquarters, at 18 E. Main St.

The building is an example of how the historical society has developed and prospered.

It began in 1982 and was incorporated in 1983. The founder was Dina Horwedel, then an 18-year-old Berlin Heights resident, said Amy Hunter, curator of the historical society.

Horwedel became an attorney and is now director of public relations and communications for the American Indian College Fund in Denver. She still visits Berlin Heights to see family.

For many years, the historical society’s artifacts and documents were kept in Schatz’s house.

“You couldn’t walk through it,” he admits.

In September 2010, when a basket shop closed, the Main Street building became available to the society. The owner of the vintage building, Richard Reece, is program chairman of the historical society.  

The building has always been in his family, Reece said. His grandfather built it in 1887, and over the years it served many purposes: general merchandise store; grocery store; Baptist church; hardware store, and then, a place filled with stalls selling antiques and baskets.

The historical society has more than 70 members, about 30 of whom attend every meeting.

It'd be quite a stretch to say anyone from Berlin Heights is a household name, but the village has certainly produced its share of prominent Americans.

The best known: Admiral James Calvert, who grew up on Church Road in Berlin Heights.

Calvert served in World War II and commanded the nuclear submarine that surfaced at the North Pole.

The historical society has window displays that are changed out every three months or so.

The current displays honor two important Berlin Heights natives: Impressionist painter Henry Keller (1869-1949), who ran a summer art school in Berlin Heights; and builder Joseph Lowry, who built the white First Congregational UCC church in the heart of Berlin Heights, as well as constructing other local buildings.

“I think he was well-regarded as an Impressionist in America,” Reece said.

Wikipedia says Keller “was an American artist who led a generation of Ohio watercolor painters of the Cleveland School.”

Other Berlin Heights people who left their mark on history include spiritualist Hudson Tuttle and author James Oliver Curwood (1878-1927).

Curwood isn't a household name now, but he was famous in his day. He was born in Michigan and lived most of his life there, but lived several years as a small child in Berlin Heights.

His action-adventure novels, often with an animal as the main character, were popular and were made into 18 movies, one of which starred John Wayne. He had several best-selling books in the early 1920s.

The historical society has copies of a number of his books, which also are available at Project Gutenberg on the Internet.

The historical society's annual dues are $10. Members meet at 7:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month (except December) at the Main Street building.

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