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Spangler Candy Factory in Bryan, Ohio, man­u­fac­tures Dum Dums, Jelly Bean, and Smarties. Facebook.

The only prison museum within a walled, oper­ating prison in the nation is in Jackson, Michigan, a town Hillsdale College stu­dents typ­i­cally asso­ciate with sushi pil­grimages.

Bryan, Ohio, a town smaller than Hillsdale, man­u­fac­tures Dum Dums, candy canes, and circus peanuts (yes, you read that right).

“It’s not really true that we live in the middle of nowhere,” Pro­fessor of History David Stewart said.

More than 40 his­torical sites are within driving dis­tance of Hillsdale — not just creaky homes with beau­tiful archi­tecture and mem­o­ra­bilia, but also a restored park with summer con­certs in Hillsdale, a railroad museum with three func­tioning steam engines, a one-room school­house in Litch­field, a school­house with 99 working organs in Adrian, and a library donated by Andrew Carnegie — that Carnegie.  

“You’ve probably been to some sort of his­torical village growing up,” Stewart said. “But have you been to a candy factory? A prison? Probably not.”

Local history exhibits allows us to step outside the typical Hillsdale bubble, Stewart said. Some exhibits, like the Cell Block 7 Museum in Jackson, Michigan, take vis­itors out of their comfort zones and chal­lenge their per­spec­tives by placing them where they’d never imagine finding them­selves: prison.

People have lived and worked within and around the walls of Michigan’s first prison, Michigan State Prison, for more than 175 years, since it opened as a handful of log cabins in 1839. After the com­pletion of the walled prison in 1934, it could house 6,000 inmates, becoming (briefly) the largest walled prison in the world. Pris­oners lived in Cell Block 7 until 2007.

Penny Shanks is the daughter of Perry Johnson, a retired deputy warden of the Jackson Prison. She jokes that she grew up in prison because the prison would provide its wardens with housing.

During the ’80s, riots in Detroit put the city in marshal law. As a young girl, Shanks remembers seeing busload after busload of rioters who were arrested without due process and carted off to prison, where the overflow forced them to build tent cities.

“Cell Block 7 is def­i­nitely worth the day trip for people to go see and expe­rience,” Shanks said. “They walk you through like you’re a prisoner being processed.”

Vis­itors give up their belongings, and depending on the tour guide, might even hear all the doors clang shut either at once, or one at a time — a sound that made a lasting impression on Shanks.

Within these walls, history has prac­tical impli­ca­tions on debates about impris­onment and pun­ishment.

“Why is recidivism so high?” Stewart asked. Adopting the persona of a Hillsdale student vis­iting and encoun­tering the reality of jail for the first time, he said: “Oh, at least now I can under­stand. That doesn’t nec­es­sarily change my view, but now I can under­stand crit­icism of con­ser­v­ative views.”

These prison walls do talk, telling stories about famous events like one of Jackson’s biggest prison riots, in 1952, and Dale Otto Remling’s infamous heli­copter escape in 1975.

“I could feel the depression oozing out of these walls,” he said.

Not only does history chal­lenge opinions, but small-town his­torical sites sur­rounding the college embody the values Hillsdale instills through Western and American Her­itage readings and the prin­ciples stu­dents learn from them.

Spangler Candy Factory, Bryan, Ohio:

Love Dum Dums? Ever won­dered, ‘How do they make lol­lipops?’

A $5 trolley tour through the Spangler Candy Factory, which smells like heaven if heaven includes lol­lipops, will tell you, and more impor­tantly will give you free samples.

Stewart keeps a limited-edition bag of Dum Dums with summer flavors, like s’mores and funnel cake, in his desk drawer. He pulled them out and asked: “Everybody’s heard of Dum Dums, but did you know they’re made in a small town in Ohio that’s smaller than Hillsdale?” Each day, the factory pro­duces 12 million Dum Dums, 500,000 Saf-T-Pops, the loop-handled lol­lipops, and 1.5 million candy canes — including Jelly Bean and Smarties.

“It’s not all Chicago, New York,” Stewart said. “This is a small town that did some­thing big.”

Mrs. Stock’s Park, Hillsdale, Michigan:

Mrs. Stock’s Park is a local gem with a history.  

Dianne Miller, a master gar­dener with her own local design business, has been involved with the park for 13 years.

Despondent over the loss of three children, Mrs. Stock decided she needed a project.

