Now and then…

The intriguing past lingering in Troy’s historical sites

By Tara Pettit

Photo: Commercial Row in 1910, part of Troy’s business district, which burned down in an arson fire in 1900

Troy, Ohio is known for its rich history. With the city’s eighteenth century architecture, still-standing historic buildings and flair for the antique business, a day trip to downtown Troy is instantly transformed into a stroll through quaint Mayberry, or reminiscent of a historical colonial town. Being surrounded by its old majestic buildings and ideal small-town life makes Troy a perfect destination for a day getaway that offers an educational experience when cabin fever sets in this winter.

Standing out as a rare treasure of a city in this area, Troy is one quintessential old town that boasts quite a unique past. Intrigued? This is one stroll through history that you will want to take in one of the greater Miami Valley’s most beloved areas.

You are here…

First stop: Prouty Plaza, once home to the Steil-Uhlman building, burnt to its demise by arson

Prouty Plaza is a perfect place to begin your historical tour of Troy, as it is centrally located in Public Square and a renowned location for social gatherings. Prouty is a familiar landmark used as a green space for community events. While this site today serves as a key location in Troy, what you may not know is this very spot was once home to a bustling department store – a building that was also once very much considered a central city location in Troy. Steil-Uhlman’s, a department store that founded by Adam Steil in 1859 and later merged with Fred. W. Uhlman & Co. in 1955, was a staple business in much of Troy’s history as a city. The business was even completely operated by two women at one point in the late 1940s.

However, despite the department store’s long-running presence in the city, business came to a screeching halt for Steil-Uhlman when it was set on fire in 1970 in an attempted burglary turned arson. The culprit was spotted in Public Square carrying a record player, which contained bottles of beer. In a routine shakedown, police officers discovered a pair of scissors in his pocket with the inscription, “Wrapping Department” on it, which was later determined to be property of Steil-Uhlman’s second floor wrapping department. The perpetrator was arrested and charged for arson and burglary.

Next stop: North Market Street, Commercial Row, home to the original arson fire

Rounding the corner of Public Square and following it until you reach the intersecting street will land you at Troy’s main drag – North Market Street. As you walk down the street, take a look around you. You’ll see some restaurants, a law office and a barbershop. This series of buildings, known as “Commercial Row,” was also once ravaged by arsonists in 1825, the first of several historic cases of Troy’s public buildings being lost to fire. In this case of arson, the perpetrators were not found.

The buildings were rebuilt in 1833 and became part of one of the most important business districts in Troy until after the Civil War. Deterioration eventually set in, which prompted a rehabilitation of the district in the 1970s. Commercial Row was and is continually utilized as a small business district as it “reinvents itself with passing years,” said Patrick Kennedy, archivist at the local history library that is part of the Troy-Miami County Public Library.

Next stop: 209 East Water Street: once home to Hayner Distillery, a discrete distillery with a rebel cause

A right turn onto East Water Street will put you on the path toward one of Troy’s once most profitable, however disdained, manufacturing businesses in its history: the Hayner distillery. Built in 1856 by Lewis Hayner, owner of Troy Hydraulic, the distillery was opened despite direct confrontation from the ladies of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union who at the time served as leading activists in the prohibition movement. The ladies did not stop the distillery’s vision, however.

When Hayner’s death ushered his two nephews into ownership of the distillery, the business transformed into a regional manufacturer of whiskey libations. Hayner Distillery saw a doubling in capacity and demand from direct customer sales at a time when the temperance movement was influencing entire cities and states to forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages.

In 1900, the company spent $80,000 in magazine and newspaper advertisements throughout a dry region where saloons were prohibited by law and took full advantage of the loophole in whiskey sales that allowed shipping by express or parcel post, often mailing product in unmarked packages. In fact, the company would ship some brands of its whiskey in special bottles with combination locks at the top to prevent anyone except the customer from imbibing the contents.

Public Square: reflecting the evolving pride of Troy throughout its many years

Let’s head on back to where we started, to the one central location of Troy that has continued to be reinvented to reflect the pride of the city and its citizens.

Since 1876, the Public Square has boasted a beautiful fountain that was dedicated to Ivan Terrel, former mayor and civic leader of Troy. However, the most recent fountain is only one of several centerpieces that have graced the center of the square, which have included a globe, a courthouse building, a 160-foot liberty pole and, most interestingly, a smal replica of the Eiffel Tower.

Troy decided to give props to Old Paris in Public Square after, in 1891, lightning struck the gilded eagle that was at the time perched atop Public Square’s liberty pole. The pole was removed with the idea in 1898 to erect a miniature Eiffel Tower – to reflect the ongoing Spanish-American War. Money for the tower was raised by private subscription and continuous enhancements were made to the tower in following years, such as painting, a bandstand constructed at its base and an incorporated system of electric lights. At the time, some called it the “awful tower.”

Nonetheless, Public Square was and remains a central area for display of Troy pride, invention, and celebration, where the city’s past can be told through architectural creation on the one square plot of land that has existed since the beginning.

“I am a little biased since I grew up here, but Troy is really a unique place is so many ways,” Kennedy said. “It is a mixture of small-town charm, along with a vibrant downtown area that is the heart of the city.”

Kennedy expresses the essence of what makes Troy the city it is. The culmination of its extensive history, born and raised citizens, and pride shapes the city’s story of all it is…then and now.

For more information about the history of Troy, or for a map of the city’s historical sites, please contact the Troy Historical Society at 937.339.5900, or visit thetroyhistoricalsociety.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tara Pettit at TaraPettit@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tara Pettit is a regional journalist and communications specialist with a focus on the arts, social/environmental justice issues, and community activism. She is passionate about cultivating intentional community and engaging in collaborative creative projects that make healthy community possible. Reach her at TaraPettit@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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