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July 22, 2019

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From Ada's Past - did you know Ada once had a piano tuning school?

Here's the story...

This article comes from the Ada Historical Society and was originally posted on the Ada Icon.

Prior to WWI, a person strolling Ada’s streets of a summer’s eve would likely have heard the sound of piano music issuing from parlors along the way. Some may have come from player or mechanical pianos and some from pianists.

Helping to maintain this melodious flow was David O. Betz, one of Ada leading citizens and director of the Northwestern Ohio School of Piano Tuning.

A piano in the home was both a symbol of culture and domesticity in many middle-class houses, and, although phonographs existed at this time, pianos were still an important source of family entertainment.

Their importance was reflected in both the numerous American piano manufacturers, now mostly defunct, and by the large volume of annual sales. In 1909, shortly after Mr. Betz established his school, 364,545 pianos were sold in the U.S. Eventually this huge number of instruments would likely require servicing, and Mr. Betz was ready to both sell pianos and to train competent technicians in their repair.

Betz moved to Ada around 1906, and initially lived on West Buckeye Street. The following year, he purchased a house at 402 S. Johnson St. which still stands. This was the first of three locations his school occupied over the years.

He apparently enjoyed early success since an article in the June 20, 1908, issue of the journal, The Music Trade Review, noted “... since going into quarters a year ago, many improvements have been made, and besides having an up-to-date player-piano department, this school will install a pipe organ as well, and offer a course on this instrument which is growing in popularity.”

By 1909, Betz and Ohio Northern University were exploring some form of collaboration, and the university’s catalog that year contained a section advertising the piano tuning school.

Music students at Ohio Northern could presumably enroll with Betz, but there was no reference to university-level credit being granted. Mr. Betz was not listed among the university faculty, and by 1915, the catalog no longer referred to the piano tuning school. The school did, however, issue its own diplomas.

By 1912, Betz moved to a downtown wood frame structure at 226 - 228 North Main St. where several pictures in an early catalog show students busy with various forms of restoration work. The original building was subsequently sold and moved, Betz retained ownership of the lot, and there he built a two-story brick structure which is still in use.

The new building could accommodate classes, but by this time emphasis also seemed to be shifting toward the retail sale of pianos as well as gramophones suggesting that Betz was not adverse to new lines of merchandise when required.

The 1911 and 1912 Ada telephone directories noted the change from The School of Piano Tuning to The Ada Music House, D.O. Betz Proprietor and described as “Hardin County’s Largest Piano House.”

Even so, a three-course program was still being offered in 1914. According to The Music Trade Review that year, the first course covered “,,, action regulating, repairing,  voicing and tone regulating, stringing, polishing and varnishing.”  The second course covered player piano mechanisms while the third dealt with organ work.

The 1920’s were a period of further change. Mr. Betz had a branch store in Crestline, Ohio, through 1925. That year he decided to concentrate his efforts in Ada and relocated to 117 North Main Street, the current location of Cole-Humphrey Insurance. In addition to record players, the store also sold recordings and household appliances.  

Reflecting these changes, 1926 saw a name change to the firm.  An advertisement in the Ada Herald for that year noted that customers could purchase a handsome living room set in a variety of fabrics at the D.O. Betz Music and Furniture House. The following year Betz also offered Atwater Kent radios.

One suspects that, by this time, piano sales and repairs were a modest part of his business. The need to diversify may have been partially a result of the Depression which started in 1929.

By March 1933 the Ada Herald mentioned the receipt of a new stock of shoes at Mr. Betz new store at 115 North Main Street. That same advertisement also mentioned that his “...Music, Furniture and Sporting Goods will be continued…”

If the Depression did not help Mr. Betz’ music business, WWII was probably an even greater challenge. By Fall 1948, he sold his store at 115 North Main Street with the intention of starting a sporting goods store in a shop building at the rear of his house.

Mr. Betz continued to be active in local matters, service as a Justice of the Peace between 1949 and his death in 1956. He and his wife, Alice, are buried in Ada’s Woodlawn Cemetery.