Here’s how it all started: Originally, this area contained a number of wooden buildings which contained about half of the village’s retail shops. Early in the morning of March 3, 1855, an accidental fire destroyed the wooden buildings. The property owners put up the present brick buildings based on a design by Charles C. Miller of Norwalk, who was then only 24 years old. He called the style Italian, and used the then-new method of supporting openings by arches rather than posts and lintels.
The southernmost building is a full three stories high with a hall or auditorium on the third floor. This was owned by a man named Ephraim Bishop Perkins, a Monroeville merchant and banker. Mr. Perkins and his wife dwelt in what was considered the finest house in Monroeville - the brick still standing at 29 North Main.
Perkins owned the southernmost building, and when it was completed, he and Orrin Head operated their Bank of Monroeville in the north room on the first floor, and Perkins operated a retail store in the south room. Other owners of the rooms in the new 1855 brick block were Orrin Head; Chalmer Webster; Dr. Cook; and A. W. Prentiss & Co.
The third-floor room on the southernmost building was known as Perkins Hall, and quickly became the center of Monroeville social life, despite it having two flights of stairs to navigate. Countless political speeches, musical concerts and live plays were performed here. Best remembered was a patriotic rally in 1861 which convinced many young men to enlist in the army to fight the rebellion.
Ephraim Perkins and his wife (nee Eliza Allen) both died in 1857, leaving a complicated estate to be settled. Perkins was only 41 years old and suffered a long illness. His case was one of the first where a guardian had to be appointed to manage the affairs of a disabled adult. Almost all guardianships in those days were created for orphaned minor children. In 1866, the Perkins Block passed into the ownership of John S. Davis, a Monroeville boy who returned to manage the local bank. He also acquired the former Perkins home and lived in it the remainder of his life.
The third-floor auditorium was renamed Davis Hall, and continued its good work until the new Ridgefield Township Hall was built where the Monroeville village offices stand, in 1884. This large building had a hall on the second floor and all local activities, such as plays, musicals and high school commencements, moved to the township hall. Fire in 1946 destroyed the township hall.
Meanwhile, the former Davis Hall was idle until 1912, when an organizaiton called The Triangle Club rented Davis Hall to make it a community center to be “as useful as possible to all citizens of the community.” I’m not sure how long this noble endeavor lasted, but I do know that in later years, the Masonic Lodge used Davis Hall for its meetings.
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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.