By Tammy Watts
ARCANUM — The Arcanum Wayne Trail Historical Society (AWTHS), in downtown Arcanum, is actively dedicated “to collecting, preserving, and fostering an appreciation for our past , promoting interest and knowledge of past historical events, and instilling pride in local history,” according to its mission statement. Thanks to the community’s diligence and generosity, the AWTHS has an extensive collection of records, artifacts, and genealogical research. It also hosts educational programs pertaining to significant eras and events in Arcanum and Darke County history.
The two-story building now housing the Arcanum Wayne Trail Historical Society (AWTHS), located at 123 West George St. in Arcanum, was originally built by Lewis Deitrich in 1894. During the past 128 years, it has been operated as a saloon, moving picture theater, farm implement dealership, soda bottling plant, and from 1920 until 1963, the Beck Hotel. The Wayne Trail Grange purchased the property from the Beck family in 1963, and it served as their meeting hall, until it was sold to the Historical Society in 2004.
A movie projector from the old Ritz Theatre (known as the Dreamland Theatre from 1907 to 1927), operated by Harry Chancellor, is one of the items that generates the most interest, according to AWTHS member Barbara Deis. It occupies a corner of the main room, flanked by showcases full of sports memorabilia, old toys, and posters from Darke County Fairs of yesteryear. The room also houses the original desk, and mail sorting bin from Arcanum’s first post office, used by John Smith, its first Postmaster, from May 1852 until September 1857.
Arcanum Times newspapers, from 1903 to 1970, have been preserved in special binders. “We don’t have every year, every week, or even every page,” said Deis, opening the binder to a newspaper from 1903. However, the collection is still comprehensive enough to provide a window into local life throughout much of the 20th century. There are also yearbooks from Arcanum and Franklin-Monroe Schools, as well as German Baptist genealogies.
Another fascinating relic on display is a 1926 Rudd water heater, which was still functioning when it was removed from the Butler School in 2010.
An entire room is dedicated to the military, honoring local veterans, including Brigadier General Edward Sigerfoos, an 1885 graduate of Arcanum High School. Sigerfoos was the highest-ranking American officer killed during World War One, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
AWTHS offers a third-grade walking tour of downtown Arcanum, as well as the first floor of the AWTHS. Upcoming events include a presentation by author and Earlham School of Religion graduate, Donne Hayden, on June 11 at 10 a.m. She will discuss the Underground Railroad in Darke County, abolitionist activities, and the relationships of Quakers and local free black communities. An Ithaca Cemetery walk is scheduled for July 9 at 9 a.m., and on August 13 at 10 a.m., there will be a program on the 1959 Weisenbarger Building Fire, which resulted in the total loss of the Arcanum Public Library, Post Office, Arcanum Lockers, and Clark Hardware.
AWTHS also has four books available for purchase, each chronicling a different aspect of Arcanum history. For more information, visit awths.org, or for research appointments and tours, contact Annette Stewart at 937-417-3746, or email [email protected]
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected]