Editor's Note: This is Part One in a four-part series on the past, present and future of the former F.E. Myers property and Pump House Ministries.
ASHLAND - These days, the industrial site in Ashland north of Fourth Street between Orange and Union Streets is viewed as an eyesore.
Just blocks from the revitalization taking place on Main Street, the former F.E. Myers Company complex lies in shambles.
It wasn’t always this way.
In its heyday, the F.E. Myers Company employed 850 people, local historian William Duff boasted in his 1915 centennial history of the city.
At that time, the Myers pump and hay tools plant was not only Ashland’s oldest and largest industry, but also the largest of its kind in the world, Duff wrote.
F. E. Myers operated nearly 100 years in the location before moving its manufacturing operations to a new plant on Myers Parkway in 1984.
Eventually, the Myers offices moved as well, leaving the complex largely vacant from 1986 through 1991, when it was sold to children’s book publisher Landoll Inc.
Landoll was “a coloring book and activity book powerhouse,” according to Publishers Weekly, until 1997, when the company was purchased by the Tribune Company. Tribune Education then sold to McGraw-Hill a few years later, and the new owner closed the Ashland facility.
In 2003, Jim Landoll and Marty Myers announced they would donate the 14-acre site and all the former F.E. Myers and Landoll buildings on the property to Pump House Ministries, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Altogether, the property was appraised at $2.1 million.
At that time, Pump House leaders were unaware that the way the donation was structured would prevent them from receiving tax exempt status on the properties.
The early days of Pump House
Pump House began in 1999 with a group of about 20 people who set out to “show God’s love in practical ways.” Their main ministry in those early days was feeding the hungry on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, according to a history provided by Pump House.
The ministry was just a few years old when it received the property donation, but it had a core group of about 25 people and a volunteer base of about 100, Rev. Bruce Wilkinson told the Ashland Times-Gazette at the time.
Wilkinson said then that he named Pump House Ministries after the Myers Pump House itself, in hopes the ministry would one day occupy one of the buildings on the site.
“We asked for a building and we got a part of the city. Fourteen acres in the middle of town -- that’s nothing to sneeze at,” Wilkinson told a reporter.
Greg McFarlin, who has been friends with Wilkinson for years and recently began working as a bookkeeper for Pump House, said Wilkinson initially only wanted the building that now houses the catering and office facilities. Wilkinson agreed to take the other properties as part of the deal with Landoll and Myers.
Around the same time the property was donated, Wilkinson retired from his job as catering manager at Ashland University to run Pump House Ministries full-time.
His vision for the ministry was to help people without jobs, including displaced factory workers, get back on their feet.
Though Pump House was set up as a church, Wilkinson said early on he would not have Sunday services as he did not want to draw people away from other local churches.
A Times-Gazette editorial hailed the donation as “good news,” saying the ministry would likely keep the buildings from deteriorating further into an eyesore and would help meet several pressing needs in the community.
But even then it was unclear how the fledgling ministry would use such an expansive complex.
“While Wilkinson is not yet sure how all the different facilities will be used and how many different services Pump House Ministries will be able to provide, he said the possibilities are endless,” the July 2003 Times-Gazette story states.
The story goes on to quote Wilkinson, “People say, ‘What are you going to do with all this stuff?’ We say, ‘Wait and see. Come be a part of it -- there’s plenty of room in the inn.’”
Wilkinson initially planned to use the Landolls office building, which is now the ministry offices and catering facility, as a resource library, conference center, meeting and banquet facility, restaurant, hotel and medial clinic.
Wilkinson and the other Pump House leaders planned to lease warehouse space to other businesses and organizations to generate funding for Pump House services.
There were several residential houses given to Pump House as part of the donation as well, and the plan was to use those as transitional housing.
Pump House’s ministries
Over the next 15 years, Pump House Ministries had several outreach programs locally and began some overseas ministries as well.
Pump House hosted programs for at-risk youth, housed Ashland Christian Health Center, served free meals, hosted a food pantry and provided a men’s shelter, among other things.
Through its catering business and restaurant and its three thrift stores, Pump House sought to employ people who were getting back on their feet and could not find jobs elsewhere.
One of Pump House’s most visible and enduring projects has been its textile program, which continues today. The ministry collects used clothing from Ashland and other communities throughout Ohio, Indiana and Michigan and sells them to companies who then resell them in Africa.
According to McFarlin, Pump House does not make significant profits through Fabric of Life Textiles. The program’s revenue goes to pay staff and to distribute checks to the other ministries who provide clothes to Pump House. Supporting these ministries, McFarlin said, is part of Pump House’s ministry.
Pump House also sells donated books online through Amazon and has a sewing ministry that sells items at craft shows to support the Pump House.
International ministries of Pump House include support for churches and a school in African villages, a micro-lending program that seeks to empower grandmothers to be chicken farmers and a water purification program designed to provide water filters to villagers in Kenya.
A majority of Pump House’s revenue, not counting textile money that goes back into the program or is paid out to other ministries, is revenue from its catering business and rental income from TouchPoint.
TouchPoint is a call center that rents a portion of Pump House’s third floor, and McFarlin said the company employs over 100 people at the site.