Author Archives: Armchair Historian

Bicentennial Lecture

2018 Lecture

If you would like to watch the presentation I made on January 9, 2018 to kick off Wellington’s Bicentennial Lecture Series, please click here.

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. . . And His Lovely Wife

Mary Ann Adams

Drawing said to depict educator Mary Ann Adams Conkling (1816-1871). Image used courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

Happy holidays, dear readers! It is a very busy season at the best of times, but even more so this year as I promote and distribute copies of my new book, Fully Equal to the Situation: Nineteenth-Century Women of Wellington, Ohio. Sales have been going well thus far and I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has supported the project.

While organizing and filing research materials to clear the decks for 2018, a.k.a. Bicentennial Year, I realized I had several images that I have not posted to the blog previously. And a few of them had common subject matter: they were portraits of women.

As a general rule, I try to include as many visuals as I can reasonably insert when writing a post. I personally enjoy looking at period images, and they go a long way toward humanizing and grounding any piece of writing. But there have been occasions when I decided not to include an image, usually due to space constraints, but sometimes because the image did not seem sufficiently relevant to the topic at hand. An unintended consequence of this decision was that more than once, I did not use an illustration that depicted the spouse (read: wife) of a subject. Given the topic of the book I just published, that was an omission I felt I had to rectify.

The portrait at the top of this post falls into a slightly different category. Mary Ann Adams Conkling was the subject of a lengthy post about her local school for girls, the Wellington Seminary. But I did not become aware that this drawing existed until long after the post was published. The study is in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society and is currently on display in their second-floor exhibition about area schools through the decades. I encourage you to visit and see it in person.

The Houghton Genealogy 1912 opposite pg 186

Journalist and newspaper publisher Mary Hayes Houghton (1837-1921). Image from “The Houghton Genealogy,” written and published by Dr. John Houghton in 1912.

I have also written a bit about Mary Hayes Houghton, in connection with her husband, Dr. John Houghton, and the period of time during which they co-edited the Wellington Enterprise. In those posts, I used a photograph of Mary Houghton taken late in her life. She was not yet forty when she and John purchased the Enterprise, so the image above is a more accurate reflection of what she would have looked like at that time.

Eliza Jane King Rininger 1820-1902

Eliza Jane King Rininger (1820-1902).

William Rininger was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Wellington for decades. He had dry goods shops in at least two locations on what is today East Herrick Avenue. I have written about his reputation as a cantankerous and confrontational man, and the public squabbles he engaged in during his thirty-five years in the village. I know very little about his personal life, and even less about his wife, Eliza. I initially found her portrait attached to a burial record for the Rininger family mausoleum in Attica, Ohio. I have subsequently discovered that there are at least a half-dozen studies that remain of the well-to-do Mrs. Rininger, which can be found online appended to the genealogy records of family descendants.

Mrs. Sawtell

Estella Le Hentz Rasor Sawtell (1843-1909). Image used courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

This final portrait is also one of which I became aware only after the relevant post was published. Estella Sawtell was married to local photographer and amateur artist, William Sawtell. I know little about Estella beyond the fact that she suffered from very poor health, dying of intestinal cancer six months after her husband passed away. Her adult life was filled with hardships, including the poor physical and mental condition of her spouse (who voluntarily committed himself to an asylum for two years) and the loss of her only son to tuberculosis at age twenty-two. I presume her husband shot this portrait, which now belongs to the Southern Lorain County Historical Society.

If you are interested to learn more about the female citizens of Wellington in the 1800s, my book of biographical essays on a dozen people–including pioneers, social reformers, and yes, even a doctor–is available for purchase online and in person at “The Spirit of ’76” Museum. I am also pleased to announce that the Oberlin Heritage Center will be carrying the title in its gift shop in 2018. This is likely my last post of the year, so get ready everybody! BICENTENNIAL will be here in just ten days!

Happy Sesquicentennial, Methodist Church!

