As hard as citizens worked on making Allen County into a hub of progress and industry, they also keenly pursued leisure time activities. Whether desiring to prove a place cosmopolitan or just simply enjoy a beautiful afternoon, the cultural impact is still being felt.
Those needing respite first sought the peaceful greenspace of cemeteries and picnic groves in the countryside.
“The steam and electric cars transport citizens to nearby pleasure resorts, and with some natural forest still intact, and the smaller towns having their breathing spots, Allen County does not suffer for out-of-door amusements,” the 1921 history stated. “The Delphos Public Library nestles away in a pretty little park that was provided in the beginning as a resort, and the love of the beautiful so permeates the community that many private homes are like pleasure resorts — front lawns and rear door yards alike attractive.”
City Park — later named Faurot Park — was the first municipal effort. Its zoo, featuring elks, buffaloes, bears, monkeys, coyotes, foxes, goats, ponies and birds, was a big draw. By the 1920s, Faurot, Lincoln, McCullough Lake, McBeth and Hover parks plus swimming ponds and amusement venues added to the entertainment options in the area. Today’s Lima Parks and Recreation department maintains 13 parks and 400 acres. Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District dates to 1972 and maintains 14 parks and 1,400 acres.
Faurot Opera House
Built by Benjamin C. Faurot in 1882, the opera house at High and Main streets was described in the newspapers of the time as grand.
A reporter predicted it “will perpetuate his name when the body shall sleep in the dust of Lima’s beautiful God’s acre.”
Faurot used his bank, cash flow and name — good for credit locally and beyond — to start a variety of projects. In 1882, he finished the Faurot Block at High and Main streets. The five-story building constructed for $225,000 housed the Faurot Opera House, a grand space that booked national and local acts. Next door was a power plant he built, the first electric power plant in town.
Faurot also built a hotel where opera house performers could lodge. The hotel building would outlive the opera house by decades.
The theater offered a performance space for fine art, vaudeville acts and stock and touring theater. Amelia Halter Davis, a well-known local soprano, was part of a group in those early years that gathered to present important works, and the group would become the Lima Choral Society.
In 1902, it was taken over by John D. Rockefeller agents when Faurot was struggling financially and was later owned by the Maire family. It was closed by the 1930s and razed in 1953, to be replaced by a new Kresge’s store.
Memorial Hall was erected in 1908 in preparation for the Grand Army of the Republic State Encampment. The GAR was an organization founded in 1866, composed of men who served in the Army and Navy during the Civil War. The group had chapters around the country.
Through the years, the building has housed the Allen County Historical Society, Council for the Arts of Greater Lima and the Lima Symphony Orchestra.
It has also been the gathering spot for many military-related meetings, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans, Navy Club, Disabled American Veterans, Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of Union Veterans and the Daughters of the War of 1812.
Several national and regional acts have also performed in the hall, including the Lima Symphony Orchestra’s first performance there in 1925. Community bands also frequented the stage, which was once the main performance space in the city. It was deemed unsafe by the commissioners in 2014 and has been mothballed since.
Veterans Memorial Civic Center
The idea of needing a modern performance space took hold in the mid-1970s. Arts groups needed better acoustics, and local government was also looking for ways to rejuvenate downtown.
There was dissension, there were financial problems and there were some strong disagreements about the facility. But all problems were put on the back burner when the doors to the place finally opened on Oct. 19, 1984, to arguably one of the grandest shows Lima had ever seen.
As The Lima News wrote just prior to the grand opening, “after a decade of planning, scrambling for funds, legal entanglements and political wrangling, the Veterans Memorial Civic Center and Convention Center of Lima and Allen County (whew!) will throw open its doors Friday night with an opening night show befitting the project itself, which has been one of Lima’s longest running sideshows within memory.”
Tickets for the 1,800 seats, priced up to $50 each, were sold out one month prior to the “Gala Event,” as organizers called it.
