T. Lanning & Company Department Store, Dennison Ohio

Date added: May 27, 2022 Categories: Ohio Retail Department Store
View northeast of storefront (1999)

T. Lanning & Co. Department Store it served in the commercial development of the Village of Dennison throughout the first half of the 20th Century as Dennison's premier retailer for a quarter of a century, Theodore Lanning & Company provided goods and services and drew customers from surrounding communities because of the Panhandle Line Pennsylvania Railroad & St. Louis railroad system. In the context of the business district, the Lanning Building represents a significant and largely intact commercial structure in Dennison. The building is one of the tallest in the central business district of Dennison. The building's size evokes an era of optimism and prosperity that began with turn-of-the-century service, and ended with the advent of shopping center efficiency and the wide-spread use of the automobile.

The T. Lanning & Co. Department Store was specifically designed as a mercantile building that include large storefront windows, high ceilings, a centralized accounting and business office on a mezzanine floor that allowed for good supervision and support of the clerks on the sales floor of the department store. Luxfer prism transom glass, windows beneath the display windows, and high windows on the east and west side of the building admit ample natural light deep into the building to illuminate the sales areas without impeding display of merchandise along the exterior walls. The building was designed with modest classical architecture influences that features molded brick window surrounds, brick quoins and dentils, mosaic tile floors, Luxfer prism glass transoms and pressed metal ceilings, typical of the period. The basement, first and second floors housed the T. Lanning & Company Department Store.

The T. Lanning & Co. Department Store was a model for merchandising establishments and included a centralized office for changing money. The Lanning family had a history of merchandising. Theodore Lanning, after a short teaching career and selling his interest in the family store in Gilmore, bought the Bell & Penn store in Dennison, Ohio in 1892. At the time, Dennison was a thriving railroad center. The business so increased that Lanning decided in 1902 to erect a building that would be a credit to the Village of Dennison, and one that would meet the demands of his rapidly increasing business. Lanning likely chose the site of the building due to the proximity to the I. O. O. F. Building that contained McCaws' drugstore and opposite the "Railroad Chapel" to maximize the number of railroad worker-passerbys. The Lanning Building was Tuscarawas County's premier department store from 1904 until 1968. Though utilized for a variety of purposes since 1968, and under-utilized since 1991, the building remains a dominant structure of the business district.

Dennison, Ohio entered its golden age with the beginning of the new century. Jobs were plentiful and optimism was unlimited. Dennison benefited greatly from the Pennsylvania Railroad; the railroad's shops provided good jobs for nearly 2,000 men. The clay industry was in its infancy, but Dennison and its sister city of Uhrichsville were on the verge of becoming the "Clay Center of the World," which also provided economic benefit to Dennison.

Dennison (named after William Dennison, Ohio's famous Civil War governor) at the turn of the century was still growing rapidly from being made "the principal point" (a major rail repair and service stop occupying 40 acres south of the railroad tracks described as one of the most replete, thoroughly appointed and ably conducted, if not most extensive, locomotive works in the country) in the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railway Company in 1864. "The shops of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railway Company at Dennison were among the most complete and extensive in the country." The population in Dennison had grown to 3,763 in 1900.

The town possessed great vibrancy that must have been envied by other communities. Hundreds of railroad workers would cross an overhead bridge from the railroad shops to the central business district. Residents had many leisure time activities. They could take in a movie at one of the three "picture shows" in Dennison or they could go dancing or swimming at Island Park.

A Saturday night visit downtown wouldn't be complete without a stop at Augie Marfisi's fruit store to purchase some fresh, red-hot peanuts. There were Chautauquas at the Rex Theater and street fairs on Grant Street in the summer. A shopper could find almost anything in the stores along Grant Street: shoes and men's clothing at Parr Brothers, fresh meat at Heywood Clark's meat market Victrolas and music boxes at Geo. S. McCaw's Drug Store, fresh-baked goods at Fuhr's Bakery, watches at John Gardner's jewelry store, or a complete line of groceries at Annie Sullivan's grocery store.

