BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — For over a century, the two-story commercial building at 9 N. River Rd. served as the Waterville Gas headquarters. In December, the Waterville Gas Co. donated the 2,422-square-foot commercial building and a 1,884-square-foot home at 11 N. River Rd. to the Waterville Historical Society (WHS). “Waterville Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and share the city’s history. This is one way for our company to help contribute toward that goal. It needs to be shared with the community,” said Waterville Gas president Robert Stitt Black. And that’s exactly the plan, said WHS executive director Dennis Jones. As he led a tour through the building, Jones said he envisions hands-on exhibits for children and adults to learn more about the oil and gas industry in Northwest Ohio. In the 1880s, the natural gas boom was just starting, said WHS president Jim Conrad. In 1888, Robert G. Stitt and his partners founded the Waterville Gas & Oil Co. Soon after, Stitt bought out his partners and, at one time, owned 150 oil leases throughout the surrounding area, including properties now occupied by Fallen Timbers Fairways and Johns Manville. Stitt sold natural gas to local residents, as well as oil well supplies and gas appliances. His name remains on the front of the building, which received a facelift with decorative tin siding in the 1920s. Waterville Gas remained in that location until 2009, when a new facility opened at 700 Farnsworth Rd. Robert Black is the great-grandson of Stitt. His son, Todd Black, is secretary and treasurer of the company, which serves about 7,000 customers in Lucas and Wood counties. Waterville Gas is the longest family-owned natural gas company in Ohio, Robert said, and among the oldest continually owned family businesses in Northwest Ohio This fact is not lost on Jones, who began talking with the Black family when the WHS launched a capital campaign. Unlike those who write checks, the donation of a building that has been in the family for five generations is an emotional decision, Jones said. “This is the desire of the family to pass on historic family buildings that someone would take care of and understand the historic importance, and preserve it as they would like it preserved,” Jones said. The Waterville Gas building could be as old as the Columbian House. That historic icon was built in two phases: a one-and-a-half story building facing Farnsworth in 1828 and a three-story addition facing the river in 1837. “We believe the Waterville Gas building is circa 1827 or 1828. It’s about the oldest structure, along with the original Columbian House,” Conrad said. At that time, the intersection was known as Main and Wood streets, and it was the main business section in town. The commercial building housed a tin shop on the first floor and a dentist’s office on the second floor. The home, purchased by Robert Stitt in 1929, is listed as circa 1887 on the Lucas County Auditor’s website, but Conrad believes it’s much older, based on the bark-covered wooden beams used to construct the house – perhaps in the 1820s. “We are pleased that the Black family has honored us to put these properties into our hands,” Conrad said. The WHS also owns the Robbins House (1837-38), Sargent House (1834) and Wakeman Hall (1881). The WHS offers historical walking tours and opens the museums during the spring, summer and fall. Last year, the WHS took on some new projects, including sponsorship of the Halloween Spooktacular, December Light Up Waterville and the January 1 Polar Bear Plunge, drawing newcomers and residents alike to enjoy the downtown area. Jones sees the addition of the two buildings as an opportunity to turn historic downtown Waterville into an attraction. Work has just begun on the new Waterville bridge, which is set to open in September 2019. The old bridge will be demolished by September 2020, clearing the waterfront and the old school grounds for a park. “When the bridge is completed and the park is in use, this will be a more dynamic center point for the community as an entertainment area,” Jones said. “Waterville will be more of a destination.” For more information, visit www.watervillehistory.org.
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