Tecumseh Theater – A 500 Dollar Piece Of History

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If you look up and down the empty road you see a line of Western style shop fronts on every side. Above those shop fronts there are wooden overhanging porches and you can almost hear the saloon piano playing. But it’s actually just a wind chime ringing in the wind, because you are not in El Paso, but in Shawnee, Ohio. And the stranger walking down the street isn’t actually Charles Bronson, but John Winnenberg.

Local Royalty

Winnenberg might be considered local royalty, because his family has been living here since the 19th century.

“My mom's family migrated from the East. They were considered 'Pennsylvania Dutch' which is kind of a general term for European immigrants. And they came here early and settled in the 1830s when this area was just being settled. And then my dad's family came from Oberhausen, Germany during the coal boom in the 1880s and settled here.”

The Tecumseh Theater Building

So Winnenbergs family has been in Shawnee even longer than the old theater building across the street, which was built in 1907. Back then the four-story brick building was the tallest building in Perry County and served many purposes over time. Inititally it was built by the “Improved Order of Redman”, a fraternal lodge, which organized the early labor movement in the area of today's United States. During the coal boom nearly a dozen fraternal lodges were residing only on Main Street, Shawnee, such as the "Knights of Labor", "Knights of Pythias" or the "International Order Of Oddfellows".

Everything is connected

Almost everything in Shawnee and the other Cities of Black Diamonds is in someway linked to the coal industry. Those cities were founded to harbor the miners, who were followed by shop keepers and their families.

In order to assert certain rights the laborers formed the fraternal lodges, which built houses like the Tecumseh Theater. Those houses still tell of their history by inscriptions on the outside wall. The Tecumseh Theater wall shows the letters “I O of RM” (Improved Order of Redman).

You can even see the results of the massive coal mining in the landscape: piles of charcoal, mine entrances, polluted mud and rivers, old mining facilities and – which might be the most impressive one – an underground fire, that has been burning for 130 years.

One building, many functions

Those flames have already been burning when the Tecumseh Theater was opened. It was then called the “Redmens' Hall” and its steel I-beam construction was unique in rural America. It served as a confectionery, barber shop, bowling alley, basketball court and of course as a theater for movies and plays. The latter is its most obvious use, when you enter the main hall with its professional sized stage and its balcony seating.

All things come to an end?

It fell into disrepair in the 1940s and 50s and 60s and we saved it from being torn down in 1976. Bought it for 500 $ because the people who wanted to tear it down were gonna pay the owner at that time 500 $ to get the steel out of the building. So instead we bought it.

says John Winnenberg. He and his Sunday Creek Associates bought it and renamed it the “Tecumseh Theater”. Since then they have renewed the building step by step, for example the outside wall. Next year work on the second floor hall is scheduled to start. But before that the annual Little Cities of Black Diamonds Day will be celebrated in the theater for the 20th time. So on October 19 the lonely mining town will come to life and the wind chime won't be the only music playing in Shawnee, Ohio.