The draw curtains, shown in the photo, in the old second story theater in the Mendon Town Hall still contain advertisements from the 1930s. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)
The draw curtains, shown in the photo, in the old second story theater in the Mendon Town Hall still contain advertisements from the 1930s. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)

DHI Media Staff Writer

MENDON — Marilyn Ruhlen has spent nearly all of her life in Mendon. During that time, the Mendon Town Hall has played a prominent part in her life, especially in her younger years.

The hall, which was completed in 1904 for an estimated cost of $9,275, was a two-story building that quickly became the center of the town activity. The upper floor served as a theater, complete with a stage and balcony, where commencement exercises, class plays, road shows and farmers’ institutes were held. There was a jail on the lower floor on the west side and also other rooms for administrative offices.

Ruhlen’s favorite memories are those centered around the traveling medicine shows. Each summer, an entire troop of performers who sold various types of medicine came to town to perform and to sell.

“My dad was the postmaster,” said Ruhlen. “They notified him each summer when they were coming and who was coming. Then they would have their mail shipped to the local post office while they were here.

“When they arrived they parked their trailers and they would stay for a week or so,” continued Ruhlen. “They would use that theater stage for their shows and other events during that time. During the show, they would take a break and sell their medicine bottles.”

Each Halloween following the downtown parade, the masqueraded participants marched on to the stage and were judged, with winners receiving a shiny new silver dollar for best costume in each category.

Another large room housed the old library before the new library was built.

One of the most unique and historical values of the theater continues to be the old backdrop curtain which still contains advertisements of businesses from the late 1930s. Businesses still marked on the curtain from bygone days include The Citizens Banking Company of Celina, Crampton Canneries, M.G. Watts, wallpaper and medicine, R.L. Hickernell, Auctioneer, Maurer’s Hardware Store, J.W. Detrick Insurance, Miller Barbershop and Heffner Brothers Garage.

Also, on the curtain are Dick and Fisher Funeral Service and Furniture, Mendon Service Company, Brown’s Market, Jerry’s Service Station, Mendon Service Grain Company and Drake’s Grocery Store.

Today, of those listed, only Maurer’s Hardware Store remains in Mendon.

Ruhlen recalls when the community sponsored movies in the theater on Wednesday evenings, with ticket cost at a “whopping” 10 cents.

“Everyone brought their own snacks at the time,” said Ruhlen.

“I’m so proud of this building, so proud to have it,” commented resident Barb Hamilton, who has served many years on the committee now hosting a popular Christmas tree event in early December.

“Later, teachers hosted weekend movies here,” observed Ruhlen. “The theater would be full every time there was entertainment here.”

City leaders would love to clean and restore the structure, but finances play a big part in making that project very slow.

Currently, the town council meets in the building, the town office is located in the lower part of the building and the emergency squad has its offices there, Hamilton said.