[Ed. Note: Hicksville, Ohio, featured on page after page of Farmland News, was a town on the cusp of change in 1999. A few impending improvements were featured and are noted below. One of the other articles detailed area history from the 1680’s when French missionaries and trappers were making inroads until 1975, the centennial of town incorporation. Much of that information came from James Battershell’s Centennial publication, a highly regarded source for Hicksville history buffs, available for purchase in our store or for perusal at the library. This page focuses on information not in the incomparable Battershell book.]
The Johnson Memorial Library in Hicksville is growing! A September 21st groundbreaking ceremony formally began the process that will end next spring or early summer with the opening of an addition to the facility. The library, which sits on the site of what was once the magnificent home of the town’s founding father, A. P. Edgerton, is a branch of the Defiance Public Library and Mary Lou Durre is branch manager and head librarian. In 1958, she met and married Hicksville native John Durre and in 1959 they moved back to John’s farm. Mary Lou began working at the library in 1979 and was named head librarian in 1985.
Hicksville’s first library was located in a basement room of the old school building. Open house was held on Sept. 20, 1939, and Mrs. Harry Belknap was the first librarian. When larger quarters were needed, Carma Rowe established a building fund. The one story, colonial-style brick structure was dedicated in December of 1953. Carma presented the building in memory of her parents Wesley and Melissa Johnson and her sister Mabel Johnson.
The library houses 25,000 items, is open 40 hours a week, and uses electronic library cards—2,589 of which are now in use. It has automated card catalogs and (since 1996) internet access. It also participates in inter-library loans with other libraries. The current library has 2540 sq. ft. of space and the addition will add 1624 more. “It is financed by library funds, grants, and gifts,” Mary Lou says. “There’ll be no levy or tax burden to the public. Our Friends of the Library organization is very active and its members have helped with fund raising activities. Julie Barth is president and there are about 20 people in the group.”
“Alice’s [Hook] children’s programs are quite popular and the addition will provide a much needed children’s area that’s removed from the main library area. We’re looking forward to the new addition because it will give us an area where we can keep the programs contained, especially when we’re doing crafts.” Mary Lou explained newer services being provided: audio tapes, large print books, voter registration, Buckeye card applications, faxes, internet, and copying. With the addition, librarians hoped to add homebound programs, handicapped parking and restrooms, and additional computerization.
“Libraries have changed considerably from the ‘Quiet, please’ days. But I must admit that I still have one of those old signs, and every now and then I do get it out and look at it a little wistfully.”
The large letters above its second-story windows are faded almost beyond visibility. The front of the building is in a sad state of neglect and to add insult to injury is painted a horrid pink color.
But there was a time when this opera house was recognized as one of the best try-out theaters in the country. There was a time when famous entertainers visited. There was a time.... but that time was long ago. History has a way of repeating itself and Hicksville history certainly has that chance.
If the Huber Opera House & Civic Center committee succeeds with its restoration project, the Huber Opera House may yet see a return to glorious days and romantic nights. Pam Diehl is committee president. Judy McCalla is treasurer. The steering committee includes Keith Countryman, Mary Smith, and Jay Rumple. “The committee was formalized in September of 1998,” says Pam. “We currently have about 20 members. Though the project is just getting underway, many local groups and county agencies express interest in using the building once it’s restored. The building is structurally sound, but restoring it will be a massive undertaking. Though financial grants are a possibility, the committee understands that the restoration is essentially a local project.”
“Restoring one of the sparkling jewels of the community at the turn of the last century would be a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of the next one.”
The relatively young Hicksville Historical Society is continually adding to its inventory of vintage pictures and interesting items. The society houses its collection in A. P. Edgerton’s original 1840 Land Office through the generosity of the Library that owns the edifice. The Historical Society has about 250 members with 25 active during the fair to man our building and Hitching Post Days. The Historical Society moved into the Land Office in the early 1990’s with two rooms and a utility area. Although most items were donated, a few were purchased such as furniture made in Hicksville.
The society provides information to many local groups and to the local HIX TV television station. “We’re providing information about the Huber Theatre to the group that is restoring it, and historical pictures of the town’s buildings to the Downtown Revitalization Committee to help in restoring the original facades of the buildings. We are truly serious about preserving what we have left of Hicksville history.”
Allen Hilbert was born June 4, 1919 and remembers being a part of a group that had 2 years of kindergarten. They started at age 4 in a private kindergarten run by a retired first grade teacher with the understanding that they would be allowed to begin first grade at age 5. After finishing, the County Superintendent countermanded the policy and the entire class had to spend another year in kindergarten.
At one time, Hicksville had four large department stores. Boon Bevington Company’s General Store carried everything—carpeting, men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, furniture, and even groceries. That store survived the Depression years and was the last real department store in town. Saturday nights were big shopping nights here because all the farmers came into town. So even if a merchant had a bad business week, he could make up for it on a Saturday night.
Traffic was so light, that children roller skated on the streets from spring thaw until winter freeze up, most evenings until it was time to go home and go to bed. Ice skates clamped onto hightops and when they came lose, kids would go flying. They used to sled down the railroad bank and go flying across one street and almost to another. “It’s a wonder nobody was killed,” remarked Allen.
There was no school gymnasium until 1932. The school team played basketball in several buildings before that. The village had $13,000 that had been put together for a library that was never built, so they used that to buy WWI surplus material and then the WPA built a free standing gym. Many schools in the area had similar ones.
“I believe Hicksville can look forward to a bright future, just as it can look backward on an interesting and exciting past. I doubt the main streets will ever again be so empty of traffic that kids can roller skate on them in the summer or sled across them in the winter!” —Allen Hilbert
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