Disclosure: This post was written in partnership with Ohio. Find It Here and the Wood County Museum.
I wasn’t a good student growing up. I had a hard time paying attention, liked to talk, and lost interest almost immediately if I wasn’t engaged.
And of all the subjects I despised, history was at the top of my list. I hated, and I mean hated history when I was in high school. If there was ever a subject that made me want to rip out my hair one strand at a time, then it was history.
Imagine my surprise when two of our three kids developed the love of history I never had when my husband and I decided to home-school our kids! Somehow, along the way, I developed a fondness and appreciation for the subject I had once despised. Crazy, huh?
So, how did this history-hating mom raise kids who not only appreciated but genuinely enjoyed learning about history?
My husband and I took a very hands-on approach to teach our kids. While we still used textbooks, we paired them with a ton of field trips and hands-on activities. If our kids had an interest, then we tried to find real-life applications for them to learn from. In the process, we’ve visited hundreds of museums across the country and learned from docents, historians and curators who have been passionate about their museum collections.
This journey leads me to Wood County.
Things to do in Bowling Green, Ohio
While I live less than two hours away, Bowling Green, Ohio, is not a destination I’ve explored. So, when I was invited to check it out for Ohio. Find It Here. with a friend, I was excited to see what the county had to offer. I was not disappointed.
Wood County Museum
Our first stop was the Wood County Museum, formerly known as the Wood County Historical Museum.
The Wood County Museum is part of the Wood County Parks District system and sits on 50 well-cared-for acres just off I-75. If you’re road-tripping through northwest Ohio, then this would be the ideal spot to pull over and rest your legs. Plus, if you’re traveling by RV, then you’ll appreciate knowing this museum is part of the Harvest Hosts program.
While the grounds have a lot to explore, the real gem is the beautiful, historically preserved brick structure that served as the Wood County Infirmary, aka the county poorhouse or farm.
Located on the National Register of Historic Places, this property is of significance because it is one of the last county poorhouse sites in Ohio where you can still see most of the original structures. In addition to the poorhouse, you’ll find the Pestilence House, Ice House, Lunatic Asylum and several other structures, as well as a nature trail, herb garden and the Pauper Cemetery.
The poorhouse and farm operated as a home for those who needed public charities in Wood County from 1869 to 1971 and was the precursor to the modern nursing home.
Originally, the infirmary cared for citizens who were unable to provide basic necessities for themselves for a number of reasons: physical disabilities, mental challenges, job loss, age or an inability to work because of illness or other circumstances.
The property was a self-sufficient farm that was run by physically able inmates or residents as well as hired hands. This model reduced some of the operating costs and served as therapy for those who were able to do the work.
After the Great Depression, social and welfare reforms required the orphans, mentally infirm and homeless to be moved to new specialized facilities, and the Wood County poorhouse essentially became a nursing home.
Unlike other poorhouses in Ohio and around the country, the Wood County Infirmary was managed by families that truly cared for the residents and was generally a happy place.
The Wood County Museum opened in 1975 to preserve and tell the history of Wood County and the poor farm, thanks to the extensive records that were kept of those who lived in the home and families that ran the institution.
Today, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the facility and current exhibits.
For Comfort and Convenience: Public Charity in Ohio by Way of the Poor Farm
This four-time award-winning exhibit features the photographs of Bowling Green local Jeff Hall who traveled over 5,000 miles throughout the state to photograph all remaining former county poorhouses in Ohio. In addition to the photographs, you’ll learn more about life in the poorhouse through interpretive signage.
This exhibit inspired me to see as many of the remaining poorhouses in the state as possible, and as someone who loves to tour historic homes (especially from the Gilded Age), it provides a stark contrast to the difference between the lavishly rich and poor in Ohio and throughout America.
UTOPIA: A Visual Storytelling of Our Home
This exhibit of 35 beautifully curated photos taken by Perrysburg native Taylor Houpt Ayres tells the story of Wood County from the backroads to cityscapes. Her photography is incredible and will inspire you to see more of Wood County. This exhibit was created in 2020 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Wood County becoming a county.