She looked at the “snake-infested, mucky, nasty” swamp she could see from her house, and resolved to pull on her boots over her turn-of-the-century skirts, clean the swamp up, and make a park. And so she did.

Fast forward to the early 2000s, when MaryAnne MacRitchie decided it was time to clean the swamp again — this time, of all the building sup­plies, old Christmas trees, tires, branches, and clip­pings towns­people had dumped in the park, and the wild, over­grown trees and shrubbery that had seeded every­where.

“For a place that had been taken care of for a long time, when no one takes care of it, it reverts back to the wild,” Miller said. “Seeds come in, and it doesn’t help that people dump their trash there, it goes to pot.” The first cleanup took 15 dump truck loads.

Miller got her hands dirty once MacRitchie approached her for help designing the park and choosing the plants.

The current project involves clearing trees and shrubs from the back of the park, which orig­i­nally was too dense to see through.

“We’ve made very good headway,” Miller said. “We even hired a part-time man to come in and do some of the heavy digging. A bunch of grandmas get tired after a few years of working in the park.”

Little River Railroad, Cold­water, Michigan:

Ded­i­cated to the restoration and preser­vation of his­toric railroad equipment, the Little River Railroad offers 90-minute rides in early nine­teenth-century pas­senger car­riages pulled by a 4 – 6-2 Pacific steam loco­motive. They occa­sionally have themed rides, including train rob­beries, murder mys­teries, and sea­sonal crafts.

Pas­sengers can take a ride on one of three working steam trains at Little River Railroad. Stewart rec­om­mended it as a “little laidback date thing, some­thing dif­ferent than just going to a museum.”

For Stewart, stu­dents can learn lessons from the local his­torical sites, which ven­erate the everyman’s labor and thus, humanize history.

“There’s a ten­dency at Hillsdale to see the epic — the founders, the men of World War II — but those building the rail­roads also made history,” Stewart said. “We lose sight of the both-and: We see pres­i­dents George Wash­ington, Abraham Lincoln, and Dwight D. Eisen­hower, and then nothing happens.”

Litch­field one-room school house, Litch­field, Michigan:

Like many of the country schools, the Litch­field one-room school­house was aban­doned as school systems con­sol­i­dated in the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies.

“It sat there, was bought and made into a home, and turned into a dump before we bought the property in the ’60s,” Rosemary Chapman said. She had pur­chased the property that included the school­house, and went to work ridding the yard of junk.

Chapman helped form the Litch­field His­torical Society and even­tually, the Michigan His­torical State Com­mission approved the building as a museum in the ’90s.

Now, fourth graders from local schools visit and spend the day learning as they would have more than 100 years ago, using slates and the McGuffey reader — and an out­house. The boys don’t mind using it, but the girls do, she said.

But interest in the Litch­field His­torical Society and the school has been waning, Chapman said, a larger trend that Stewart also noted.

“Nationally, museum atten­dance is a huge concern,” Stewart said. “Atten­dance is actually up at offbeat or large museums, but locally, atten­dance is dropping. The bigger concern, however, is that funding is down.”  

Chapman agrees, lamenting that it takes so much money to get any­thing done.

“Everyone has dif­ferent interests,” she said. “We’re trying to keep people inter­ested in pre­serving the history. There aren’t that many school­houses that remain — a lot were made into homes.”

Finally, local history adds nuance to general state­ments about his­torical periods. Stewart said the intro­ductory courses treat history in broad, sweeping gen­er­al­iza­tions — we did Charle­magne in 30 minutes — but local history exhibits and museums allow us to encounter what makes Adrian dif­ferent from Cold­water, for example.

At first, history major junior Jacob Petersen wasn’t sold on Stewart’s idea of seeking to find what dis­tin­guishes one small Michigan town from the other.

“It’s a con­ser­v­ative thing,” Stewart said.

  • Karen A. Hartley

    I see nothing in this article that would draw me to Hillsdale. Every­thing inter­esting is some­where else. Don’t get me wrong I love living here small town, quiet,safe, friendly etc; but we have nothing to offer vis­itors. Only 2 family restau­rants, 1hotel, 1 motel no activ­ities for kids other than skating or a movie, no family activ­ities at all. And as inter­esting as the history of Stocks park is all you can do there is have a picnic, go for a walk, set with friends and visit, nothing anyone would come to Hillsdale to see. Sorry just my opinion, your trying to hard to make Hillsdale some­thing it isn’t.