Churches make great road trip stops. They’re often beautiful, usually quiet, and frequently home to someone willing to sit down and chat for a while about what’s going on and what’s interesting in the locale.
We stopped at one such, the Saint Alphonsus church outside of Norwalk, Ohio, to visit a cabin on the grounds. It was a blustery January day and what followed was one of those all too common stories about one thing leading to another.
The church had come up on our radar because it has, on its grounds, a log cabin built by Saint John Neumann.
Continuing Off the Beaten Path in Ohio
The cabin is delightful, well maintained with a large open meeting room in which a circle of rocking chairs invites visitors to sit and visit or simply contemplate this space in which the first male Catholic saint in the USA taught and preached for several years.
Around the walls are a library and a small gift shop. Even on this uninviting day, the building was open and warm.
Two more buildings sit on the grounds, as does a well-used baseball field. One of the buildings is a tiny chapel dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi.
It offers seating for six, so is likely meant for prayer and reflection rather than celebrating masses.
It was in the last building, a sort of garage and workshop, that the second part of the story begins. Parked in the open side is a wagon, intended to be pulled by a horse.
A note nearby indicates that it was made in 1885 by Andrew Fisher. Andrew was a blacksmith who had emigrated from Germany and whose eight sons worked with him in his shop and expanded the business to include wagon and carriage building.
In 1891 Andrew’s son Albert bought a partnership in a carriage factory in Detroit, which had become a center of manufacturing.
Standard Wagon Works, Fisher’s company, built the delivery wagons for the Detroit Daily News. A local inventor asked them to build a body for something he called Ford’s Contraption. It was satisfactory and Ford ordered fifty more.
You can see what’s coming, right? The Fisher Body logo, featuring a carriage, was fixed to each of the vehicles coming off the line at Ford’s new factory. In 1910 Fisher built 150 bodies for Cadillac, by which time they had perfected closed bodies.
In 1916 they added roll-down windows, and in 1919 were acquired by General Motors. Six of the seven Fisher brothers served as vice-presidents of GM, the last retiring in 1969.
John Neumann, at five feet two, was never more than a middling horseman, though he and his horse did become fast friends even after the beast had eaten a large bucket of botanical specimens Neumann had prepared for shipment back to Germany.
It’s quite likely that the horse pulled this wagon, a Fisher body built before there were cars, along the country roads of northeast Ohio, out here off the beaten path.
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