If there is one man to whom Wellington owes a debt of gratitude, it is C. W. Horr. He was the driving force behind the introduction of the “factory” system of cheese production, and was so successful at it that he created an economic climate in which dozens of subsidiary business ventures were able to thrive. He left an indelible mark on the town, by helping to create wealth that funded a flurry of grand residential and commercial construction, still impressing visitors to this day.
Of all the individuals I have been researching, Horr has probably had the most written about his life and accomplishments. He has an extensive biography, for example, in Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio (1894), a source I mentioned in an earlier post as available free-of-charge via GoogleBooks. In other ways, however, Horr continues to elude me. I have been unable to locate his personal papers, nor have I been able to locate any extant business records for Horr, Warner & Co., despite its extensive interests across the county.
Horr was born in Avon, Ohio on January 25, 1837. As with many of the men I have studied from this town in this period, he was “self-made” and took pride in having built a fortune from humble beginnings. After a childhood spent living on a farm and intermittent education around planting and harvesting times, he set out for the closest urban area of Cleveland when he was 16 years old. Two years later, after briefly returning home to Lorain County, he relocated to Nashville, Tennessee and worked as a teacher. By age 21, he was a principal in Napoleon, Ohio.
While serving as a principal, he furthered his own academic credentials at Antioch College. He graduated in 1860 and very shortly after, married Esther A. Lang of Huntington, Ohio. They eventually produced five children, all boys. Charles and Esther moved to Illinois shortly after their marriage, but the Civil War interrupted Horr’s second tenure as a public school principal. While Charles served in the army, Esther returned home to Ohio.
When the war ended, Charles decided to settle in Huntington. He and his brother, J. C. Horr, realized that centralizing production of cheese into “factories” could minimize the inefficiencies of home production and maximize profits. In an era before refrigerated train cars, it was not possible to transport milk long distances before it spoiled. Turning the milk into cheese allowed much longer storage times and enabled farmers–or their new middlemen–to market products that might previously have been wasted.
The Horr brothers started the first cheese factory in Huntington in April 1866. Charles Horr joined financial resources with Sidney Warner to form Horr & Warner in 1869, and three years later added E. F. Webster to become the firm of Horr, Warner & Co. In 1872, the company opened a large brick headquarters opposite the railroad line; the Lorain County News called it “by far the most elegant office in the county” (9-26-1872, pg. 2). Within a decade, they erected a state-of-the-art, three-story cold storage warehouse; employees harvested winter ice to fill it in nearby company ice ponds. At the peak of the “Cheese Boom” in 1879, nearly eight million pounds of cheese shipped through the town (Wellington Enterprise, 3-29-1911, pg. 7).
Horr amassed a great personal fortune. In 1872, he built a large Italianate house on the southern edge of Wellington. In the spring of 1883, it was the third private residence in the town to have a telephone installed. The Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio (1874) shows thirty acres of land behind the house on South Main Street; by Horr’s death there were thirty-six acres, a large barn, and a 1.5 acre water reservoir. Today, the house is as magnificent as ever, but it is surrounded by other residences and a portion of its former parcel is owned by the adjacent town cemetery. The reservoir is now a quiet neighborhood.
The introduction of refrigerated train cars made it more profitable for local farmers to sell their milk directly to urban centers like Cleveland, rather than processing it into cheese. Horr, Warner & Co. closed its last factory in 1912 and transitioned into growing vegetables around Lodi, Ohio. “They were the largest growers of onions in the United States and exported vegetables throughout the country and abroad. They also grew potatoes, cabbage, and enough celery ‘to make nerve tonic for the world'” on four farms totaling 1,200 acres (McKiernan and King, Building a Firm Foundation: Medina County Architecture, 1811-1900, pg. 127).
In 1894, Charles W. Horr died in his home at age 57. According to a death notice in The New York Daily Standard, “Mrs. Caroline [Turner Horr] Robinson, the aged mother of ex-Congressman Roswell G. Horr, died at her home in Wellington, O., Wednesday, at the age of 90 years. She was one of the oldest women in that part of the state. A few hours later her son, Charles W. Horr, of Wellington, also died from diabetes and heart failure, after an illness of only five days. Roswell G. Horr was present at the death-beds of his mother and brother.” Sadly, Horr’s granddaughter, Olive, and brother, Rollin, also died the same year. All (except Charles’ parents, buried in Avon) are interred in the large family plot in Wellington’s Greenwood Cemetery.