The Changing Face of Putnam Street
For the first century after the settlement of Marietta, Putnam Street sat relatively vacant, spare a few residences and government buildings. The bustle and commerce were largely reserved for Ohio and Front Streets; largely due to the simple fact that Marietta had no reason to expand any further North yet. Putnam Street was one of the first residential areas outside of Fort Harmar and the Campus Martius stockade. It housed the wealthier members in the area including Samuel Hildreth and Nahum Ward; men who wanted to live just a bit removed from ‘downtown’.
Dr. Hildreth was a well-known physician in town during the 1800’s, and his house was located where the Courthouse extension is today. Nahum Ward was a philanthropist and owner of much real estate; he was also the town’s mayor from 1833-1836. He would host and entertain those who came to visit Marietta, such as Marquis de Lafayette and President John Quincy Adams. He was also the man who paid for and commissioned the Unitarian-Universalist Church on Third Street, and his grand house stood where the Chase Bank is today. The land office where he did much of his work still stands and houses the law office of Fields, Dehmlow & Vessels.
Around the 1880’s, however, the town started to expand, and new merchants and businessmen began to realize the potential of Putnam Street. The first business to open up on Putnam Street was
the Strecker Brother’s Co., which sold and exported leather goods, in 1884. They had first begun operations in 1881, but due to the need for expansion they were forced to move, taking this opportunity to relocate to 117 & 119 Putnam Street. The building was originally built as a 2-story with a basement, but 2 years later, they needed to expand, once again, to a 5-story structure. Soon the Otto Brothers Department Store followed in the same path. They built 110 & 112 Putnam Street across from Strecker Brothers, as they expanded out of their small shop on Front Street. If you walk around downtown, you can still find their old advertisements painted and weathered on the side of one of the buildings. (No, we won’t tell you where it is, have fun exploring!)
As time progressed, a variety of buildings began construction on Putnam Street, everything from family businesses, to theatres and homemade goods to banks; much like it is today. In 1893 the Citizens National Bank opened where the Chase Bank is currently. Across the way, the building we know as the Dime Bank was built in 1908 as the German National Bank, and was renamed later, though it ceased all banking operations in the 1970’s. Today, it is still called the Dime Bank. Across the street is our current Courthouse. This is the third courthouse this town has built since being founded in 1788. The first was built in 1798, the second in 1823, and the third being built in 1902. The first courthouse was located across the street where Dime Bank is today, and was later used as a jail.
A little further down, to the 200 block, we find a large portion of our theatre district. The Putnam Theatre, now known as MOVP, at 229 Putnam, was opened in 1915. Not long later in 1919, the New Hippodrome Theatre, now known as Peoples Bank Theatre, was built. In 1949 it was re-branded as the Colony Theatre and operated as such until it closed in 1985. 31 years later, after expansive and
intense renovations to restore it to its former glory, the theatre reopened in 2016. There were 5 theatres in existence at the time the New Hippodrome was built. Of those theatres, only the Mid-Ohio Valley Players, once known as the Putnam Theatre, and Peoples Bank Theatre still stand. The parking lot next to MOVP used to contain a full mural about what Putnam and Third used to contain, including the hotel that filled the corner. It was first built as the Dodge Cottage but was later used as a boarding house for college students by Kate Wakefield-Dye. Finally, it became a hotel, but due to unfortunate circumstances, it was torn down in the 1970’s to become a parking lot.
At the NE corner of Fourth and Putnam, where the city building is today, an early structure once stood. The old city building was a grand structure built in 1872 as the home of the Mayor’s office, the jail, and other departments. The second floor however, held a 1,500-person opera house called the Auditorium. Sadly in 1935, a man housed in the jail set fire to his cell and took the whole building with him. The current structure was built in 1937 but serves largely the same purposes.
Putnam Street has also had a dark past. From executions, to murders, suicides and accidents, the ground holds secrets and strange happenings take place inside the buildings. Putnam Street has had a long and interesting history, and we are always learning more! If you are interested to hear more about Putnam Street’s history (and hauntings!), join us every Thursday and Saturday at 8 PM at the Courthouse from May thru October for Putnam Street Ghost Trek!