While I have enjoyed learning about other residents of Wellington during the nineteenth century, the primary focus of my research has remained Canadian émigré Noah Huckins, the man who built my house. I continue to try to understand as much as I can about his life in the village. I haven’t posted everything I have found, however, for fear of boring everyone reading this blog.
I discovered, for example, that Huckins served as township clerk in 1885 and 1886, the period during which our present Town Hall was constructed. He was elected mayor in April of 1872, though he resigned in September of the same year and was succeeded by his former classmate and future neighbor John Houghton. So far as I am able to determine, Huckins was the only Wellington mayor to resign during the 1800s, but I have no idea why.
I have continued to investigate Huckins’ connection to what is now Baldwin Wallace University. Noah’s older brother, George Huckins, was a member of its very first graduating class in 1859 and studied to become a Methodist minister. I recently read a new history of the founding of the school, written by one of its faculty members. Barefoot Millionaire: John Baldwin and the Founding Values of Baldwin Wallace University (2013) by Dr. Indira Falk Gesink, describes an establishment strongly focused on manual labor in its early days. The Baldwin Institute (as it was initially called) “stood out from its competitors because its students continued to work in addition to studying, and because the focus of the institution was not on payment of tuition, but rather on the character of its students” (pg. 80).
Gesink argues that what set Baldwin University apart was that it “retained its original emphasis on work.” During the period of the late 1850s, when young Noah Huckins would have been enrolled, “all the students engaged in some kind of labor for at least two hours a day, and all the students were expected to complete major projects at the end of the year by which they would publicly demonstrate to the community the skills they had learned” (pgs. 105-106). In keeping with its religious roots, the school also enforced a strict code of student conduct, including banning all tobacco and alcohol usage. It is tempting to suggest a connection between this formative period in Huckins’ life and his later involvement in the temperance movement.
Did Noah Huckins relocate from Canada to Ohio because he was drawn to the curriculum or campus culture of Baldwin University? Did he come because of his older brother? I don’t know, nor do I know why he chose to settle in rural Wellington, though I suspect his friendship with John Houghton may have played some role. I still have unanswered questions about his many business dealings in the village. In addition to Huckins’ hardware partnership with John Watson Wilbur, and his cheese box manufacturing partnership with Charles Horr, he also played a role in at least two other ventures.
“Messrs. Wm. Cushion and Walter Sage have purchased the insurance business of J. H. Dickson and N. Huckins, giving them with those they already had, a very large line of first class companies, and they will devote special attention to this branch of business. The insurance business is now reduced to two agencies, which is certainly enough for a town the size of Wellington” (The Wellington Enterprise, 12-16-1880, pg. 3). So proclaimed the local paper in 1880. Later in the same decade, I found tax records and credit reports listing Noah Huckins as a partner of C. Sage & Company Insurance. Huckins was apparently closely linked to the Sage family, at least in business dealings; his first commercial endeavor in Wellington was as the junior partner in Orrin Sage’s hardware store on Mechanics Street, now East Herrick Avenue.
Huckins and Horr were also among the founding partners of the Wellington Milling Company. While the purchase and renovation of the mill received extensive coverage in The Wellington Enterprise, Huckins’ part in the operation is much less clear. In fact, I have found only two documents that even tie him to the business. An 1883 credit report said of Horr and Huckins, “These parties are also in the firm of the Wellington Milling Co.” The following year, a small notice printed in the Enterprise named, “Charles W. Horr, Noah Huckins, E. F. Webster, O. P. Chapman, E. A. VanCleef, Geo. Lambert, M. W. Lang, Co-partners under the firm name of the Wellington Milling Company” (7-16-1884, pg. 5). I have found no further mention of Huckins in relation to the mill, and I do not know when his involvement ended.
The mill was first acquired by the group (which was essentially Horr, Warner & Co.) in the spring of 1883. All year, the newspaper commented in great detail on the specific costs of new machinery being installed, the names of individual millers being hired, even the fact that the building had been painted red. “‘Wellington Milling Company’ is the title of the firm owning the new flour mill. The name is comspiciously [sic] displayed the whole length of each of the two sides in white letters on black ground. The painting and lettering is being done by Frank Powers” (7-11-1883, pg. 3). The mill began grinding in September and by the spring of 1884 was advertising its own brand called “Health Bread Flour.”
The complex was adjacent to the train tracks on North Main Street, the present day site of the Wagner/POV Products facility. From all published accounts, it seemed to be doing an excellent trade, even exporting flour to customers in Europe. The original owner group sold the company early in 1897; later that same year, the mill was destroyed by fire. But by February of 1898 the Enterprise enthused, “Who says that prosperity has not come to Wellington, when we see the Wellington Milling Co., beginning to erect a mill on the site of the one that burned a short time ago” (2-2-1898, pg. 5).
Was Noah Huckins still a partner in the business when it was sold in 1897? It seems unlikely. When he left Wellington for Oberlin in 1889, corporation tax records show that he transferred all of his land holdings associated with N. Huckins & Co. to Charles Horr in a single day’s transaction. But I have yet to locate any extant corporate records for these companies, or personal papers of the men involved. Perhaps some day the documentary evidence will surface to answer my many remaining questions.