By Lindsay Kriz
MIDDLEPORT, Ohio — Middleport Mayor Michael Gerlach knew since he was a little kid that he had a love for history.
Serving as a history teacher for 32 years at Meigs Local Schools before retiring, he continued his love of history as a teacher of the subject. In particular, one of Gerlach’s main passions was bringing local history to life for his students.
“My whole career was how to make history stick with students, how to get them involved with it,” he said. “I thought it would be good to plug in local history with the events you’re talking about in class, so if you’re talking about the Civil War, how would people here feel about the issues? Were they for or against slavery? Were they active? Did they volunteer to fight?”
While he’s retired as a teacher, that doesn’t mean Gerlach has stopped educating the public about local history. For decades, Gerlach has taken tourists and residents alike on walking tours through Middleport and Pomeroy, and has shared stories of local areas and residents who have impacted history.
“You can go to any town anywhere in the world (and) it has history,” he said. “But what people want to know is why is this town different?”
For Gerlach, one of the main areas of history that has had a large impact in Meigs County was the the tumultuous period from 1861-1865: the Civil War.
Aside from Morgan’s Raid and the Battle of Buffington Island, the only official Civil War battle fought in Ohio, parts of Meigs County along Leading Creek served as part of the Underground Railroad.
“You can still walk that trail just like runaways did at the time,” he said.
However, Gerlach was quick to mention that not any of the Middleport trails are specifically just history from the Civil War. In fact, there have been some prominent figures from the area since the Civil War.
One famous Middleport resident who lived around the time of the Civil War was Samuel B. Allen, who was freed during the time of the Civil War, he said.
After his release, Allen created the Allen House in Middleport, which was one of the nicest hotels in Middleport during the mid to late 1800s.
According to Gerlach, a woman who owned the building where the hotel was originally, told Gerlach research showed Allen had also served as mayor of Rendville.
“We think that’s a really neat story,” Gerlach said.
But the story didn’t end there.
Through research, Gerlach also discovered that Allen’s grandson, Samuel C. Allen, was a talented piano player who, at one time, played the piano for silent movies in Middleport.
He eventually played for Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington and played at the Apollo Theatre. Rumor has it, according to Gerlach, that Dizzie Gillespie, the famous trumpet player, made it big because Samuel C. Allen was auditioning people for a band and approved Gillespie as one of the members.
More recently, Middleport served as home to William Outerbridge, who was a commander of a small destroyer ship in Pearl Harbor. He is credited with firing the first shots by the United States in its defense during World War II.
Gerlach said Outerbridge fired on a Japanese submarine that was trying to enter the harbor before Japan’s planes arrived.
Four Star General Jim Hartinger was also from the area, and has a local parkway named in his honor.
A known figure from the Vietnam War era with ties to Middleport was Eugene Miller, who was in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Even more recently, William Clark, a local, was in charge of logistics, or getting supplies and troops to Saudia Arabia during the Gulf War.
It’s these historical figures, and the American Indian mound builders, that Gerlach discusses on the various trails throughout the village.
“It’s not just a factual story; I want to be able to point (to important spots),” he said.
While there are scheduled trail times throughout the year, Gerlach said he also takes groups on requested tours all year-round within reasonable weather conditions.
Each time he takes a new group on a tour, he says he learns something new, whether it’s factual information or a new perspective on what’s already been established.
“The audience sees perspectives that you don’t necessarily see, which is nice,” he said.
Gerlach said he’ll continue to do the tours as long as he can, and that educating the public is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to history that literally happened in their own backyard.
“To me, it’s all about people learning about the special things that have happened here,” he said.
When not writing for The Daily Sentinel, Lindsay can be found online, reading a book, watching movies or just puttering around and wondering about the meaning of life. Reach her at 740-444-4303 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.