By Jean Simpson, Education Coordinator
The Curator, December 2003
A Celebration of 200 years of Education in Washington Township - 4th installment
The following is an excerpt from "Township Hall" written by Celia Elliott in A Sense of Community.
Christmas memories and Old Township Hall are bound together for me like ribbons tied on packages under the tree, as joys of the season are rekindled.
Since the founding of the community, villagers and township residents alike have congregated at this place on North Main Street to enjoy the culture of the day.
As children we learned about the site where a legendary stone inn once stood. Enos Doolittle, a Yankee peddler, operated a stone tavern and stagecoach stop in 1832, which became one of the finest of its kind west of the Alleghenies.
By 1908, township trustees razed the dilapidated two-story stone tavern to build the hall for the community. Through the years the building became a centerpiece for school activities, including junior and senior class plays, and operettas each spring. As a child I saw two memorable plays, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ten Nights in a Bar Room, performed in the hall.
Next to high school commencements held in the hall (the township schools had no auditoriums), Christmas programs attracted the largest crowds of doting parents, as school children presented the annual musical play. When I was attending elementary school on West Franklin School, now Magsig Middle School, classes were dismissed and we were bused to the hall to rehearse for entire afternoons.
Music director, Clark Haines, now a revered Miami Valley music educator, led mass choirs singing, from memory, all the stanzas of familiar carols. Teachers kept order from the wings. By afternoon's end we were so tired that, long before the days of lip-synching to recordings, we mouthed the words on stage.
The production was often written by grade school teachers, the chubbiest boy in school reigned as Santa Claus. Mothers sewed costumes and faculty built sets, while rehearsals went on for days. Most of us sang in the chorus, but in fourth grade I was elated with the part of a soldier in a Babes in Toyland medley.
In junior high school I began to accompany vocal groups on piano. Once when the high school chorus was rehearsing the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah, the conductor stopped us for further instructions. I asked where we were beginning again and he answered, "at the Hallelujah." The chorus and I broke up with laughter over the exchange.
Still, the spirit of Christmas prevailed and even triumphed in spite of young performers' miscues and forgotten lines. Parents went home proud of their children. As echoes of the music faded, we knew even more rehearsals of church school dramas for Christmas Eve lay ahead. We treasured those celebrations because they were centered on the school, church, and family.
Old Township Hall
by Jean Simpson, Education Coordinator
The Curator, December 2005
To help us experience the spirit of Christmas during the decade of the 1930s, Celia Elliot has given us permission to share excerpts of a piece that she wrote for the book Sense of Community.
Christmas memories and Old Township Hall are bound together for me like ribbons tied on packages under the tree, as joys of the season are rekindled. Since the founding of the community, villagers and township residents alike have congregated at this place on North Main Street to enjoy the culture of the day.
Through the years the building became a centerpiece for school activities, including junior and senior class plays and operettas each spring, Grange meetings, three-day Farmers’ Institutes and traveling stage productions. Next to high school commencements held in the hall (schools had no auditoriums), Christmas programs attracted the largest crowds of doting parents, as school children presented an annual musical play.
When I was attending elementary school on West Franklin Street (now Magsig Middle School) classes were dismissed and we were bused to the hall to rehearse for entire afternoons. Music conductor, Clark Haines, now a revered music educator, led mass choirs singing from memory all stanzas of familiar carols. Teachers kept order from the wings. By afternoon’s end we were so tired that, long before the days of lip-synching to recordings, we mouthed the words on stage.
The production was often written by grade school teachers and the chubbiest boy in school reigned as Santa Claus. Mothers sewed costumes and the faculty built sets, while rehearsals went on for days. Most of us sang in the chorus, but in fourth grade I was elated with the part of a soldier in a Babes in Toyland medley.
In junior high school I began to accompany vocal groups on piano. Once when the high school chorus was rehearsing the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah, the conductor stopped us for further instructions. I asked where we were beginning again and he answered, “at the Hallelujah.” The chorus and I broke up with laughter over the exchange.
Still the spirit of Christmas prevailed and even triumphed in spite of young performers’ miscues and forgotten lines and parents went home proud of their children. As echoes of the music faded, we knew even more rehearsals, of church school dramas for Christmas Eve, lay ahead because celebrations were centered on the school, church and family.
New generations of singers and players have replaced us, but who knows, The Ghost of Christmas past programs may yet be floating through the chambers of Old Township Hall.
Fond Memories of Old Township Hall
By Celia Elliott, Native
The Curator, October 2008
The coming 100th birthday of Old Township Hall in 2009 stirs fond memories of its myriad activities centered in the red brick edifice. Since the founding of the community, residents have congregated at this site on North Main Street to enjoy the culture of the day. Once a legendary stone Doolittle Inn stood on the lot, where Enos Doolittle, a Yankee peddler operated a tavern and stagecoach stop in 1832. By 1908 Township Trustees razed the dilapidated two-story tavern to build a $14,000 hall, which was dedicated July 3, 1909 with a day-long celebration.
