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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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East Toledo is now home to the museum that will tell the story of the largest system of fresh water in the world--The Great Lakes.

The National Museum of The Great Lakes will open to the public Saturday, April 26. It is located in the Toledo Marina building at the north end of the Marina District, just off Front Street.

The Great Lakes contain 84 percent of all surface fresh water in North America and 21 percent of the world’s surface fresh water, according to the U.S. EPA.

Interactive exhibits in five galleries will recount the historical role this global resource has played in our country’s development, said Anna Kolin, the museum’s development director. The galleries are:

• The Industrial Revolution: Describes the defining economic experience in our nation’s history. The Great Lakes made it possible to ship iron ore, coal and grain in a cost-effective manner;

• Exploration and Settlement: Takes visitors on a tour from the days of the Voyagers, fur trappers and explorers to the early 1800s;

• Safeguard and Support: Describes the role the lakes have played in our military history;

• Shipwreck and Survival: Tells the stories of lighthouses and wrecks such as the Edmund Fitzgerald;

• Technology and shipbuilding: Describes shipbuilding from pioneer days to the high-tech future.

While the museum’s scope spans all of the Great Lakes, Kolin says Toledo’s history with the lakes will be emphasized in “The Toledo Trail,” a scattering of more than 25 exhibits including what is believed to be the largest single pitch propeller ever cast at the time. The American Shipbuilding Company, a Toledo company, cast the 22-foot diameter, 22-ton propeller in 1958 for the S.S. John Sherwin steamship.

Another exhibit will tell the story of the David Dows, the first five-masted schooner to sail the Great Lakes and the world. It too, was built in Toledo.

While Toledo is highlighted, Kolin emphasizes the museum pays equal attention to all five lakes. Chris Gillcrist, museum director, described one of the most exciting exhibits when he gave a presentation to the East Toledo Club last May. He said a visitor will be able to take a simulated ride in a submarine down to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald to explore the ship and the reasons it sank.

The Fitzgerald is one of many hands-on exhibits. Another features a hand-operated bilge pump to give visitors real-time experience on keeping a ship afloat without mechanically powered pumps.

Such interactive exhibits are a must today as museums try to compete in the high-tech gadget world we live in, Gillcrist said. The Fitzgerald exhibit alone cost about $250,000. Fundraising, memberships in the Great Lakes Historical Society, the museum’s parent organization, and state grants will pay for most of the construction work.

The biggest expense so far has been to move the SS Col. James. M. Schoonmaker (once called the Willis B. Boyer) from its berth near the Anthony Wayne Bridge to a new slip located adjacent to the museum. That $3 million cost was paid for by the State of Ohio.

The ship, once the largest freighter on the Great Lakes, was built in 1911. It has been repainted and is an integral component to the museum experience.

The museum will open to the public Saturday at 10 a.m. Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins will speak at 9:30 along with other dignitaries.

A number of special events will be held this year, Kolin said. They include a family fun day on July 4th with the viewing of Toledo’s fireworks from the deck of the Schoonmaker; an antique boat and classic car show Aug. 24 and 25; a clam bake on Sept. 20 and the Boo-on-the-Boat Halloween night in October.

Adult tickets are $12 for admission to the museum and the Schoonmaker and $11 for children 6-18 and seniors over 65.

A feasibility study predicts the museum will attract some 41,000 visitors annually. It will also serve as an educational resource for The Maritime Academy of Toledo, a charter school that employs nautical themes to teach traditional subjects to students enrolled in grades 5-12. Rick Brown, director of the career tech education program, said the museum will provide learning opportunities in seamanship and shipbuilding for his students, as well as for other Toledo area schools.

The National Museum of the Great Lakes had been located in Vermilion, but Gillcrist said the Great Lakes Historical Society was looking for a site where it could expand and attract more visitors. Toledo was chosen because of its maritime history, the Schoonmaker museum ship, and the newly constructed but vacant Toledo Marina building. Access from the Veterans Glass City Skyway on I-280 and visibility were other factors. So were other cultural attractions such as the Toledo Museum of Art and Imagination Station.


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