Methodist Church

First United Methodist Church, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

I had occasion to visit Wellington’s Methodist Church today. It is a beautiful, elegant structure with spectacularly lovely stained glass windows. The sanctuary was looking especially festive, festooned with flowers, Advent candles, wreaths and a Christmas tree. The holidays are a very busy time of year for many of us, but I could not let pass the opportunity to note that the church celebrates its one hundred and fiftieth birthday this very month.

On December 19, 1866 the Lorain County News included a piece called “Our Churches” in its Wellington column. Among other notices, this appeared: “The Methodists are making an effort to build a new church edifice next season. They have already raised the larger portion of the estimated fifteen thousand dollars. The need of a new house is apparent” (pg. 3).

Six months later, an update was published in the same column. “Church Building. The foundation for the Methodist Church is growing rapidly under the hammer of Mr. Bevins. Large quantities of stone from the Berea quarries are daily being delivered on the ground and the brick work will soon be commenced” (6/12/1867, pg. 3).

The work was completed by year’s end. The December 25th edition of the Lorain County News announced: “Wellington. Festival. The Methodist congregation are to hold a dedicatory or Christmas Festival in the basement of their new Church, on the 25th and 26th instant. Some of their most prominent ministers are expected to be present, and a good time is anticipated. We hope they may not be disappointed, as they have labored hard during the past summer, in erecting their new edifice, which is an ornament to the town and a just cause of pride for so successful a termination of their arduous labors.” The editor might have ended on that positive note, but felt the need to add, “A more extended notice of their gathering would have been given, had we been furnished the necessary information” (pg. 3).

Happy birthday, First United Methodist Church. May your congregation continue its good works in the community, and may your beauty continue to grace the downtown, for many decades to come.

Hot Off the Presses!

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I am excited to announce that my new book, Fully Equal to the Situation: Nineteenth-Century Women of Wellington, Ohio is now available! After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, we were able to cover the costs of adding even more material to the finished volume. Thank you so much to everyone who pre-ordered a copy. The published book includes eight extended and annotated biographical essays of a dozen Wellington women, with more than thirty illustrations. Even if you have been a follower of this blog since the beginning, there will be original content that you have not yet read.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, there are several ways to do so. I personally have a stock and am happy to respond to emails or messages posted to this page. For those who live outside the area, the publisher is selling copies via his website. (Railway Station Press is able to accept multiple payment methods, including PayPal. Media Mail shipping is included free of charge, with more expedited delivery options available at cost.) The price for a paperback is $18. A limited number of signed hardcovers are available for $50; the first ten people to purchase one of these will also receive a 19th-Century Wellington magnet.

Copies will be available at my Bicentennial kick-off lecture in early January; please see the “Upcoming Talks” page for details. The Spirit of ’76 Museum and the Women’s League of Wellington have invited me to do book readings, and I will add those events to the aforementioned talks page as soon as they are finalized. It was my privilege to donate two copies to the Herrick Memorial Library, one of which has been added to the non-circulating local history collection. Public libraries are too-often unappreciated treasures and neither this blog nor the book would exist without them.

Sacred Cow

ca. 1880

“HOLSTEIN HEIFER, 2 years old.” Hand-colored engraving printed ca. 1880.

I recently received an inquiry from a longtime reader of the blog. What did I know about Wellington’s most famous bovine citizen, the nineteenth-century Holstein cow called Molly Bawn? I had to confess that I did not know much. A quick Google search uncovered a parcel of self-described “legends” about the animal. Local cheese dealer Charles Horr went on a trip to Europe, where he discovered that Holstein cows produce much higher volumes of milk than their American counterparts. Impressed, he bought a two-year-old specimen called Molly Bawn (or Mollie Baun, or any combination of variant spellings) and brought her back across the ocean. Horr thereby introduced Holstein cows to America/Ohio/Lorain County…you get the idea. Molly went on to produce record-breaking amounts of milk, perhaps the most milk ever produced by a cow, and that is why Wellington became famous for cheese production–and why we still remember Molly to this day. The trouble is, existing historical documentation does not support any of those assertions.

