When A Duke Visited Lancaster and Left his Mark on Mount Pleasant

After its founding, Lancaster quickly rose in prominence and was seen as one of the most important cities in Ohio. Not only the county seat of Fairfield County, it was also considered to be the home of some of the greatest legal minds in the area. With names such as Sherman, Ewing, Hunter, and Stanbery leading the profession it was easy to see why. Needless to say, this sort of prominence attracted numerous visits from dignitaries over the years. One of these dignitaries was a Duke from Germany who fought in the Battle of Waterloo.

Duke Carl Bernhard of Germany in military dress.

Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, German Duke in his military dress, 1792 – 1862.

Carl Bernhard, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (Germany), was the second son of the Grand Duke Karl August. He is remembered for being a brave and capable soldier who served in several critical battles in European history. The most well-known among these is the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Waterloo is famous for being the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars which ended Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of France.

Ten years after this historic victory, Duke Carl Bernhard took a hiatus from military life and travelled to the United States. Between 1825-1826, he visited several cities across the country. One of those cities was Lancaster, Ohio, which had a large German population very eager to meet the Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.

Arriving in Lancaster, the Duke stayed in Steinman’s Hotel, one of the many inns owned or operated by German immigrant Gotleib Steinman. Another German immigrant, Judge Jacob Dietrich, offered to be the Duke’s guide around the city which he graciously accepted.

Dietrich started “The Ohio Eagle” in 1809. It was a newspaper that was printed in both English and German. The German version was called “Der Ohio Adler.” Bernhard described Dietrich as being “…an agreeable, plain and well-informed man.” The Duke had a lot of descriptions about the city of Lancaster that are fascinating to look at today.

Duke Carl Bernhard of Germany, in later years.

Duke Carl Bernhard of Germany, in later years.

Bernhard described Lancaster as being “…handsomely situated on the side of a hill on the Hockhocking River,” with “…nearly 2,000 inhabitants, living by retail commerce, farming and cattle raising…The streets of the town are wide and rectangular; the courthouse is a brick building; there is also a market-house of brick, and above it a lodge for Free-Masons.”

The Duke was introduced to several of Lancaster’s merchants and visited their stores which seemed to impress him. “Such a store in America contains a great variety of articles: all kinds of dry-goods, porcelain, earthware, glasses, stationary, implements of husbandry, iron wares, saddlery, and spirits…also school-books, bibles, and psalm-books.”

Judge Dietrich also gave Bernhard a tour of the newspaper printing-office that he founded, Der Ohio Adler. Bernhard read about 12 different German papers, published in the United States, that were found in the office. The Duke felt that most of the papers were “…mostly written in corrupted German; the only well written one, was edited in Philadelphia, by Mr. Ritter.”

Following a tour of a cloth factory that belonged to Mr. Risey, Dietrich took Bernhard to visit the county jail. His description of the jail is as follows: “We visited the county jail, a brick building, the interior has partitions made of strong beams, separating obscure cells; a dark and miserable hole called the dungeon, was destined for solitary confinement; there was but a single prisoner, and for debt.” Following this tour of the jail, the Duke was introduced to one of Lancaster’s most famous residents, Judge Charles Sherman.

Monument located in the Netherlands, dedicated to Duke Carl Bernhard. It stands about 50 feet tall and the sides bear a bronze portrait medallion of the Duke. Inscriptions include, "a brave and prudent warrior" and "protector of art and science."

Monument located in the Netherlands, dedicated to Duke Carl Bernhard. It stands about 50 feet tall and the sides bear a bronze portrait medallion of the Duke. Inscriptions include, “a brave and prudent warrior” and “protector of art and science.”

Charles Sherman, the father of General William Sherman, invited Bernhard to tea. As was often the case at this time, dignitaries seemed to always find their way to the home of Charles and Mary Sherman and this visit was no exception. Their home on Main Street, now the Sherman House Museum, was referred to as “the little brown house on the hill” and was known as the center of hospitality. The Duke called Charles Sherman “one of the most respectable inhabitants of the place.” Following tea, Bernhard, Sherman, Dietrich, and others walked to Lancaster’s iconic landmark, Mount Pleasant.

Duke Carl Bernhard description of Mount Pleasant is as follows: “…three sides presents steep cliffs; this mountain is only accessible from one side, through a forest and hollow between rocks. From the top of the mountain the town seems to lay below your feet, and is surrounded with fenced fields; this point being one of the highest in this hilly country, the prospect would be very handsome if the eye could perceive anything but woods.” Before leaving, Bernhard decided to carve his name into the sandstone. Unfortunately, the carving has long-since eroded away but we can always remember the time that a Duke of Germany left his mark on the city of Lancaster almost two centuries ago.

If you enjoyed this story, read more from Michael Johnson by becoming a supporting member of the Fairfield County Heritage Association. He authors the Association’s quarterly publication which includes stories like this one.

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Filed under: Histories & Mysteries, Life, News, People
Michael R. Johnson, marketing director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association based in Lancaster, Ohio.

By Michael Johnson

Lancaster native Michael Johnson is the Marketing Director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association and serves as editor of the Heritage Quarterly – a magazine highlighting local history. Michael is a member of the Sherman Rotary and the Lancaster Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. His bachelor’s degree in history education was earned at Ohio University. Michael is married to Tara Johnson and has two children, Isaac and Mia.