Visitors to the exhibit are encouraged to bring a photo that represents Wood County to leave on the corkboard for others to see.
People, Places and Things: 1,000 Photos
While Utopia looks toward the future, this exhibit looks to the past through this collection of images that is on display on the first floor of the infirmary. Locals will recognize the landmarks and maybe even some of the people in the photos.
The Mary and Carl Bach Story
This exhibit was not what I expected to see in the Wood County Museum, but it is also the exhibit that I can’t get out of my head. Partly because this is the type of exhibit that appeals to the roadside-attraction lover in me and partly because it is truly a tragic story.
Mary Bach had four children, was pregnant with her fifth and was seeking a divorce when she was violently killed by her husband, Carl, with a corn knife in 1881. During the vicious attack, which took place in front of her children, three of her fingers were severed and are now on display at the Wood County Museum.
In the past, many have visited the museum to see the severed digits, but thanks to the interpretive signage, you’re able to learn about the woman that these fingers belonged to. I can’t help but think that Mary was a brave woman seeking a better life for herself and her children when she was brutally murdered.
Other points of interest on the property include the Pestilence (or Pest) House that was built to house a male patient with tuberculosis and later for male residents with communicable diseases, such as scarlet fever and influenza. This exhibit is a reminder that there were pandemics prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lunatic Asylum was built in 1885 to house the mentally ill who came to the infirmary.
As an architecture fan, I enjoyed learning about the building itself and seeing the unique geometric porch that has been incorporated into the Wood County Museum logo.
I was fascinated about the history of the county homes, as I remember visiting my county’s poorhouse with my Girl Scout Troop when I was young. We visited to sing Christmas carols and serve cookies for several years. My plan is to learn more about the county homes and take a few photos when I visit different areas.
And since I always seek out weird attractions, I’d be lying if I said Mary Bach’s fingers didn’t intrigue me just a bit.
The property, museum and outbuildings are wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Wood County Museum
Address: 13660 County Home Road, Bowling Green, OH 43402
Cost: Adults over age 12 – $7
Senior, Student, Veteran, Active Military – $6
Youth (ages 6-12) – $3
Youth under age 5 – free
Plan to stay 1-2 hours based on interest.
Tip: The grounds open prior to the museum. Plan to arrive early to take a walk around and to visit the Pauper’s Cemetery.
Wood County Courthouse
When I knew I’d be visiting Bowling Green, I called and arranged a tour of the Wood County Courthouse. Little did I know there was actually a tie-in to the Wood County Museum through the Mary Bach murder.
Mary Bach’s fingers were on display at the courthouse for over 80 years when they were transferred to the museum along with the corn knife, noose and other items of significance to the case.
Carl was sentenced to death and hanged at the courthouse before a crowd of spectators who had purchased tickets to his execution. His execution was the last execution in the county.
Construction of the courthouse was completed in 1896 in the Richardsonian Romanesque-style architecture and is stunning both inside and out. Stroll along the exterior to spot dragons and gargoyles.
Look up on the left side of the main entrance to see Lady Justice flanked by Agriculture and Commerce.
The towering 185-foot clock was the second-largest clock in the United States when it was built.
Our tour guide was Matthew Reger who is passionate about people encouraging people to visit the courthouse not only to learn how the court system works but to also see the courthouse and learn about the history of the area.
You’ll learn so many cool facts about the courthouse when you visit that you’ll be surprised you never thought to visit before!
I’ll share more information about the Wood County Courthouse in another post.
The interior of the courthouse is equally impressive. My favorite features are the domed roof and two beautiful murals on the third floor that pay homage to the county’s history.
There is also a moving Military and Veteran’s Memorial on the courthouse lawn that not only honors those who have died in combat but also a memorial that recognizes those who have perished during training exercises and other incidents while serving the country.
