Shawnee, a village in Perry County, Ohio, was founded in 1872. During the late 1800s, thousands of immigrant workers arrived to work in the coal mines. Their families followed, as did businessmen who came to establish a new urban center. Soon, the town boasted a busy Main Street with banks, stores, and saloons. The discovery of oil and clay deposits further boosted the mineral extraction economy. By the 1920s, the coal boom was over, and economic decline followed. Despite a major drop in population–fewer than 700 people are currently residents–Shawnee and its Main Street have retained an original streetscape with buildings, overhanging porches, two opera houses, and details typical of the Victorian Era. Shawnee is known as one of the best intact examples of boomtown architecture in the eastern United States.
In 2006, with the help of a Save America’s Treasures Grant, Shawnee completed the exterior restoration of the Tecumseh Theater. An anchor building on Main Street, the Tecumseh Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sunday Creek Associates (SCA), the building owner, received grant support to offer a café/visitor welcome area and expand the library housed in the building. Future projects are planned to restore the interior of the opera house and continue restoration of other buildings on Main Street for commercial and residential use. SCA has played a successful role in returning six business storefronts, six residential units, and one commercial center space to occupancy.
These projects compliment heritage tourism initiatives, such as specialty tours, seminars, and events that introduce visitors to early mining, labor organization, and immigration patterns that influenced the region and the entire country. The Shawnee Coal Mining Museum contains a collection of mining tools and welcomes tour groups by sharing the area’s rich mining history. The Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council maintains a local history archive and an exhibit of Shawnee memorabilia. Volunteers from the council sponsor an annual history fair featuring speakers, music, and food. The longest standing volunteer group, the Tecumseh Theater Group, has sponsored an annual Concert in the Park series on Main Street for the past 30 years, offers guided tours, and developed a driving tour/map brochure for the region.
The village of Shawnee, which serves as a gateway to the Little Cities of Black Diamonds region and the Wayne National Forest, was awarded a Preserve America Grant in 2009 to identify the most vulnerable properties in its Main Street Historic District and to plan for their restoration and reuse. Funds will also be used to design a streetscape, in an effort to spur tourism-based economic development. Shawnee is part of a beautiful area that offers recreational activities such as hiking, boating, fishing, and horseback riding. The Little Cities of the Forest Collaborative works to preserve and enhance the region in concert with conservation efforts, promoting sustainable use of the region’s resources.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2008.