Former theater once housed Guard armory

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier. The data in the accompanying article comes from the notebook of the late Donald Smith, 326 Osborne Avenue, a student of community history.

 

The building which houses the State Theater on South Main Street was constructed in 1904 to provide an armory for Findlay’s Ohio National Guard unit, Company A of the second Ohio regiment. The guard company only remained two years, however. In later years the building also became the home of other military units.

The structure was built by Samuel L. McKelvy, for a number of years one of the city’s leading citizens. His name still appears at the top of the building. Mr. McKelvy only resided there 20 years, but he became a heavy owner of property in that time and was a substantial community leader. He was attracted here by the oil and gas boom. He spent some of his early years in Orange Township, in Hancock County, but left as a young man, then returned in 1890 and left in 1910.

In October 1903, Mr. McKelvy announced that he intended to erect a building on the old Myers property on South Main Street, cornering on the alley between Lincoln and Hardin. He had made arrangements to lease the structure to the National Guard as an armory. Jerry Ferguson was awarded the contract for an $8,000 building.

Plans were made for three business rooms fronting on Main Street on the first floor, with a rear room for storage purposes for the Guard, whose drill floor and offices were to be on the second floor.

The armory quarters were turned over to Captain William I. David, of the National Guard unit organized here after World War I. Its occupants of the business area included the Electric Construction and Motor Co. and the Crescent Feed Store.

On Oct. 1, 1906, the National Guard moved out, having taken a five-year lease on the old Congregational Church on Broadway behind the Hancock County Courthouse. The Central Church of Christ had been holding services in the church. The church moved into the McKelvy building quarters which the Guard vacated, remaining there until May 1908, when the assembly room of the courthouse became the church location, until its new edifice at East Hardin and East Streets was built.

The second floor became the location of a business training institution, the Ohio College of Commerce, in the fall of 1910. J.H. Canan, who had headed the Yocum business school here, was in charge of the new institution.

The block’s second floor was to have a military aspect a second time when in 1918, Findlay College’s Student Army Training Corps (SATC) utilized the quarters. It was a wartime operation.

When a new National Guard unit was organized here after World War I, it occupied the second floor for a time until moving to the Corwin block on Broadway.

Mr. McKelvy disposed of all of his Findlay property when he left in 1910. He owned the three-story building across from the McKelvy block on South Main Street, a lot across from the Argyle block, constituting a part of the present Marathon Oil Co. property, and a portion of the old Courier block located just behind the Niles building on East Sandusky Street.

As he offered his property for sale, Mr. McKelvy said he was going to spend the winter in the south. The family later became Toledo residents.

The McKelvy building which is now the home of the State Theater had changed hands several times until the mid-1930s, when Marion interests owned it and transformed it into a motion picture theater. One of the owners during the interim was Ralph W. Moore, Findlay banker.

Many business enterprises have been conducted in the building over the years. One of the first was the dry cleaning business of M.E. Bishop and M.A. Powelson, which opened in 1909. Other businesses located in the property included: a piano hospital and tuning “college” owned by Broderick Green, Carl Sattler Chevrolet garage, the tire sales firm of J. Allen Kieffer and M. B. Spitler, J.S. Downey’s restaurant, O.A. Shultz’s restaurant, Thomas Palmer’s florist shop, the restaurant of Stanley Lawrence, E.D. Wilson’s barber shop, Acme barber shop, Tarbox gift and radio shop and an antique shop.

The second-floor occupants included the Colonial club, a roller skating rink operation, Burley Peterman dancing academy, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Junior Order of United American Mechanics. In more recent times, the Ohio Bell Telephone Co. utilized the second floor for offices.

Mr. McKelvy, who was a native of Jefferson County, Ohio, where he was born in 1848, came to Orange Township in Hancock County in 1861 with his parents. He attended Findlay schools later and spent two years at the University of Michigan. He then taught school in Iowa and studied law, becoming an attorney. Coming to Findlay in 1890, he became a real estate and insurance broker. He had extensive oil and rice interests in Louisiana and possessed a winter home there.

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