The Stalwart

Building on Legacy in Lima



During the early years of the 20th century, Lima was a budding metropolis with an impressive number of professionals leading the way for African American residents.

Dr. Cyrus Bradfield passed away early in life; officially from tuberculosis, but in the minds of the community of color, his death was a result of his relentless efforts against Social Injustice in the city. Dr. AA Dalton, Dr. Green, Nurse Chris Williamson-Stewart, and Dr. Robert A. Watts kept Lima’s African American citizens in good health, good spirits, and satisfied that their healthcare was in the hands of some of the best medical minds in the State of Ohio.

Doctors Green and Watts settled into a thriving location on the corner of Spring and Union Streets. This downtown location was situated perfectly providing access for minorities living on both the east and the south sides.

For decades this symbolic landmark for social justice held its ground refusing to be swept away along with much of the rich African American history of the community. Prompted by a city design that included placement of Rhodes State College’s Borra Center to breathe new life into the downtown area pumping young professionals in training to that part of the city, an immediate drawback came into view: blight. So many buildings standing in the way of progress, because they no longer had a purpose. As the landscape began to change and shift the area became identified as a ‘hub-zone’.

Just a few decades previous, that same corner was amid the pulsating, black business district. Hosting some of the biggest names in the music industry. Lima was a hot spot for social gatherings. BB King, Louis Armstrong, and other entertainers frequently performed downtown. But in 2022, the area was described as “blight” and the designation is attributed to those living in poverty and the community of color.

As is the way of things, there are two sides to every story. Even the story of segregation. Living in a segregated society means that both sectors are actively working to strive. Talented individuals emerge to provide for the needs of the people. Neighbors provided for neighbors and Barber/Beauty Shops, repair shops, churches, grocery stores, gas stations, seamstresses, tailors, dry cleaners, a skating rink, entertainment centers, community centers, all black owned businesses thriving inside their own space, flourished for a time until the end of segregation created another social divide. Those that could ‘get out’ and those that would stay.

For doctors treating people of color, the impact was gradual, but noticeable. Some preparations had been made, and the building housing the practice of Greene and Watts with nurse Chris Williamson-Stewart continued what they had begun in 1961, serving the community while working to ensure the change that was coming to the area through integration had positive impacts for people of color and the poor. In 2003, the physician’s office officially closed. In 2020, Dr. Watts sold the building to Booker T. Brown, one of his patients, with an understanding the use of the property would continue to serve the under-served. A legacy of hope for the future of an entire community.

Booker T. Brown believed the idyllic circumstance for the agreement he made with Dr. Watts would be placing the property in the hands of his granddaughter, Diamond Russell. Within her, there was the ideal mix of fortitude, awareness, and conviction that could transform a piece of honored history into space that could contain the blending of past and future promise. An example of pure integration.

“Here we have two young people, investing in the re-imagining of a structure that will serve a modern function.” Jeff Krouse is an architect for the Booker Building project. “As a firm we aspire to projects that have a story, meaning, and a purpose when we are prospecting for new work. We gravitate toward projects with those aspects as designers and storytellers. Certainly, we approach the project technically as well – but the real attraction to a project like this is: how can we think through the lens of people who use to occupy this space and then carry the legacy forward creating a building that will be iconic and significant for years to come?” Krouse spoke eloquently on the purpose of preservation. “If you tear down the building you will never be able to point to that to say, ‘That’s where it happened, the first African American doctor who treated black and white patients at a time in history that was unique.” And there is irony in that this same space having been preserved, will be utilized for black entrepreneurs.” Brick Street Studios is developing a reputation as a business for clientele searching for a different approach to architecture. “Because we are drawn to the history of a property as much as we are to the business side, our clients say we are just ‘different’. Brick Street Studios is a name we chose because it embodies where we find joy and what we hope to do for people.”

For owners Shawn and Diamond Russell, the Booker Building at 140 East Spring Street, marks itself as a catalyst for change for them personally, as well as for Lima’s community of color. They’ve chosen a design that immediately reaches out and supports yet another minority owned business. The first floor of the Booker Building will house two event spaces that can be combined to create a larger venue; the remainder of that floor becomes the home of Bean City Chicken. The second floor offers two Airbnb with a modern, spacious design. A great place for visitors whether business or pleasure brought them to town.

With a projected completion of the Booker Building in the spring of 2024, owner Shawn Russell is extremely optimistic about this venture. “We are excited about the opportunity to have a positive impact on our community and are looking forward to being an example for others. We are just grateful to the community for keeping us lifted up in prayer and are asking them to keep their energy flowing toward us as we continue through this process.”

Keeping the past as a lodestar, Russell stated the two event rooms will be named for Dr. Greene and Dr. Watts to keep their unique and impassioned desire to be of service to the people of color and the poor who reside in Lima at the forefront in the minds of all who enter the facility.

As the citizens of Lima feel the warmth of the ‘winds of change’ making their way through the downtown area, organizers of the Central District are searching for minority business owners and yet to be realized entrepreneurs to take the opportunity to take stock of the time. The history shapes the future. In his poem Harlem, Langston Hughes asked a question of which we might soon understand the answer:

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore– And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– Like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags Like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

A building can be more that brick and mortar when it can come to symbolize the struggle, success, burdens, and victories that have been contained there for a century or more. It could be the dream was just deferred for a time. Perhaps for Dr. Green, Dr. Watts, and Mr. Booker Brown, that time is now.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *