Happy Sesquicentennial, Wellington Enterprise!

Exactly one hundred and fifty years ago today (September 19, 1867) the inaugural issue of The Wellington Enterprise was published by editor James M. Guthrie. Over the past four years, I have written more than six thousand words on the history of our hometown newspaper. If you would like to learn more the Enterprise, check out some of these earlier posts:

To read about the very first issue of the Enterprise ever published, click here.

For a complete nineteenth-century history of the paper and its editors, click here (part one) and here (part two).

For biographical information specifically pertaining to co-editors John and Mary Hayes Houghton, click here.

To learn more about the type of printing press used in the Enterprise offices while the Houghtons were editors, and to see a video of the press in operation, click here.

To see the very first color issue ever printed by the paper, click here.

Happy birthday, Wellington Enterprise! Here’s to a few more centuries in operation.

 

 

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Success!

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 1.20.48 PMGreat news! The Kickstarter pre-order campaign for my forthcoming book Fully Equal to the Situation: Nineteenth-Century Women of Wellington, Ohio successfully concluded this morning. We reached 160% funding, or more than half-again over our first goal. The completion of the stretch goal means that we will be able to add more content than originally planned. Nearly forty books were pre-ordered. If you would like to purchase a copy, never fear! Once the book is published, it will be available in Wellington, and online via a link which I will add to this site at that time. Thank you to everyone who has supported the blog and book!

Another Year Has Gone By…

Mock Up Cover
Hard to believe, but another year has come and gone. Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog. Many exciting things have happened in the past twelve months, not least of which has been the upcoming publication of my book. (At left is a mock up of the cover.) There are just about three weeks left to pre-order a copy, which you can do here. I have already submitted the manuscript to the publisher and we will soon be working on finalizing illustration choices, etc. I am proud of the work that has gone into this little volume and I hope those of you interested in reading it will find it compelling and informative. Many thanks to everyone who has already ordered a copy, and to those of you still following this blog as we enter our fifth year together.

Exciting News!

Logo RSP Inc.

 

Railway Station Press, a local history publishing house based in Alexandria, Virginia, has invited me to write a small volume of stories about the women of nineteenth-century Wellington. Initial publication expenses will be defrayed via a Kickstarter campaign. If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to pre-order a copy, please click here. The campaign is active through mid-September. Copies are expected to ship in December. Many thanks for your support!

Housekeeping

Wellington 1857

Wellington, one-hundred-and-sixty summers ago. “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

A quick update on some changes to the blog: I have added a few new pages of late. Static links to all of these pages can be found in the main menu.

Census Data will be the page on which I post updates to my ongoing transcriptions of federal censuses for Wellington in the nineteenth century. Thus far (July 2017) I have posted full transcriptions for 1820, 1830 and 1840, with some preliminary population counts for the remaining decades–excepting 1890, which was destroyed in a fire.

In the Press is a place to note mentions of the blog in the media. Most recently, I was profiled in the summer 2017 issue of Ohio Genealogy News.

Online Resources is a page created to aggregate links to free online resources for Wellington research. This includes tax records, digitized newspaper content, interment listings, and more. I have allowed comments on that page, so if you know of another resource that is publicly available, leave a message and I will add it to the list.

Upcoming Talks, as the name suggests, is a calendar of presentations. 2018 is Wellington’s bicentennial commemoration, so check back for future events.

William Sawtell, Photographer is not a new page, but I have continued to add images in the seven months since I created it.

I hope everyone is enjoying summer. Next month marks the fourth anniversary of the blog. I am celebrating by working on a book manuscript!

The Ledger of Foote & Locke

IMG_0933

A business ledger belonging to Wellington dry goods merchants Foote & Locke, dating from October 3, 1837 to September 7, 1839. The original object is held in the Oberlin College Archives. Photo by author.

Within the archives of Oberlin College, in their miscellaneous local business records, is a leather-bound ledger volume. It is large, more than fifteen inches long and twelve inches across when opened. And at a whopping 517 pages, it is packed with information. This object (and two smaller accompanying pieces) is all that remains of a dry goods store that operated in Wellington in the late 1830s and early 1840s, called Foote & Locke.

