1930-1940: Diverse industry helps city weather Depression
By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The decade of the 1930s was a dark one in history.
The Roaring Twenties were over and the Great Depression arrived.
It began on “Black Tuesday,” Oct. 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed and the nation began its economic slide. A wave of bank failures swept the United States. Jobs were lost. Times were hard.
The effects of the Depression were far-reaching.
Findlay, which had grown to a population of 19,363, joined in the chaos that enveloped the country.
The Buckeye-Commercial Savings Bank was the first big local business to feel the pressure of the crash, closing its doors on May 6, 1930. The bank’s failure brought the threat of heavy financial losses to the community. Fortunately, a panic never materialized.
The directors of First National-American took over the assets of the closed facility, and the bank’s resources were eventually released.
Although jobs were scarce, Findlay on the whole weathered the period better than many communities because of its diverse industry. In fact, some local businesses thrived during the 1930s.
Ohio Oil Co., whose activities were expanding rapidly throughout the United States, completed a new six-story office building at South Main and East Hardin streets in 1930.
The company was able to keep its entire force at work during the Depression and even added 1,200 people to its staff in 1933 in an effort to provide jobs.
By 1932, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. announced that its future was looking brighter. Increased product demand allowed the business to operate throughout the year without closing. All employees were given work, although some had shorter hours, in order to help as many families as possible.
Businesses like Tasty Taters, Wilson’s Sandwich Shop and Dietsch Brothers were founded during the decade.
In addition, the city made a number of important civic strides with help from federal government programs like the Civil Works Administration (CWA), Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
“Findlay was able to do a lot because of these programs,” said Paulette Weiser, former curator/archivist at the Hancock Historical Museum.
Through the government programs, a new post office was completed on West Main Cross Street. And the public library which had been located in the basement of the Hancock County Courthouse for 44 years moved into the former post office building on Broadway.
A municipal swimming pool at Riverside Park was constructed in 1936, also through a government construction program, Weiser noted. The reservoir which stood on the site was removed earlier, after a new waterworks plant was built in 1931 on North Blanchard Street.
“Some of the brick from the pump station was used in the bathhouse,” said Weiser. “They were recycling. Money was scarce.”
The city’s new sewage disposal plant was built in 1932-33 at the site of the Hydraulic Pressed Brick Co. on Western Avenue. It was necessary to straighten and widen the Blanchard River when the plant was built. The original plant later proved inadequate and a second disposal unit was added in 1936.
The river was straightened again in 1933 near Main Street, just west of the Liberty Street dam. A peninsula of land was sacrificed for the project. In previous years, it was the site of the Wigwam opera house, Findlay High School’s athletic field, and summer chautauqua visits.
A new Main Street bridge also was built to replace a triple-span iron bridge that had become unsafe. The new bridge was dedicated in 1935, in memory of the community’s war heroes.
A CCC camp was established the same year across the river from Rawson Park. At its peak, the camp housed 218 men from Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. It remained in operation until shortly before the close of the decade.
Although the effects of the Depression lasted until the late 1930s, local conditions began to improve a few years earlier.
A new State Highway Patrol barracks was opened on North Main Street, and the first roadside park in Ohio was constructed on U.S. 68 near the Ohio 15 interchange.
Rummell Airport ceased operations in 1932, due to the temporary closing of the Dixie Highway for improvements between Findlay and Bluffton. The airport was leased to the city and became known as the Findlay Airport.
The Home and Hospital was reorganized in 1938. The name was changed to the Findlay Hospital.
Work also started on a new YMCA building on East Sandusky Street. Early in the decade, a three-way financial drive was organized to benefit the YMCA, Camp Fire Girls and Boy Scouts.
The Findlay Civic Music Association was formed, and a new 1,500-seat auditorium was erected at Central High School to replace a turn-of-the-century structure.
In 1932, the community joined with the rest of the nation in observing the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. A replica of the Washington monument was erected at Riverside Park with funds provided by schoolchildren.
Night baseball also was inaugurated at the park in 1938.
Findlay’s Golden Celebration of Oil and Gas was held in June 1937. The weeklong program included a pageant, parade, grand ball, air show, flower show and swimming exhibition at the new pool.
Harry Botsford was hired to direct the affair, which took more than a year to plan. O.D. Donnell served as general chairman.
“Probably the only thing to rival this in the scope of (Findlay) history was the sesquicentennial of 1962,” said Weiser. “This was a major effort. It was huge.”
The newly reorganized Hancock County Agricultural Society held its first fair in 1938 at the Old Millstream Fairgrounds on East Sandusky Street. The property had been owned by Dr. Charles Oesterlen in 1884 when the first gas well in Hancock County was drilled.
There had not been a county fair since 1923. The first permanent buildings at the fairgrounds included a draft horse barn, which was obtained from Ebenezer Mennonite Church near Bluffton; a hog barn, purchased from Bluffton’s Mennonite Reformed Church; and an old office building from the Fostoria Board of Education.
Streetcars were discontinued in Findlay and the surrounding communities during the 1930s. Both the city line which traversed almost the entire distance of Main Street, and the three interurban lines, two going to Toledo and one to Lima, were abandoned because of too much competition from motor vehicles.
Two major fires also were noted.
A 1930 blaze destroyed the Marvin Theater on North Main Street, across from Center Street. For many years, it was one of the largest playhouses in this part of the state. Many prominent stage stars, including Sarah Bernhardt, entertained audiences there.
The administration building at Findlay College was damaged by fire in 1938. A financial drive was held to restore the structure.
Earlier in the decade, the college was admitted to the Ohio College Association, the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and the Association of American Colleges.
Col. Ralph D. Cole of Findlay was elected state commander of the American Legion in 1932. A few years later, Buddy Chapter 43 of the Disabled American Veterans was organized in Findlay.
A notable death occurred during the decade. Songwriter and entertainer Tell Taylor died in Chicago in 1937. At the time, Taylor was on his way to Hollywood to discuss a movie based on his popular song, “Down By the Old Mill Stream.” The Hancock County native was buried in Van Horn Cemetery, west of Vanlue.