1960-1970: A decade of Findlay “firsts”
By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The 1960s was a decade of firsts for the Findlay area.
The city’s population topped 30,000 for the first time.
An interstate highway first passed through Hancock County.
The first ultra-modern shopping center was opened here.
And Findlay first earned the title of “Flag Capital.”
A new artery of transportation called Interstate 75 opened between Michigan and Florida. The limited access roadway followed the general route of old U.S. 25 (Dixie Highway) through Hancock County.
The interstate between Findlay and Bluffton was the last rural section of the interstate to be finished in Ohio, in 1964. Two other segments through Hancock County, a bypass west of the city and a stretch of highway north to Wood County, had been completed a few years earlier.
Work also began on a new bridge over the Blanchard River on Broad Avenue. The project included widening and rebuilding the road, and relocating a portion of the river.
The improvement was designed to provide better access to the new Findlay High School near U.S. 224 West. The campus was completed in 1963 with facilities for 2,200 students. The school featured a new auditorium, R.L. Heminger Auditorium. It was named to honor the president of the Findlay Publishing Co. and owner of the Republican-Courier newspaper and radio station WFIN for his civic leadership.
District voters authorized construction of the new high school in 1960. The bond issue also financed additions at three elementary schools. Meanwhile, the former high school building on West Main Cross Street became the city’s third junior high. It was called Central.
Findlay College’s development program was well under way, too. Buildings constructed during the decade included the Alumni Memorial Union, Shafer Library and Croy Physical Education Center.
Findlay College enrollment reached an all-time high in 1962 with 1,000 students.
The Winebrenner Graduate School of Divinity separated from the college that same year. The seminary established a three-building complex on East Melrose Avenue.
Blanchard Valley School was becoming more visible in the community. Hancock County voters approved a bond issue to construct new facilities for the school. Mr. and Mrs. Tell Thompson donated land on East Sandusky Street for the project. A contract for construction was awarded in 1965.
Another war touched Findlay and Hancock County families during the decade. The city’s first casualty was Capt. John Bartley. Bartley was one of two U.S. pilots killed in the crash of a B26 fighter-bomber in South Vietnam in 1963.
By 1968, 10 markers had been erected at the War Memorial in Maple Grove Cemetery to honor local soldiers killed in the war.
That same year, the Findlay VFW post officially changed its name to Barry D. Lord Post 5645 in honor of Lance Cpl. Barry D. Lord, 21, who was killed in action in April 1968. His father, Josiah Lord, was a past commander of the post, and his mother, Florence, was past president of the VFW Auxiliary. Barry Lord was also active in post affairs and had marched with the color guard at the funeral of William Tweed, who had been killed in Vietnam while Lord was home on leave.
Findlay earned the title “Flag Capital” of the nation on Flag Day 1968. Local resident John B. Cooke obtained donations to purchase 14,000 small American flags, which were distributed to every home in the city. The 24-hour Flag Capital designation, by the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, was intended to provide a focal center for a national Flag Day observance.
The city’s commercial area expanded east on U.S. 224 when the $2.5 million Fort Findlay Village shopping center opened in 1962. It was the first center of its kind in the area and featured concourses, covered walkways and 2,000 parking spaces. Britts Department Store occupied the largest area in the mall, followed by J.C. Penney, which had been located in downtown Findlay for nearly 40 years.
That same year, Ohio Oil Co. marked its 75th anniversary by changing its name to Marathon Oil Co.
Central Rubber and Steel Corp. also underwent a name change, becoming Centrex Corp. in 1963. The following year, the corporation made stock available to the public, ending nearly 40 years of private control.
A number of other companies established facilities in Findlay during the decade, including Whirlpool Corp., Dow Chemical, Hercules Tire & Rubber, Kirk Bros. (which became O.H. Materials), and Superior Trim. Whirlpool was to become one of the biggest employers in the city.
Meanwhile, three longtime businesses closed.
Findlay’s Deisel-Wemmer-Gilbert cigar factory closed in 1962 when it was consolidated with several others to form a new factory in Lima. The company began operations locally in 1910. By 1911, nearly 100 workers were rolling San Felice cigars by hand. A four-story, red brick building was later erected at 214 Broadway.
The Glessner Medicine Co. also closed its doors in 1962. The company was founded in 1890 as Dr. Drake’s Medicine Co. A factory was built at 230 E. Sandusky St. and purchased by Leonard Glessner. One of the firm’s more popular products was Dr. Drake’s German Cough and Croup Remedy.
The closing of these businesses “may have been a sign of the times,” said Paulette Weiser, former curator/archivist at the Hancock Historical Museum.
“Cigars and patented medicines fell out of favor over the years,” she explained. “That certainly affected business.”
The International Breweries-Old Dutch Division also closed, in 1966. The brewery dated back to 1891 when the Brilliant City Brewery opened at the corner of Jefferson Street and Clinton Court. The company was later purchased by Peter Krantz and his sons, and then the Altmeyer brothers. The firm was particularly well known for its Old Dutch Beer.
The Findlay YMCA was largely destroyed by fire in the early 1960s. However, a portion of the East Sandusky Street building was saved and remodeled to allow the program to continue. Volunteers raised more than $900,000 for a new building that was erected at East and East Lincoln streets.
Fire also destroyed the Ohio Power Co. building at 120 N. Main St., and Ashland Oil’s lubrication oil manufacturing building on Glessner Avenue. In 1960, blazes on the same day destroyed Woodward Lumber Co. on Third Street and Lumbertown on West Sandusky Street.
In other areas of the city, a new municipal parking garage opened on East Crawford Street, and work began on a $2 million waterworks expansion.
The city also had the distinction of being, for three months in 1960, the only community in the world where touch-tone telephone service was available.
The following year, Findlay Airport became part of the Lake Central Airlines Commercial Service. The city was visited twice a day by one northbound and one southbound flight.
Countywide voter registration was inaugurated during the decade, and the Mental Health and Mental Retardation board was formed to provide local mental health services.