1900-1910: Oil and agirculture keep Findlay’s economy going
By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The first decade of the 20th century dawned with great hope and promise.
The New York Times said: “We step upon the threshold of 1900 … facing a still brighter dawn of civilization.”
The Cheyenne Sun-Leader: “Never has a year been ushered in with more promise.”
As it turned out, those really were “good old days.”
The Wright Brothers made the first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Henry Ford introduced the Model T, the first affordable automobile.
Robert E. Peary planted the American flag at the North Pole.
The turn of the century also brought significant advances to Findlay.
Oil, which had been discovered 20 years earlier, was responsible for much of the community’s progress during this period.
An important event for the city’s future occurred early in the decade when Ohio Oil Co. consolidated its Oil City, Pa., and Findlay offices, making Findlay the general headquarters. This decision brought a large number of employees and their families to the community, which boasted a population of 17,613 during the early 1900s.
“I think Ohio Oil kept the town going when local natural gas wells petered out,” said Paulette Weiser, former curator/archivist at the Hancock Historical Museum.
“People thought the gas would last forever. They never thought it would end,” she said. “Ohio Oil kept things going — that and agriculture were the basis for the economy at that time.”
The company purchased the Presbyterian Church property at the corner of South Main and East Hardin streets. The old church was replaced with a three-story office building.
The Buckeye Traction Ditcher Co. also was established in Findlay early in the decade. It became the largest tile ditching and construction trenching company for nearly 50 years. About 700 Buckeye steam traction ditchers were built and shipped from Findlay before 1910.
Many construction projects were completed during the decade.
Findlay’s first high school building was finished on West Main Cross Street, currently the site of Central Middle School, at a cost of $54,277. High school classes previously had met on the third floor of the old Central School building on East Sandusky Street. Voters approved construction of the new school building in 1899, and the first classes were held there in 1901.
In a related matter, the high school obtained its first permanent athletic field on a strip of land east of the Main Street bridge. High school students raised $350 to pay for the lease on the land. The site was originally used by the Wyandot Indians for games and contests. Later, the “Wigwam” stood there. That 3,000-seat structure served as an opera house from 1887 until it was razed in 1893.
The YMCA, which had been located in the Cass Block on South Main Street, purchased two lots at East Sandusky and Beech streets in 1902. The public donated $25,000 to renovate an existing brick house at the site. A large gymnasium and swimming pool were added the following year for $30,000.
The 20-year-old Findlay municipal building on Court and Broadway was replaced early in the 1900s. Throughout its construction, the new building caused headaches for the city fathers. The discovery of quicksand under the north end of the building required additional work. In April 1902, a taxpayers’ suit was filed to stop the project. Then the cornerstone was misplaced.
When the building was finally occupied, the wiring was insufficient to carry the load, and the floors developed cracks. The electric lights were removed and gas lights installed, to be replaced sometime later by electric lights again.
The Home and Hospital of the City of Findlay, the ancestor of Blanchard Valley Hospital, was rebuilt after the South Main Street structure was gutted by fire in 1899. The French Home, as it was known, actually started during the gas boom as the Findlay Home for Friendless Women and Children to help unwed mothers and their children.
The source of the city’s water supply changed in the early 1900s. Instead of relying on private wells for homes, and the Blanchard River for firefighting, city officials acquired a number of artesian wells on Limestone Ridge and pumped the water nine miles west to Findlay. Water was piped into the waterworks plant on McManness Avenue and from there to the city mains.
The new water supply gave Findlay a new slogan: “The city of pure water and low taxes.”
Several prominent physicians and capitalists considered erecting a large sanitarium in the city and making Findlay a health resort, using the pure spring water as a selling point.
“Since this Limestone Ridge water is being used in the city there has been so little sickness that if it were not for the many old grannies who think that they are sick and having nothing but the hysterics, I and many of my brother practitioners would starve,” said a South Main Street physician in 1908.
The interurban lines made their debut during the decade. Three electric street car lines were financed and developed with Findlay as the hub. The lines carried passengers and freight to and from Toledo, Lima, Wapakoneta, Cygnet, Maumee, Dayton, North Baltimore, Bowling Green, Fostoria and Pemberville.
A special ceremony was held Dec. 30, 1905, when a golden spike was driven at the corner of South Main and Lima streets to complete the connecting of electric railway systems of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania. The act joined some 70 interurban lines with a total of 3,700 miles, representing an investment of $100 million.
Hancock County was voted dry (the sale of intoxicating beverages was prohibited) in 1908 under the Rose law, which had just been enacted in Ohio and allowed counties to vote to outlaw the sale of liquor.
Findlay also was made a first-class post office in 1909 when postal receipts topped the $40,000 mark.
The Findlay Publishing Co. was organized in 1904. The old weekly Jeffersonian newspaper was merged with the Weekly Republican under the name Republican-Jeffersonian. The Morning Republican newspaper continued as a daily, and the evening Jeffersonian continued as a separate paper until Jan. 1, 1911, when it was discontinued.
Riverside Park came into being during the early 1900s at the city’s original waterworks area. The resort was named in a contest conducted by the Morning Republican newspaper and soon became a popular site with residents. The park featured amusement rides, boats and concessions.
“I don’t think people realize the significance the park had when it was new. I think it would rival Cedar Point today,” said Weiser.
“There were so many things to do,” she said. “People came from miles around to go to the park.”
In the days before automobiles, boats carried visitors from the Main Street bridge to Riverside Park. A large boat called the Pastime was the queen of the fleet. The paddle-wheeler could transport up to 250 passengers at a time. The smokestack of the ship was hinged so that it could be folded down while passing under bridges.
Motion pictures made their debut at the park’s House of Mirth in 1907. The building was a former dancing pavilion that was moved to the park from Mortimer, and seats were purchased from the Grand Theater on North Main Street.
One of the park’s more popular amusements, for a brief time, was called Shoot-the-Chute. Flat-bottomed boats carried passengers down a 75-foot-tall chute into the water at the north end of the old reservoir. But tragedy struck just five weeks after the ride opened. One of the boats tipped over and Clark G. Sponsler of North Baltimore was killed. The ride was later closed and dismantled.
The city’s first chautauqua was held at the park in 1906. Admission for the week’s worth of cultural entertainment was $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for children. Speakers included Sen. Robert LaFollette, Toledo Mayor Brand Whitlock and labor leader Eugene V. Debs.
On the city’s west side, Byal Park was established as a site for religious gatherings in 1900. The property was located in the vicinity of Hurd and West McPherson avenues and Stadium Drive. Leaders of a religious association announced plans to erect a number of buildings there, including a hotel.
Findlay residents were treated to other entertainment as well. The Majestic Theater was built in 1906 on South Main Street for stage shows. The Mystic and the Victory were among the early silent film houses.
A growing interest in the game of golf prompted the beginnings of the Findlay Country Club in 1908-09. The organization purchased land in Findlay Heights on the Blanchard River. A small clubhouse was erected and a nine-hole golf course was laid out at the site.
In 1909, race car driver Barney Oldfield exhibited his skills at the Findlay Driving Park which was located on Tiffin Avenue, across from Riverside Park. At the time, Oldfield held the title of the world’s champion auto driver. He broke his own record while in Findlay, covering the one-mile course in one minute and 6¾ seconds.
In politics, Ralph D. Cole of Findlay was elected to represent the 8th Congressional District. He went on to serve three terms in Congress, losing the nomination for a fourth term to Frank B. Willis of Ada, who later became governor of Ohio.