Oral History

When traveling through an unfamiliar territory, we learn about the region through the look of things, through brief interchanges with the local commerce, the restaurants, the streets, the architecture. We might often wonder, who are the people living in this region. How did they get here, what they do once they were here? That curiosity provided the motivation for the first of oral history collections published by the Ottawa County Historical Society’s Ottawa County: On PAGE & STAGE.

The first volume (2003) resulted from a statewide theatrical production, A Century of Voices from Ohio, a project celebrating the Ohio Bi-Centennial in 2003. The play consisted of a script written from state-wide oral histories and performed in selected locations throughout the state, one of which was the Port Clinton Performing Arts Center. Local actors and actresses directed and took part in the play.

Besides the publication, PAGE & STAGE presents performances based on the oral history interviews.

Between 2003 and the present, OCHS has released seven soft cover volumes of county oral histories consisting of photographs and interviews of people whose lives and experiences provide first person narratives of county life. The interviews reflect natural language of the people and represents a true account of history, “to the best of memory.” They are a true account of authentic county voices.  

In addition, we published Along the Highways and Waterways of Ottawa County, Volume I, to focus on buildings, places and monuments that these same people and others shaped with their hands and their hard work.  These physical contributions have been important in shaping our County’s history as places of residence, business, memories, government, and social gatherings.

Please go to the “Shop” page of this website for details on how to order each of the seven-volume Oral Histories and as well as Along the Highways and Waterways of Ottawa County.  They are also available for purchase at various retail outlets within the County.

Nancy Dunham designed the project and served as Editor of Volume I.  Later Editors were Peggy Debien, Janet Stephenson and currently, Martha Dykes.  Later chairpersons were Jeanne Wonnell, Connie Cedoz and currently Martha Dykes.  

Story Tellers (project inactive)

Increasingly, we hear of storytelling as a successful and engaging way of presenting historic programs.  One example in the past few years has been Wood County’s Cemetery reenactments in Bowling Green.  Another interesting program was a Lake Erie ferry trip sponsored by the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society in which visitors helped resolve an old island mystery on North Bass Island through conversations with residents cast as early settlers.

In the winter of 2018 at the National Maritime Museum in Toledo members of OCHS were first introduced to the work of professional storyteller Brian Ellis.  For almost two hours, Ellis held the audience spellbound with moments in the life of French explorer Robert La Salle as he sailed down the St. Lawrence into the Lake Erie Islands.

The performance by Ellis surely triggered our imaginations about the power of storytelling.  The OCHS Program Committee has been wanting to transform treasured family stories from our Page & Stage Oral History collection into the charm and circumstance of live performance.  Thus was launched the Ottawa County Historical Society History Speaks project.  It welcomes participation by everybody.  The project particularly encourages those who are interested in history and who have a taste for sharing through performance.  When the Port Clinton Lighthouse Conservancy offered OCHS an opening to tell county “water” stories at the Lighthouse Festival in August 2019, it provided an opportunity to do a program (see details below).    We were encouraged by those folks who came forth to contribute time and talent and the audience that came to share the stories.

Continue to check our website to learn on the project’s progress as well as learn about upcoming related events.

Help us explore!  Become involved! Send us an email at to learn more.

  • Tales from Ottawa County’s Past – Saturday, August 17, 2019

In cooperation with Playmakers Civic Theatre, the first OCHS Story Telling project was held as part of the Port Clinton Lighthouse & Maritime Festival.  Moderated by Kathleen Giesler, music was provided by Patrick Fleming and Alex Hefner.  The program included (1) “Water”, written and told by Patrick O’Keeffe; (2) “The Day The Rebels Came”, written by Rich Norgard and told by Susan Doell; (3) “Donkeys on West Sister Island”, written by Martha Dykes and told by Debbie Gordon; (4) “Boat Trip and Violent Lake Erie Storm in 2006”, written and told by Tepp Dunham; and (5) “Early 30s at Eagle Beach”, written and told by Richard Dunham.  Here’s a few action snapshots (photos courtesy Kathy Leonard):

Painted Barn

In partnership with the Ohio History Connection, the Ottawa County Historical Society brought a County-themed Ohio History Barn to Ottawa County honoring Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.  The Ohio History Connection project is to have a County-themed painted barn in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.  Their last project was Sandusky County’s Rutherford B. Hayes Ohio History Barn in Fremont.

Act One:  Select the barn.  Driving to and fro around Ottawa County provides one an opportunity to fully appreciate the diversity of the County with Lake Erie attractions in the east to hearty farmland in the west.  The Ottawa County Historical Society members played “barn catchers” and developed a list of barn candidates submitting the finalists to the Ohio History Connection for their selection.  Located at 14681 SR 105 west of Oak Harbor, Bonnie and Ron Schimming’s perfect barn is the one.

Act Two:  Design the image.  As we learned in completing the Ottawa County 175th anniversary book, it is difficult to find a definitive image representing the entire County.  However, the perfect image was found—Oliver Hazard Perry.  There are no other counties in the entire country that can make two very important claims with national importance.  The Battle of Lake Erie represented the bookend to the American Revolution settling once and for all any remaining hostilities between our young country and Great Britain as well as establish the longest border with another country–Canada.  Also, the Battle of Lake Erie was the only time an entire British fleet was captured.  Ottawa County stands alone in making these two claims.  Bringing a naval image to the County’s farm heartland helps wed two very distinctive aspects of the County—the water and the land.  And as OCHS President Paul Moon likes to remind us, the battle did in fact take place in western Ottawa County, on a line running from Rattlesnake Island to West Sister Island.

Act Three:  Paint the image.  Artist Scott Hagan is the artist-painter who completed all of the Ohio bicentennial barns in 2003.  He started painting the Ohio History Barn on Tuesday, September 12.

Act Four: Dedication Ceremony.  The Ottawa County Ohio History Barn dedication was held Friday, September 22 at 2:00 p.m. at 14681 SR 105, Oak Harbor.  Fun time had by all with attendance by Commodore Perry, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Lake Erie Shores & Islands completed a time-lapse video of the mural as barn artist Scott Hagan completed the painting.  The video entitled “The Mural of Commodore Perry in Ottawa County” can be accessed from the Lake Erie Shores & Islands YouTube channel (