Holstein Friesian cows (rather confusingly known as Holsteins in America, but Friesians in Europe) are the highest-production dairy animals in the world. The breed originated in the northern provinces of what we today call the Netherlands, namely North Holland and Friesland. The enormous black-and-white or red-and-white animals were being shipped to America as early as the 1600s, when Dutch settlers in New York brought or sent for “Dutch cows” to fill their pastures. The Holstein Herd Book, first published in 1872, noted that the initial import of “pureblood” breeding stock occurred with the shipment of a single cow to Massachusetts in 1852 (pg. 19).

Map of Holland province

Map of the northern provinces of the Netherlands, showing Holland and Friesland. Holstein Friesian cows originated as a breed in this region, and Molly Bawn was born here.

The first eight volumes of the Holstein Herd Book are available digitally, spanning the years from 1872 until 1885. Every breeding-stock Holstein cow or bull that was registered by its owner is found in the Herd Book, described in great detail and assigned a unique and sequential identifying number. Examining the first two volumes, I was able to determine that by 1875, there were nationally-registered Holstein cows in fourteen of the thirty-seven states then in existence. They grazed from Maine to California, though admittedly were predominantly concentrated in the northeastern quadrant of the nation. So Molly Bawn was certainly not America’s first Holstein, by two centuries or more. What about Ohio, then? I’m afraid not. The same series of volumes shows that by 1880, these overachieving milch cows could be found in at least fifteen different communities across the state, including Wooster, Franklin, Xenia, Toledo, Canton, Painesville and Hudson.

Charles Horr was a very successful businessman who made his fortune selling other people’s cheese and butter after the Civil War. His company, which had multiple names over the years but is most often referred to as Horr-Warner, at its high-water mark managed thirty cheese and butter factories in the region. The most visible signs of Horr’s status were luxurious offices in the busy commercial district of the village and an enormous estate on its still-rural outskirts. Horr visited Europe in 1877 and “made permanent arrangements for an export trade” of Ohio cheeses to foreign shores (Wellington Enterprise, 10/10/1894, pg. 1). While he certainly already knew about Holstein cows and their reputation for stupendous and reliable milk production, it is possible that Horr took a side-trip to Holland to see a few in person. As we have already established, though, there were multiple specimens a great deal closer to home.

One thing is certain: Charles Horr did not see Molly Bawn on this 1877 European trip, nor did he purchase her there or bring her back to Ohio. Molly was not “calved,” or born, until February 24, 1880. This is reflected in both her official Herd Book entry, and in another volume called the Holstein-Friesian Advanced Registry.

Holstein Herd Book v5 1881

Holstein Friesian Register 1886

Though Molly did enter the world in North Holland, six months later she was on her way across the ocean, courtesy of a breeding operation called Smiths & Powell, based in Syracuse, New York. It was from Smiths & Powell that Charles Horr purchased Molly, along with two of the three other animals that made up his initial Holstein herd. The fourth cow, graced with the lyrical name Lady Ethelind, was purchased in Painesville, Ohio.

The name “Molly Bawn,” incidentally, probably originated from an Irish folk song–alternatively sung “Polly Vaughn”–commonly known since the late eighteenth century. A popular novel had also been published under that title in 1878, by Irish writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. (The novel was later made into a silent film in 1916.) Charles Horr christened his opulent home Bawndale–or Baundale–and while we know that construction on the house was completed in late 1872, we do not know if Horr named the house after the cow, or vice versa.

