1980-1990: Findlay overcomes adversity
By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The 1980s were memorable years in the Findlay area.
Local happenings on several occasions drew national attention. Perhaps best remembered is 1981, when a flood hit the area in June, and a corporate takeover battle for Marathon Oil Co. began in October.
When rain began to fall in early June 1981, few would have predicted that floodwaters would engulf Findlay over the weekend of June 13, causing more than $13 million in damage to 2,200 homes and 500 businesses. Ohio National Guardsmen were activated to help secure the flooded area.
The flooding surpassed the level reached by the last major flood in 1959. But it was not worse than the 1913 flood when the entire city was inundated.
The floodwaters also hit Ottawa and Carey. Hancock, Putnam and Wyandot counties were declared major disaster areas by President Ronald Reagan.
Later that year, a serious economic threat made headlines.
On Oct. 30, Mobil Corp., the nation’s second-largest oil company, started a hostile takeover attempt of Marathon Oil Co. Mobil said if it was successful in acquiring 40 million Marathon shares at $85 apiece, it would try to obtain all remaining shares through a merger, an exchange offer, or both.
Community leaders feared that if Mobil succeeded, the takeover would mean the end of Marathon Oil in Findlay.
What followed was a flurry of board of director activity and community action. Marathon’s board of directors rejected Mobil’s takeover bid in November and filed an antitrust suit against Mobil. An estimated 5,000 people turned out for a pro-Marathon rally before a Findlay High School football game at Donnell Stadium.
Democratic Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, made a rare Findlay appearance, attending a local public meeting on the takeover bid Nov. 11. On the same day, 6,000 Findlay residents attended a massive pro-Marathon rally which included a parade down Main Street.
On Nov. 19, 1981, U.S. Steel Corp. made a friendly bid for Marathon, offering $125 a share for 30 million Marathon shares. Remaining Marathon shares were to be converted into U.S. Steel notes. Mobil raised its bid to $126 a share, but to no avail.
U.S. Steel, later USX Corp., became Marathon’s new parent in early 1982 when U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger refused to block U.S. Steel’s $6.2 billion takeover of Marathon.
A majority of Marathon shareholders voted in 1982 to merge their company with U.S. Steel.
The Marathon scare motivated government and civic leaders to begin a concerted effort to expand and diversify the city’s economy. The Community Development Research Foundation was formed, and the old Findlay Industrial Park was developed into the Tall Timbers Industrial Center off Hancock County 95 in the late 1980s.
And on the city’s west side, the Westfield Industrial Park was developed.
Findlay’s population held steady at 35,594 during the decade, and a number of multi-million-dollar government building projects were undertaken.
In 1984, a new Findlay Municipal Building was completed.
Two years later, the Hancock County commissioners decided not to participate in a regional jail and instead announced plans to build a 96-bed county jail downtown. The $8.2 million Hancock County Justice Center opened for public tours in 1989.
Later that year, Hancock County voters rejected a tax levy to pay for renovating the old 1879 county jail.
“At the time, I believe that it was the oldest county jail house still in use,” said Paulette Weiser, former curator/archivist at the Hancock Historical Museum.
“The Historic Preservation Guild fought so hard to save that building,” she said. “They brought in a consultant. They had a plan to restore it. There were ways to save it.”
But despite their efforts, the old building was demolished.
The city’s water treatment plant received a major upgrade in 1986 when a $19.6 million project was completed.
Initial plans for a major expansion and renovation of the Findlay Village Mall were announced in 1987. The $16 million project involved a 200,000-square-foot expansion and renovation, and the addition of 55 retail stores.
The latter part of the 1980s saw several more significant construction projects. In May 1988, National Lime and Stone Co. announced that up to $70 million would be spent over a period of years to build an office/housing complex in and around the company’s Western Avenue quarry in Findlay, which would be phased out of production.
A two-year project to rebuild four miles of Interstate 75 through Findlay began in the late 1980s. The southbound lanes were rebuilt in 1989, and the northbound lanes were completed a year later. Construction caused massive traffic jams.
The Ohio Department of Transportation decided in 1987 to close the roadside rest area on U.S. 68, just south of Findlay, despite opposition from some area residents. The rest area, which dated to 1936, was Ohio’s first.
Blanchard Valley Hospital’s new $5.9 million outpatient treatment center opened in 1989. At the same time, ground was broken for a $1.7 million radiation therapy center.
A number of significant business closings and changes also occurred during the decade, including the 1982 demise of Patterson’s Department Store, which was recognized as Ohio’s oldest independently-owned retail business. The store opened in 1849 at South Main and West Sandusky streets.
The Fort Findlay Motor Inn closed its doors in 1985 after 145 years of serving downtown Findlay as a hotel, nightclub and restaurant. Located at the corner of South Main and East Front streets, the building was transformed into the Sherman House, an independent living facility primarily for senior citizens.
That same year, the former Egbert furniture and carpet store at 404 E. Sandusky St. was torn down. Lying below the 94-year-old brick building was the second natural gas well to be drilled during the days leading up to the Findlay gas boom of the late 1880s. It was known as the Hull well on property owned by Jasper G. Hull.
The building was originally called the Opp House, a saloon and third-rate hotel. Later it was the Apostolic School, Assembly of God Church, and then the furniture store. The well had been capped in 1932.
In 1987, Producers Livestock Association ceased operations in Findlay after 47 years because of declining livestock numbers in the area.
RCA announced in 1988 that it would sell its solid state division, including the 1,350-employee semiconductor plant in Findlay, to Florida-based Harris Corp.
