Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 27, 2013

Goshen’s Hidden Places: Menno Travel's upstairs has long history

This is the first in an occasional series on local places the public does not usually have access to

By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — Doug Risser was a co-buyer of the building at 210 S. Main Street for Menno Travel 20 years ago in downtown Goshen.

The travel agency operates out of the first floor, with modern technology and warm colors on the walls and floors.

Upstairs on the second floor, one-half of the empty rooms show the decor of the 1980s, with mauve carpet and flowered wallpaper border. The other half of the second floor has orange carpet and colors indicative of the 1960s.

But walk up a flight of stairs to the third floor and it’s like stepping back in time to the 1970s and beyond.

“When we bought the building, it (the third floor) was totally trashed,” Risser said. “There’s no electricity, no plumbing. There were about 200 beer cans strewn about and you can tell someone lived here,” he said, pointing to a couple sofas in a large room that faces Main Street.

In the same room, a large green blanket hangs on the wall between two windows — windows that were covered by wood for security purposes in the 1980s and to keep the pigeons out, Risser said.

Under the blanket are the words: “Boys in the Attic and Nightmare in concert.” Graffiti covers the walls in many of the rooms on the top floor.

“There was cruising in the 70s and I think the people who moved in up here were gangs,” Risser said.

When Menno Travel bought the building, the roof was leaking and the previous owners had used kiddie pools to collect the water. When repairs were made on the roof, a support beam had to be placed near the back of the building.

A typewritten note above a double-switch electric cover on a wall in the ballroom is from a bygone era: “Wall & Coca Cola cooler overhead lights. Two. Keep this on at all times.”

“People would come in and recall dances up there (after we moved in),” Risser said.

Risser explained that the original building on the site was the Stiver and Smith Furniture company, which shared a facade with the Jefferson Theater. The upstairs of the furniture company was used by the Elks Club. Both the furniture company and the theater burned Dec. 18, 1906, in one of Goshen’s most famous fires.

A news article about the post-fire construction from December 1907 describes plans for the third floor above the Menno Travel building.

“The third floor of the newly constructed Sanders & Hay block, in which the New Jefferson theater is situated, is chosen as the site of the new quarters of the (Commercial) Exchange.  This part of the elegant building was originally intended for a club or lodge room.

“The rooms are to be nicely fitted up and the way in which the builders are arranging them makes them especially desirous,” the article continues. “The rooms are fitted for dancing parties and other social functions can be held there. With a ballroom and large auditorium many conventions requiring an assembly room can be brought to Goshen.”

According to Dale Garber, curator of the Goshen Historical Museum, some of the clubs that met on the third floor included Knights of Pythias from 1908 to 1925, Goshen Temple #329 from 1908 to 1912, Pythias Sisters in 1921, Royal Neighbors of America from 1908 to 1912, and Moose Lodge #836 from 1906 to 1920.

“There were two rooms upstairs,” Garber said, “So they were using it at different times for two different groups.”

A high, vaulted ceiling and decorative molding around the doors, windows and stairwell lends itself to the elegance the room once had compared to the decline, disarray and disuse it now displays.

With no electricity on the third floor, Risser used a large spotlight to look around the area.

There is a kitchen, two bathrooms and what could have been a coatroom, since there are hooks and a bench along one wall, Risser explained.

A flight of narrow stairs leads up to a balcony in the ballroom.

“We can tell the pigeons got in (from the holes in the roof) by the spots on the railing along the balcony,” Risser said, smiling. “It’s interesting....This room.”

The third floor is not open to the public at this time, Risser said.