My first recollection of attending a performance in the hall as a child dates to the early 1930’s when I saw the plays “Ten Nights in a Bar Room” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” both traveling road shows. Live theater was nearly unheard of in our village and these shows were special events. Growing up, I sang in the chorus for Christmas programs, acted in eighth grade, junior and senior class plays, played violin in the orchestra and participated in high school operettas--all on the hall stage from first grade through graduation exercises. (Schools had no auditoriums or stages and the hall then became a centerpiece for a variety of school activities)
Here is a collection of other memories of Township Hall:
The Library club, a literary group of men and women formed in 1900, sponsored a Lyceum, a series of lectures to raise money for books and funds for a public library, opening in 1930. Fifty years later the Women’s Air and Space Museum also held lectures and programs for the public in the auditorium.
Then there was the annual Farmers’ Institute in the building for two days when agricultural lectures, meals and socializing were highlighted. The whole farming community turned out, as well as villagers in the 1920s-30s.
The hall had chambers for years, where Township Trustees and village Council met, with both entities storing records there. Once there were residents on the balcony level when Louis Campbell and his wife had living quarters, as he served as fire chief.
When election time came, the community voted in two precincts in the basement and main floor. Often churches served chicken dinners for voters at the K. of P. Hall around the corner on W. Franklin St.
Organizations availed themselves of the facilities for meetings, one of which was the Grange, a farmers’ group that gathered there for several decades. A frightening incident occurred in front of the hall in the 1920’s during the height of Ku Klux Klan presence in the area. Grangers leaving the building after their meeting reported a lighted cross soaked in kerosene burning in the street.
During World War II, the hall was the site of a huge sign in front listing all those servicemen of the area serving in the military, while in the backyard patriotic citizens piled scrap metal to be melted down for the war effort.
Other organizations using the facilities included Scouts, 4-H Clubs, veterans groups and even a Chatterbox Club for teens in the 1950’s.
On Memorial Day traditionally people to the downstairs with flowers, arranged bouquets, then marched to local cemeteries to decorate graves. Centerville Garden Club, first of its kind in the area, held an annual flower show and exhibit in the basement, awarding prizes in various categories.
In the post World War II era, a group known as “The Town Hall Players” presented productions each year under the direction of Mildred Hearsum and Dotty Lentz. Author John Jakes, Gordon Jump, Fred Young, Janet Thobaben, and Nevin Elliott were among the actors. History repeats as a Town Hall Theater for youth now flourishes in the hall, offering a full schedule of plays and musicals and classes in theater, underwritten by Township Trustees.
Township Trustees are scheduling a number of festivities during 2009 to commemorate the hall’s centennial.
“Small Town” Fun by Bob Agne (CHS Class of ’52)
By Bob Agne, Native
The Curator, July 2009
As a young boy, I had the good fortune to grow up in the small town of Centerville. I’m talking about a time period of the early to mid 1940’s. The population of Centerville then was, I believe, 350-500 people. And at that time there were not many TV’s, and there were no such items as video games, cell phones, or ipods (which I have no clue what they are or how they work). So, me and my friends had to pretty much find our own ways to have summer time fun. Back then we could roam the whole town, from corner to corner, without any fear of being harmed in any way. We would play outside from after breakfast to supper time, with a short lunch break at Mom’s designated time.
When we weren’t down at the school yard playing baseball, we were usually close to the center of town, because there stood one of the greatest summer time toys ever, The Centerville Town Hall. Around this Hall was a white limestone wall that extended outward from the red brick wall about 4-6 inches, the top of which sloped inward at a rather steep angle to join the red brick. One of our favorite pastimes was to climb up on this sloping surface and try to side step all the way around the building without falling off. Of course, falling meant returning to the starting point and trying again. I seem to recall that Gordon Jump, our own TV star, did make it all the way around one time. I’m sure his slimness of body was a great help. Since he was a “country boy” living out of the corporation limits, it irritated us Townies that he was able to do this. Bored with this game, we would proceed to the north side fire escape where we would play ranger by climbing over the railing and shinnying down the poles.