Wood County Courthouse
Address: 1 Court House Square, Bowling Green, OH 43402
Plan to stay 30-45 minutes for a self-guided tour.
Tip: You’ll find a pamphlet just inside the main entrance to the left that provides information about the courthouse.
Carter Historic Farm
The Carter Historic Farm was our final stop of the day, and we arrived just in time for a potato harvesting demonstration.
This Great Depression-era working and living history farm is also operated by the Wood County Parks District. It boasts a farmhouse, barn, several outbuildings and a one-room schoolhouse.
The goal of the farm is to be completely self-sufficient. Everything on the farm has a purpose. From the food that is planted and harvested using pre-1940s equipment, to the barn cats that manage the rodent population, to the bricks that pave the floor of the barn. You’ll find little waste as “make it, make due or do without” was a mantra of many Americans prior to and after the Great Depression.
The tour of the farmhouse museum provided us with the history of the home and the Carter family who donated the land. We also learned about the work that would have been required to run a home and small farm in the 1930s.
The tour took about 30 minutes to go through each of the five rooms in the house that are open to the public. We learned that kitchens at that time were built for efficiency and were often pretty small, that feed sacks came in patterns so they could be repurposed into clothing, and that games weren’t advertised to kids until after WWII. We even had the opportunity to listen to the player piano.
The Zimmerman Schoolhouse was built in 1892 and closed in 1925 when Bowling Green began busing kids to the city. The schoolhouse was renovated in 1990 and moved in 2016 to the back of the Carter Historic Farm property. Guests can walk a short distance from the barn to the schoolhouse for a peek inside.
You’ll also find animals on the farm. Although you’ll be tempted, keep in mind that the Carter Historic Farm is not a petting zoo. Each of the animals on the farm serves a purpose – from providing wool to serving as a food source.
Touching the animals may be discouraged, but you’ll still have fun watching them during feeding time, which takes place at 3:30 p.m. every day. It only takes a few minutes to feed the chickens, barn cats, fainting goats and sheep, but it sure is fun to watch the animals come running!
The county courthouse isn’t the only attraction we visited that has a tie-in to the Wood County Museum! The Carter Historic Farm is connected to the museum too!
Remember how the Wood County Museum was originally a working poor farm? The museum recently donated some of the farm equipment to the Carter Historic Farm to be restored and used as pieces on the farm. The tractor featured below is one of those pieces of equipment.
The farm grounds are open daily, but if you’re interested in touring the farmhouse or Zimmerman Schoolhouse, then you’ll need to plan your visit during regular hours, which are Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. Groups are welcome to call to schedule a tour with at least one week’s notice.
The property is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible and plenty of parking is available for larger vehicles in the gravel parking lot.
I enjoyed learning more about the depression in Ohio as farmers in this region weren’t really affected like those out west. Maybe it’s the homeschool mom in me but I also enjoyed seeing the one room schoolhouse and imagine what it would have been like had my own kids grown up in this time period. Finally, the sheep and the farm cats were the cutest!
Carter Historic Farm
Address: 18331 Carter Road, Bowling Green, OH 43402
Cost: Free, fee for the farmhouse museum tour
Plan to spend 1-2 hours on the property.
Tip: If visiting with younger children, then grab one of the laminated scavenger hunt packets inside the farmhouse museum to use during your visit.
In addition to the attractions listed above, we also grabbed donuts at The Sweet Stop before we started our day and ordered stuffed breadsticks and pizza from Campus Pollyeyes for dinner. I’d suggest both as places to eat when in Bowling Green.
We encountered people who are passionate about teaching and preserving the history of Wood County at each of the attractions we visited – the Wood County Museum, Wood County Courthouse and Carter Historic Farm – and their passion is contagious.
I would highly suggest visiting each of these attractions when visiting Bowling Green or when passing through. I found each attraction to be fascinating. From local history to beautiful architecture to playing on the farm, you’ll find it in Wood County!
Have you visited Bowling Green? What tips do you have for us?