LIMA — In September 1950, as Lima’s first federal building was coming down, some Lima residents recalled a day more than 56 years earlier when the building was going up.
July 4, 1894, “was a hot clear day” as a procession of Masonic and city officials, including 25-year-old city clerk Charles E. Lynch, traveled by carriage “thru the baked clay streets” to the building site at the southeast corner of High and Elizabeth streets to place the cornerstone, The Lima News wrote on Sept. 15, 1950. The dedication ceremony, the newspaper noted, was a “Masonic affair.” Indeed, the cornerstone, opened in 1950, contained copies of the bylaws and ceremonies of the various Masonic orders as well as blueprints of the building and a roster of city officials.
Lynch, who was 81 when he spoke to the News in 1950, “remembers the children calling as they rode past, ‘There go the city dads.’”
Lima’s “city dads” had been waiting a long time for a federal building, mainly as a home for the city’s post office, which had changed address frequently since the first postmaster, George Srouf, was appointed in 1832. According to a 1938 history of the postal service in Allen County, early post offices were in the homes of the postmasters. About 1850, the post office found a temporary home in the old county courthouse. Over the next 30 years it would move four times, ending up, in 1880, on the southwest corner of Main and High streets.
On Jan. 27, 1888, the Allen County Democrat speculated on whether the post office would again be moved. “The government’s lease on the rooms now occupied by the post office having about expired, it has advertised for suitable rooms, boxes, tables, heat, light, etc. A quiet effort has been and is now being made by parties both north and south of the Square to have it moved for the purpose of booming their respective ends … .”
In 1888, however, things were different. Oil had been discovered in 1885 and Lima fancied itself a city (between 1880 and 1890 the city’s population would more than double, from 7,567 to 15,981). The “city dads’ were not looking for another rental.
On Jan. 31, 1888, Congressman Samuel S. Yoder submitted a bill calling for the construction of a federal building in Lima, a move heartily backed by the man on the street, according to the Daily Democratic Times. In a March 3, 1888, column on “some of the current gossip of the city,” the newspaper wrote that the prevailing sentiment was that “a government building would be a great acquisition to the city.” Several tidbits later, the Times provided the rationale for a government building in Lima: “The coming metropolis of northwestern Ohio will be Lima.”
For nearly three years Yoder’s bill slowly worked its way through Congress. Finally, in early December 1890, it emerged. “Every resident in Lima, and everyone who takes an interest in the progress of this progressive city, will be glad to learn that it is, at last, to have a federal building for a post office and the accommodation of such other national offices as may be located here by the growing demands of the city as a business center,” the Daily Times wrote Dec. 10, 1890. “Lima has quite got beyond the accommodations offered by the present rented post office, and has long deserved the recognition for this alone.”
Lima had been approved for a federal building, but where to put it? Again the factions favoring the north or south sides appeared with sites suggested on nearly every downtown corner, north and south of the Public Square. Even the Delphos Courant weighed in. “The president has approved the bill for a public building in Lima, and it is the law,” the Courant wrote in an editorial reprinted in the Dec. 29, 1890, edition of the Lima Daily News. “The next thing is a location. The Public Square is a popular place. And that is where it ought to be. The ‘magnificent distance’ across that barnyard would be much improved by a handsome building. The building would be better, too, for not having to spend any money on the site. Put it on the Square.”
The Daily Times, almost as soon as the bill approving $60,000 for a federal building had been signed by President Benjamin Harrison, began running a poll asking residents where they wanted the building located. By Jan. 27, 1891, the newspaper was reporting “the Public Square largely in the lead, with the southeast corner of High and Elizabeth streets a good second.” By March 5, the poll showed three-fourths of those who responded favored the Square.
The federal government, however, had other ideas and in June 1891 sent an emissary out to scout sites. “His visitors were so numerous that he had to get Landlord Goldsmith, of the Lima House, to give him a large room for an audience chamber,” the Daily News wrote June 6, 1891. “The South Side and North Side forces gathered upon and around him and there were frequent hot passages between the Austral (southern) and Boreal (northern) champions.”
In August 1891, it was announced the site at High and Elizabeth streets, owned by Benjamin Faurot who had drilled the well that struck oil in 1885, had been chosen. The choice, the Daily Times noted in a Sept. 2, 1891, story, “will soon cause the disappearance of an old house that now stands there, which is somewhat historic.”
The house was built in “1846 or 1847 by J.W. King, then a leading businessman — if not the leading businessman of Lima,” the newspaper wrote. The corner was “then an out of the way place, in the woods; and just on the west side of a ravine …” and “for many years” it had been occupied by John McKibben, who had married King’s sister. “Of late it has been occupied by two colored families — Glover and Collins.”
Although the land was in hand, the government funding was not and the project languished, with the Democratic-leaning Daily Times opining on March 24, 1893, that “the four years of Republican extravagances just ended have swiped about everything in sight except land.”
In late January 1894, work finally got under way on the site with the removal of the “somewhat historic” old house. On May 7, 1894, the Lima Times-Democrat reported, “Adam Simons, the South Lima brick manufacturer, has contracted with Messrs. Jack & Son (the general contractor) to furnish 500,000 bricks for the government building.”
The cornerstone, with Lynch and other officials in attendance, was placed on July 4, 1894. A little more than 15 months later, on Oct. 14, 1895, the building was opened.
Lima’s pride in its new federal building wore off quickly. Within two decades of its opening, the push was on for a replacement. “When the village of Lima got a new post office building so many years ago that not many residents now remember it patted itself on the back for having an ideal building. And it was a good building for a village,” the Daily News wrote Jan. 19, 1919.
The cornerstone for the new post office at High and Pierce streets was placed on June 1, 1930. The new post office was occupied April 18, 1931.
The old federal building, minus the post office, remained open until early 1950 when the last tenants, the Veterans Administration office, the Selective Service office, and the U.S. Bureau of the Census moved out.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.