Immediately to the rear of the hall was the Fire House, in front of which had a large gravel area. This was our “Auxiliary ball field.” Since we usually had 3-4 man teams, it was necessary to place the players as follows: a pitcher right in front of Billy Hall’s barn; and a left fielder, who played in either Billy Hall’s back yard or Dr. Slagle’s back yard, depending on the fear of the batter. Art Dils usually required everybody but the pitcher to be at the deepest point of Dr. Slagle’s back yard. We never needed a right fielder, because Billy Hall’s barn repelled back to the pitcher every ball hit that way. These games usually required the scoring of 30-40 runs to have a chance of winning. Tiring of playing ball, this area could become home base for a game of “kick the can” or “bicycle tag.” Home base usually was the site of multiple types of collisions as players raced to beat the ‘tagger,’ resulting in a variety of bumps, bruises, and bloody noses. Since we didn’t have EMT’s or Careflight then, a band aid, well placed, allowed the fun to continue. Never was the area roped off and posted as unsafe for “kids playing.” Never were our bikes impounded as being “dangerous and lethal weapons.”
Then, occasionally, in the beautiful little town of Centerville we would get rain or a thunderstorm. Since there wasn’t any Channel 2 or 7 jillion dollar radars to warn us of such, we would run inside the hall to avoid any automobile sized hail stones from striking us dead. Inside, the favorite game was “hide-and-seek” as the rows and rows of seats were excellent cover to hide under, plus we had the dark places to hide. We often had paper airplane races, where the front row of the balcony became a launching pad for our planes, and the ultimate goal was to get one to glide clear to the big stage.
Yes, this was a time when our imagination had no limits and we never knew what boredom meant. We saw just about every nook and cranny of the town every day. We never caused any trouble, and we never damaged or destroyed anyone’s property. Since Centerville wasn’t very big, we were always in sight of someone, and if we were to get out of line, the word got back to Mom and Dad really quick.
I am glad that Sue Turton asked me to write this. It’s amazing how clear and concise these memories have come back to me, and I am not ashamed to admit a tear or two has come along. I often tell my kids about the “Good Old Days.” I know that they cannot really know how wonderful they were. But I wish they could.
(Note: Bob Agne is the grandson of Earl Decker 1923-1946, of Decker’s Market. Bob was raised at 44 West Franklin Street and his grandfather was raised at 40 West Franklin Street. Thank-you for these memories Mr. Agne.)
Township Hall Centennial Tour
By Celia Elliott, Native
The Curator, July 2009
A pre-Centennial tour of Old Township Hall evoked fond memories for a group of visitors, as they reminisced with Supervisor Mark Metzger who oversees the building for Washington Township Trustees and manages Town Hall Theater, now in its 17th year.
Over coffee and bagels Mikki Hearsum, Janet Thobaben, Roy and Sue Turton, Ralph Bender, Roger Krass and I recalled our experiences acting on stage, working in the building, playing parts in school performances or attending traveling road shows. Clearly, for 100 years the hall has been a gathering spot for all sorts of community events, the latest being a gala Fourth of July celebration during Americana.
It was nostalgia time as former Town Hall Players recounted their acting on the stage with the likes of John Jakes, author, and Gordon Jump, a native and TV star.
Mikki recalled the near demise of the Hall several years ago when plans called for its demolition to give greater access for Washington Township Fire Department to Main St. from a firehouse adjacent to the Hall. Enraged citizens protested, and the building was spared.
The Turtons remembered their school days spent on stage for Christmas programs, class plays and graduations, as the entire community turned out for these events. (Schools had no auditoriums then.)
Janet recalled one performance when the stage floor appeared to sag, but the show went on and Township trustees later shored up the floor.
Metzger quizzed the group on the structure before it was re-habbed several times over the years. The balcony, no longer used for seating, was once the favorite place for high school steadies during performances as many young romances blossomed there. The decorative proscenium remains in place, no longer with an original mahogany finish, now painted.
We then went backstage and into the lower level to discover dressing rooms had remained the same for costume changing and applying grease paint. Board and batten woodwork held up, but a pass-through from this level through the furnace room to a meeting room on the other side has been closed, probably for safety reasons.
Before taking our leave, our group autographed the plaster wall opposite the dressing rooms. I wrote: “All good wishes to future thespians.”
Memories of Town Hall by Sue Turton (CHS Class of 1953)
By Sue Turton, Native
The Curator November 2009
The Town Hall celebrated a century birthday this summer. Town Hall was the only place where significant events were held in Centerville and Washington Township, with the exception of Church. The Town Hall was held in high esteem for many folks.
For our family, in particular, there are many memories. The year was 1926 when my parents, Paul H. and Edna M. Brown, moved to Rooks Road-- out in the country--in Washington Township with their children, Bob, Betty, Tom, Mary and Eileen. Sue was but a gleam in their eyes at that time but, oh, how glad she is to be here!
Five of the six Brown kids marched down the center aisle of the Town Hall to receive their CHS diplomas. There were stories that accompanied most all of them.
