A building rich in downtown history

By Joan Baxter

The City of Xenia had been in existence only a few years when a two story building was constructed on the northwest corner of Main and Detroit streets.

In 1830 (some sources say 1814) James Galloway, Jr. constructed this building for commercial use.

After the building was purchased by JD Steele, it became known as the “Steele Building.” The first floor accommodated a drug store in the corner room. Another business which occupied the main floor was the business of Geo. W. Street. His name was painted on the outside of the building which might have seemed that he was the building owner.

Apparently Mr. Street’s business was quite successful. Apparently anything the well-dressed businessman needed.

The local newspaper dated Oct. 18, 1894 provided the following. “It seems to be a settled fact that the Steele corner will be occupied next spring by a four-story building. We understand that Mr. Steele has plans in the architect’s hands for the building and there is talk that the 4th story is to be occupied by the Masons. The central part of Xenia will then present quite a different appearance with the Allen and Steele buildings on the principal corners. “

When construction was complete in 1895, this became the tallest building in the city. The original Galloway building remained next door and in time became the location of the Ohio Theater and later Home Federal Savings and Loan.

JD Steele was at one time a partner in the Eavey Company, but at the time the building bearing his name was constructed, he was affiliated with the Hooven and Allison Company.

He agonized over perhaps as many as fifteen separate sets of plans offered by the architects until the final decision was made. In fact, he kept changing things even as the building was under construction. One of the construction changes was that the supporting posts in the upper hallways would remain exposed. However, according to the newspaper the tenants would be “very comfortably and handsomely housed”.

One by one the tenants moved into the new quarters. An elevator was installed which was of considerable benefit to all concerned, but the interesting feature was that the elevator only went to the fourth floor. From there, one had to use the steps to get to the fifth floor.

The fifth floor in its entirety was leased to the Xenia Masonic Lodge. Apparently the Masons did not mind walking up the meeting room. This arrangement continued until 1925 when the Masonic Lodge purchased the old Roberts Villa for their permanent home. The villa, constructed by Silas Roberts was a magnificent building located near present Shawnee Park. Roberts owned the land on which the par sits along with the site of the old Carnegie Library – a considerable amount of acreage.

The new Steele Building, constructed at a cost of $30,000 was heated by a large boiler which was placed under the sidewalk in order to provide adequate steam heat in the building.

When the new structure was completed, the tenants moved in. Fred JH Schell, Jeweler, TH Zell Tobacco, Alexander and Whitmer dry goods and carpets occupied the first floor, along with McGervey and LeSourd Insurance agency, Zell Tobacco and James McCann Music Store. The music store shared space with Postal Telegraph.

The second floor accommodated a very large suite for the Hooven and Allison Cordage Company offices. Third floor occupants included woman’s hat maker Kate Osterly as well as the law office of Judge Munger and son, Dr. WH Sillito, dentist and attorney Charles Darlington. Apparently the fourth floor was not immediately occupied, but the Masonic Lodge moved to the fifth floor. Western Union had tenanted the “old” Steele Building, but moved across the street to the Allen Building.

The April 3, 1974 tornado destroyed a number of buildings, homes schools and churches. Unfortunately the Steele Building was one of the causalities.

When the building was constructed, the workmen complained that the iron used was not properly prepared. However when wreckers cut the steel beams and picked then off with a crane and clam shell lowering them gently to the ground. It was noted that the steel was of superior quality.

The castle-like Steele Building was owned by Home Federal Savings and Loan (next door) and so after the building was razed provided a lovely park on the site. The additional space allowed for a drive-through window for the banking institution as well.

Home Federal sold the property which included the park and what had once been the site of the Ohio Theater and later the bank building. In 2005, it was announced that the structure would be torn down and a new 19, 0000 square foot office building would be constructed on the corner. Some of the marble facade was to be utilized in the new structure, and the chandelier which had graced the lobby was donated to the Jamestown Opera House where it hangs today.

The Steele Building may have been one of the most photographed buildings in Xenia with its unique design.


By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.