Our Town: Harmar

Village retains character after 127 years

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Caroline Waller, owner of Passiflora Studio, left, and Aurora Held Dodd, of Marietta, discuss flowers Friday in front of Waller’s shop in Harmar.

Located on the western bank of the Muskingum River in Marietta is the history of what was first a U.S. Army fort after the American Revolution.

Fort Harmar in the 1780s later became Harmar Village, and was taken into the corporation of Marietta in 1890. However, even with the same postal code and governance for the last 127 years, the village on the lower west side still retains its own character.

“There’s a resiliency in Harmar because we all share high water when it happens,” said Bill White, owner of Offenberger & White, a life science and technology marketing company that sits at the entrance to Harmar in the stone Pattin House. “People are proud of Harmar, with all of its flaws. Nobody is bothered by the railroad tracks since they were here before we were.”

With the entire village in the floodplain most buildings on the west side have seen water up to the second floor and with age of the west side comes one of the biggest challenges to the village: blight.

White’s building was constructed between 1896 and 1897 using stone from the Constitution quarry, but many of the small houses built of wood and brick below the hillside are just as old, if not older.

“Further back into Harmar you see more rentals whose owners for whatever reason chose not to reinvest the money they get back into those properties, that’s where you see the blight,” White explained.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the average rent per month in Harmar is about $380, catering to lower incomes with a median at $26,583 but with 21.7 percent of the village residents living below the poverty level.

Residents see their share of crime, particularly drug use, on some streets, along with blight.

“It’s no fun seeing needles when you’re outside with your children,” said Fourth Ward Councilman-elect Geoff Schenkel, who lives in the lower west side. “But I think the more we live our lives outdoors, being present out on our porches and picnicking in our yards and playing outdoors that will change the energy of our neighborhood.”

That vibrancy can already be seen with the new parking lot going in for Peoples Bank at the corner of Gilman and Putnam avenues and with businesses like Putnam Auto Sales, food staples like the Harmar Tavern, Spagna’s, Busy Bee and Boathouse BBQ, all thriving according to outgoing Councilman Tom Vukovic.

“Harmar is an extension of the downtown area and I can see Maple Street eventually expanding,” he said. “It’s ripe for giving business a try. Even the Busy Bee has taken off under new ownership because people want to be near the water.”

On Maple Street, Caroline Waller, owner of Passiflora Studios, says the challenge in owning a business on the west side is getting people to cross the bridge.

“I’m on my second Friday being open here all day and granted it’s cold but that doesn’t stop people from shopping downtown so why not here?” she said.

The floral studio primarily creates arrangements for special order and bouquets but Waller said she hopes to encourage shops along the street to be open throughout the day as well, even if it’s only on Fridays.

“We need more foot traffic but they need somewhere to go,” she said.

White,Vukovic and Harmar Bridge Company Vice President Chuck Swaney all sang a similar tune, noting the life that fills Harmar Tavern and Spagna’s in the evenings and Busy Bee in the mornings.

“The shops aren’t grabbing those customers while they’re there,” Swaney said. “I think (Maple Street and the surrounding area) could use some updating in terms of additional business and longer hours. It’s a wonderful street, it’s a gem.”

Vukovic also noted the recent updates the village has seen in the past three years, namely, new equipment and shelter at Flanders Field, an extension of the bike path along the Muskingum River, lights on Virginia Street, repairs to the Harmar boat dock and to the pedestrian approaches to the Putnam Bridge.

“It’s a Community Development Block Grant area that’s also in the floodplain so the potential is there but the 2004 and 2005 floods were pretty devastating,” he said. “But I have got to believe it’s a place that’s prime for development of housing stock and business because people want to be along the water.”

Swaney said a study has been completed on work needed for the upgrade of the Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge and now all that’s needed is the funding to renovate the bridge into a wider and more stable multi-use pathway for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Big picture is that it needs to become a part of the (River Trail),” said Swaney. “The hope is we could get in line for an alternative transportation grant for $2.5 million in the next few years.”

Harmar statistics:

¯ Population: 1,102.

¯ Households: 576.

¯ Median household income: $26,583.

¯ Median house or condo value: $79,484.

¯ Median contract rent: $380/month.

¯ Unemployment: 8.35 percent.

¯ Residents below poverty level: 21.7 percent.

¯ Median resident age: 47.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Businesses/ establishments in Harmar:

¯ Anchorage.

¯ Beauty Barn.

¯ Busy Bee.

¯ Boathouse BBQ.

¯ Boys & Girls Club.

¯ Burton Law Office.

¯ C.F. Ditchendorf Contracting.

¯ Cheesman’s Bait Shop.

¯ Children’s Toy and Doll Museum.

¯ Chuck Schobs Auto Repair.

¯ Classic Cuts Hair Salon.

¯ Copper Leaf Interior Design Studio.

¯ Crystal Spring Water.

¯ Dave’s Auto Sales Inc.

¯ Fearing House.

¯ Fire Extinguisher Specialists.

¯ Gilman United Methodist Church.

¯ Harmar Dock Side.

¯ Harmar Elementary.

¯ Harmar Place Rehabilitation and Extended Care.

¯ Harmar Tavern.

¯ Harmar Rowing Club Boathouse.

¯ Harper’s Landing.

¯ Historic Harmar Bridge Company.

¯ Knights of Columbus.

¯ L on West Salon.

¯ Laborers Union 639.

¯ Log Cabin Country Quilts.

¯ Marietta College Boathouse.

¯ Marietta Recycling Center.

¯ Monkey’s Uncle Tattoo.

¯ Moran Construction.

¯ Offenberger & White.

¯ Ohio Valley Cab.

¯ Ohio Valley Spray Foam.

¯ Open Door Baptist Church.

¯ Passiflora Studio.

¯ Pearl’s Treasures.

¯ Plumbers and Pipefitters and HVAC Training Center.

¯ Pottmeyer Auto Sales Inc.

¯ Putnam Auto Sales.

¯ Resolve Studios.

¯ River of Life Church.

¯ Spagna’s.

¯ Tenney & Associates.

¯ West Side Carry Out and Drive Thru.

¯ Wilson Heating.

Source: Times research and Marietta Development Office.