FAIRBORN — A group of 17 history enthusiasts from Fairborn and several surrounding communities took a journey into the past June 3 as they toured a number of historic buildings in the downtown business district of Fairborn.
Sponsored by the Fairborn Community Library, the two-hour walking tour was conducted by Fairborn Area Historical Society Chairperson Mary Pacinda, who shared many fascinating facts about how the City of Fairborn came into existence in 1950.
After the Great Dayton Flood in March 1913, the Miami Conservancy District constructed five area dams to help prevent future flooding, one of which was the Huffman Dam on the Mad River. This move placed the Village of Osborn, which was located near the Haddix Road-Ohio Route 235 intersection, within the flood-prone basin of the dam.
The citizens of Osborn quickly made the decision to relocate Osborn and established the Osborn Removal Company in 1920. The company purchased 265 acres just east of neighboring Fairfield, bordered by Wright Avenue on the west, the railroad tracks on the east, Xenia Drive on the north, and Dayton Drive on the south. Pacinda noted that 80 percent of the houses in Old Osborn were moved 1.5 miles to New Osborn over a two-year period.
Citizens in Fairfield and New Osborn voted to merge in November 1949, and the villages officially became Fairborn on Jan. 1, 1950. When the then-Village of Fairborn reached a population of 5,000 people in August that year, it was officially designated the City of Fairborn.
The historical tour commenced at the public library at 1 East Main Street that originally housed the first post office in Fairborn. In 1938, New Osborn began planning for a new post office, and opened for business in 1940. Pacinda said one of the distinctive features of the building was a large mural depicting the Wright Brothers in their bicycle shop. The mural was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts, which was administered by the Procurement Division of the US Treasury Department. The mural was moved to the new post office on West Hebble Avenue in the 1970s and remains on display there today.
The tour moved on to the Actor’s Theatre at 23 E. Main St., where the group had an opportunity to meet the new owner of the local theatre, Jim Harworth. The quaint theatre, which was originally named the Venard Theatre, opened in New Osborn in the late 1920s when Hollywood films were silent. According to Pacinda, the first “talkie” movie premiered at the theatre on March 29, 1930.
In November 1937, J.C. Robertson bought the Venard and changed its name to Midway Theatre. The Midway Theatre closed its doors in 1948, after Springfield Chakeres Theatres opened the Fairborn Theatre at 34 S. Broad Street. However, remnants of the movie projection room remains at the Main Street theatre. Over the years, a number of community theatre groups have also use the Main Street theatre for local stage plays and shows.
The third stop of the tour was Genuine Auto Parts Store at 27 E. Main St. The building was originally occupied by a Kroger Grocery Store. One senior member of the touring group, who earned 36 cents per hour as a box boy at the Fairborn A & P Food Store, claimed Kroger offered him and other box boys a 5-cent pay increase to leave A & P and work for Kroger.
The group moved on to 30 E. Main Street, which was once was a downtown service station and then explored Foy’s Rock-&-Roll Grill at 22 East Main Street, which formerly housed the family-operated five-and-dime store. Albert Foy opened the retail store in New Osborn in 1929 and eventually moved the store to its current location at 18 E. Main Street. Mike Foy, Albert’s grandson, has worked in the store since he was 6 years old, partnering with his father, Norman Foy, in 1978 and becoming the sole proprietor when his father passed away in 1987.
“It was said that the present store had been a bowling alley, explaining why it has such long, wooden isles,” said Pacinda.
The group’s next stop was the Faith Christian Bookstore at 4 E. Main Street. Pacinda and many of the people on the tour recounted when the building housed Gallaher Drugs Store, a chain store owned by J. Frank Gallaher. Like most pharmacies of the day, Gallaher Drugs had a big soda fountain, which was located along the east wall of the store. In 1965, Gallaher was bought out by Revco and the big Gallaher sign on the store was taken down.
“This was also a Kroger at one time,” Pacinda added. “We know that only because someone took a photo of the post office being built, and the Kroger sign on this building was clearly visible.”
The group also visited the historic building at 4 W. Main St. that was built in 1923 by the Knights of Pythias Lodge 379. The lodge purchased the land for the building from the Miami Conservancy District. The purchase agreement included a plan that stipulated the lower level of the building would provide ample space for six shops. Part of the cost of building materials were defrayed by using materials from the lodge’s building in Old Osborn.
The last stop of the tour was the Bookery at 13 W. Main St. which was once Massie Hardware Store that was moved to New Osborn in 1920.
“The hardware store was the only business we know of that was moved from Old Osborn to New Osborn because it was a wood structure,” Pacinda said. “The story goes that F. C. Massie continued to conduct business as usual at several stops during the moving process.”
Pacinda also pointed out two historic houses along Main Street that were moved from Old Osborn, including Tobias Funeral Home and the very first house moved to New Osborn, which was owned by William Taggart.
Lani Hester, who has resided in Fairborn for just two years, said the tour provided her with a nice glimpse of local history.
“It was the first tour I have been on, and I learned a lot about the history of Fairborn,” Hester said.
Hester’s son, Ron, who has lived in Fairborn for 15 years, also expressed his satisfaction with the tour.
“I am a history buff, so I really liked it,” Ron said.
Both Susan Semler and her brother, Steven, who live in family homes that were moved from Old Osborn to Wright Avenue, said the tour highlighted many childhood memories for them.
“I actually located a copy of the deed when my great-aunt Margaret Kate Haddix purchased the house and property where I live today,” Steven Semler said. “These places are truly remnants of our family history.”
Fairborn Librarian Tracy Marks, who lent a helping hand along the tour route, noted that it was the first time she participated in the historical tour.
“I believe everyone enjoyed the tour,” Marks said. “I know I learned a lot.”
Linda Collins is a freelance writer for Greene County News.