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Wooster Digital History Project

Downtown Wooster post Civil War

The main square and the surrounding downtown area  has changed significantly over time. When Wooster was laid out in 1808 and was a small collection of buildings with the surrounding area claimed by the founding members. The land was divided into lots and  were laid out in an orderly fashion creating a perfect square. These original streets can still be found today though slightly altered. During the post civil war economic  boom the town started to grow much more rapidly 1 The railroad came through Wooster in 1852 and brought industry and commerce with it. The civil war had just ended meaning there was a large work force returning home. The midwest’s infrastructure had barely been touched by the war  and experienced enormous economic growth during this period. Fueled by new technology and the vast amount of natural resources available, the economy and the population expanded in the United States and Wooster was no exception. Even after all of this change, still this is a period before the midwest was ruled by the automobile and therefore was the last era where towns were crunched together even if there was plenty of land to spread out onto. After the popularization of the automobile people could commute into work and in the 1873 atlas the City of Wooster had significantly changed. Wooster had broken free of its original boundaries and had expanded in every direction. Looking at the business directories from 1884-1885 there were a great variety of businesses and industries cropping up in and around wooster. The Wooster brush company, Mcdonalds and Co., which made threshing machines. There were harness and steam engine manufacturers as well   There were there were also blacksmiths, marble cutters, masons, carpenters, jewelers, shoemakers, clothes makers . These craftsmen and women, making many products products that were sold and traded, were what created  a booming wooster industry.2 In addition to local businesses,  There were also several hotels and lodgings in the area to support travelers and businessmen that came through Wooster. One such lodging would have been the Archer house. It was known for its fine food and reasonable prices. 3  There was also the American Hotel and the kieser house.  All of these industries and businesses made Downtown Wooster a bustling center for industry and commerce( considering the town’s size at around 7,000 in 1870). 4  Originally The town had to have the necessary infrastructure and amenities to support the local farmers but by the 1870s and 1880s Wooster  had moved far beyond mere subsistence and had  developed its own identity.All of this can be represented by the downtown area of Wooster. It had the College of Wooster, its own opera house and was making its own  goods. The citizens of Wooster were no longer concerned with just subsistence, they now had the time and inclination to develop the arts.  Looking at the Downtown area from the 1870s and 1880s one can see that it was the heart of Wooster. I think today the Downtown area  is more like  the soul. In the mid to late 1800s the Downtown area of Wooster contained everything that was vital to the survival of the citizens, like the heart, and contained much of the town’s industry and sources of employment. It contained the grocery stores, hardware stores, shoe stores and dry good stores stores that sold everything else, similar to general stores. Citizens needed to look no further than the downtown area for all their shopping  needs. The Downtown area also contained the health services for the town and had the offices for many of the other town professionals like lawyers. Back then wooster could not have survived without the downtown area. Today all of these necessary industries have been moved north of the downtown area. However, even though the Downtown area in no longer necessary for the survival of the City of Wooster, I think downtown still contains the soul of the city. Wooster needs to remember its heritage and the historic downtown remembers a town centered around the courthouse and a central square, where everyone belonged to a single community. The downtown remembers a time before cars when people had horse and carts or had to walk instead. Downtown remembers a close knit community. I think the downtown area has transformed from the vital center for wooster into the less vital but equally important heritage site it is today. The historic preservation and restoration is far from perfect, many of the original buildings have been torn down or given facades not reflective of the building’s original character. Despite this,downtown Wooster still contains that small town charm and intimacy that makes many nostalgic for the good ole days. Today downtown Wooster is populated by boutique stores selling fine arts and wares, unique family owned restaurants, antique shops, and an assortment of other small businesses. Although the rest of corporate, generic, massed produced, franchised america is only a few blocks away, Downtown Wooster still has stayed true to its small town roots. Wooster is emblematic of the rest of the midwest, there are many small towns that dot the midwest and hold similar memories to Wooster. Driving through the midwest one will come across many similar small towns with beautiful courthouses and interesting old buildings but their stories will all be different.


1- "Civil War and Industrial Expansion, 1860–1897 (Overview)." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 1999. (June 9,2015).
2-  Arnold Lewis, assisted by Beth Lewis, John Gates, and  James Turner, Wooster in 1876 (Wooster Art Center Museum  1976), 43-50. Wooster City and Wayne County Business Directory 188-1885 D.W. Shives Geo. A. Shives and Chas. H. Merz.  Compilers, Editors, and Publishers Printed at the wayne County Harald 1884, R 917.71 W88 1884-1885.
3-  Arnold Lewis, assisted by Beth Lewis, John Gates, and  James Turner, Wooster in 1876 (Wooster Art Center Museum  1976), 39. 
4- United States Census Bureau 1870 national census