The Case of the Mysteriously Missing Mayor

Denver, Territory of Colorado, ca. 1872. Image X-19446, Denver Public Library Digital Collections.

Denver, Territory of Colorado, ca. 1872. Image X-19446, Denver Public Library Digital Collections.

“On Tuesday evening Mr. Foster was arrested and brought before Mayor Huckins, on the charge of selling cider to a person in the habit of getting intoxicated. His line of defense was that the cider, though seven months old, was perfectly sweet and entirely harmless…The Mayor seems to have differed from him in opinion, as he was fined $10, and costs” (Lorain County News, 5-9-1872, pg. 3).

I first became aware that Noah Huckins had served as mayor of Wellington when I was looking at a copy of History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879). The volume includes a sequential list of all the mayors from the year of incorporation in 1855 until publication more than two decades later. The dates are very regular up to the time of Huckins’ election; a standard term of office by the 1870s was two years, but he served just six months. No explanation is given.

List of Wellington mayors from 1855 until 1879. From "History of Lorain County, Ohio" (1879), pg. 352.

List of Wellington mayors from 1855 until 1879. From “History of Lorain County, Ohio” (1879), pg. 352.

I was struck while looking at this list by a feeling of déjà vu. I realized that I had seen the very same chronology included in Ernst Henes’ 1983 publication, Historic Wellington Then and Now. But when I rechecked that list (pg. 28), Huckins was nowhere to be found. Henes left him off entirely, skipping straight from J. B. Lang (1870-1872) to J. W. Houghton (1873-1874) without accounting for the gap in dates.

The Wellington Enterprise largely does not survive from the period that Huckins was in office. For months I have wondered why he did not complete his term. Everything I have ever read about the man testifies to his upright character so a scandal of some kind seemed unlikely. I know from cemetery records that he and second wife Ermina Adams Huckins had a stillborn baby–her first and tragically, his second, lost child–in February of 1872. But if the pain of that loss played some role, why had Huckins stood for election and accepted the office of mayor just two months later, only to resign in the autumn?

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently began looking at the Village of Wellington Council Journals and Ordinance Records with the Wellington Genealogy Group. The very first volume I examined contained the year 1872, during which Huckins served then resigned. His entire six months in office fills only a dozen manuscript pages. He was sworn in by the sitting mayor, J. B. Lang, on April 20th “to serve as Mayor of the incorporated Village of Wellington for the period of Two Years” (No. 2, pg. 97). The first hint of trouble does not occur until July 24th, when “By reason of the inability of the Mayor by illness — J. B. Lang was appointed Mayor ad interim — by unanimous vote of the Council” (No. 2, pg. 104).

Detail of Village of Wellington Council Journal and Ordinance Record, recording the swearing-in of Noah Huckins as mayor on April 20, 1872. No. 2, pg. 97. Photo by author.

Detail of Village of Wellington Council Journal and Ordinance Record, recording the swearing-in of Noah Huckins as mayor on April 20, 1872. No. 2, pg. 97. Photo by author.

Council adjourned for two weeks, but Huckins was not present at the next meeting on August 7th. He reappeared at the August 14th and 28th meetings, but was gone again on September 11th. Then on the 18th, this note appears amongst an otherwise routine list of motions about paying fees and assessing road taxes: “Mayor Huckins tendered his resignation to take effect immediately — which on motion was accepted — On motion the clerk was instructed to call a Special election to be held on Saturday evening — Sept 28 1872 — to elect one Mayor in place of N- Huckins resigned” (No. 2, pg. 106). No further elucidation is offered for this rather extraordinary occurrence, which so far as I know is unique in the nineteenth-century history of the town.

Though “illness” seemed to be as much detail as I was going to find, I continued to hope that more information was available. I decided to check the Lorain County News, a weekly paper published in Oberlin during the period in which the Enterprise no longer exists. On August 15th, the Wellington correspondent submitted this notice: “RETURNED.–Mayor Huckins returned last week from a trip up the lakes. He took the journey for the benefit of his health, and was absent from home about six weeks” (pg. 2). This coincides with Huckins’ dates of absence from Council meetings between early July and mid-August, but he was likely gone for only four weeks.

And then, on October 3rd, the paper printed this: “NEW MAYOR.–An election for mayor, to fill the place of N. Huckins, resigned, was held at the Town Hall, on Saturday evening. Dr. J. W. Houghton was elected to fill the vacancy. The many friends of Mr. Huckins, will deeply regret that his health compels him to seek for a home in a milder climate. He intends to spend the winter at Denver City. It may be a consolation to the Greeley men to know that Mr. Huckins will remain in town until after the State election” (pg. 2).

This passage suggests that Huckins was considering relocating away from Wellington permanently. Clearly that did not happen, though I don’t know why. Perhaps his health improved. I don’t know if he ever visited Denver. I have evidence that he was in town in May 1873, and his son Howard was born in Wellington in June 1874. The following year, 1875, Ermina’s father Gideon Adams died. Shortly thereafter, Huckins dissolved his hardware partnership with J. W. Wilbur and started N. Huckins & Co.; he also began building an Italianate-style house on Adams family land north of town. If he ever ventured into Colorado, which became a state in 1876, it was only as a tourist.

I remain curious to know what his specific ailment might have been. Huckins had two children who died in infancy or at birth, and his two surviving children both suffered from serious health issues. Son Howard had an operation when he was twenty-five “with a view of effecting a permanent cure of the difficulty with which he has suffered for some time on account of a gathering in his neck” (Wellington Enterprise, 11-1-1899, pg. 4). Daughter Ibla died at only twenty-seven, “a great sufferer from a difficulty of the neck and throat, which affected her hearing, and which finally became so severe as to demand an immediate operation” (Oberlin News, 7-25-1905, pg. 1). The “severe and lengthy operation” led to the “surgical shock” from which she died. Her obituary compared her to Helen Keller and characterized her life as being good and useful, despite being “handicapped by infirmity.” Ibla Huckins attended the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music for six years–a fact mentioned in neither of her published obituaries–so I wonder if her hearing impairment occurred near the end of her life.

It is the insatiable greed of the historian (and genealogist) that every mystery we solve is immediately replaced with two or three or twenty more. I wonder sometimes what Noah Huckins would think about a total stranger obsessively piecing together the details of his life, a century after his death…tax and real estate records, business partnerships, personal relations, medical history. Would he be amused? Confused? Horrified? Angry to have his privacy invaded? There I go, asking unanswerable questions again.

UPDATE: Perhaps not so unanswerable after all.

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