Ohio Long Rifle Exhibit opens today

MARIETTA – During the early days of the burgeoning Northwest Territory, settlers had to rely on long rifles to defend their families.

“They brought whatever they had with them from New England to fight off Indian attacks, bears or somebody’s jealous husband,” joked Warren Offenberger of Reno, a founding member of the Association of Ohio Long Rifle Collectors.

Some of those antique firearms will be on display this weekend at the 38th annual Ohio Long Rifle Exhibit, sponsored by the AOLRC, a group formed in Marietta in the 1970s, which now boasts membership in half a dozen states.

“We will have collectors from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and West Virginia,” Offenberger said.

The annual event was originally held at the Campus Martius Museum but eventually needed more space and moved to its current location at the Lafayette Hotel.

“We had it at the museum for about five or six years and we outgrew it, which is a good thing,” said Bill Reynolds, museum historian and another founding member of the group. “What I love about this event is that you have people who have invested all this money and hard work in researching (the guns) and are willing to bring it all out. The public would never see it otherwise.”

These types of guns went out of favor around the time of the Civil War, when cartridge guns were more the norm, according to Offenberger. But now a lot of the long rifles are highly sought after.

“There was a real resurgence in the 1930s by collectors and now they are very expensive,” he said.

Some of these antique firearms can range in value from $1,200 to $120,000, said Bob Bedilion, an AOLRC member and collector.

Bedilion, who is retired and supported in his hobby by his family, said he collects long rifles as an art form.

“I like something if, when I pick it up, it speaks to me,” he said. “I look at the architecture, workmanship and if I can get some idea of the history.”

While there won’t be a lot to buy at this exhibit, Bedilion said he acquires his pieces at shows and through word of mouth.

“I’ve been at this long enough (25 years), that others know what I like and what I might be interested in,” he said.

He has a few Ohio-made pieces as he tends to collect guns from Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Association of Ohio Long Rifle Collectors has documented 2,500 working gunsmiths in Ohio, including quite a few locally. The names Alexander McGirr, John Vincent and Harden and Wiley Applebay might be of interest in anyone looking for tidbits of local history.

“These are all Ohio rifles which were handcrafted using very primitive tools,” Offenberger said.

Some of the locally available materials included tiger maple and walnut for the wood, iron and brass, said Bedilion.

The exhibit is open to all ages and adults will pay $5 to get in. The event will be today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lafayette Hotel.