Yates Center is quite proud of its historic town square, and for good reason. What follows is a list of things you and your loved ones can check out while touring the cultural heart of the county.
Let’s start on the square’s northwest corner at the Hotel Woodson, opened in 1887, where Buffalo Bill and friends once stayed, as well as getting into a bar-room brawl over grape juice and spilled dishes.
Proceeding south on State Street, you’ll notice overhead an inscription for Dr. S. Bacon 1884, one of the first physicians in Yates Center, as well as what was once a livery stable and saddle shop, which explains the beautiful arched stone doorways.
A couple generations ago, Steiner’s Sundries was a hot hangout for young people wanting roasted peanuts or a cold drink, but it’s now a sports museum. Let’s see if Jack is inside!
You’ll notice the entire square is paved with bricks, which if you look at the accompanying photos you’ll see teams of horses that carried them in during the first couple decades of the twentieth century. And speaking of brick- and stone-work, an impressive sandstone bank once occupied the very southwest corner of the square!
You’ll notice the same stone bank painted on the mural facing south, on the building just north of the bank, which was the first Freemason’s lodge in Yates Center. You’ll also find paintings of Chief Opothleyahola, who led his people on the horrific “Trail of Blood on Ice,” just south of town, as well as depictions of an octagonal barn that once stood north of YC, and the Washington School, which stood where the High School gym now sits.
Gazing east on the south side of the square, I want you to look closely at the cream-colored firewall that covers the west side of the building, partially covered with vines. This wall was constructed after fires destroyed many of the square’s first buildings. These wood-frames were rolled in from the ghost-town of Kalida around 1875-1876, but today you can still visit Kalida’s iconic “castle” built in 1893.
Crossing north over the street now, here on the courthouse lawn’s southwest corner you’ll find various monuments, including two to the veterans of Woodson County. So let’s strike up the band! While we’re here, check out the time capsule to be opened in 2075, and the courthouse’s “Do Unto Others” placard, which was inspired by the speech given by Judge Stillwell in 1899 when the courthouse was dedicated. (Ironically, a significant portion of this speech covers why the county is named after Territorial Governor Daniel Woodson, despite him having made a career of supporting slavery.)
Speaking of the courthouse, why not take a moment to pause in awe of what has been a symbol of Yates Center for more than a hundred years. Though I have to admit, my favorite story about it is how it almost didn’t get built because of labor strikes by disgruntled workers.
As we pass toward the northwest corner of the courthouse lawn, take a second to check out another tribute to Woodson County’s veterans, the 1928 bandstand. This structure was dedicated at the same time as a memorial walk that runs from the high school to the YC “Graceland” cemetery, and was funded by the women’s clubs of Woodson County.
Heading to the north-northeast part of the lawn, let’s pause for a moment, first at the cornerstone of the courthouse, which is also a time capsule! Second, moving toward the far corner, let’s stop at the well pump. It might not look like much, but Yates Center sits where it does largely because this is where water was available, as it runs beneath the town through natural fissures in the rock. To the pioneers and founders especially, the presence of water was the difference between life and death!
Let’s wander down to the southeast corner of the square. If you need an awesome breakfast or lunch, or just some tea/coffee, stop in at Cornerstone Bakery – they will take great care of you! And as you can see from the photos, she’s carrying on a historical tradition, as this building was once a bakery long ago!
East across the street you can see the Health Insight/Light Hardware building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places along with the Courthouse, and Carnegie Library just north of the square on Main Street. This building was an important part of Yates Center life for years, housing a department store, hardware, opera house/theater, skating rink, and the iconic Frannie’s restaurant, which was featured on Good Morning America. It’s worth your time to climb the stairs and admire the woodwork!
Speaking of important parts of Yates Center life, when you’ve got a free moment, head south on Main and visit the Yates Center News office, whose nuanced history you can read about here.
While we’re here on the square’s southeast corner, take a minute to absorb the many fascinating examples of Midwest Victorian architecture, along with Dr. A.C. Dingus’ sandstone office just east of the bowling alley, along with each of the main buildings on/around the corner itself. Notice the marble tiles from what was once a bank, and the weathervane/1884 inscription overhead!
As we walk the east side of the square, let me tell you a story: When you think of Wild West shootouts, likely Yates Center isn’t what comes to mind. But that’s exactly what happened here, after a man named Wiley Welch stole a coat and gloves at a Christmas party. His brother and friends tried to spring him from jail the day of his trial, but it ended in tragedy for the desperados.
Welch’s trial was set to take place here, on the far northeast corner of the square, site of the first courthouse moved in from Defiance, which was county seat before Yates Center in 1874.
If you’re interested in crime and punishment, the schoolboard office building over there by the flagpole used to be a bank, which was robbed in 1915. The presence of the first courthouse explains why you can find the sandstone jail just over here around the square’s northeastern corner, and if you the President of the Historical Society, they’ll be happy to give you a guided tour.