Liberty Street Tour
Explore areas around Wooster’s main downtown street, encountering secret societies, conflicts, and institutions from Wooster’s past.
Wooster City Schools - Board of Education:
Built in 1916, this building houses Wooster City Schools Board of Education (BOE). Overseeing six schools ranging in levels k-12, Wooster’s BOE aims to improve student’s educational experiences while determining what facilities and resources are present to do so.
In the 2013-2014 Ohio School Report Cards, Wooster City School District was given a B rating for performance in both the index and indicators categories. Additionally, a number of Wooster Schools have been given awards by U.S News and World Report. Wooster High School received a silver medal from U.S News and World Report and is ranked 111th in the State of Ohio.
The current meeting house of the Freemasons in Wooster is at this location in Market Street, between the Court of Common Pleas (Old Courthouse) and the offices of the Wayne County Board of Education. The Freemasons have remained one of the most notable ‘secret societies’ during their long history. It was rumored to be in infamy during the early nineteenth century, leading to the formation of the Anti-Mason Party.
However, the Freemasons maintain a history in line with most secret societies as a guild and fraternal organization of masons that expanded to be a global society. It currently dedicates itself to maintaining codes of morality and symbols recognizing its past in masonry -- including the characteristic square and compass. Most of their rules are governed in the “Landmarks of the Freemasons,” a series of practices that are unknown outside of Freemasonry.
Wayne County Court System - Court of the Common Pleas:
On October 9th, 1878 Wayne County welcomed its’ third courthouse. After the first burned down, and the second had major structural defects, the citizens of Wooster decided to invest 75,000 dollars into the project. This was a huge amount of money, almost 68,000 dollars more than what had been invested in the courthouse before it, and the equivalent of 1.7 million dollars today.
Thomas Boyd was chosen to be the head architect and wanted to design the building in the Second Empire style. Brought in by Boyd to help with the elaborate stonework were italian stonemasons. Some of these workers decided to stay in Wooster and established its east side italian neighbourhood. Unfortunately the building was never completed as Boyd intended. This was due to Wooster citizens’ resistance to destroy what they viewed as a perfectly functional building located adjacent to the site. A 2,000 pound bell was also purchased. While only three feet tall, it can be heard for five miles in every direction. Listen for it on the hour!
The area that now houses Wooster’s farmers’ market at the intersection of Liberty and Market Streets was once an area known as Public Square, the center of downtown and city life.
In its southwest corner in 1833 stood a ‘market house.’ A small structure about one-story tall, its life in the town would be short. On August 9, 1847, a group claiming to be Wooster’s “first citizens” pulled the structure down by “...the assistance of a strong horse.”
The “Market House Mob,” as the event would be called, caused public outcry, but no arrests would be made of any of the participants.
Built in 1887, this rusticated, ashlar faced Italianate building was the first of three Quimby buildings on the public square. The William Annat company moved in in 1888. The Quinby building was originally divided into 5 stalls. Annat co. had 2 and eventually took the entire building. The department store lasted for over a century. Today this building houses the last vestiges of the Rubbermaid Company that operated in Wooster from its founding in 1920 to it being bought out in 1998. The store was established in 1993 and sells a wide variety of Rubbermaid products.
This building was built in 1870 and survived the fire in 1881 because of its brick construction. It housed the Kuake and Frost Bank, a tin shop, and a grocery. The Knights of the Pythias Lodge leased the second and third floors. This building features high victorian and italianate architecture and rounds a corner. This building was also in the general location of the Wooster Democrat. Some claim that the offices of the historic newspaper was in the south western corner of the public square.
Knights of Pythias Lodge:
The Knights of Pythias met in 1900 inside the top two floors of the Gift Corner on South Market Street. The organization, which was chartered by Congress as a fraternal organization, was formed as an institution to honor Pythias, the wife of Aristotle, who was an important contributor to science in ancient Greece.
The Wooster division of the Knights of Pythias was largely English and German. Members would have worn a sword inscribed with the “FCB” acronym to signify their membership. In the image to the left, they are shown in a parade drill, most likely on West Liberty Street.
Was built in 1878 By Gerlach, Kinkler, and Struab. Gurlach and Kinkler owned a meat market and Struab owned a saloon and restaurant. The second story was living quarters and the third floor was a dance floor. First home of Freedlanders department store. This building also could have been a meeting place for the German organization in Wooster during the 1880s. This building featured High victorian and italianate architecture.
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge:
The International Order of Odd Fellows is a fraternal organization that is dedicated to service. The name comes from from British organizations that called themselves Oddfellows.
In Wooster, the Order regularly met in this area near the City Square Steakhouse in 1900.
Members of the Odd Fellows can be recognized by the “F, L, T” logo, which stands for “Friendship, Love, and Truth.”
Broken Rocks is known for some of the best food in Wooster but what few people know is that underneath this bustling restaurant are a series of underground tunnels. We can assume that these were built for sewage purposes but some suspect that these were also used by Underground Railroad operators to help escaping slaves. While there are no concrete documents to support this theory, it is known fact that Wooster was a stop along the Underground Railroad through Ohio. Wooster lawyer Eugene Pardee helped aid and transport escaping slaves. He housed them in his carriage house which still stands on 931 Pittsburgh Ave today. According to A Biographical Sketch of Lawyers in Wayne County, “Opposition of slavery was one of the biggest purposes in Pardee’s life...and he probably made more speeches against it than any man in this part of the country”. For more information on the Underground Railroad in Wayne County please visit WoosterHistory.org!
