Described by past generations as “The Biggest Little Town in Fulton County,” the Village of Metamora boasted industry, trade, culture, and transit. For a community of only 475 people, it thrived in the early 1900s.
“I would say people would be shocked if they knew what this town used to be,” said Jane Dominique, a member of the Metamora Area Historical Society. “People wouldn’t believe what used to be here on Main Street. It was a hopping town.”
This Saturday, the village will throw itself a 125th birthday bash in the form of its annual Park-O-Rama at Metamora Community Park. Between 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. visitors will be treated to food, music, vendors, sports tournaments, kids games, and an old-fashioned baseball game. A parade will begin at noon, and a raffle will offer a $500 first prize.
This year’s celebration will focus on Metamora’s diverse past, with displays by the historical society. Dominique said while the village has evolved over the past century into a bedroom community with fewer employment opportunities, its heydey was bustling with potential.
Incorporated in 1893 to accommodate a burgeoning population, Metamora became a center for culture in Fulton County. Activities included a chautauqua – a week-long event that attracted groups who hosted discussions, music, and entertainment. There were also men’s literary and travel clubs, a housewives’ club, and a garden club affiliated with the National Garden Federation. The village received a library in 1927.
“I think that speaks for the kind of people that were here,” Dominique said. “That is amazing to me that all those things were here. It was very upper-brow, very educational. There were so many educated, wealthy, well-traveled people here.”
Although no one knows for certain, theories abound as to how Metamora got its name. One involves a contest initiated in the early 1800s by actor Edward Forrest. He sought a five-act play, a tragedy whose man character was indigenous. The winning entry was entitled, “Metamora, or the Last of the Wampanoags,” a story based on the tribe’s leader, Chief Metacom.
The play was an instant hit. Beginning in 1829, productions ran in New York City for the next 40 years.
The Fulton County commissioners were petitioned to incorporate the village by Augustus Ries, Jacob Ries, Conrad Ries, C. Sanders, A.J. Champion, Charles A. Tigett, John Davoll, and F.A. Seeley, the local undertaker. By 1910 it claimed 475 people.
“The Biggest Little Town in Fulton County” lived up to its moniker. Business and industry included a cheese factory, a hat shop, a cigar store, a bakery, a restaurant, two or three banks, a blacksmith, and a pharmacy. The Boy Scouts of America began a chapter in 1915, and a chapter of the International Organization of Odd Fellows held community dances in its building.
Additionally, Metamora High School graduated 11 students in its first class. “Metamora became known as a great place to raise a family. A lot of family life surrounded what happened at the school,” Dominique said.
The village was serviced by Toledo and Western Car from 1901-35. Nicknamed “The Teeter and Wobble,” and with a route from Toledo to Pioneer, Ohio, it traveled directly through the main street.
The area also prospered from Czechoslovakian immigrants, who settled in Metamora in the early 20th Century to work in the local sugar beet industry. Sponsored by some of the village’s wealthier citizens, the families, with names like Stasa, Patek, and Studenka, remain, and now own farmland.
“That’s an amazing story about coming here to work hard, and now they’re landowners,” Dominique said. “People are very proud to be from here.”
Metamora’s first mayor was James Garnsey, who had previously pursued the California gold rush of 1848. In his diary of the time he reported contracting “brain fever,” an illness that forced others to guard his stake. Nonetheless, he returned home with $3,000 in gold.
A prominent citizen, Sam Rice, founded the Metamora grain elevator, currently owned by The Andersons. A reportedly modest man, he was named chairman of the board of the National Grain Association and worked at the Chicago Board of Trade. He was also a founder of Flower Hospital in Sylvania, and financed the college educations of a couple of hundred students.
When Rice died in 1960, his funeral was the first held in the rebuilt Metamora Methodist Church, a project he had heavily financed after the original church burned in the 1950s.
“He was a good businessman, but he was also a good citizen here, and helped this town immensely,” Dominique said. “He was a very community-minded man, and very generous. He’s probably the biggest story from there.”
Other prominent citizens included the Malone family, whose Biehl-Malone Funeral Home later became Weigel Funeral Home, and Louis Malone, a World War II veteran buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Malone was a commander on the battleship U.S.S. Missouri, and witnessed the on-board ceremony during which the Japanese surrendered. Another citizen, Bill Champion, led Buffalo Swing, a popular band based in Buffalo, N.Y.
Over the past century Metamora has also marked several claims to fame, including a 1952 women’s fastball team sponsored by village merchants. The team won its way to a world competition in Toronto, Ontario, where it bested rivals from Baton Rouge, La., and was named sixth best worldwide.
Dominique said it didn’t matter to the players that they came from a small place. “They did amazing things,” she said.
More infamously, there was a bank robbery in the 1930s. While details are sketchy, it is known that several young boys in the village caught wind of and attempted to foil the heist. After aggravating the robbers they threw rocks at the getaway car.
Many artifacts from the village’s past eras are housed at the Evergreen Community Library, 253 Maple St.
Now with 600 residents, Metamora has drifted from the hubbub of the past. Four major fires between 1893 and 1925 brought down many of the village’s original buildings.
“I can’t imagine it ever being what it used to be. It’s just a different time now,” Dominique said. “We don’t have a lot of jobs to keep people here. There’s just not enough growth to sustain what they used to have.”
However, she isn’t about to write off the community.
“The library is the focus of the community. And that’s saying something to have a library here,” she said. “I think we’re going to stay strong. We’re not going to disappear.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.