WAPAKONETA — The Wapakoneta Historic Commercial District has been included in the National Register of Historic Places for more than 30 years, a status which has helped the city of 9,600 revitalize its downtown and attract tourists seeking out historic small towns.
What started as a few wooden shacks was later converted into a prosperous commercial district, complete with two- and three-story brick and stone buildings that were built several years after Wapakoneta became a stop along the Dayton & Michigan Railroad in 1858.
“It was always a lively place,” said Rachel Barber, an administrator with the Auglaize County Historical Society, which on Tuesday unveiled a plaque commemorating the commercial district’s historic status.
From roughly 1865 to 1935, Barber said, the commercial district was home to an array of architecturally diverse buildings. The properties were often multi-purpose, with shops and businesses on main floors and offices, apartments and dance halls in the buildings’ upper stories.
Today’s commercial district’s revitalization harkens back to those early days, with an array of new restaurants, boutiques and professional offices, which have moved into the restored historic properties along Auglaize Street, Main Street and elsewhere downtown.
“At the time that this Nation Register nomination was prepared,” Barber said Tuesday, “there were those who said the days of the downtown are past. It is never going to be vibrant again. It is never going to be a center of activity again. I’m glad that those folks were proved wrong.”
Jackie Martel, executive director of the Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday’s dedication ceremony comes at a time when the commercial district and downtown Wapakoneta is experiencing a renaissancem as tourists and prospective residents alike seek out places like it.
“Wapakoneta is on trend,” Martell said. “We are at the forefront of what is trending throughout the country, which is that people are seeking experiences when they come to shop, experiences where they want to live. They want walkable downtowns. They want thriving businesses, restaurants, shops.”
The commerical district historical marker was produced by Sewah Studies in Marietta with funding from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.