We recently have witnessed what some might describe as controversies over ideas for a new and/or improved city hall, but a look at our history shows that sometimes things do repeat themselves, but in somewhat different ways. “City Hall” (i.e., the offices of our city government) has been in several locations since Sandusky’s founding; the stories of these city facilities is often interesting and occasionally laden with controversy.
From the relatively sparse information we have about early Sandusky, it appears that the first city offices were merely rented spaces in existing buildings, rather than in a dedicated city facility. (Detailed information for the nineteenth century is often hard to find, particularly in the pre-Civil War era; much of what little we know comes from newspapers and reminiscences of residents.) In the first Sandusky City Directory, from 1855, Mayor Charles Cross’s office is listed at 26 ½ Columbus Avenue, apparently in rented space in what is now the Cooke Block; his office shared the building with several attorneys and an early post office.
By the 1880s it appeared that the prevailing sentiment in the city was to construct a building to serve as the city hall, rather than to continue to pay expensive rents for office space. An early proposal was for a three-story city hall on Market Street, near Columbus Avenue. That plan was ultimately rejected as being too costly, but soon afterward a joint police/fire headquarters was built on that block. Another proposal, around the same time, was to build a market house on the land dedicated as a marketplace on West Market Street, between Decatur and Fulton Streets. A second floor of this market house was to contain room for city offices.
In May 1887 the Market House Building opened for business with vendors on the first floor. Unfortunately, the marketplace failed within months due to lack of business – merchants were unable to entice customers from their usual stores along Columbus Avenue. City offices went in a few months later, after the city successfully fought a legal challenge claiming that city offices should not be allowed on the designated marketplace. This building served as city hall until a massive fire in 1913 gutted the building, and city officials decided to demolish rather than rebuild the building. City offices were moved into the Kingsbury Block, on Columbus Avenue and Washington Row, until a new city hall could be found.
A new city hall was easy to find – it was the building on Market Street used as police and fire headquarters since 1889. The police and fire departments had both switched to motor vehicles by that time, so the ground floor horse stables were no longer needed. The fire department moved to a new headquarters, and city government moved into the renovated city building in 1915.
By the 1950s, more room was needed for police and administrative functions, so in 1955 voters approved a referendum to build a new city building. The new facility on Meigs Street was dedicated on May 4, 1958, and has served as the center of Sandusky city government since that time. On March 6, 1988, noted local historian Helen Hansen wrote an article in the Register on the history of city halls in Sandusky, which was republished in her book, From the Widow’s Walk (from which I acquired much of the information in this article). Some might be amused or disgusted by the last sentence of that 1988 article: “Now there is again a possibility of a new city building in downtown Sandusky.”