Downtown-Diamond Match Tour

Downtown Commercial District

O.C. Barber's 1891 plan for Barberton included an L-shaped business district, set back only one block from Lake Anna, where the town's mercantile interests could be established. Almost immediately, local investors who were willing to take a chance on the new town began to build two- and three-story commercial buildings in this district. These new structures were substantial brick buildings, reflecting an optimism in Barberton's future.

As the community grew, new commercial buildings filled in the blocks on Tuscarawas Avenue and Second Street. In 1894 these streets became the route of a streetcar line, connection downtown with developing residential districts to the east and west. By 1940, the downtown was home to baking institutions, restaurants, small and large retail shops, department stores, professional offices, and at least five motion picture theaters. Three of those theaters remain in the city's Alexander Square Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Importantly, the significant architectural character of buildings in the downtown is being protected as this area is designated the city's first design review district.

The Diamond Match Company

The history of Barberton is intrinsically linked with the history of O.C. Barber's Diamond Match Company. Known as "America's Match King," Barber had achieved great success through his Akron-based Diamond Match conglomerate. When he decided to relocate his match factory from Akron to Barberton in 1894, he started a boom period of growth and development in the fledgling community which resulted in the town's nickname of "the magic city." Barber built a 20-acre complex of factory buildings along his Belt Line Railroad to the south of downtown, employing 200 Barberton men and women by 1895. Remarkably, over 1,000 employees were working there just 10 years later.

The Barberton match works produced not only matches (named Diamond for the profile of the matchstick), but also the machinery for making the matches. Machinery that was manufactured at Barberton was used in Barber's Diamond Match facilities worldwide. The brink industrial buildings that remain standing today made up the Engineering Department, where these machines were designed and produced. They remain as the most intact collection of 19th century industrial buildings in Barberton toady, reminding us of O.C. Barber, his great match industry, and its impact upon the community.

Walking Tour

In these descriptions, properties are identified by their historic names (where known), followed by their address and date of construction. "NR" denotes a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the Alexander Square Historic District.

Downtown Commercial District

Begin your tour at the corner of Tuscarawas Avenue West and 5th Street, N.W. at the western end of the Alexander Square Historic District. You may park in the lot to the south of the Barberton Public Library. 

Lake Theater / Lake Cinema 8
578-88 Tuscarawas Avenue West (1938/1994/2013), NR
Original Architect: George H. Burrows

A recent transformation of this Depression-era Art Deco movie theater into a modern-day digital cinema sensitively combines the old with the new. The entrance marquee and ticket booth have been restored. Peek inside for a view of the building's original carbon-arc projectors and hand-painted murals. 

Park Theater
565-69 Tuscarawas Avenue West (1919), NR

Today home to a successful children's theater company, the Park was an early motion picture theater in Barberton. Its facade is richly decorated with terra cotta and tile in a classical style of the period. 

Pastime Theater
559 Tuscarawas Avenue West (1921), NR

Movie-going was a popular pastime in early 20th century Barberton. Representative of a small theater, the Pastime has an impressive white-glazed terra cotta facade. 

Old Marshall's Department Store
553-57 Tuscarawas Avenue West (1928), NR

Barberton's first large-scale department store, this building was originally occupied be the Weisberger Co. An important feature is the 1920s recessed storefront with free-standing display cases and hanging brass light fixture. 

Tracy Block
554-62 Tuscarawas Avenue West (1891), NR

Barberton's articles of incorporation were signed in this building in 1891. As the new town's largest commercial building, the Tracy was also home to the first municipal offices, first board of education, and first school rooms. Note the decorative brick and sandstone trim on the main facade. 

Finefrock Building
70-72 4th Street, N.W. (1927)

This attractive office building was built by Dr. Harvey Finefrock, city health officer, for his private medical practice. The Barberton Herald has been publishing its weekly paper here since 1967. 

Diamond Match Complex

Continue the tour to the south across Wooster Road West where you'll enter the historic Diamond Match complex. 

Diamond Match Factory Complex (1894)
It was in this group of four industrial buildings that O.C. Barber designed and produced the specialized machinery for the manufacture of his matches. As you walk through this complex, notice the factory buildings' brick construction, sandstone block foundations, long rectangular form, gabled roofs, and tall window openings designed to admit ample light to the interior. Imagine the scene as match company employees arrived to work here at the turn of the century. Still used today for industrial purposes, these buildings provide a valuable glimpse into industrial Barberton at the turn of the century. 

Belt Line Railroad (1891)
As you reach Second Street from the Diamond Match Complex, you will notice the yards of Barberton's Belt Railroad just ahead. An important part of O.C. Barber's plan for his new town in 1891 was a railroad line which would form a belt around the city, giving its industries critical access to the town's main railroad lines. The Belt Line Railroad survives to the present day, still providing rail service to several Barberton factories. 

Barberton Fire Station
520-22 Wooster Road West (1904)

Barberton's first fire station (1904-1974) stands in slightly altered form. While the hose tower is gone, the original garage door openings and central projecting bay are features worth noting. 

Barberton Post Office
531 Wooster Road West (1932)

This fine public building is noteworthy for its Neo-Classical features, including round-arched windows and doors and classical cornice. It was the first building in Barberton built specifically to house the Post Office. 

Henry's Bank Cafe / Barleys
524 Tuscarawas Avenue West (c. 1905)

William Henry operated his cafe here from c. 1905-1920, while living in one of the upper floor apartments. A recent renovation has restored the character of the storefront and interior, with its colorful tile floor and pressed metal ceiling. Also kept was the tile at the corner entry, a lasting reminder of Henry. 

Gem Theater / Craig Studio
528 Tuscarawas Avenue West (c. 1910)

Another of Barberton's early theaters was located here. The recently-rehabilitated facade is a good example of new storefront design for an older building. Notice the restored metal ceiling inside. 

Central Savings and Trust
523-25 Tuscarawas Avenue West (1918)
Architect: Walker and Weeks

This is Barberton's only remaining early bank building. Its monumental Neo-Classical character is seen in tis stone facade, two-story Corinthian columns, and decorative roofline treatment. 

As you continue the tour north on Second Street, N.W., make note of the upper facades and early storefronts on several buildings. Some buildings have decorative brickwork at the roof-line, a feature which was quite common in early Barberton. Some of the more significant buildings on Second Street, N.W. are highlighted in the remainder of the tour. 

K's Kandies
176 Second Street, N.W. (c. 1893)

This unique building dates from the earliest years of Barberton's founding and settlement. It is unusual because it is free-standing and because it has a combined commercial and residential character. The central gable of the upper facade is worth noting. 

Bevard Block
219 Second Street, N.W. (1891)

Built in the year of Barberton's founding, this attractive building has Italianate features that include original window openings and cornice treatment. The Finnel & Smith Agency has been here since the 1950s. 

Frase and Sherrard Drug Store
220-26 Second Street, N.W. (1891/1900)

Built in two stages, this building has a highly decorative cornice with gables and piers. A drug store in the corner storefront was a Barberton mainstay for nearly 100 years. 

Welker Building
229-31 Second Street, N.W. (18911901)

Alvin Welker constructed this unique two-part building for his grocery business (in the north half) and his residence (in the south half). It reminds us today of the close relationship that often existed between home and business in times past. 

From here, a pleasant way to return to your car is via the Upper of Lower Walk of Lake Anna. 

Who Made the Tour Possible

This tour was made possible in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Interior's Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the Ohio Historic Preservation Office of the Ohio Historical Society. Matching funds for this grant were provided by the City of Barberton and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Text by Judith B. Williams, August 1994.