From Church to Tavern: The Old First Presbyterian Church

When the new First Presbyterian Church was built in 1893 on North Mulberry Street, the old church remained a city landmark for another 45 years.  It was initially used for a variety of small shops including a second-hand store run by W. Frank McGuire, a harness shop run by John Ervin[1], and a tin and repair shop owned by Al Andrews.  Oftentimes vagrants would be caught sleeping in the basement of the building.  This didn’t appear to be an issue until items from the shops disappeared.[2]  In April of 1900, the Salvation Army moved their headquarters into the building[3], but their time in the old church would last only a year.  The Presbyterian Church sold the building to William Arnold and George Wagner, owners of the Arnold & Wagner Saloon at 23 South Main St, for $8,000[4].

Old First Presbyterian Church on the corner of South Park and South Diamond.

Wagner had big plans for the building when interviewed by the Mansfield News on July 25, 1901.  The church was to be remodeled into a vaudeville theater with seating for 600 to 700 persons.  The price of tickets would be 10 and 20 cents, depending on the seat, and a saloon would be located in the basement.  When Wagner was asked about the Salvation Army remaining in the building he replied, “No, they wouldn’t pay enough.”  A month earlier, the church board and members appeared to be under the impression that the property would not be used for a saloon.  A letter signed by Arnold and Wagner, which was read to church members, stated, “the undersigned say for themselves that at the time the contract was made with the board of trustees they had no intention of using this property for saloon purposes and that they have no intention at this date (June 12) of using the property as such purposes.” 

The church around 1897, before it was sold by the First Presbyterian Church.

On August 31, 1901, Arnold & Wagner’s Saloon had its grand opening in the former Sunday school room of the Presbyterian church.  The old church had been renovated with the removal of the steeple and “the marble slab near the front of the church [had] been boarded over and [contained] the words ‘Union Home.’  The cornerstone laid Sept. 17, 1858, [had] been turned upside down and at the corner of the building [was] a lager beer sign.” Another beer sign stood at the former entrance to the Sunday school room on South Diamond, now the entrance to the saloon.[5]  The saloon also reportably featured a wine room that catered to female patrons. The saloon would often have as many women as men in the establishment[6].

The celebration was short-lived. By October 24, 1901, George Wagner was suing William Arnold and the Presbyterian Church.  A few days later, the building was sold to George W. Bricker[7], but Wagner continued to rent the basement for his saloon.  William Arnold would open Arnold & Co. at 151 North Main. Wagner was no stranger to the law. He sold meals to the jail for prisoners, but also frequently violated the law by selling to underage patrons and opening before 6 AM, which defied the city ordinance.

In this image of the May Building from 1907, part of the old church building, minus the steeple, is visable just past the Orphium Theatre.

Local religious leaders began using the transformation of the old church building as an analogy for the human body.  Dr. F. A. Gould presented a sermon titled “From Church to Saloon; a study of Spiritual Degradation.”   Gould commented that many men, like the church building, had been “wrecked and ruined by strong drink,” but that it was possible to reclaim the body, just as a fine church in Chicago was given new life when worship returned.  Wagner stayed at the old church building until about 1905 when he opened Wagner & Noutz at 21 East Fourth St. with his son-in-law, Frank Noultz.

The 1,300 seat Park Theater opened on September 15, 1938 (Photo from the Mansfield News-Journal, 15 Sep 1938, p. 8)

Later, Charles E. Martin & Bros., copper and iron workers, moved into the building and, in the 1920’s, it was home the The Quality Motor Sales Co. Finally it was the location of the Park Garage and Service Station before being torn down. The old church stood on the corner of South Park and South Diamond until 1938 when the Park Theater was constructed.  The theater was designed by local architect Charles Conklin and noted theater architect Victor A. Rigaumont.   The building was remodeled into the Park Office Building in 1964 and still stands today.


Sources:

  1. 1899 Mansfield City Directory. P. 54.
  2. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 18 OCT 1900, p. 6.
  3. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 08 April 1900, p. 4.
  4. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 07 Jun 1901, p. 6.
  5. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 03 September 1907, p. 8.
  6. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 18 May 1903, p. 3.
  7. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 28 October 1901, p. 2.
  8. Featured image from https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-2831-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

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