The undisputed center of the shopping district, though, was T. Lanning and Co.'s Department store at the corner of Grant and Third streets. The store moved into its three-story red brick building in 1904. The Lanning family's mercantile businesses began with Philip Lanning having bought the second lot sold in Gilmore just south of Dennison in 1848 and "sold a horse and buggy for $128.00 which was his entire capital." A one story building eighteen by thirty six feet with a partition in the center was his home and store until 1860, when he put up a "commodious two story building on the adjoining lot."

Philip Lanning's son Theodore, after teaching in Robinson, Kansas, returned to Ohio and in 1892 sold his interest in the Gilmore store to his father and brother and bought a half interest in the Bell and Penn store in Dennison. After buying the other half, business so increased that he decided in 1902 to erect a building that would be a credit to the City of Dennison and one that would meet the demand of his rapidly increasing trade. After moving his stock to another building work began on the new building in March 1903. Within a year the building was completed by local contractor P. A. Romig.

Built on the site of the former Bell and Penn store, the Lanning Building was dedicated on March 1, 1904, in which "fully ten thousand people streamed in a constant procession through the spacious aisles during the day." "The interior was handsomely decorated and the large force of clerks attired in neat and becoming costumes," the Uhrichsville Chronicle reported. "Each person on entering was sprayed with perfume. A card of needles and a sample box was given each visiting lady...Miss Hazel Lanning and Pearl Welch served punch and lemonade during the afternoon and evening. Snyder's orchestra, seated in the balcony, furnished delightful music."

The first floor was divided into six departments. The first department was for dress goods and domestics, the second held hosiery and notions, the third contained women's and children's underwear, the fourth was devoted to men's furnishing's, the fifth was given to men's, ladies and children's shoes and the sixth was a grocery. The first floor contained a ladies dressing room and the entrance to the ware room. The rear was finished with a balcony used for a counting room and private office. The office balcony also lead to the second floor where the right was for lady's suits and coats and for lace curtains and upholstery. The left was the carpet and rug department. The rear contained a second balcony for the display of children's clothing's, of hats and of men's working clothing. The front basement was for china, tin and granite ware and wall paper. The rear was for storage. Dishes and wallpaper were sold in the basement, and carpets and curtains on the second floor.

Also on the second floor were three sets of offices, including the office of Dr. Roy A. Wilson. The third floor was arranged into six dwelling flats each fitted with gas, electric light, water and bathroom. A windowed corridor was set back from the west party wall to admit light. The building was heated by steam.

Theodore Lanning was declared Dennison's leading citizen, in the reporting of his death, March 16, 1926, as President of the Dennison National Bank, The Citizens Savings and Loan Company, The Dennison and Uhrichsville Building and Loan Company, The Dennison Sewer Pipe Company, and vice president of the Bowling Coal and Mining Company, The Wolf-Lanning Clay Company and the Dennison Water Supply Company. He was vice president of the Twin City hospital board and was in charge of the arrangements for the new addition to the hospital. He was also a member of the sinking fund trustees of the Village of Dennison, serving as president of that body.

Mr. Lanning was also President of the Twin City Bank; Vice President of the Dennison and Uhrichsville's Building and Loan Association, and of the Citizens Building and Loan Company. He was a stockholder in the Home Telephone Company. He was a Mason, an Odd Fellow, a Knight of Pythias, and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he was a trustee at Dennison.

The Lanning Building served as Dennison's, as well as one of southern Tuscarawas County's, finest department stores and the cornerstone of a thriving local downtown economy. (Note; there is a similar, larger department store building in the town of Strasburg, Tuscarawas Co., Ohio, approximately sixteen miles north, northeast of Dennison. The Garver Brothers Store constructed in 1902, and has many similarities including a "balcony" equivalent to the Lanning Building's mezzanine and a pneumatic tube cash and change carrier system). At the time of its construction, the Lanning Building offered the convenience of the salesman, the satisfaction of the customer, and the comfort of both while engaged in the affairs of business necessary for all. The needs of a department store had been studied and answered in a manner that made this store a model for all general merchandising establishments. The abundance of light, the distribution of heat, and the requirements of ventilation have each and all had ample consideration. Devices for saving time were installed, and apparatus for quick and accurate records of transactions were in use. There was an impression of fitness in the arrangements of the store that answers expectations and made it needless for one to go searching for another store.

In the summer of 1967, T. Lanning and Co., the town's main department store, closed its doors for good.