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Local Community Organizations of Sandusky's Past

Ron Davidson • Dec 30, 2013 at 12:51 PM

It is fair to say that, in many ways, social organizations represent much of the heart and soul of the community. Here I define social organizations broadly to include both service organizations, such as the Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, and recreational, educational, or entertainment organizations, such as the Harlequins or the Art Study Club. Some of these clubs are affiliated with a national organization, and others are unique to Sandusky. Collectively, these groups help to define the community and its interests and goals. The Sandusky Library holds the archives of several of our local organizations, as well as random documents from many other groups, and some of them will be briefly described here.


The records of many now-defunct groups are preserved in the library. In the nineteenth century in particular, literary, educational, and cultural organizations were popular. The Nineteenth Century Club was a woman’s group whose object was “the intellectual culture of its members,” achieved primarily through members’ presentations of lectures on literary and historical topics at club meetings. The Art Study Club, founded in 1901 and, sadly, recently disbanded, was dedicated to a deep examination of art. Members of the Men’s Literary Club, founded in 1899, produced papers on various topics of interest for “the intellectual improvement of its members.” Records for each of these groups are preserved at the library.


One of the earliest club records in the library’s collections is from the Philomathesian Society, founded in 1840 as the Young Men’s Debating Society. The library owns a minute book covering 1840 and 1841. As their original name suggests, the society was founded as a club to debate important philosophical issues, but its activities soon evolved to include a lending library for subscribers. Many of the books in their collection eventually became the property of the Library Association in 1870, so it is fair to say that the Philomathesian Society was an ancestor to our present library. 


Another early club in Sandusky had a national scope. The Cosmopolitan Art Association began in Sandusky in 1854. Its most notable activity was the distribution by lottery of original works of art to paid subscribers from all over the United States; these distributions were at annual meetings held in Sandusky, including one in 1857 at Norman Hall, then Sandusky’s grand opera house. That year represented the peak of enrollment for the organization, with about 38,000 members. Eventually much of the management of the club moved to New York, until it was disbanded around 1861. You can find an 1855-56 annual report for the club in the library’s collections.


Among the many prominent national organizations with chapters in Sandusky, the Daughters of the American Revolution is among the oldest in the city. Founded in 1897, the Martha Pitkin Chapter of the D.A.R. has provided charitable services for the people of Sandusky and members of the military, continuing to the present. The records of this organization, whose charter members included founders of the Sandusky Library, are held in the library’s Archives Research Center. 


The Kiwanis Club is another national service organization with a long tenure in Sandusky, having served our community for nearly a century. The records of this organization were recently donated to the library and are still being processed into the permanent historical collections, but will be available for public view in 2014.


The great variety of community organizations whose records are found in the library’s collections illustrate the diverse interests and activities of the people of the community. Organizations providing cultural entertainment comprise a significant portion of our local groups. The Harlequins Community Theater was briefly mentioned above; the Harlequins have offered theatrical performances in Sandusky since 1927. Although the library does not hold the archives of the organization, there are a few historical documents in the collection, including early programs. The Sandusky Concert Association has offered fine musical entertainment to the community since 1928; founded as a chapter of a national civic music association, the organization has been an independent entity since 1968. The Sandusky Library is the repository for its historical records, which include programs and scrapbooks of past performances.


The groups mentioned here represent only a portion of the social organizations that have served our community in the past two centuries. Each has made a unique contribution to our culture and deserves a place in our history. The Sandusky Library offers a place for the preservation of the records of our community organizations.

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