From Factory to Fine Arts: 106 years of Edgar Hall

Postcard from, about 1912

Postcard from, about 1912

The Edgar Hall building which currently houses part of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Fine Arts department sits on the border of two historic districts in Delaware.  As part of the Sandusky Street Historic District, it was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.  The Ohio Wesleyan buildings were put on the register in 1985.  Edgar Hall was included with the downtown buildings because of its commercial origins as an underwear factory.

Although the building wasn’t built until 1910, the Delaware Underwear Company got its start on the property in 1902.  Early downtown maps from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company show Fred Moyer’s Carriage Shop there in 1885 through 1901.

1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map

1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map

In a 1954 document in the Delaware County Library’s local history room, Robert Powers recounted his memories of downtown Delaware:

“Frank Moyer, wagon maker, was located close to the Delaware Run. A small frame building was located just over the run & occupied by a Mr. Bradley with a feed and grinding business and again by C.J. Minnick who shipped poultry & eggs. In the summer time the college campus grass was cut once or twice during the season and the professors divided the hay, for everyone had a horse in those days.”

A feed mill, feed crusher and a corn buhr can be seen on early maps, built over the Delaware Run.  In the late 1920s the mill was dismantled and parts of it were stored in the basement of the building in the 1940s.

The above postcard from the Greetings from Delaware website depicts two buildings for the Delaware Underwear Company around 1912, so it is likely the company started in the smaller building on the left and as business grew expanded to the new structure.

Bentley & Sons sign on southwest corner of Edgar Hall

Bentley & Sons sign on southwest corner of Edgar Hall (2016)

Designed by W.E. Rubs of Akron, Ohio, the building was constructed by A. Bentley and Sons, a revered construction and engineering firm out of Toledo, Ohio.  Bentley family history claims their founder, Anderton Bentley, coined the term “skyscraper.”  The company was in business for over 100 years and left a huge legacy of buildings, bridges and power plants.

The 1911 Sanborn map shows the new building for the first time.  Shipping was on the first floor and the stock room was on the second.  The third and fourth floors held the machine room and cutting room respectively.  The building was made of reinforced concrete, fireproof construction and had an automatic sprinkler system.

00 1911 Sanborn map

1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map

Company history

According to James Lytle’s 1908 book on the history of Delaware county, E. D. Egerton and William A. Morrison started the business in 1902 and incorporated the following year with capital stock of $50,000.  Early company officers included William A. Morrison, president; Frederick. M Bauereis, vice-president;  John L. Anderson, secretary and treasurer;  and John A. Shoemaker.  Robert Sellers is also listed as the manager of the Galion factory.

In the early 1900s there were as many as 50 underwear factories throughout the United States and Britain.  Underwear was beginning to be considered for fashion in addition to function, and advertisements began selling underwear as a necessity for health, attractiveness and athleticism. The use of new fabrics with varying colors and design created new product lines.  Corsets and union suits were still popular, but people began wanting more comfortable knickers and drawers.

In Delaware, the first company product was indicated as muslin underwear, but as early as 1905 ladies skirts were produced at the Delaware location which had up to 100 employees at the time.  Records show that the Galion location was manufacturing flannelette underwear in 1905.  The company employed five traveling salesmen.

Letterhead courtesy of OWU Historical Collection

Letterhead courtesy of OWU Historical Collection

Although the locals referred to the enterprise as “The Panty Factory”, in a 1913 Department of Inspection annual report, the company is listed both as the Delaware Garment Company (ladies’ dresses and skirts) and the Delaware Underwear Company (underwear).  The Galion location is also referenced.

So although the company may have started with underwear, eventually it made and sold “wash dresses, skirts, and flannelette gowns”.  Wash dresses were informal dresses that were more comfortable and practical for wearing on “wash” day or doing other chores and informal activities.

The Flood of 1913

The 1913 flood was catastrophic throughout Ohio and Delaware did not escape the raging waters.  Much of the downtown was flooded and 18 lives were lost.  In this postcard below from you can see the water levels looking across the street from the underwear company.

Looking across Sandusky Street from the underwear factory (

There are also many flood pictures in the Delaware County Historical Society online archives. Reports estimated water levels on as high as 15 feet in this block.  The underwear company sustained heavy losses, with reported damages of $10,000 which equates to almost $240,000 today.  Damages to the William Street to Spring Street block alone noted in one account as $100,000 or 2.4 million in today’s dollars.

The historic flood and the resultant damage to the garment company made the Disasters and Tragic Events encyclopedia.  The historic photo below captures a scene no one had ever envisioned.

Courtesy Delaware County Historical Society

To try to salvage goods and materials, 20,000 yards of wet fabric were laid back and forth across the front lawn of Ohio Wesleyan’s Sandusky Street buildings.  The white that you see in the above photograph is all fabric – 20,000 yards, which converts to 11.3 miles.  Also shown are 6000 individual garments they tried to save.

April 4, 2013 Delaware County Independent

April 4, 1913 Delaware County Independent

Company president William Morrison wrote in the Delaware County Independent newspaper about the generosity of businesses pitching in with goods and services “without thought or care as to whether they would ever obtain payment.”  He went on to describe the paralyzing situation and how selfless and responsive merchants and dealers were to the community.  Flood sales were advertised for many businesses.

March 29, 1913 Daily Delaware Gazette

In a 1988 issue of the Delaware Gazette, flood survivors shared their experiences.  Henrietta Van Meter, who was in second grade at the time, said that she remembers the sight on the OWU lawn and that inside the building other damp garments were sold very cheaply.  She especially remembered the smell of those wet garments. Despite the losses, the company survived and would operate for another decade or more.

