Knights of Labor Opera House
Shawnee, Ohio 43782
In 1869 a secret organization, The Knights of Labor, was founded in Philadelphia. The K.O.L. promoted an ideal society based on bettering life for others with the slogans, “labor was the first capital” and “an injury to one is the concern of all.” Shawnee’s Local Assembly #169 Knights of Labor was organized in 1876, and quickly became a powerful voice for labor in Ohio. National labor leader, William T. Lewis, later Labor Commissioner of Ohio, taught free grammer classes at night for the miners. Lewis initiated “The Ohio Plan,” the first free empployment bureaus in the United States. William H. Bailey, later head of National District Assembly #135 of Miners and T.L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers in 1910, also started their careers here. Meetings involving these leaders led to the formation of the United Mine Workers in 1890.
The K.O.L. became and open organization in 1879. The Opera House was built in 1881, a demonstration of pride that the K.O.L. was no longer a secret organization. The building cost $8,200 for basic construction. The bricks were molded by hand and hauled to be fired at the edge of town. The building housed a cooperative store on the first floor, a theater on the second floor, and a library with a classroom and meeting space on the third floor. The centerpiece of social life and entertainment for the area, the auditorium was used for plays, graduations, dances, and gatherings such as the annual Bobby Burns celebration and the Welsh Eisteddfods. As a more trade union oriented labor movement led to the formation of the American Federation of Labor, K.O.L. membership diminished. The building was sold in 1902 to the Knights of Pythias and was sold again in 1943 to Hannah Brothers Furniture.
The Village of Shawnee, Ohio
The Ohio Historical Society