There is very little extant documentation from this period in Wellington’s history. Settlement had happened so recently–just twenty years before–that the urge to document the village’s past had not yet seized its residents. Publication of The Lorain County News and The Wellington Enterprise was decades in the future. I have never even seen a map of the community that dates before mid-century. So this ledger is a glorious window into everyday life, if we look carefully at its contents.

On their surface, those contents may seem fairly dry. The ledger is filled with line after line of individual purchases, from items as small as a single pencil to much larger-scale orders, like all the lumber necessary to construct a barn. But examining the pages closely reveals more subtle detail, which give color and texture to our imagining of what the town was truly like in its earliest years.

I spent three days this summer at the Oberlin College Archives, poring over the ledger. At first, I could see only lists of names, and all names I would have expected to find in this era: Adams, Clifford, DeWolfe, Herrick, Hamilton, Howk, Johns, Wadsworth and Wells, to name just a few. Foote & Locke were not the only dry goods merchants in Wellington; John Reed had moved his family to the village in 1835 and opened a store on the northwest corner of what is today Main Street and Herrick Avenue. It operated for at least twenty years, until Reed’s untimely drowning in the Black River in June 1855. John Reed is one prominent citizen whose name is therefore conspicuously absent from this, the records of his business competitors.

Henry Martin Bradley wrote in his 1907 autobiography that when his family emigrated to the village in 1835, “[W]e found the roads hardly passable because of the swamps and the clouds of mosquitoes which seemed to be waiting to greet us as new comers.” This shop ledger adds some nuance to that characterization. Foote & Locke were procuring resale goods from merchants in larger urban markets. A second, smaller volume lists at least five vendors from New York City–including Weed & Co., Trask & Marvin, and L.H. Bennet–as well as one from Albany. These bulk orders would have shipped via the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825, and arrived in Wellington within just a few weeks.

Wm Howk spelling book

An entry for William Howk, dated November 15, 1838 (pg. 431), showing the purchase of a spelling book. The book was presumably intended for William and Charlotte Howk’s only child, a daughter called Emma who would have been five at this time. Emma died in 1853, just twenty years old. Photo by author.

In the month of October 1837, residents purchased a diverse array of food items from Foote & Locke: tea, sugar and maple sugar, cinnamon, saleratus [sodium bicarbonate, a main ingredient of baking powder], alum, tobacco and snuff, beef, spice, raisins, butter, madder [a medicinal root], ginger, bushels of corn and onions, coffee, and eggs. Elsewhere in the ledger I found listings for purchases of pepper, cloves, rice, pork, oats, wine and port, bushels of dried apples and crab apples, bushels of beans, cheese, gallons of molasses, fish, nutmeg, jam, mutton, oil and tomatoes.

Tea was far and away more popular than coffee. Cheese was rarely mentioned, probably because many farmers had cheese-making operations at home. Perishable items were clearly seasonal, and in some instances it appears that the shop came into possession of a limited quantity of a particular item, perhaps in trade or accepted as payment from a customer. For example, fish appears in the volume only in May 1838, when a string of a dozen purchases are recorded over a period of days, then it vanishes from the inventory.

Prefabricated clothing and prepared foods were not yet available for sale. Instead, fabric purchases are among the most common in the ledger, so that clothes could be manufactured domestically. Even bread was not for sale; instead, the component ingredients for baked goods, such as saleratus and alum, were purchased regularly.

It was not only the essential materials for survival that were on offer at Foote & Locke. There are transactions for letter paper, pearl buttons, dress handkerchiefs, satinette [a cotton fabric finished to resemble satin], silk cravats, velvet, ivory combs, lace, looking glasses, strings of beads, cashmere, watch chains and even a “Geography Atlas” (pg. 201). One would need to do a careful comparative study of the prices of these items to get a sense of whether they were, in fact, luxury goods. But it is clear that even in its earliest days, Wellington’s residents had expectations of maintaining a similar standard of living to that which they had known in the eastern states of their birth. (Remember that many of the village’s earliest arrivals were coming from the rural counties of Massachusetts’ Berkshire region.)

Champain Bottles

A ledger entry dated November 1, 1837 (pg. 33) showing Oliver Sardine Wadsworth and his brother, Jabez Lorenzo Wadsworth, making multiple purchases including “6 Champain Bottles.” The Wadsworth brothers were keepers of the local hotel in Wellington, opened around 1833. It was known first as The Wellington House, then Wadsworth’s Hotel, before finally settling on the name by which it is best known, The American House. Photo by author.

We can also see evidence of townspeople buying the materials they required for their professions. John Case, the local tanner and cobbler, could be found purchasing supplemental pieces of leather and small cords. Dr. Daniel Johns stocked up on madder root, a medicinal plant. The Wadsworth brothers, Oliver and Jabez, bought fabrics, dishes, plated spoons and even “Champain Bottles,” presumably for use in their hotel (see above). Asa Hamilton, a carpenter and joiner, replaced tools such as hand saws. The only woman who shows up regularly in the ledger, Lucinda Smith, was presumably a dressmaker and/or milliner, based on her repeated orders for large quantities of fabrics and traditionally feminine-associated items including ornamental hair combs, pearl buttons, and lace (see below).

Smith is the exception to an otherwise overwhelmingly male list of names. When I first began to examine the ledger, I conjured a mental image of a shop peopled entirely with men. Then I began to notice entries that were written in this fashion: “Ephraim Herrick pr Evaline,” or “William Bradley per Lady [i.e. his wife].” I initially took this to mean that the man was making a purchase on behalf of his spouse or daughter at home. But I soon realized that I was completely backward in my thinking. “John Case per Girl” is very likely a servant running to the local shop to buy something on behalf of her employer, or more precisely, to charge something to his account. Suddenly my imaginary shop was filled with women and children–Evaline Herrick, Sarah Wilcox, Mehitable Fox Couch Howk and her daughter, all patronizing the store and having their transactions recorded under the family’s male “breadwinner.” Thirteen-year-old Henry Martin Bradley, or his older brother Charles, visited Foote & Locke, as well; there is at least one purchase of a ball of wicking [the cord of a candle] being charged to “William Bradley pr Son” (pg. 126).

Lucinda Smith 2

A July 17, 1838 (pg. 282) entry for Lucinda Smith, one of only two women–the other being widow Sarah Wilcox–who had her own account at Foote & Locke. Smith made regular purchases of fabrics, ribbon, lace, etc., leading me to believe that she made her living as a dressmaker and/or milliner. Smith does not appear under her own name in either the 1830 or 1840 federal censuses of Wellington, which may mean that she became a widow and/or she relocated or died between decades. Photo by author.

Many of these purchases were paid for in trade, either in labor or material. The smaller invoice book that accompanies the ledger, which lists New York and Albany merchants from whom Foote & Locke were obtaining resale goods, also includes extensive accounts for grain, cheese, wheat and potash turned in to the store for credit by residents. (Henry Martin Bradley wrote at length in his autobiography about cutting and burning trees to extract lye and “black salts,” which he then exchanged in the village for flour and other groceries.) There are multiple entries that suggest one-off non-cash transactions, such as Isaac Humaston’s son buying fabric and lighting materials, marked “pay in sugar,” or David Pucket receiving a $0.25 credit “By Work on Wheelbarrows.” And residents including Gideon Adams, Sandford Humphrey and John Howk obtained substantial amounts of purchasing power in exchange for farm animals such as hogs or “1 English Cow” (pgs. 308-9, 381-2).

According to the federal censuses of 1830 and 1840, the population of Wellington climbed in ten years from 224 residents living in 47 households, to 781 residents living in 134 households. The town was expanding rapidly. It would be only ten years until a busy railroad line connected Wellington to the urban environments of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and beyond. This set the stage for a late-century expansion in both population and economic prosperity fueled, in large part, by the exportation of cheese. But the explosive commercial successes of the 1870s and ’80s–which resulted in private fortunes and grand houses still standing on South Main and Courtland Streets today–were rooted in the backbreaking work of families carving farms out of forest, trading ashes and hogs for spools of thread and spelling books.

Mystery Solved

1937 depot st fire.jpg

Photograph of the August 16, 1937 fire that destroyed the H.C. Otterbacher farm implement warehouse on Depot Street, which had formerly served as the so-called Old Free Church. Image courtesy of Mr. Alan L. Leiby.

Just weeks ago I posed the question, whatever happened to the Old Free Church? In that March post, I laid out the history of the structure, built on South Main Street to house an anti-slavery congregation during an 1850s schism in Wellington’s Congregational church. I traced the life of the building from its construction in 1852, up to the final record of it that I could locate, namely a 1933 Sanborn fire map. By that point in its existence, the little wooden building had been relocated to what is now Depot Street and was being used to store farm implements.

At the conclusion of the post, I asked if any readers remembered the building or knew its fate. Mr. Alan Leiby, creator and moderator of the Memory Lane Wellington Facebook page, quickly located two late-nineteenth-/early-twentieth-century images that featured small portions of the building. I appended both of those pictures to the original post. But recently Mr. Leiby located a third image (shown above). It depicts the same wood-frame structure in the process of burning down. No additional information was attached, though vehicles in the background of the shot suggest a date during or after the 1920s.

I located the Depot Street lot on an 1896 map of the village and determined that it was block 1, lot 74. Given that the building appeared to be intact as late as 1933 (though it was certainly possible that the original structure could have burned and been rebuilt on the same footprint), I picked the arbitrary date of 1930 and began to comb through village tax duplicates. Taxes are organized alphabetically by the last name of the land owner–which I did not know–so I had to scan through approximately seventy pages of returns looking for the correct block and lot numbers. And I found what I was looking for: Harry C. Otterbacher owned the lot in 1930, and all the subsequent years up to (and beyond) 1937, when I discovered the following:

1937 Wellington Village Tax Duplicates

1937 Wellington tax records for Harry C. Otterbacher. Note that the $1,000 valuation of a building on block 1, lot 74 has been manually crossed out and annotated “Bldg Burned.”

Knowing that a building fire occurred sometime in 1937, I began to search through the microfilmed issues of The Wellington Enterprise for that year. Fires and automobile accidents were almost always front-page news at that time, which made the search somewhat easier. And sure enough, on the Friday, August 20, 1937 issue, the headline announced, “FIREMEN BATTLE $20,000 BLAZE.” Proclaimed “the most spectacular fire” in the village in nearly a decade, the conflagration consumed the small farm implement warehouse and partially destroyed the adjoining two-story brick building. The newspaper noted that had the alarm sounded just moments later, the consequences for the “entire southwest business section” would have been catastrophic, as Wellington’s fire department would have been en route to Ashland, in response to a call for aid from that city in battling a blaze of its own.

Multi-page coverage of the fire included a (sadly murky) photograph of “dense clouds of smoke” pouring from the structure, as a consequence of 1,500 gallons of oil stored there. Otterbacher employees attempted to remove tractors and other equipment from the building as it burned, but the thick smoke quickly made recovery efforts impossible. It took nearly five hours to extinguish the fire that Monday afternoon. The heat was intense enough to ignite a telephone pole located more than twenty feet away from the building. Two gas stations across the street “were closed and gasoline was drained from the pumps because of the danger of explosion” (pg. 2).

The Enterprise published a three-column article in the same issue, detailing the history of the destroyed building. “Considerable speculation” had arisen as to its origins, the paper reported. No, it had not come from Huntington as some residents were suggesting. It was built on South Main Street as a church, later used as a “town hall and public meeting place,” then served as a carriage shop before ending its existence on Depot Street as a farm implement warehouse and sales room (pg. 4).

How I wish every mystery I have run across while writing this blog had concluded as neatly as this one!