History in a tiny wood cabin
If walls could talk, the ones on the inside of the Ohio Company Land Office building behind the Campus Martius Museum would tell stories of when Rufus Putnam and his associates toiled over piles of maps and paperwork in the tiny wood cabin more than two centuries ago.
Built in 1788 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, the Ohio Company Land Office building is not only an integral part of Marietta’s historic district, but is the oldest standing building in the entire state.
Today, the building once used for conducting the business of expanding the United States is now part of the Campus Martius museum, open to travelers, school children and locals who want a sneak peek into Marietta’s history.
“As buildings go, it has an interesting history because most buildings are built and they stay there, but this one is always being moved,” said Campus Martius historian Bill Reynolds. “It’s been moved more than a mobile home.”
Built in 1788 by Aaron Clough and Charles Green, the small cabin was moved from its original location near the intersection of Third and Washington streets to the edge of the Washington Street Bridge, where it remained until the 1950s.
“There was concern that people driving over would toss a cigarette or something over it and it’d catch fire,” Reynolds said. “So they moved it again to its current location in the 1950s, and it’s been here ever since.”
Given to the Ohio Historical Society, now the Ohio History Connection, in 1953, the building has been repurposed several times in its 226-year history.
“Until Jefferson was president, (Rufus) Putnam was survey general of the United States, and he had a lot of responsibility for all of the expansion of the country, and the land office is where he did all that work,” Reynolds said.
The Land Office was built after the Ohio Company of Associates, founded by Rufus Putnam, landed at Marietta in 1788, and the company and its members are credited with becoming the first non-Native American group to settle in the present day state of Ohio.
In 1824, the building was purchased by Arius Nye and for the next several years, his family used it as a study and library and was adapted as a residential property in 1866.
“The inside wood working was replaced by the Marietta Chair Company, who also did the siding, in the early 1900s,” Reynolds said. “The original window openings are still in, and the areas where the original fireplace sat.”
A burnt looking area of wood near the floor indicates where a wood-burning stove used to sit, and crumbling wallpaper tells a story of when the Nyes used the building.
“And we’ve had to replace windows several times of course, but we always try to salvage as much of the original glass as possible,” Reynolds said.
The small, frugal building was a sign of the architecture of the time, and Reynolds said one can only imagine how cluttered it would have been.
“The first law courts in the Northwest Territory convened within its walls…and it was where the companies built the first maps of the Northwest Territory,” wrote Lynn Sturtevant in her book, “A Guide to Historic Marietta, Ohio.”
Today, the building still falls under the protection of Campus Martius, only not in the capacity of wartime protection.
“We have school groups in here where we break them up into small groups, and we host authors who have written books about this place and about surveying here,” said Campus Martius Education Director Glenna Hoff.
The building is open for museum visitors during its regular hours, a popular destination that’s front facade has been printed on thousands of Marietta post cards.
“It definitely gets used quite a bit still, just for a different purpose,” Hoff said.
Reynolds said the building’s significance often gets overlooked, as past presidents like William McKinley and William Howard Taft have visited, along with a long list of important guests.
“All of the ‘who’s who’ in Marietta have all visited here, and have all walked through those doors,” he said.