Starting with brother Bob: Clark Haines was music director and there was to be a musical performance. Bob was to sing Give a Man a Horse He Can Ride, accompanied by sister Bettyjane. He came on stage way too far from where the piano was located in the pit and could not hear the music. Needless to say, he floundered, and my mother was horribly embarrassed. She was sitting next to Mrs. Campbell, and Geraldine (Campbell) performed a beautiful solo. All my mother could say was “he didn’t know the words.”
Bob and Bettyjane were to perform the following Saturday at Miami University in Oxford. Mr. Haines picked up my brother and sister and off they went. Bob came away that afternoon sporting first place. You can bet he never forgot those words nor lost pitch. My mother greeted him with the phrases of that song every time he came through the door. Bob graduated from CHS in 1936 at the Town Hall.
Bettyjane was next in line to graduate in 1937. Programs in hand tell me she was the pianist for many musical programs, and she continued to use that ability her entire life.
Mary Lou graduated in 1946.
My sister Eileen is 84. I asked her to tell me a story about the Old Town Hall. She immediately lifted her eyes and with a smile recalled her stage debut in 1941 portraying Little Buttercup in HMS Pinafore.
This production of HMS Pinafore was under the direction of Mrs. Edwards. There is more to the story. Eileen performed the first night, but came off stage with a bright pink tone to her face. This was not from the excitement of the play: She had the measles. She was not able to do the next two performances. Mrs. Edwards was her stand-in. One of the other leads was sick, and Coach George Howe performed his role as Captain Hook. Eileen was broken hearted. She also sang a Trio in High School.
And then there was Sue. The CHS Class of 1953 performed We Shook the Family Tree in 1952, and Roy Turton played the role of my son. The most exciting recollection I have is Graduation Day in May 1953. Graduation was held the same day as the State Track Meet. About 3 of us had gone to Columbus to observe our 5 participants. Roy drove his car – there was no bus transportation in those days.
Back to the Graduation: We left Columbus with hardly enough time to get home via Route 42. We pulled to the stop light in the middle of town, and folks were filing into Town Hall so they could get a choice seat to observe their prospective graduates. We all scattered home, and some of us donned our caps and gowns, and then hustled back to Town Hall to walk the isle to Pomp & Circumstance. Those who had attended the track meet stood out like red beets from the sunburn they had received that day.
I also remember wearing an engagement ring as I stood on stage that night. Mr. Stingley said, “ . . . and we have someone here tonight with stars in her eyes and a diamond on her finger.” Onstage that evening with me was my (future) husband of 54 years, Roy Turton.
Town Hall Remembrances of Dale Ewing (CHS Class of 1951)
by Dale Ewing, Native
The Curator, November 20
When I was a young boy, we always used the front of the Hall for riding our bicycles close to Granny Campbell sitting in her rocking chair. As you know, the top of the Town Hall was once used as a residence for the Fire Chief, Lou Campbell, and the fire radio and fire phone were there. The Chief seemed to always have soup beans on the stove, and you could smell them everywhere. We also used the front of the Hall for playing “kick the can.”
We always used the Hall for class plays, variety shows, baccalaureate and graduations. I think the Hall held maybe 200 people. One thing that stands out in my mind is a play in which Cliff Purdon was to run down the main aisle and climb 6 to 8 steps to the stage. What I didn’t tell you was that a big grate for the furnace was at the beginning of the steps. When Cliff came running down the aisle he slipped on the grate: what an entrance! I can’t remember all the hurts he had, but I am sure he did. Well, the second night of the performance Cliff came running down the aisle, stopped in front of the steps, walked over the grate and up the steps, and everybody clapped. We had many good productions. It seemed that the fire extinguisher had a history of getting knocked off the wall at the bottom of the steps. The foam ruined many clothes.
Then there was the Chatter Club. The Lions Club sponsored it. It met every other Friday and for some special events. We had a jukebox, pool table, ping-pong table, and a bar with soft drinks, candy, and potato chips. Wow! We had a lot of fun. There were two brothers that were always fighting, Dale and Don Schell. One fight -- and I mean fight -- was over the fact that one of them didn’t help with the dishes. One special “Sadie Hawkins” dance Jo Ann Riddle (Mrs. Tegtmeyer) chased Bob Gregg all over town.
For one variety show our quartet, Gordon Jump, Ronald Youtsey, John Dale Paff and I, borrowed Gib Campbell’s barber chair, and it was a very heavy-heavy-heavy prop. In another show there was a German Band in costume composed of Sally Buriff McCullough on the baritone, Billy Howe on the trumpet, Doris Stibbs Sietner on the tuba, and Phyllis Stanley Howard on the clarinet--a lot of ump pah pah! They were great -- all good memories. Yes, all good memories.