A Property’s Past: The Auditorium

Watertown building has been a theater, post office and more

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Inside the lobby of what used to be the Auditorium in Watertown, a sign notifying visitors that they've found the local post office hangs on a door.

WATERTOWN – In the 1920s the population of Watertown Township already had begun to decline, from 1,318 in 1900 to 1,200 twenty years later. Local historians say it was a thriving community in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with well-groomed streets and houses, a flour mill, a hotel, a bank, two general stores and a blacksmith shop.

“It was a center for local farmers, but it got to the place where they sold their farms, retired and moved into Watertown,” lifelong town resident Robert Klinger said.

It was a lively place even when Klinger, who is now 91, was young and the local economy was on the wane. One place he remembers still stands on the main block of the town, Watertown Road – the Auditorium.

The Auditorium now still stands out from the buildings on the road. Originally built around 1926 as a vaudeville hall, the building itself is an ordinary one-story frame structure, but the facade has that bell-curve top flanked by square pillars characteristic of entertainment establishment. High in the gable, an iron sign fixed to the wall reads simply, “Auditorium.”

When vaudeville went into decline in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Auditorium adapted and began screening films.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times The Auditorium building stands out among the structures on the main street of Watertown, its architecture suggesting its original use as a music and vaudeville hall from the 1920s.

“They had a lot of local events there, school plays, they showed movies, had dances,” Klinger said. “It was basically a center of activity. I don’t remember which movies I saw there – I was too young, that was too far back.”

The Auditorium was built by carpenter Fred Schweikert and owned by his family for decades. The houses on Watertown Road show a uniformity, two-stories, finished with white-painted weatherboard, generous porches and heavy decorative detail on eaves and in the gables.

The builder’s grandson, Fred Schweikert, now 84, still lives in the area.

“He took care of the maintenance, looked after it well,” Schweikert said. In addition to stage shows, the Auditorium hosted meetings for the Rebekah Lodge, the Odd Fellows, and many activities for the Methodist church down the street. “Suppers, programs, parties, all of it, he said. “You could rent it for 50 cents a night.”

The space hosted a variety of uses. One notice in the Zanesville Times-Recorder from October 1948 noted that Rep. P.W. Griffiths of Marietta held an election campaign event there. In August 1996, a massive auction was advertised including antiques, books and papers.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times The sign for the Auditorium is still attached high on the front wall of the building at 75 Watertown Road.

When he was growing up, Schweikert said, the town had three gas stations – Gulf, Ashland and Sohio – and three general stores.

“Long johns, gumboots, fabric, thread, there were barrels of vinegar and turpentine in the back, you could get anything,” he said. Looking down Watertown Road, he added, laughing, “Now you can’t even get gas for your lawn mower.”

His grandfather helped build houses along Watertown Road in the center of town around 1900, he said, and in 1908 built the town’s two-story schoolhouse.

“And I bought it from the school district and tore it down,” he said. “The joists in that building were amazing – 30 feet long, solid oak two-by-tens.”

The town also had a mill, Robin Hood Flour.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Robert Klinger, left, and Fred Schweikert stand outside the Auditorium on Friday. Klinger, 91, grew up in Watertown and remembers attending movies there as a child. Schweikert's grandfather built the structure. The building now has a two-room post office at the front, and the main area once used for stage performances, movies and dances, has been closed from public use for years.

“The farmers would bring their grain in and have it milled there,” Klinger said. “We had a cobbler, there was a blacksmith.”

His grandfather sold the Auditorium in 1953, Schweikert said, “to Joan Atkinson, I think.”

The 676 General Store, last of its kind in the town, closed several years ago, but not before one of its employees, in 1993 became a business occupant of the Auditorium. The building — at least, the small public part of it — is now home to the Watertown post office.

Teresa Hill has been the contract postmaster since 1991, and moved the postal service into the Auditorium two years later. To find her office, customers walk into the small lobby area of the building and open the door to the right.

Inside on a late morning this week, Hill sat in the tiny room, warmed by an electric space heater, in the company of Willow, a small 11-year-old dog that peered quietly from inside a cloth bag on a chair. She lives in Beverly, works four hours a day as a contract unit of the U.S. Postal Service and has been on the job for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve known the people here for so long, I’ve got lots of good friends here,” she said. About 25 to 30 people a day come by the post office.

“It used to be quite the booming little burg, with stores and two phone companies,” she said.

The west wall of the small room is decorated with home-scrawled art and messages, including affectionate postings from her nieces.

“The building owner said he’s leaving that wall the way it is no matter what,” she said. “He really likes it.”

The building has been owned for 20 years or more by G. Walter Spung, who was in Texas when this article was being researched. He could not be contacted.

A typical day, Hill said, depends on the time of year.

“In the summer, I’ll sit outside and talk to people,” she said. “They’ll come by and stay to talk for a while. It’s sort of a center for the community.”

“I’ve know people here for almost 30 years, and I like them,” she said. “They’re my customers, and my friends.”

The Auditorium, Watertown

•Built: Circa 1926 by Fred Schweikert.

•Original use: Vaudeville hall.

•Subsequent uses: Movie theater, venue for dances, plays and meetings.

•Current use: Watertown post office.

Source: Times research.