ARCHBOLD – Bootleg whiskey was all the rage, the local movie house was still a few years from showing talkies, and a Model T could be gassed up for 13 cents a gallon.
It was the 1920s, an era of prosperity, and on Saturday it came to life at Sauder Village in Archbold with the unveiling of the west side of Main Street, the latest exhibit of the living history museum’s Walk Through Time experience.
The representation of a typical Main Street in northwest Ohio during the thriving time period includes a working soda fountain, a movie theater, a barbershop, a gas station, and a grocer, among its business. It also hides a working speakeasy for thirsty adult patrons looking for a nip during Prohibition.
A $6.8 million project 15 years in the making, much of 1920s Main Street was constructed over the past 18 months, with an eye on authenticity. While the east end of the street opened June 24, the debut of the entire project was held over the weekend. It’s the completion of the village’s goal to showcase representations of the the area from the early 19th century to just prior to the Great Depression.
“We said 1803 all the way to the 1920s was in the master plan to tell that time period story,” said Jeanette Smith, Sauder Village director of sales and marketing. “We were trying to tell the story of modernization of the 1920s, and so to finish part of our timeline we thought that was a really good story to tell.”
That era was selected, in part, “because it related more to the audiences that are coming today – that grandma and grandpa can tell about things that happened to them,” she added.
Businesses on the street’s west end include Wiederkehr Clothing, Main Street Confections, a livery, a fire station with authentic equipment, Hub Grocery Store, and a movie theater. The east end has Dr. McGuffin’s office, Stotzer Hardware, Okuley’s Barbershop, and the Elmira Train Depot, among other attractions.
Funded entirely through grants and private donations, the massive undertaking was aided by the Buehrer Group of Maumee. The architectural and engineering firm conducted extensive research to incorporate historical accuracy into the street’s buildings and aesthetics. The new structures all incorporate entrances, flooring, ceilings, lighting, and building materials familiar to the 1920s, paired in the construction with modern building codes.
Sauder Village combed through northwest Ohio and sites as far away as Nebraska to gather artifacts and architectural structures from the era to depict actual local businesses from the past. Contributions include features from the former Kolb’s business in Wauseon, bricks from original Archbold streets, furnishings and equipment from Okuley’s Barbershop in Continental, Ohio, and pieces from founder Erie Sauder’s collection that were formerly housed in the village’s museum building.
Sauder Village guides attend each business wearing clothing produced from historical patterns and made with historically factual fabrics.
“We’re telling real people stories, just like northwest Ohio life is – just the average person that lived their life and made the community better,” Smith said.
The stories include that of one of the more notorious aspects of the Roaring Twenties – the speakeasy. With enaction of the 18th Amendment on Jan. 17, 1920, the country went dry, and citizens thirsting for alcohol resorted to bypassing the law at thousands of illegal drinking establishments across the United States.
The Broken Barrel Speakeasy on 1920s Main Street offers up that experience to a reserved group. For an additional $30 every Thursday through Saturday, adult visitors to the village can give the correct password through a slot, then sneak through a fake store wall to an authentic bar, where they’ll be served a selection of spirits with connections to the past time period. Visitors may even be hustled out a back door to avoid a police raid.
“In the ’20s you couldn’t have your bar right on downtown. You had to have all of your fun sort of behind the scenes,” Smith said. The venue will also be available for special functions and weddings.
Sauder Village President and CEO Debbie David said 1920s Main Street is the capstone of the Walk Through Time experience. “It really tells a regional story,” she said. “This depicts the businesses, the real life of the people here in northwest Ohio.”
She said the 1920s were chosen to represent the exhibit because the era was more relatable to modern audiences.
“Now, if you walk down a downtown in the region, it kind of looks like this, and many of us have grandparents who remember those days,” she said. “The memory is still alive, so before we lose that memory, we have to be able to tell that story.”
With 55 historic homes and shops across 235 acres, Sauder Village is the largest living history destination in the state, drawing about 300,000 visitors each season.