A sign on U.S. 224 marks where Van Wert County’s Middlebury is. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)
A sign on U.S. 224 marks where Van Wert County’s Middlebury is. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)

VAN WERT COUNTY – Ask anyone a half century ago what Van County’s Middlebury was best known for and the answer would be prompt and alert – Mr. B’s Dance Hall.

For many years, cars would surround the parking lot and line U.S. 224 on dance night, representative of the huge crowd at the famed dance arena.

These days, there is the smallest hint of the parking lot that once housed the famous gathering place.

Van Wert County historical records note that it was Nov. 10, 1850, when the small town was plotted along present day U.S. 224. Originally known as “Daise,” the name was changed to Middlebury on Sept. 30, 1861. These days, the town is nearly extinct, but a lot happened in the little hamlet between the time when it was founded and the present day.

On April 30, 1904 Rural Free Delivery of mail came to Middlebury. This post office sat on the corner on Harrison Willshire Road and in 1899 it was moved to L.B. Springer’s Grocery Store.

Near the turn of the century, businesses started to form in the small hamlet, including a blacksmith shop, doctors and stockyards.

Floyd O'Daffer, in his book, "History of Van Wert" speaks of many of the locations in Middlebury.

“There were also two barber shops, a cider mill, and a sawmill owned and operated by James Finkhousen,” said O’Daffer.

Not far behind, said O’Daffer, was a Grange Hall and two saloons.

“This grange hall was an important meeting place for socials and political minded people of Middlebury,” said O’Daffer.

Initially there were two grocery stores along 224, said O’Daffer.

Around 1922, one of the stores was moved across the highway where the blacksmith shop was originally located. It was converted into a saloon but closed down in 1919 at the time that prohibition was voted in.

The other grocery store was located at the northwest corner of Harrison-Willshire Road and US 224.

“This building burned to the ground when it was struck by lightning on May 21, 1877. The second frame building was built in 1879 and included the post office,” said O’Daffer.

“When State Route 224 was made wider in 1937, the store was moved 20 feet north to accommodate the right-of way,” observed O’Daffer. “That store was eventually closed in the fall of 1967.

“In 1899, Middlebury had 21 houses and nine businesses but today it is just a hamlet,” continued O’Daffer. “The Van Wert-Decatur Road was first piked in 1904. In 1928, it became a state road which means the state took over the road from the county and named it,”U.S. 224,” added O’Daffer.