OWU Transcript 5-20-1915

OWU Transcript 5-20-1915

Changing hands

Eventually the company went out of business in the mid-1920s.  Records show the Delaware Motor Sales company occupying the building for a few years until January 1927 when it relocated to East Winter Street.

In October 1926, the Transcript shared the announcement that a corporation was formed to take over the building until the university could carry it.  The University Development Company’s sole purpose was “to make sure that the Garment Company… can eventually become a part of the university’s main plant.”  R.S. May, the president of the Delaware Chair Company and a member of the university Board of Trustees, led the efforts to renovate the building.

Early in 1927, the Transcript reported remodeling underway and that “North Hall” was scheduled to be open for the June commencement ceremony.  Renovations began on the third and fourth floors which were to become the new home for the chemistry department.  The second floor would house the school of business administration and the entire first floor would be dedicated to the alumni association offices and club room.  This would mark the first time the alumni had a place of their own and the club room would be used for reunions and other alumni functions.

Built at the end of the arts and crafts era, the building has unique brackets supporting the cornice.  The renovations included putting in a south entrance with a pathway leading up to Gray Chapel.  It is likely that the cornice and brackets on the front were replicated on the south side during this time.  The feed mill was torn down and pieces were kept in the basement until the 1940s.

Brackets on the southwest corner of the roof (2016)

Brackets on the southwest corner (2016)

In June 1928, Edwin Edgar (class of 1894) and his wife, Elizabeth Campbell Edgar were announced as donors.  Their $143,500 gift allowed the university to purchase North Hall which they had been leasing from the University Development Company.  Later in 1928, the building was dedicated as Edgar Hall.

Ohio Wesleyan University - Edgar Hall Delaware

Postcard after 1928 (

Dishwater… Daffodil…. Delaware Run

The Delaware Run begins just south of Houk Road and meanders through and under downtown Delaware where it empties into the Olentangy River. It is not widely known, but for over a hundred years, OWU students had referred to the Delaware Run as “Dishwater Run”.

A 1932 Transcript article sheds light on some of the history. In 1912, some of the women from Monnett Hall were determined to change “Dishwater” to “Daffodil” and planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs along the banks of the creek near Edgar Hall.  Despite all of their efforts, the building of a new bridge and a dedication ceremony, the 1913 flood wiped out all of the bulbs before they had a chance to bloom. Like the daffodils, the new name never took hold.

OWU traditions throughout the years have included an annual tug-of-war between freshman and sophomores over Dishwater Run.  The tradition began in the late 1880s and eventually faded out in the 1960s. However, tug-of-war is still an event on campus and often used for charity events or competitions within Greek organizations.

A 1945 Transcript article reported that “finals wreck general peace of mind” and so for luck, co-eds tossed pennies into Dishwater Run after an old Navy tradition.  Today Ohio Wesleyan leads efforts for sustainability of the Delaware Run and has done comprehensive studies on the history and ecology of the run.

Southeast view of Delaware Run and Edgar Hall

Southeast view of Delaware Run and Edgar Hall (2016)

Ready, aim, fire!

OWU had a very active Air Force ROTC program from 1949 to 1974.   A 2009 Columbus Dispatch article details the vibrant Aerospace Studies program and the contributions made by hundreds of students.  The basement in Edgar Hall was used as a rifle range, and AFROTC detachment 655 rifle teams competed at the state and national levels.  OWU rifle teams held championship titles and even won the William Randolph Hearst AFROTC Trophy.

A 1962 Transcript article reported a fire in the rifle range area which caused the stored ammunition to later be moved off site. In the late 1960’s national controversy began over whether or not military courses should be offered in liberal arts institutions.  Yale was one of the first schools to eliminate such programs. Eventually OWU phased it out as well, but students today can still participate in AFROTC through Ohio State University.

Two more major renovations

As the 1970s approached, OWU enrollment was stable but not growing.  Federal construction grants were not awarded and the university had to make some decisions about Monnett and Merrick halls.  A 1969 Transcript article recounted the discussion about whether or not the school should sell, tear down or renovate Edgar Hall.  Renovation won out and the building was upgraded in 1970.

Throughout the years Edgar Hall has housed academic departments such as chemistry, economics, art, dance, and business.  It has also been home to alumni affairs and the student health center.

A four million dollar renovation in 2001 upgraded the facilities for the Fine Arts department, which also has other buildings across campus.  The improvements to interior studio space and offices allowed the department to grow and attract more students.  With this last renovation, the Werner Student Art Gallery was established.  Operated by students, the gallery showcases their work throughout the year.  Art majors have 24 hour access to the building to work in the studios.

The most noticeable change to the outside of building was the addition of black panels in the windows which created a striking new look. The building’s history exemplifies the town-gown relationship between Delaware and Ohio Wesleyan quite literally. Today, Edgar Hall stands tall as a monument to industry, adversity, and academics.

Looking north to Edgar Hall (2016)

Looking north to Edgar Hall (2016)

NOTE OF THANKS:  Many resources were used in researching this article.  Special thanks to OWU’s Emily Gattozzi, who taught me how to research over 100 years of Transcripts; Susan Logan, Brent Carson, and the good folks at the Delaware County Historical Society; and Jeanette Wingate and Sue Hoyt who work in Edgar Hall today.

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