Norwalk's West Main Street Walking Tour marks its 20th birthday this year. The Firelands Historical Society originated the free tours in 1987 to mark Historic Preservation Month and to keep people aware of Norwalk's West Main Street Historic District.
In 1974 the Historic District was created through the efforts of two people Evangelene Miller, of Norwalk, the Huron County Administrator and secretary to the County Commissioners, along with Eric Johannsen, the district preservationist for the state. He worked from the Western Reserve Historical Society headquarters in Cleveland.
The District started with the Public Library, Firelands Museum and Universalist Church at the east end, and ended at the 200 block of West Main just short of West Street (which is not Northwest and Southwest as some people write it; it actually is North West and South West. Sorry, but that is one of my pet peeves!) Going back to the Historic District, we lost the Universalist Church to the wrecker's ball several years ago at 39 West Main St.
A perpetual question is why the district does not extend to West Street. At the time I was told that the last several houses were built in the 20th century and didn't meet the criteria of the National Register but I would have tried to include them, had I been in charge. I do bow to the superior knowledge of Johannsen, however; he knew everything about creating historic districts that I do not know.
The historic marker signs at either end of the district were placed there in 1979 by the American Association of University Women who held a series of house tours to raise the money. Those tours were very popular, just as the Christmas tours are which are sponsored by the Firelands Historical Society.
In 1987, the Historical Society devised a brochure after extensive research on each property and planned the first tour for May, which is Historic Preservation Month. I've participated in the tours every year and there has been great weather, fair weather, and lousy weather. Our reward as guides is the interest and gratitude of those who attend, and their generosity to the Historical Society for our time and effort.
The oldest building in the District is the Whyler House at 108 West Main St. It was built in 1826 by local carpenter John Sharp for John Whyler. Whyler was a merchant and had a general store in the southwest front room. As late as 1833 reservation American Indians from near Upper Sandusky came to trade with their friend Whyler, who they trusted to be honest with them.
The Historic District lays within a land division called the Starr and Canfield Tract. Messrs. Starr and Canfield were fire sufferers who sold their claim to three Connecticut men named Tweedy, White and Hoyt who surveyed it into five and 10-acre lots, which were narrow to Main Street and then extended back far enough to allow for a small woodlot, pasture for a horse or cow, and plenty of garden space. This put the original West Main Street houses in a suburban setting back from the street with lawns around them.
If you're not busy May 6 and are able to do so, try the Walking Tour. It's an entertaining and informative afternoon if I must say so myself.