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Memorial Hall… Local History & Value

Edison Community College...
By Brittany Martino
Humanities 121, Edison Community College
November 16, 2011

Photos courtesy of Greg Seevers as St. Clair Memorial Hall celebrates its 100th Anniversary. See below for Editor’s Comments.

For my individual project, I visited the Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall in Greenville, Ohio. I’ve been there many times throughout my junior high and high school years and even performed there on stage for concerts. But I have never really known the background and history of Memorial Hall.    

I’ll begin with the man who knew the value of a good education, Henry St. Clair. Henry was born May 17, 1852 in New York but in 1872, the St. Clairs moved to Greenville and opened what eventually proved to be Darke County’s most successful wholesale grocery businesses. Henry served on the School Board and also was a city councilman. He dreamed of a building for educational and cultural purposes and wanted to build it during his lifetime for Greenville. Unfortunately, he died October 7, 1908 before the construction began. In his will, Henry noted: “I will bequeath to the Board of Education of the City of Greenville, Ohio, the sum of $100,000 to be used for the purpose of erecting a Memorial Hall for the use and betterment of the public schools in any manner in which said board may think most practicable and beneficial to the public.”

The Memorial Hall was not completed and dedicated until May 3, 1912.

The main entrance of this historic building is four steps above ground level, and opens into a memorial rotunda, 26 ft. by 46 ft. in height. The entire lobby, stairs, column bases, door casings and caps are made of polished Vermont marble. The auditorium together with balcony and boxes has a seating capacity of at least 700 people. The auditorium dimensions are 64 ft. square and 48 ft. in height, patterned after the beautiful Maxine Elliot Theatre of New York City. On the first floor there are three large rooms which were used for classrooms, but today this area is the Anna Bier Gallery and Civic room, where the Greenville Board of Education holds meetings. Many of the other rooms are used today for the Junior High School band/orchestra. The basement was once a large gymnasium and manual training, but today this area houses school offices and a computer center. Also the basement is used for book storage for the school system.

Anna Bier was a woman that was well known in Greenville because she dedicated her life to her teaching. She was born in the house on East Fourth St. Anna became a familiar figure in Greenville as she walked from school to school “usually burdened with a basket that was a constant source of surprise and wonder to her young students.” She taught art in the Greenville public schools on all grade levels for a period of 36 years. In a booklet published by the Greenville Art Guild many years ago, one of her students is quoted as saying, “She gave her students the prideful thrill of creating with their own hands and imagination something of their very own. She heightened the thrill of accomplishment, as her criticism urged us to strive for perfection. She taught us to see and to understand what we saw. She tried to teach us to think.”

In 1937 Anna Bier’s work was exhibited in the lobby of the Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall in connection with the Greenville Art Guild’s opening of the 1938-39 season. This was the first time that Anna expressed her hopes for “a place in Greenville where people of all colors, all creeds, and all walks of life could work for the development of artistic skills and higher cultural standards for our community.” Anna died in 1939. The idea of the Darke County Center for the Arts was conceived by a small group of citizens in 1978 who wanted Anna Bier’s plans to go forward. The dedication of the Anna Bier Gallery and Civic Room in the Hall was one of the early accomplishments of this committee. It is a permanent tribute to a teacher with a vision that still touches people today.

The Darke County Center for the Arts is a community arts council whose purpose is to promote all art forms within the county and to expand opportunities for cultural enrichment. DCCA is also committed to the restoration and preservation of the Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall as an important cultural center. After it opened in 1912, the best shows from all over the country came into the Memorial Hall theatre. A separate hall manager booked not only theatre but lectures, musical groups, political speakers, and all types of professional performers. For thirteen years, since January of 1985, the Memorial Hall Restoration committee of DCCA has focused on the talk of restoring this exceptional building to its original glory.

In my perspective, I believe that the Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall is definitely related to the study of humanities because the building itself has so much history and value. One thing that catches my eye right away, along with many others, are the three stained glass windows at the front of the main entrance above the foyer. You cannot help but stop and gaze in amazement at the detail and vivid color they contain. It is said that Ella St. Clair gave those three glass windows as a gift to the building. From the inside looking out, the panel on the left signifies Literature. The Latin phrase “Cogito-Ergo-Sum” written across the bottom – I think therefore I am. The second panel, in the middle, represents Labor. The Latin phrase “Vitae-Via-Virtus” written across the bottom – Manly excellence along the road of life. The third panel expresses Art. The Latin phrase “Non-Sine-Labore” written across the bottom – Nothing without hard work.

These windows show and tell, through much symbolism, the standards that Henry St. Clair wanted to bring to Greenville. We can definitely see that the art standard has shown through the restoration of these magnificent windows.  Literature, Labor, and Art is what Memorial Hall is all about.

Editor’s note: Last fall I taught “Art in the Humanities,” an introductory level course at the Edison Darke County Campus. Among the many projects the students addressed were different forms of art, from painting and television, to visits to DCCA events, Memorial Hall, Bears Mill, Garst Museum and Shawnee Prairie. The purpose was to discuss their evaluation of how the assignments related to “art” and/or the “humanities.” Some of the best reports will be presented, with the student’s permission, on County News Online. The opinions expressed in these reports have not been altered in any manner.

St. Clair Memorial Hall will be celebrating its Centennial Anniversary on May 4, 5 and 6, 2012, 100 years after it was dedicated in 1912. Darke County Center for the Arts, along with Greenville City School District, Garst Museum, Main Street Greenville, Daughters of the American Revolution and other organizations and individuals are planning a community celebration in honor of Henry and Ella St. Clair, who made this historic landmark possible. Watch for more information to come.

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