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Massillon Athletic Club: A Link to Massillon’s Early Football Days

Massillon Athletic Club: A Link to Massillon’s Early Football Days
by Lois McHugh, Museum Volunteer

North Avenue Massillon Athletic Club
Massillon Athletic Club, c.1906
Digital positive of the original glass plate negative
Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of Dan Douglass (90.25.939)

One of my favorite jobs as a volunteer in the Massillon Museum is scanning old photographs and entering them in the Museum’s collection database under the supervision of Archivist Mandy Altimus Pond.  I love the pictures of old buildings, many of them long gone; grand theaters, grand homes, and long-forgotten stores.

One historic building caught my attention recently: the Massillon Athletic Club, located at 136 North Avenue, N.E.  This building always seemed strange to me, a huge multi-storied brick building with a small house, sort of attached to the front of it.  The Massillon Museum has several pictures of the building throughout the years, showing no real changes on the outside.

The Massillon Athletic Association with H.A. Croxton as president, and the Massillon Athletic Club, with J.W. McClymonds as president, raised $20,000 and built the large facility standing on North Street N.E. in 1906. The house in front of it became the offices of the two groups.  The house was built in the 1840s for Dr. Abraham Metz, famous optometrist. Part of that house still exists today, while some sections of the house have been moved to other locations.

Interior Massillon Athletic Club
Interior of the Massillon Athletic Club, c.1910

According to a 1981 Independent article, the building was the result of the early popularity of the Massillon Tiger and other semi-professional football teams, and a physical fitness trend.  The Massillon Professional Tigers practiced in the Athletic Club facility.

1904 Professional Massillon Tigers Team Collection of the Massillon Museum (BC 763.5)
1904 Professional Massillon Tigers Team
Collection of the Massillon Museum (BC 763.5)

Towpath to Towpath, Margy Vogt’s  book on Massillon history, states that it contained a fully equipped gym, a running track, the largest swimming pool in the area, two bowling alleys, and wooden lockers.  The Museum has only one picture of the interior of the Athletic Club showing the track and open basketball area.

In 1910, according to the Independent, the buildings were given to the Massillon Schools and became classroom and gym facilities for North Avenue School, a few blocks away.  The school district absorbed the unpaid debt of the Massillon Athletic Club of about $9,500. With use of the Massillon Athletic Club facilities, the school system was able to establish its first basketball team in 1910. When the new high school was finished, the equipment was moved to the new gym.

 Washington High School, c.1915 Collection of the Massillon Museum (96.36.45)

Washington High School, c.1915
Collection of the Massillon Museum (96.36.45)

The school system decided to sell the Athletic Club building about the time the United States entered World War I (1917).  According to Ruth Kane’s book, Trolley Car Days,  the 114 men recruited for the war in Massillon’s Company K were quartered in the building, sleeping on cots, with a few of the local soldiers allowed to live at home due to overcrowding.  Soon, the newly formed Young Peoples Christian Organization began feeding the recruits in an army mess tent on vacant land adjacent to the Massillon Athletic Club.   Less than a year later, the Massillon Athletic Club was used as a hospital facility during the “Spanish Influenza” epidemic of 1918.

Company K Soldiers in front of old City Hall, 1917 Collection of the Massillon Museum (82.48)
Company K Soldiers in front of old City Hall, 1917
Collection of the Massillon Museum (82.48)
 Postcard of Company K
Company K of the 10th Division, Ohio Volunteers, 1917
Postcard created by Stan Baltzly
Digital positive from the original Baltzly glass plate negative
Gift of Dan Douglass (90.25.842)
Collection of the Massillon Museum

During the following years, the building was used for sporting events, dances, movies and other types of gatherings.  In 1930 it began its career as a storage facility for the Hall Casket Company, and later a casket finishing business. During this time, the pool was cemented over and flooring covered the track. The casket finishing plant was closed in 1977.  The building later served a carpet company and was rented out as storage.  In the 1981 Independent article, the author notes that the gym floor, with its markings and center circle, was still in good condition.

In 2014, the building seems to be near its end, as the back half of the building’s roof collapsed in on September 1.  According to an online Independent article dated September 1 the building is currently owned by Mrs. Millie Kowell.  For ten years, until August of 2014, the building housed the dance school of her daughter, Keely Beebe.  She moved out when her father noticed the roof was sagging.  Since there are residences close to the building, neighbors thought it fortunate that no one was injured in the roof collapse, although one car was damaged.   While the majority of the building is still standing, neighbors hoped that it will be torn down.   Any action is up to the property owner, according to Fire Chief Burgasser, as quoted in a follow up article in the Independent on September 2, 2014. We are pleased that early in 2015 the roof was replaced, and hope for saving the building was restored.

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