Shawnee Restoration Efforts Show Promise

The Tecumseh Theater undergoing major renovations

Shawnee is the prime example of what boom-town architecture had to offer in the early 1900s. Much like the rest of the historical town, the large, three-story Tecumseh Theater is a relic of the past. But local efforts to restore the theater and the town are starting to show for the first time in 30 years.

Back in its golden years, Shawnee – located in Perry County – was a thriving coalmining town. At its peak, they had about 4,000 residents who called the town home, making it the largest coalmining town during the Hocking Valley Coal Boom era.

But by the 1930s, the boom was over. The coalmining companies packed up and left, leaving Shawnee with a ravaged environment and a slew of unemployment. The people of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds (LCBD) spent the latter half of the century restoring the surrounding forests and streams.

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In 1934, Wayne National Forest became the first national park in Ohio. Wayne removed the large coal globs that coated the hillsides black, replanted the woodland, and staved off underground mine fires, as well as many other conservation efforts.

Then in 1976, the members of the Sunday Creek Restoration Project saw hope in the Tecumseh Theater and took on the major effort to restore the building.

According to Sandra Landis, a Sunday Creek associate and dedicated member toward the restoration, the theater was going to be torn down and salvaged for its steal I-beams. Determined to not let history crumble, a group of locals formed the Tecumseh Theater Organization and bought the building for just $500. The ownership was then transferred to Sunday Creek Associates in the early 1990s.

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Next, they restored the left side of the storefront, which has been a huge success for the community. They hold many gatherings a year, such as receptions, retirement and graduation parties, a place for polling during elections and even a classroom setting.

The entire project has a hefty price tag of about $1.2 million. The building needs an elevator, plumbing, electric and a complete remodel for the windows and walls.

With the hopes of gaining sufficient funds from federal and state grants, they are now designing plans to renovate the second and third floors. They hope to restore the old finishes and intricately painted designs on both the stage and the walls, based off of old photos and stencils they recovered during the cleanup.

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“We see the opera house being available for performance, seminars, trade shows, galleries, exhibits, you name it,” Landis says. “All sorts of wonderful things can happen in there once it’s back.”

Restoring the opera house is just one of the many ways that the community will once again thrive. Buckeye Trail Association has expressed interest in making Shawnee a trail stop for hikers where they can get maps and amenities.

Wayne National Forest is also interested in making Shawnee a Gateway Headquarters for information and access to the many nearby nature attractions such as Tecumseh Lake and the horse-riding trail.

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“Part of the work of regenerating and revitalizing a place, I think, is understanding its story and its past,” Landis says. “Both so you can discover assets to build on, but so you can discover mistakes that were made or things that should never be repeated… We understand that a place that was so terribly wounded and damaged and left as trash can heal and thrive, but it is not without enormous help and time.”



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