The Life & Death of Church Street

Today, Church Street in downtown Marietta hides its history well, as its appearance does not suggest that it was once a residential neighborhood with businesses, brothels, a theatre, and home to American Legion Post #714. Except for the two blocks of well-laid bricks, it appears as an alley between Second and Fourth Streets. Today, there are no houses or businesses, but rather it is dotted with small warehouses and the rear of other businesses on the main streets.

Church street in 1900

How Church Street was named is a bit of a mystery. Early Marietta prided itself on the calculated naming of east-west city streets for Revolutionary War officers. If an officer of the American Revolution named Church existed, he was indeed quite minor. More likely, it was named Church Street in reference to a very early Baptist Church building located there. The First Baptist Church of Marietta Township formed in 1818 and by 1836 the denomination built a church on what is now called Church Street. Soon after, the first annual meeting of the anti-slavery society was held at the church. Unfortunately, the structure was destroyed by fire in 1855. The Baptists had already begun construction of a new building on Putnam Street next to city hall, so they did not rebuild. The 1873-4 Polk City Directory listed the United Brethren Church located at corner of Fourth and Church Streets. Neither of the churches remained on Church Street.

United Brethren Church of Marietta

In the 1800’s, businesses and hotels thrived on Front and Greene Streets where new settlers arrived via the Ohio River. Houses of citizens were sometimes intermixed in the commercial district and workers, whether they owned or boarded, could easily walk to their jobs. Church Street was in the heart of it all. In 1860, among the residents were a salesman who worked on Ohio Street, an engineer for the Cincinnati & Marietta Railroad, a teamster employed to haul goods by wagon, and a traveling salesman. Christopher Deble had a blacksmith shop near the corner of Second and Church Streets. James H. Dye, of the Dye & McCarty tannery on nearby Second Street, lived on Church Street.

In the early 1900’s, there were a dozen houses on the street with a mixture of working class families and boarders. Almost all of the houses were on the north side of the blocks. A barber, carpet layer, carpenter, hostler, brickmaker, stovemounter, and other laborers called Church Street home. Henry Weidner had a blacksmith shop at 208 and Henry Robinson, wholesale beer agent, had a sample room at 308. Laborers could easily walk to the large Ohio Valley Wagon Company that faced Fourth Street and stretched back on the three hundred block of Church Street. The Morganstein blacksmith shop was located at 215. But life at the turn of the century was not all work. The Church Street Theatre in the 300 block provided live performance of music and plays. There was even an ice cream parlor along the street.

The Ohio Valley Wagon Company

In the midst of the neighborhood, a darker side lurked. During the oil boom of the 1890’s Marietta had its share of drinking and prostitution problems. As stated in the book, City Into Town, “Large numbers of transients passed through town, saloons and brothels thrived on Church and Ohio Streets, and “slick promoters of oil propositions could be found in every hotel lobby and on every street corner.” Police raided two houses of ill fame in 1889, one on Church Street and one on Ohio Street. Two women operating were fined $40 and three inmates fined $20. Other raids and fines for large groups of women occurred in 1896 and 1902. In the first decades of the Twentieth Century, Marietta was combating an increasingly persistent prostitution business. Most of the houses of “ill fame” were located in what was called the “Lower District”: Ohio Street, South Third Street, and Church Street. Ladies of the evening had often been fined, but in 1915 the city appeared to have won their battle. The Marietta Times front-page story on April 8 published a story in which four proprietresses of the houses agreed to close and fines were suspended. One of the women named operated a brothel at 313 Church Street. The courts had previously closed six houses and the hope was that Marietta would be rid of this “social evil.”