Ada Ohio Walking Tour
A tour around the Ohio Northern University's college town of Ada highlighting historic structures and statues.
The business section of Main Street in Ada stretches just three blocks and straddles the key Pennsylvania Railroad line that once held an important role in the village’s growth. Several turn-of-the-century buildings flank this short stretch of road, with datestones still visible on some façades. From dirt, to brick, and finally to asphalt, the street has seen many businesses, held countless events, and witnessed the growth of the village of Ada.
The current First United Methodist Church opened in 2014 to replace its predecessor that succumbed to a massive fire two years earlier. The Ada congregation traces its roots to 1852, when it met in an old schoolhouse. It upgraded to a two-story wooden church in 1868, and finally moved to the stone church at the corner of North Main Street and West Highland Avenue on June 18, 1899. However, on March 13, 2012, a massive fire broke out leaving the century-old historic church in ruins. In 2014, Ada First United Methodist Church was rebuilt in the original location for $6 million.
Originally built in 1903, the building located at the corner of N. Johnson St. and E. Buckeye Ave. in Ada, Ohio has served multiple purposes in its 115+ year life. This historic building was dedicated in 1905 as an armory for the National Guard and was utilized through both World Wars and the Vietnam War until 1983 when the armory officially closed. Then, in 1987, the armory was sold by the State of Ohio to Rudy and Ann Schneidhorst and was used primarily as a warehouse and event center until it became the Armory Bar & Grille in 2005. In 2014, Viva Maria’s Italian Restaurant opened in the armory and currently serves arguably the best food in Ada with a unique atmosphere.
Amid the corn and soybean fields of Ada, Ohio, the Wilson Football Factory continues to manufacture hundreds of thousands of footballs per year. The original football factory, called Ohio-Kentucky Industries, was previously located in Cincinnati near the Ohio River. However, in 1937 the river flooded and forced the business to relocate. In 1938, Ohio-Kentucky Industries moved north to Ada and continued to produce baseball mitts and footballs in the new factory. In 1955, Wilson bought Ohio-Kentucky Industries and renamed the brand Wilson Sporting Goods Company.
The Pennsylvania Railroad built the Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park in 1887. The station was used for passenger transportation for many years. In 1998, the Ada station was listed on the National Register of Historical Places. In present day, it is no longer used as a passenger depot but is still able to be visited.
Along Main Street sits Railroad Park, a beautiful, foliage-covered area directly in front of the train depot. Since 1903, the park has been home to a decommissioned Civil War cannon, standing as a memorial to all the soldiers from Ada who fought in the Civil War. In 2018, Ray Schuck, an ONU history professor, and a team of students researched and documented 81 veterans in total, whose names can now be seen on the bricks surrounding the cannon. One of those bricks at the base of the cannon belongs to Henry Solomon Lehr, a Civil War veteran and the founder of Ohio Northern University.
The Ada Post Office, built in 1938 as a New Deal construction project, helped citizens find work during the Great Depression. "A Country Barn Dance", a 12-foot mural painted by Albert Kotin, looks over the lobby. One of more than 1300 post office murals painted during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, the artwork intended to boost morale through traditional local scenes. The post office also retains original mailboxes, teller windows with wrought-iron bars, and painted signage above the registry window and postmaster’s office.
Prior to World War I a citizen of Ada might walk down the street listening to the tunes of pianos fill the air. The tunes of the pianos came from players, mechanical pianos and pianists. Pianos were an important form of entertainment in the home and keeping them working in perfect conditions required technicians. These technicians were trained at the Northwestern Ohio School of Piano Tuning by David O. Betz.
The land that would become Ada War Memorial Stadium was bought in 1903 and parts of the land turned into Alumni Field. By the fall of 1922 the football field and stadium was constructed with the help of students. A mutually beneficial agreement between the community and ONU was constructed and between the years 1947 and 2004 the students of ONU used the stadium as their home field for sports. It is now currently being used as the home field for the Ada high school.
Construction of this building began in 1914 and replaced a previous structure that became the first academic building of Ohio Normal School. This building is named in honor of Henry Solomon Lehr who arrived in Ada in 1866 and led the effort to create the institution that grew to become Ohio Northern University. This building replaced one that was constructed largely from Lehr's efforts by gathering support from around the area of Ada.
Standing front and center of the Ohio Northern University campus, the tower of Hill Memorial overlooks Ada’s Main Street. Originally called the Administration Building, the three-story building held several offices and classrooms that hosted most of the clubs on campus. In its early life, Hill Memorial had a history of catching on fire in that time fire trucks were still pulled by horses. The building caught on fire twice, in 1889 and 1913, the latter of which resulted in the loss of the third floor. After the second fire in 1913, the building was reconstructed and then dedicated to its namesake, Rev. John Wesley Hill.
The statue of Henry Solomon Lehr stands between the Dicke College of Business Administration and Hill Memorial. The statue of Lehr commemorated the founding of ONU on October 6, 2007, during homecoming weekend. Lehr founded Ohio Northern University in 1871 with the former name of the institution, Northwestern Ohio Normal School. Lehr opened the school to provide structure in professors’ teaching. Lehr was president of the university from 1871 to 1900. Lehr stayed at ONU as an administrative assistant until 1903, he then left and moved to Winona, Indiana, because of conflicted with the lead successor. Lehr came back to the village where he established ONU in 1905 because of change in leadership and he later then passed away in 1923.
Martin Luther King Jr., an international figure, continues to be recognized by the statue displayed of him at the southeast corner by the old Taft Gymnasium and the College of Law Building. The statue stands 6 foot 3 inches tall and was created out of silicon bronze by the artist Tad McKillop. The statue was installed on April 17, 2017, for the 50th anniversary of King speaking at Ohio Northern University. King came to the university on January 11, 1968, and spoke about day-to-day struggles for freedom and human dignity. A packed crowd of 2,500 attended in the old Taft Gymnasium with another 2,000 listened to the audio at the Lehr Auditorium.