LIMA — In March 1913 the Ottawa River stopped, if only temporarily, what a crusading Lima mayor was unable to stop – dancing at the Armory on South Main Street.
“Mayor Corbin N. Shook, anti-vice king, went on record Wednesday morning as attributing the wave of juvenile delinquency and masculine degeneracy to the vulgar dance halls, the laxity of the family circle and the toleration of the conduct indulged in at Hover Park and the Armory Dance Hall,” the Lima Daily News wrote June 4, 1913.
Built in 1892 by the Turnverein — a German-American gymnastics association commonly known as the Turners — the Turner Hall at 440 S. Main St. had, in 1895, become the armory of Lima’s Company C of the Ohio National Guard. It also became a popular venue for vaudeville acts, meetings — and dancing.
In March 1913, relentless rains drove the Ottawa River over its banks, leaving buildings anywhere close to it — and the Armory was only a stones’ throw away — under several feet of water. The flood was the worst in the history of the state.
As the water receded in Lima on March 26, members of Company C mustered at the Armory for duty in Dayton, one of the hardest hit Ohio cities. “Water flooded the basement of the Armory building,” the Lima Times-Democrat reported, “and a large quantity of the equipment of Company C. was ruined. The guardsmen are mobilizing today on the first and second floors, which were not damaged in the slightest.”
Two weeks later, the men returned “tired and foot sore” to the Armory. “The local company was one of the first to arrive on the field after the appeal for aid went out from dying Dayton and has been on duty day and night since that time,” the Times-Democrat wrote April 9.
The Armory eventually was drained of water; the dances, however, remained. Mayor Shook, a Socialist elected in 1911 on the promise to clean up vice in the city, closed down dances being held at the Armory in the spring of 1913, only to have his efforts overturned in court. “I attempted to stop the Armory dance hall conducted by Mrs. (Vera) Clark, a negress, several months ago, but the upper courts reversed me in my order putting the woman out of business,” Shook complained to the newspapers.
By the late summer of 1913, dancers were dancing and the boys of Company C were drilling in a new Armory. “Upon completion of the work of remodeling the Auditorium hall … , Lima will have one of the most modern armories in the state, according to experts who have examined the plans,” the Daily News wrote July 6. The Auditorium Hall was on North Elizabeth Street.
As good as those plans may have been, Company C did not stay in the new armory very long. By July 1917, the members of Company C were mobilizing for duty in World War I in a new armory on East Spring Street. Several years later, the armory was on West High Street.
However, plans for a permanent armory were in the works. On Jan. 8, 1920, The Lima News reported that “plans for a large armory for the Ohio National Guard unit of this city are now being perfected … .” For the next seven years committees would work on perfecting plans, which would be formed, then vetoed by the state, then formed again. Likewise, funding would be lined up and lost, and sites would be selected and dismissed. In 1926, it looked certain a new armory would be built on North Main Street.
In August 1928, the Lima Guard units moved into their new, $85,000 armory on land donated by the city in the Hover Park addition off Collett Street.
Meanwhile, the old armory on South Main Street became a meeting place for the local Order of Owls and the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo (a fraternal organization) as well as a venue for boxing and wrestling.
“Announcement was made last night by Dell Burchell, well known ring follower and boxing manager that a new club started by himself and another prominent live wire in the boxing game, had taken a lease on the old armory building on South Main Street and that the new club would stage first-class boxing shows,” the News wrote Feb. 21, 1915.
In June 1915, the Daily News reported that William Tigner’s Sons Cigar Company had obtained an option on the building and would be moving its operation from East Spring Street. The Tigner company, according to a May 1905 ad, made an “exceptionally good 5 cent segar” called the La Tisona, a name which would stick to the building.
“The building has been remodeled to suit their purpose and conveniences for the employees have been added. New windows and a modern ventilating system will make the building a very up to date place. The basement of the building will be used as a storage space for the tobacco. The offices will be located in the front of the building on the main floor and the shipping room will be placed in the rear. The remainder of the building will be exclusively for the manufacture of the cigars,” the News noted Aug. 15, 1915.
By April 1924, the building again was available and, by October, according to an ad in the News, had become “Lima’s new roller-skating pavilion.” In the latter half of the 1920s, boxing and wrestling again found a home in the armory, as did basketball. In February 1926, the basketball teams from Lima’s St. John and St. Gerard high schools squared off at the old armory.
As the country sank into the Great Depression of the 1930s, the city of Lima turned the armory into a recreation center. “In an effort to meet requests of hundreds of unemployed that a winter program be provided which will meet facilities afforded in the summer by diamond ball, the Lima recreation department Friday announced steps to establish a sports center in the former armory on South Main Street,” the News reported on New Year’s Eve of 1931.
The center opened in January 1933. “Included among activities will be league competition and classes in basketball, volleyball, badminton, shuffleboard and table tennis. Pinochle tournaments, domino and checker contests and other table games also will be sponsored,” the News wrote Sept. 29, 1935, adding that “the building has three floors, all of which are used for recreational purposes.”
By the 1940s, most of the floors were being used for retail purposes as the recreation center was supplanted by Ziegenbusch Furniture, which occupied the building until the mid-1950s when it became the home of the Volunteers of America.
The goal of the Volunteers of America, their local leader told the News in March 1958, “is primarily to rehabilitate men and get them back into society” by providing them work. “The Lima shop is located at 440 S. Main St. There the eight men who have come to the office since it was opened in August receive their room and board and had paper and other odd jobs which will help prepare them for a useful place in society,” the News explained. The Volunteers of America moved to a new shop in the 200 block of South Central Avenue in February 1962.
Lima attorney Robert Mihlbaugh obtained the property in 1970 and used it for his office. Mihlbaugh died in 2009. The building now is owned by his son, Robert Mihlbaugh II.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 as the Armory-Latisona (after the “good 5-cent segar) building. It also is known as the Mihlbaugh building.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.