Like me, William and Charlotte Howk moved to Wellington, Ohio from Massachusetts. Howks were among the first settlers to emigrate to Wellington in the fall of 1818, and William and Charlotte had relations scattered across the township. The family’s chief monument today is Howk Memorial Park, the green space in front of the Wellington Town Hall. It was donated to the village by Alanson Howk, one of Wellington’s first residents, prior to his death in 1850.
The Howks, like the Turleys, were neighbors of 600 North Main Street. They lived across Lincoln Street from Noah Huckins’ Italianate, on a six-acre lot that is today occupied by St. Patrick Catholic Church. One of my first questions about 600 North Main was why it faced Lincoln Street, rather than Main Street. I now know there was once a large and impressive home and grounds directly opposite that no longer exists. Since automobile traffic was not a factor in 1876 when Noah Huckins was building his house, it makes sense that he would choose to face his neighbors, rather than the comparatively empty road into town.
When I first began conducting research into the history of the house, I knew early on that Noah and Ermina Huckins owned the lot. What I did not definitively know was whether they lived in the house, or simply constructed it for sale or rent. One of my first clues that they occupied the house was a published letter I happened upon in The Wellington Enterprise, submitted by W. H., i.e. William Howk. In the letter, Howk describes a recent evening in which three drunken young men came stumbling down North Main Street, committing acts of vandalism. “The bolts fastening the gate to my iron fence were broken off, N. Huckins’ fence and bars were broken and torn down, as was also the gate and gate-posts at Mrs. [Bertia] Adams'” (11-21-1878, pg. 3). The Turley home apparently went unscathed; perhaps they did not have a fence to damage.
Wellington had a substantial population of transient male workers in the second half of the nineteenth century. “Mechanics,” whom we would today call skilled tradesmen, passed through the town taking jobs associated with the railroad and with the residential and commercial building projects constantly underway in the period. The newspaper wrote at some length on the problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption by this population, and both Noah Huckins and William Howk were passionately committed to the temperance movement that swept the town and the country in the late nineteenth century, eventually culminating in the ill-fated Prohibition era.
Another question I have often pondered during my research was why Noah Huckins appeared so frequently in The Wellington Enterprise. I have found him or one of his businesses mentioned 165 times between 1867 (his first business in town) and 1929 (his son’s death). Nearly seventy percent of those notices, however, were printed in the eight-and-a-half years when John and Mary Houghton were the editors of the newspaper. I was absolutely delighted to discover that they, too, were neighbors of Huckins, and lived just across North Main Street. I will write more about the Houghtons in a future post, but I mention them now because they were also neighbors of William and Charlotte Howk. Both Howks died in 1879, and the coverage of their deaths in the Enterprise clearly reflects that it was written by someone who both knew them well, and personally observed the events described.
The extensive obituary that appeared for William Howk on April 10, 1879 was signed M. H. H., i.e. Mary Hayes Houghton. It reads, in part, “That morning, after doing his chores, he shoveled the heavy snow, that had fallen during the night, from the walk in front of his house and afterwards walked with us to our office” (pg. 3). The Houghtons co-edited the newspaper and John Houghton was a doctor who ran a drug and bookstore on South Main Street, which also served as the town’s post office until the late summer of 1879. The obituary continues, “After getting his mail he remained a while looking over the morning papers, but feeling badly, went home instead of going to the church.” The immediacy of the narrative is striking. One can almost picture Mary Houghton watching William Howk shovel snow through her front window, prior to leaving for work. Noah Huckins would have walked the same route to reach his cheese box manufacturing mill on Magyar Street; if he was also part of the commuting party that cold morning, it is not recorded.
Howk died on April 7th. His wife of 48 years, Charlotte Herrick Howk, died just six weeks later. The couple left no heirs; their only child, a daughter called Emma, died in 1853 when she was 20 years old. On May 22, 1879, two small items appeared in The Wellington Enterprise, announcing Charlotte Howk’s death and reflecting on its implications. “The death of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Howk breaks up the home, no one being left to occupy it or keep together the accumulations of a life time. It is very sad, and an incident that seldom occurs, to have a home thus left desolate, and a family obliterated entirely within a few weeks. The loss to the neighborhood will be greatly felt” (pg. 3). While the piece is unsigned, I suspect that Mary Houghton is also its author. I again picture her looking at the empty house as she passes by on her way to work each day, feeling sorrow for the loss of her friends and for the sudden hole in her personal circle. It could be entirely coincidental, but in early 1880, the Houghtons put their own property up for sale and eventually moved closer to the town center and their store.
In 1976, nearly a century after their passing, the Howks’ former home still stood on the corner of Lincoln and North Main Streets. It was referred to only as “a vacant house” in the front-page newspaper article that recorded its destruction. The structure was used in a practice exercise for Lorain County firefighters, a controlled burn to clear ground for construction of the new St. Patrick Catholic Church. The photographs of the burn are the only images I have been able to find of the Howk house. They suggest how large and impressive a residence it must have been when it was constructed, probably in the early 1860s. [ETA: The Lorain County News included “Wm. Howk” in a list of those who had erected new dwelling houses in Wellington “this season,” published January 14, 1863.]
I wish as much information existed about Charlotte’s life as it does about William’s. His obituary is so moving that I will quote it at some length to conclude: “A careful reader, a clear thinker, a good writer for a man educated in his time, he was entertaining and instructive as a companion, and able to give an intelligent reason for his opinions. From his warm friends he sometimes differed in matters of expediency, but could do it without bitterness, and tenacious of everything he believed to be right and just, he accorded to others equal liberty of conscience, and treated with good-natured courtesy their opposite views…Little children were his fast friends; his neighbors who knew him most intimately respected him thoroughly, and esteemed him as a valued friend…So helpful and obliging was he in disposition that a wide circle will miss him, and mourn his death as a personal loss…The memory of his consistent life, his fresh and youthful spirit, his earnest dignity of soul and the rugged truthfulness of his character, will live after him, but his genial face and cheerful greeting and kindly deeds will be greatly missed.”