A new book on my shelf, “The Bluffton We Never Knew,” has me looking at the village of Bluffton, Ohio, in a new way. This photographic look back at the nineteenth and early twentieth century history of my adopted hometown was published by the human Rolodex of all things Bluffton, Fred Steiner. Fred is also the publisher of the online news source BlufftonIcon.com and the editorial voice known as the Bluffton Icon. Every week or two I come across a place or a story that seems like a chapter in his next book.
You may know that Bluffton has a few minor claims to fame: gangster John Dillinger robbed a local bank; comedian Phyllis Diller went to Bluffton University; Luke’s Bar and Grill went viral on international television news when a buck crashed through a window and careened through the restaurant.
But I think I enjoy some of the quirky, hidden stories just as much. On my walks around Bluffton, I’ve always been mystified by a big red brick building on North Main. Recently, the Et Cetera Shop provided an open house at the space that will be turned into a much larger and more functional thrift store later in 2018. The space shows traces of the former Boss and later Peerless Glove factories, including a die press and freight elevator. I’m guessing the first product made there was the “Tikmit” advertised in this April 1920 issue of the Automobile Trade Journal.
I also feel like I return to that Bluffton I never knew when I visit the Bluffton Sportsmen’s Club for yoga classes and Boy Scout meetings. The golden wood paneling and eye-opening display of taxidermy are part of a depot turned clubhouse. The club moved the building from track-side to its location at Buckeye Park. The club stocks the Buckeye and Cobb Lake quarries are with Rainbow Trout and other species and sells memberships at local shops; it also rents out the clubhouse to groups and families. It’s not fancy, but it’s spectacular.
An item that recently caught my fancy was a solid oak globe preserved by Swiss Community Historical Society board member Keith Sommers. At a spring meeting focused on local one room schoolhouses, Sommers displayed the object made by farmer John Amstutz when he discovered that a young teacher was perpetuating the idea that the earth was flat. The globe—now missing its covering of animal skin maps—is strong reminder of the quirks of individual awareness!
My last example is something we can only try to imagine. It’s a story passed on by real estate agent Dick Boehr about the long gone Bluffton Milling Company (we don’t have to take Dick’s word for it; check out page 23 from Flour & Feed, November 1901). The mill burned down when robbers tried to dynamite the safe. Remarkably, the building was a total loss but the safe remained intact. Ah, yes, the good, old days!