ARCANUM — It has been said that history is remembered for the purpose of the present, for looking back from where we came, and for examining the mistakes we’ve grown from.
The preservation of history, no matter how large or small, represents a selflessness that informs our daily lives in profound ways, and the Arcanum Preservation Society (APS) understands this all too well.
Founded in July of 2019, and gaining non-profit status in April of 2020, APS has placed all of their initial efforts into preserving and restoring a major piece of Arcanum history, the old city building located at 104 W. South Street. This plan comes on the heels of the building being designated as an Ohio historical landmark. The building is currently being prepared to be toured by citizens from all over Ohio as a part of the Ohio Open Doors history connection series planned to take place September 19. This event features small guided tours of the building from 9 a.m. to noon. A virtual tour of the building is also in the works.
In the past months, members of the community and APS have been attending regular clean-ups of the building, which have been going very well. The goal is to clean the interior of the building as much as possible before beginning preservation plans. It will be a costly endeavor, but the group hopes to gain funds primarily through donations and grants, and not rely at all on the city government or Arcanum residents for financial support.
“I am truly inspired by the work being done by the preservation society here in town,” said Arcanum Mayor, Bonnie Millard. “There is a lot of work that still has to be done, but it is wonderful seeing members of the community join together to restore this great building.”
The restoration plans for the building are quite extensive, and discussions concerning what the building will be used for are in the works, as well. As of now, the building is structurally sound, but the main focus is bringing the exterior of the building up to standard. In the 1970s, the brick on the outside of the building was sandblasted, which resulted in some minor issues.
The Arcanum village government left the building in the spring of last year due to health concerns and a bat infestation. Selling or tearing down the building was discussed among the town council, but a number of Arcanum residents were opposed to the building being sold or demolished.
“This [building] is an important asset to this community,” said Arcanum Preservation Society Vice President, Jim Piel. “This is a beautiful building that we would like to preserve for the town and, in the future, restore for people to enjoy.”
The primary feature of the structure is the opera house located on the second floor, with a third floor balcony. It has a rooted connection to the town’s history that can be felt immediately after stepping foot in the building. Entering the beautiful but worn down opera house is like stepping into a time machine. On the floor of the opera house rests the original piano that is over 100 years old, and graffiti marks the walls with the signatures and dates of past performers. On the third floor balcony, the walls are covered in the signatures of Arcanum alumni dating back to the late 1800s.
Though it is a sizable space, the gravity of the opera house as a center piece of Arcanum life throughout history is difficult to be fully understood due to the lack of photographs and documented information on the building. However, from what the preservation society has been able to find, the building was the central hub of the town for many years – both for city government and popular entertainment.
“Records indicate that at some points there were over 600 people a night that attended events, but I don’t think that would be allowed with fire laws today,” Piel joked. “But it has a huge stage, and it is just a grand place that we would love to see brought back to life for everyone to enjoy.”
Six hundred people may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but one would be hard pressed to deny the potential that the opera house offers as a gathering place. Once properly preserved, the ideas for what this space could become are limitless.
“We want something that will be able to sustain the building once we have done the necessary things to protect it,” noted Angela Herron, Chair of Communications for APS. “There’s a lot of potential because of the sheer space, and when we decide what we want to do, we want it to be something that the community can enjoy, and a place that people want to gather.”
The opera house will, more than likely, be restored to become a gathering place. Ideas include space for weddings or reunions, high school plays, and local entertainment shows. The first floor of the building, where the city government once operated, is quite spacious as well. It has been proposed that the first floor be used as a coffee shop, an ice cream parlor, or a community meeting and activity space, among other ideas. There is also the potential that the entire building will be converted into a museum that tracks the history of the building and Arcanum life.
Preserving history is an important job, and restoring it even more so. But for all the hard work that has gone into this building, one thing is for sure; whatever it becomes, it is guaranteed to shine a light on the town’s history like never before.
The Arcanum Preservation Society thanks everyone who has helped with the project thus far. If you would like to get involved, or are in search of more information, visit the preservation society’s Facebook page, or find their website by searching Arcanum Preservation Society on Google.
To reach the writer, Nathaniel Kubik, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 937-569-0066.