Wayne County National Bank:
Founded 1845, (Temporarily) Destroyed in 1957 by Tornado
At least three Wayne County National Bank buildings have been at the corner of Liberty and Market streets opposite of the Court of Common Pleas at various points throughout Wooster’s history. The bank was Wooster’s first business and largest bank and originally served as a branch of Ohio’s state bank.
This location survived undisturbed for 112 years until May 15, 1957, when a tornado severely damaged the building. Witnesses across the street seeking shelter in the Courthouse witnessed the roof collapsing -- one teller was killed as it did.
The bank merged with National City Bank in 2004, but while it was still in business, it kept a reminder of the storm in its conference room in the rebuilt building. A copper eagle sitting on one of the bank’s flagpoles had been blown off during the storm. After the storm passed, it was found on the sidewalk along Market Street. Considered by the bank to be the eagle’s first “flight,” the eagle was still residing in the room in 1996, when the Akron Beacon Journal recounted the story.
Freedlander's Department Store:
Freedlander's stood on the northeast corner of Liberty and Walnut Street for many years. The Freedlander's Building was torn down and was turned into high end store fronts with condos in the upper floors. For many years this location was home to a department store that was central to the Wooster community. Freedlander's first opened in 1884 on south Market street as a one price clothing store, in the Germania Hall building that is still standing today. The store moved to a larger location in 1891. Freedlander’s was sold by the Freedlander family and it eventually closed entirely on February 28th 2009. For a long time the building that housed Freedlander’s had a more classical Italianate facade that was common in the Wooster community and then was replaced by a more modern facade in the 1960s and eventually the building was torn down in and rebuilt in its current form in 2010-2012.
Grand Army of the Republic:
While not a ‘secret society’ in the popular sense of the word, the Grand Army of the Republic unified Civil War veterans of Union forces and became a strong political advocacy group with numerous local organizations throughout the nation.
The meeting place of the Grand Army of the Republic in Wooster used to stand here, where Lemonberry’s Frozen Yogurt is today.
Bank of Wooster:
The corner of Liberty and Walnut streets today isn’t an intersection to stand out. A fair distance away from the Courthouse and the Fairgrounds, today it is mostly filled with those wanting books at the Public Library or breakfast at The Parlor. In the 1840s, however, you'd be walking next to a bank. And it wouldn't have been any ordinary bank at all.
The Bank of Wooster had a short history -- it was founded in 1840 and would be bankrupt eight years later. In that time, however, it would leave a history in its wake that would leave scars on Ohio's Democratic party.
It all began in 1844, when the Ohio legislature was considering a measure known as the Latham Act that required major state banks to recharter themselves. Since the founding of the nation, such banks had been controversial, particularly among Democrats, for their support of industry at the expense of the ‘working man.’ With a decidedly anti-bank Democratic majority in the state legislature, it had seemed that “bank reform” would have its way around the state with the new law.
However, Wooster Democrats, it seemed, remained far more loyal to their bank. They formed an alliance in the legislature with the opposing party, the Whigs, that was successful in having the law amended to exempt their prized Wooster bank. Known as “soft” Democrats, they even began supporting the Whig candidate for President -- William Henry Harrison -- against the Democratic incumbent!
Party divisions such as these were heavily common as economic and social issues transformed America's political parties in the years before the Civil War. While it would fail in 1848, its history leaves something to be remembered for a long time -- when a Wooster bank split the state.
Meeting Place for Royal Arcanum and Red Men:
Royal Arcanum and the Improved Order of Red Men were two secret societies in American history. Like so many of them, the story behind Royal Arcanum is a story of fraternal unity -- the lack of public education and public services, such as life insurance, in American communities left such societies as tight-knit orders to provide these services to their members in need.
The Improved Order of Red Men were an organization dedicated to promoting American liberty in the time before the American Revolution. The more modern organization uses Native American cultural symbols as a part of their organizational practices.
Both of these organizations used to meet on West Liberty Street, just to the west of the Wooster Book Company.
Wayne County Public Library - Wooster Branch:
Although it is difficult to determine when the developement of Wayne County’s public library system began, the organization was officially established in 1897. The Wooster branch has seen three libraries in its’ history, with the Liberty Street library being the current location for Wooster residents.
Built through 2006 and commemorated on June 23rd 2007, Wooster’s new library construction was a 10 million dollar endeavor for improving the space and facilities for Wooster residents. The Wooster branch offers a number of specialized services and sections: extended children’s, teen, and career orientated works are designated to respective areas. Additionally, a public Genealogy Center where much of this local history is documented, including microfilms of local newspapers, lateral files, and collections of reference works from local historians.
Check it out and start doing some digging, who knows what you will find!
Second Baptist Church:
The Second Baptist Church began with a small group of African American families coming together to hold religious meetings at the fire station on Spink Street. In 1892, this small Baptist congregation was invited to worship at Bethany Baptist Church (now called First Baptist). In 1892, shortly after joining Bethany Baptist, Richard L. Morrison held a meeting at his home with other African American community leaders and they decided that the African American community of Wooster needed their own space to practice religion. The founding members of the congregation raised money, each pledging at least twenty-five dollars, and purchased a plot of land on Vine Street from Jacob Frick. In 1894, the building was complete. In 1955, in response to the congregation swelling to almost 150 members, the Second Baptist moved from its original Vine Street location to a building on Grant Street, which it purchased from Trinity United Church of Christ. This building was 126 years old and too small for the needs of the growing congregation. After much fund raising by both the congregation and other members of the community, construction began on the new church at the same site, and in November of 1976, the first worship service was held in the new building.