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Published: Friday, 1/27/2006

New life sought for former exhibit space

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tom Balduf, a city parks board member, and Michelle Grigore, Bowling Green's parks director, hope to save Needle Hall. Tom Balduf, a city parks board member, and Michelle Grigore, Bowling Green's parks director, hope to save Needle Hall.
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BOWLING GREEN - Long before City Park was surrounded by the city of Bowling Green, the land and the adjoining golf course served as the Wood County fairgrounds.

And, while a fair has not been held on the site for more than 50 years, an unusual cross-shaped building that once housed floral and needlework displays still stands as the last remnant of the old fairgrounds.

City Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Grigore wants to see the city preserve Needle Hall and find a use for it other than storing park benches in the winter.

"The question is what do we do with it? How do we maintain it? What do we use it for?" Ms. Grigore said. "Needle Hall is a really interesting building. I think it could serve a different purpose than winter storage and an outdoor stage."

A photo from around 1906 shows Needle Hall at the old Wood County Fairgrounds, which is now City Park in Bowling Green. A photo from around 1906 shows Needle Hall at the old Wood County Fairgrounds, which is now City Park in Bowling Green.
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Built in 1884, Needle Hall was recently declared structurally sound by the city engineer.

"These buildings weren't built to last forever," said Tom Balduf, a member of the parks and recre-ation board who researched the building as part of his course work for a graduate program in historic preservation. "It's incredible. It's obviously had a lot of loving care and maintenance when it was needed. It's as it was in 1884."

In a condition assessment Mr. Balduf did of the building, he noted that the center of the Greek cross-shaped building rises "to support an octagonal dome-like space covered by a hip roof. The dome is supported by a complex structure of rafters, joists, and braces based on a central rectangular oak block, spindle-like in form."

The wooden hall, he said, is "a wonderful example of vernacular building.

"It was probably not designed by an architect," he said. "It was designed by whoever built it, probably by someone who built barns."

According to fair board records, the Wood County fair was first held in 1851 and moved around to a number of locations in the county before coming to what is now City Park in 1881. The fair was held at that site until 1927 when the fair was discontinued.

The building at left is now used to store park benches, but has little other purpose. The building at left is now used to store park benches, but has little other purpose.
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A revived Wood County Fair was held at City Park again in 1951, but land was purchased the following year off West Poe Road where the event has been held ever since.

In 1982, the city was successful in getting Needle Hall placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has had few alterations over the years beyond a new shake roof in the 1980s and a deck added to the exterior that is used as a stage for concerts in the park.

Mr. Balduf said he thinks the building is most immediately in need of a new roof and downspouts to keep rain and snow from causing further deterioration of wood around the building's foundation.

Ms. Grigore said she has $20,000 in this year's budget that she hopes will cover downspouts, but beyond that she has no idea how much it would cost to preserve the building.

"This could be a great community project but I don't know how much it's going to take because we don't know what we want to use it for," she said.

Members of the public are invited to give their ideas for Needle Hall and other facilities at City Park during a public forum at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Scout building at the park. Ms. Grigore said the forum is one in a series of meetings scheduled before the parks and recreation department updates its five-year master plan.

One idea she has heard is to use Needle Hall as an indoor children's play area. She would like to see educational signage installed that would explain the site's history as the county fairgrounds.

Mr. Balduf said he would love to see the building, which was initially called Floral Hall, used as it was back in 1884 - to house an annual flower show.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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