Editor’s note: The Champaign County Historical Society is sharing with readers a collection of “Then and Now” photos of the area.
Photos of Then and Now sometimes reveal extreme changes as in the 1912 picture postcard of Mechanicsburg, Ohio’s “City Hall” once located in the first block of North Main Street (know as East State Route 29.) This “City Hall” features an ornate style of brick building, a tall three-story structure with a two-story bell tower with a bell to no doubt warn residents of fires and other problems. The City Hall seems rather narrow for its height. The photo also shows an interesting wood framed commercial building with an awning shading its front window and a small sign hanging above it showing a star and saying W. H. Hunt and something else not quite readable. Painted on the side of this building are the words “Wm. H. Hunt Groceries” which may have conducted business in that building too. The wooden structure has an attractive ornate front porch on the second level overlooking the street. It is hard to tell from the photo if the third story structure with the unusual chimney’s and window hoods belong to the City Hall building or the wooden structure. There appears to be a man wearing a service hat and tie of some sort standing on the sidewalk, perhaps a police officer. The large utility pole almost seems out of place in the front sidewalk, but times were already beginning to change since these buildings were built. Many of the original rustic downtown buildings had been replaced because of several bad fires over the years that spread quickly through wood buildings.
The only structure to identify the exact spot of this North Main Street location is the corner of the Masonic Temple that still exists in its same location. Notice the rather large (for then) automobile parked between the wood building and the Temple. Maybe it was used to deliver groceries. An interesting fact is that Urbana Daily Citizen reported in March 27, 1934 “Town’s (Mechanicsburg) 100th Anniversary Exhibition (in City Hall) Will Inaugurate Drive For County Historical Society.” The spark was lit by 26-year-old William Van Ness of Mechanicsburg that gave our present day Champaign County Historical Society its start after several failed attempts in the past for such an organization and it all began in that old town hall. (That complete historical account is in the composition room.)
Today’s now 2016 photo shows a much different scene from then 1912. Luckily the same sand stone colored brick Masonic Temple building on the right and a private home on the far left still remain at the same location. The temple has eliminated the fancy architectural features over top its porch but otherwise looks the same from the outside and helped Dick Virts, the photographer, to pinpoint the now picture. Mechanicsburg now has a “Municipal Building” instead of “City Hall” with the Fire Department and EMS housed all in the same neat one story but expanded brick building, with a lovely landscaped park-like space to its left that includes a gazebo anchoring the area. A beautiful mural painting on the far side of the building is not visible in the photograph. Also not visible are the four Ohio Historical Markers within walking distance of this wall painting. It would be well worth a short drive to Mechanicsburg to see and enjoy this Champaign County tourist scene. It is near the intersection of East State Route 29 and State Route 4. Did you know that Route 29 was once a toll road? It seems that to get a decent road to drive on in the early days, groups of people would build roads themselves and charge a little something for their use to pay for their efforts. Aren’t we blessed with good roads on which to travel these days. Another interesting tidbit of information about Mechanicsburg is that it has a West Main Street, a North Main Street, and a South Main Street, basically all the same street to help one keep track of which direction one is headed.
Submitted by the Champaign County Historical Society. Enjoy remembering the past and finding out what we now have to offer in the Champaign County Historical Society’s Then and Now series as seen through the eyes of Sherry Virts, local historian.