1900: Findlay catches breath after boom days
By J. STEVEN DILLON
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
William McKinley was president, the Cake Walk was the most fashionable dance, and Sigmund Freud’s paper, “Interpretation of Dreams,” was released.
Asa S. Bushnell was Ohio’s governor, Col. Ralph D. Cole was Hancock County’s representative to the state Legislature, and Erwin E. Ewing was the Hancock County sheriff. Charles E. Watson was Findlay’s mayor.
Roasted coffee and bacon were both 10 cents a pound, maple syrup 25 cents a quart, and the Findlay Daily Courier three cents an issue. One could buy a chinchilla jacket at a local clothier for $5.98 and a night at the Phoenix Inn cost $2.
Local residents had just voted to build a new high school on West Main Cross Street, and the Ohio Oil Co., which later became known as Marathon, was among businesses establishing what would be long roots in the community.
The year was 1899, and Findlay was about to enter the 20th century.
According to “Findlay, The Story of a Community” by William D. Humphrey, the pace of life in Hancock County at the turn of the century was considerably less hectic than it had been in the 1880s and 1890s, when the discovery of natural gas and then oil here had turned a village into a city almost overnight.
Findlay’s population in 1880 stood at 4,633 but had mushroomed by 1890 to 18,553. By 1900, census figures placed the local population at 17,613, marking the first decline in population since Fort Findlay was built on the banks of the Blanchard River in 1812.
At the turn of the century, Findlay was no longer a boom town. Most of the glass factories that came when cheap natural gas became available had closed, and many of the oil workers left for new fields which had been discovered in Illinois.
But Findlay did not exactly turn into a ghost town after the boom period, either. The finding of oil enabled the community to hold much of its gain, R.L. Heminger wrote in his book, “Across the Years in Findlay and Hancock County.”
A business directory from 1897 showed there were still 10 saloons in Findlay then, 29 physicians and 52 attorneys. Pattersons Department Store, Thomas Jewelers, Central Drug, and Fenstermaker Shoes were among the downtown businesses.
There were also nine restaurants and eight hotels, including the Arlington on North Main Street, the American on the courthouse square and the Benton, at Front and Main.
There were seven liveries and four banks, including Ohio Bank and First National, which would eventually become Fifth Third.
As is the case today, agriculture was a major business in the county.
Wheat, corn and oats were the main crops then, but all kinds of fruits and vegetables were grown here and could be found in local grocery stores, according to newspapers and a 1910 history of the area.
Hancock County hadn’t always been so suitable for farming, though. The problem of wet, swampy fields wasn’t eliminated until near the end of the 19th century, after the area’s enterprising farmers tiled nearly every field in the county.
The turn of the century found Findlay working to meet the needs of those who stayed after the gas and oil days.
A rise in crime during the boom days resulted in the formation of a city Police Department in 1888, and by 1900 the police force numbered 16 officers, nearly the same as the Fire Department, which then had two engine houses.
Natural gas was still plentiful in 1900, though more costly than in the preceding decades when it was practically given away, and the city also had electricity and its first telephone lines by then.
Water mains had been constructed throughout the city in 1889 and pumped water to homes from a waterworks on the Blanchard River near Riverside Park. Later, in 1904, the city turned to the Limestone Ridge, east of Findlay, for its water, leading more people to abandon their private wells.
One of the industries to establish itself near the turn of the century was the Ohio Oil Co., which turned out to be one of the main anchors of the community. The company had its origin in Lima in 1887 when oil was developing in northwestern Ohio. Early in the new century, Findlay became the home of the firm’s offices.
Other longtime businesses that were operating in Findlay at the turn of the century included Thomas Jewelers, Ohio Bank, Hancock Brick and Tile (later Hancor), all of which started in 1887, and the Chamberlain Cartridge and Target works, later Remington Arms (1889).
The Findlay Courier, first established in 1836, was one of eight daily or weekly newspapers being published in the city in 1900.
As a result of the boom activity, Findlay was said to have later enjoyed many of the benefits found at the time only in larger cities.
The center of Findlay’s business district during the latter years of the 1800s was the three-story Glass Block, located at the corner of West Sandusky and South Main streets. The building featured an extensive line of merchandise, from rugs to clothing to jewelry, and food was available. It had a sparkling fountain in the middle of the store that became a popular meeting place for many in the city.
The first movie houses also started to appear in Findlay early in the 20th century. One could see the latest thriller for a nickel shortly after the turn of the century at the Victory or Mystic theaters.
The Joy House was the city’s most notable hotel during the gas heyday and was the place visiting celebrities would stay while in Findlay.
The Blanchard River was a well-traveled waterway in those days. The city had its own navy, which ran a fleet of boats to transport people from the Main Street bridge to Riverside Park.
While most factories were located on the city’s north side and the central business district was confined mostly to a four-block area north and south of the river, homes were springing up in virtually all directions by 1900.
The most glamorous residences had first appeared along Sandusky Street, known originally as Back Street, and were constructed primarily for merchant owners. Later the city’s elite built along South Main Street.
While the west side of Main was built up first with homes (the east side was still being farmed), by the turn of the century homes could be found on both sides of the street as far south as Third Street.
Those traveling south on Main then would have seen many of the same residences found today.
Historian Linda Paul, who has done extensive research into local residential architecture, said nearly all of the homes were painted white, a color that became popular after the “White City” was featured as part of the 1883 World’s Fair in Chicago.
It wasn’t until later in the 20th century that many of Findlay’s grand Victorian homes began to show colored paint.
Visitors to Findlay in the late 1800s came primarily by train, the city being served by four railroads. The railroads also provided summertime day trips to such popular Lake Erie destinations as Cedar Point, Put-In-Bay and Lakeside.
Many of Findlay’s primary streets had been paved with brick by 1900.
Residents traveled city streets by horse, carriage, bike and later by streetcar.
The first streetcars, pulled by mules, arrived in the early 1880s and created the need for a new bridge over the Blanchard River in 1889.
The Findlay Railway, the largest of three street railway companies, used more than 500 mules and horses. In 1891, the company switched from animals to electricity, making Findlay one of the first communities in Ohio to introduce an electric system.
By 1900, Findlay was also connected to the outside world with three electric interurban lines, which linked the city to Toledo, Fostoria and Lima. Those lines continued operation here until driven out by the automobile.
Findlay College, now the University of Findlay, had already graduated 11 classes of students by the start of the new century. Tuition was $10 in those days, and tennis was the most popular sport on campus, according to Richard Kern’s “Findlay College, The First Hundred Years.”
By New Year’s Day 1900 , the city was in the midst of making plans for the construction of the first public building of the new century, a new high school building to replace the old Central school on East Sandusky Street. Voters had approved a levy of $50,000 in November 1899 for the new school, and it was completed in August 1901 at a final cost of just over $54,000.
The new Central school, which was built on Main Cross Street, served as the city’s only high school until the present one was opened on Broad Avenue in 1963.