Fort Jennings Memorial Hall, built in 1916 in memory of Lieutenant Colonel William Jennings, was restored by the Jennings Memorial Association. Fort Jennings native Julia Wiley nominated the building for the Awareness and Preservation Merit award, which is granted through the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. (DHI Media/Stephanie Groves)
Fort Jennings Memorial Hall, built in 1916 in memory of Lieutenant Colonel William Jennings, was restored by the Jennings Memorial Association. Fort Jennings native Julia Wiley nominated the building for the Awareness and Preservation Merit award, which is granted through the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. (DHI Media/Stephanie Groves)
FORT JENNINGS — Each year, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office recognizes achievements in historic preservation by presenting annual awards in two categories including the Awareness and Preservation Merit award. When Julia Wiley — who grew up in the village — became a member of the Historical Society, she thought nominating Fort Jennings Memorial Hall would be perfect.

The nomination was through an application process and could be based on a partial or full restoration. Wiley’s thought was if the hall was nominated and received the award, it would honor the whole community.

“Residents in the village would not have known about the awards and their focus was on trying to save the building,” she said.

She said there were so many people involved — volunteers as well as people who came through with donations — that it was truly a community wide effort. It was an uphill battle and they just kept going.

“When volunteers got started, they met with some resistance just getting into the building to work on it. They had to prove themselves to the trustees.” Wiley explained. “That space could be a parking lot right now if it weren’t for the community embracing the challenge.”

For over 100 years, the historic building has been what Wiley calls “the heart of the village”.

“It holds everybody’s memories all around me,” she explained. “Everyday, people reminisce about the parties and events held there throughout the last century.”

Wiley, who resides near Toledo, said she sees lots of restoration projects get stalled for years.

“This little community dug in and accomplished what cities can not do in years,” she said. “They are a model for just getting the job done the old-fashioned way.”

Wiley said she studies historical preservation and was most impressed with the fact that during the restoration, the building was not re-purposed and it has the same historical presence. She said there were parts of the building that were in really bad shape.

“They (the community) don’t have any idea what a phenomenal job they did,” she said proudly.

She said now that people’s eyes have been opened, they recognize the building is viable again hosting wedding receptions, baby showers, birthday parties — basically, back to what it was.

“In the past year, I have been to three events at the hall, including a New Year’s Eve party,” she said.
Dr. Wes Klir said he was humbled that someone on the outside the village nominated the building.

“The beauty of what we did is, we took something old yet historically relevant and rejuvenated it into a viable building that generates money to sustain itself,” Klir explained. “It’s difficult saving those.”

Up until 2011, the hall sat vacant and unused for five years. Klir and more than 20 area residents formed a group called the Jennings Memorial Association with the goal of restoring the whole building and bringing it back to it’s original use — a place to honor veterans, a community gathering place, and a place for meetings. At that time, razing the building would cost close to $125,000 and members of the association believed that action would send a negative message to veterans.

“So, with more than five years of no upkeep and a wreck of a building, the Bicentennial and a desire to see life brought back to this building, our group of dedicated people got together and got this project done,” Klir explained. “This building has the history we wanted for our festivals.”

In January of this year, a fund drive was kicked off to install a wheelchair lift — a $25,000 project — in the building thereby making the upstairs handicapped accessible.

“This has been wonderfully received and we have raised enough that we are scheduled for the installation of this lift after the first of the year,”

Klir said. “As the last phase of the fundraising efforts for this project, Memorial Hall is sponsoring a craft show to be held the Saturday morning [Aug. 16] of Fort Fest, with proceeds going to the Wheelchair Lift Fund.”

Fort Jennings Memorial Hall was built in 1916 in memory of Lieutenant Colonel William Jennings, who in 1812 established a fort at the site and built with funds from the original Jennings Memorial Association, Jennings Township trustees and the Village of Fort Jennings. The property was donated with the stipulation that it always be used as a war memorial. For decades the hall served as a meeting place for village council and American Legion meetings, the Fort Jennings Library and a museum of local relics until 1986 when maintenance became too prohibitive.

For more information, visit fortjenningsmemorialhall.org.