The opening night festivities, hosted by Lima native Hugh Downs, included area natives Phyllis Diller and Helen O’Connell. It also featured a host of folks in several scenes of music and dance. The final scene in the four-plus-hour show involved space exploration. As organizers of the event described it, the final scene was “symbolic of our unlimited horizons as we enter the 21st Century.”
The Lima News wrote the following day, “the more than four-hour extravaganza covered all facets of talent that was born and bred locally, ranging from a soft melody by former Limaite Parker MacDonell to the side-splitting antics of comedienne Phyllis Diller. And wedged in between was a sampling of just about every style of entertainment available.”
But that wasn’t the end of the opening ceremonies. The following day, there was a parade with veterans groups, a jet flyover and marching bands from the region. An estimated 20,000 people gathered. Air Supply performed that night, and there was also a performance of the Broadway musical “Ain’t Misbehavin.”
Lima Symphony Orchestra
The symphony has roots reaching back to the early 1900s, but as the musicians weren’t paid, groups of musicians would disband from time to time. The idea of a permanent symphony led to the organization of the Lima Symphony in 1953. Conductor and Music Director Joseph Firszt was at the baton for 29 years, beginning in 1967. He served as director of the Council for the Arts of Greater Lima and began the Lima Area Youth Orchestra and several community outreach programs. He was followed by Conductor Crafton Beck.
Choirs have existed in the area dating as far back as 1873. The singing traditions of the Welsh and Germans who came to this area were celebrated at churches and then in the rise of the Lima Choral Society. Several iterations of chorale groups have performed since then, and the current Lima Symphony Chorus joins with the symphony to present a major vocal work every season.
Lima Area Concert Band
This group began as the Million Dollar Band in 1971, led by Gail F. Woolley Sr. The Lima Area Concert Band is comprised of volunteer musicians. Many of these players began studying their instruments in area school band programs and continue playing for the love of concert band music.
Amil Tellers — Lima, spelled backward — was founded by a dozen friends in 1933. The first play was “The Importance of Being Earnest” in 1938. They performed on stages at the library and schools before finding a first home in the Stable Gables, a converted horse barn, from 1939 to 1945. Productions were staged with all-women casts during World War II.
In 1958, director Richard Reeder offered property for a permanent theater at North Shore Drive and Collett Street. He designed the building as well, and actors worked on the finishing touches. The group purchased 333 seats from a movie house in Detroit, refurbished them and installed them for the audience. The stage curtain and some lights from the Faurot Opera House were put into use.
A 1962 newspaper item noted, “the financial support and community pride of the people are the greatest assets of Encore Theatre.”
Allen County Museum
The Allen County Historical and Archaeological Society formed in 1908, gathering artifacts from the history of this area to share with residents. The county government gave it space at Memorial Hall and operational support.
The Allen County Museum opened in the mid-1950s at 620 W. Market St., with expansions in 1976, 2007 and 2010. It features the Children’s Discovery Center, the Children’s Garden, the Faze Log House, the MacDonell House and the Elizabeth M. MacDonell Memorial Library.
The museum continues as a partnership between the county and private non-profit Allen County Historical Society.
Allen County Fair
The first Allen County Fair was held Oct. 21, 1851, just 10 months after the formation of the agricultural society. It wasn’t supported and fell dormant until returning in 1860. In this era, the fair was held on private farms.
In 1923, the fair moved to Main Street in Delphos. Some disagreed with the street carnival-type atmosphere that disrupted business and lobbied for the fair to have a permanent home. The board moved it back to Lima in 1949, claiming it was a more central location, and the current location was purchased in 1950.
Since its inception, the fair has been designed to provide an exhibition to educate people about agriculture. As 1949 fair manager Wayne Laibe said, “such an exhibition must be made a showplace for the accomplishments of the individuals and organizations of the entire county. By placing on display the results of their thinking and labors, these individuals and organizations demonstrate the important part each plays in molding the entire life of a county.”