Centrex Corp. agreed in 1987 to pay $200,000 to more than 500 west side Findlay residents and permanently shut down its rubber reclamation equipment, to settle a class action lawsuit. The suit alleged that emissions from Centrex’s Western Avenue plant resulted in noxious odors.
U.S. Rep. Tennyson Guyer, a Findlay native whose political career spanned more than 40 years, died in 1981 at the age of 68. The 4th District Republican assumed the congressional seat in 1973 and was re-elected four times. He was succeeded by then-state Rep. Michael G. Oxley, R-Findlay, who won the seat by narrowly defeating Democratic state Rep. Dale Locker of Anna.
Guyer was honored a few years later when Vice President and Mrs. George Bush visited Findlay to dedicate the Tennyson Guyer Memorial, which included two rooms in Findlay College’s Shafer Library, a scholarship and annual lecture series.
As part of the lecture series, former President Gerald Ford spoke before a gathering of about 2,000 people at the college in 1987.
Bush returned in 1988 when he brought his presidential campaign to town. He spoke to a large downtown crowd and also helped launch the city’s first Flag City USA celebration.
President Reagan campaigned here, too. In 1984 he made a whistle-stop campaign tour through Ohio on a railroad car once used by Harry Truman. A crowd estimated at 12,000 greeted the president at a stop in Ottawa, and 8,000 people packed the village of Deshler to see Reagan there.
Gov. Richard Celeste and more than a dozen cabinet members came to Findlay in 1987 for a Capital for a Day program.
Several deadly and noteworthy fires occurred during the 1980s.
On Thanksgiving Day 1981, production facilities at Findlay’s Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. were destroyed by fire.
Later that same year, a rural Arlington woman died in a fire that destroyed Meijer’s Square, a Findlay discount store. Linda Pever, a store employee, died in the blaze and two other employees were injured. The store was a total loss and there was heavy smoke damage to the adjacent Great Scot supermarket. Losses were estimated at $1.2 million.
The blaze initially was blamed on lightning. However, former Findlay resident Dean Weaver later pleaded guilty to four charges in connection with the fire, but then denied that he committed the arson. In a plea agreement, Weaver entered guilty pleas to attempted involuntary manslaughter, attempted aggravated arson, and arson. He was given a 3-15 year prison term. A new Meijer’s store opened in Findlay in 1985.
Also in 1985, a huge fire gutted three buildings in the 300 block of North Main Street, resulting in at least $200,000 in damage. Buildings housing Specialty Flooring, the Garage Sale and the adjoining Lee’s Barber Shop were all destroyed.
The Salvation Army’s thrift store on East Main Cross Street was destroyed by fire in 1988. After leasing a spot in the 800 block of North Main Street, the organization bought the former American Home Furnishings Store and reopened the thrift store at 509 N. Main St. At the time, it was billed as the largest thrift store in northwest Ohio.
In 1989, fire destroyed the northern, newer section of Findlay’s Hope Temple Church. Damage topped $2 million, but no one was injured. An electrical problem was suspected as the cause.
A winter storm hit the area in 1982. Record-breaking cold temperatures and a wind chill factor which dipped to 71 degrees below zero on Jan. 10 caused problems for area residents. A blizzard-like storm dumped more than 10 inches of snow on the area three weeks later.
In education news, a committee of school personnel and community members presented a reorganization plan to the Findlay school board in 1988. The plan called for pairing most elementary buildings into regional schools; converting the three junior high schools into middle schools; and moving the ninth grade to Findlay High School. Voters rejected the idea in May 1989.
At the college level, Owens Technical College announced that it would begin offering technical education classes locally. A 32,000-square-foot building was constructed on a 4.2-acre campus adjacent to Findlay College. Classes were first offered in the fall of 1983.
Several area agencies also made significant strides in the 1980s.
The Hancock-Hardin-Wyandot-Putnam Community Action Commission moved into a leased building on Jefferson Street in the early 1980s. The agency bought the facility in 1988.
In 1980, the YMCA’s park site was renamed Camp Mosshart in memory of Ray Mosshart, who served as the general secretary of the Findlay YMCA from 1933-79. In 1981, the former Findlay Racquet Center on Manor Hill Drive was purchased and became the Y’s new tennis center.
The former Hancock County Children’s Home on North Main Street was purchased by the Hancock County Mental Health Society in 1983 for use as office space for the mental health clinic. The Hancock County Alcoholism Council changed its name to the Lincoln Center in 1986.
Also, an exhibit area was added at the Hancock Historical Museum’s historic center, and the Hancock County Chapter of the American Red Cross moved into new quarters after renovating a former lumber company business on Fair Street.
In 1981, Janice Granata of Findlay gave birth to quintuplets, three boys and two girls, at Toledo Hospital. One of the babies died, but four survived.
Findlay area residents also became more involved in the community during the decade.
A group of residents, headed by the Citizens Task Force for Action on Crime and Vandalism, organized a Block Watch program in 1980 to combat vandalism and other crime. By the year’s end, city police declared the program a success.
The first Findlay Arts Festival was held in the early 1980s in downtown Findlay, and became an annual event. The festival site was moved to Riverside Park in 1988.
One day in 1986, thousands of area residents took part in Hands Across America, an attempt to form a human chain across 4,000 miles of the United States to raise money to aid the nation’s hungry and poor.
The first Red Ribbon Celebration was held in Findlay in 1989 to promote awareness about the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs.