OFFBEAT: Freedom's history is good business

My plan for attracting more visitors to downtown Sandusky, with businesses banding together to offer free wi-fi Internet access, did
Tom Jackson
May 9, 2010

My plan for attracting more visitors to downtown Sandusky, with businesses banding together to offer free wi-fi Internet access, didn't exactly catch fire.

I have a new plan for bringing in tourists.

My new scheme, appropriate for an announcement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is to honor Sandusky's role in the Underground Railroad, the secret network which spirited slaves from the South to freedom in Canada. Sandusky had many citizens before the Civil War who helped this effort.

A small but well-curated museum downtown, housed in one of the empty spaces I see when I walk to a downtown appointment, would provide another excuse to come downtown.

It wouldn't have to carry the load by itself. It could give out a brochure providing a walking tour of Underground Railroad landmarks. The brochure also would direct visitors to the Maritime Museum of Sandusky, which has excellent Underground Railroad exhibits, and Sandusky's Follett House Museum, which has Underground Railroad artifacts.

The Sandusky-Erie County Visitory Bureau has a nice Web page about the Underground Railroad (sanduskyohiocedarpoint.com/underground/). The bureau also has brochures on the Underground Railroad at the visitors center on Milan Road. (The same brochure really should be offered as a document to download or print out from the Web site.)

If the tourists strolling through downtown Sandusky get interrupted because they notice an antiques store or realize they are hungry or thirsty and spot a tavern, so much the better.

It's tempting to linger downtown if the weather is good. It's beautiful looking out toward the lake. Downtown Cleveland is next to the lake, too, but you can't walk 50 feet without being accosted by aggressive beggars. Our downtown is soothing and pleasant.

The Sandusky area has rather rich offerings for history buffs.

The Perry Peace Memorial and Visitors Center at Put-in-Bay has excellent exhibits on the Battle of Lake Erie, an important American victory in the War of 1812. (The American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, is the guy who sent the famous message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours.") The visitor center is one of the best military museums I've ever visited.

The Rutherford Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont has a first-class museum. The Edison Birthplace Museum in Milan also is quite good.

That's a full day of top quality edutainment for any history buff, even for tourists who are more energetic than I am and get up early on their days off.

And of course the itinerary can be adjusted based upon the tourist's interests. Train buffs would go to Bellevue to see the Mad River MKP Railroad Museum. People who like carousels can visit Sandusky's Merry-Go-Round Museum.

Unfortunately, some heritage attractions shut down in the winter. The Eleutheros Cooke House in Sandusky shuts down from January to March. The value of history offerings is that they offer a reason to visit year-round.

Sandusky and Port Clinton are good places for adults to visit during the winter and ought to be marketed as inexpensive weekend getaways.

When tourists come here during the winter, they can get a cheap room. The weather might be a little cold, but that won't prevent anyone from getting a meal in a restaurant by the shore, visiting many of the local museums, sipping a soothing glass of wine in a local winery or going shopping.

Let's try to bring a few more of those tourists here.