Barn cropped

This magnificent wood-frame barn, possibly once home to Molly Bawn, stood behind the Horr residence at 563 South Main Street. It was dismantled in the mid-twentieth century and relocated to the Hayden family farm, 1.5 miles north of the village. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

In 1883, the Wellington Enterprise published an editorial about getting the maximum return on investment possible from cattle purchases. Choose the breed best suited to the task at hand, the paper advised. Holsteins were well understood to be superior milch cows. The Enterprise offered as an example C. W. Horr’s three-year-old “Mollie Bawn” who had birthed a calf of her own that winter and was reliably yielding more than sixty pounds of milk per day. In the following week’s edition, “to answer the many questions” that resulted from the previous report, a table was printed showing Molly’s production tallies for the first ten days of May. It was nearly seven hundred pounds of milk.

I believe this editorial and follow-up piece may be where Molly’s fame was born, not necessarily in the nineteenth century but perhaps in the twentieth. Ernst Henes, the editor of the Enterprise in the mid-1900s, liked to scan old issues of the newspaper and write about what he found, both in special commemorative issues and in print publications. I would hazard a guess that it was Henes’ work that ensured Molly Bawn a place in the current memory of the town. (She also served as de facto mascot of the now-defunct Wellington Cheese Festival for nearly two decades.) Charles Horr gave a lengthy speech to the Ohio State Board of Agriculture in 1891, describing how he had built a herd of 130 exceptional Holsteins over a decade. He mentioned several animals by name, but Molly was not one of them. When he wished to advertise the sale of cattle from his “Bawndale Herd,” it was not Molly’s image Horr published in the paper, but instead a cow called Nundine. In another advertisement, Molly’s name was one among many “celebrated” breeders including Aaggie, Lady Netherland, Sadie Vale and Saapke.

So Molly was not America’s first Holstein. Nor Ohio’s. Nor even Lorain County’s. Oberlin’s Ohio Weekly News is filled with early 1880s notices and advertisements referencing Holsteins with thoroughbred status and the Herd Book numbers to prove it. But surely Molly must have been Wellington’s first Holstein? Charles Horr must have been the first person from Wellington to import the breed? In fact, he was not. According to the 1881 Herd Book, O. P. Chapman, a breeders association member, was the first Wellington resident to register a Holstein. His bull, Captain John, was purchased in Painesville, Ohio sometime after its birth in 1880 and was the 619th registered in the country. (Horr’s first Holstein bull, Syracuse, was 822nd on the list.) Chapman’s cow, Queen Anne, was born in North Holland in 1880 but bought from the same operation in New York patronized by Horr. Queen Anne was the 1,256th female Holstein registered in America. The 1,292nd spot belonged to Chapman’s cow Mildred. Horr’s Molly Bawn occupied slot 1,298.

The most wonderful thing about this, at least from my perspective, is that O. P. Chapman spent a quarter-century living in the house next door to my current home. He built the carriage house that is now part of my property. When it was completed in the spring of 1883, the Enterprise noted, “O. P. Chapman has the best arranged and finest finished horse and stock barn on his place on South Main St. we ever saw. It will pay any admirer of good things to call and see it. He has also some very fine blooded stock, and is giving special attention to their growth and improvement” (5-9-1883, pg. 3). I never realized that our cattle stalls once housed Wellington’s first Holsteins. Queen Anne, Mildred and Captain John may well have lived out their lives in my backyard.

Carriage House

O. P. Chapman’s carriage house. Originally built as part of the property for 318 South Main Street, it is now included in the parcel for 326 South Main Street. Photo by author.

Charles Horr spent nearly fifteen years building up a renowned collection of what he termed “deep milkers.” Initially he imported animals from locations in North Holland and Friesland with names like Purmer, Hoorn, Bovencarspel, Westwoud, Beemster, Wieringerwaard, Schermerhorn and Harwerd. But soon he felt that the quality of his stock was advanced enough that he no longer required outside blood. While in volume one of the Holstein Advanced Register, for the year 1886, he imported eleven of the fourteen cows listed, by volume two (1887 to 1889) he “owned and bred” twelve of the nineteen submissions.

He entered members of his herds (Horr also raised Ayrshires, Durhams, Herefords and Aberdeens) in cattle shows and agricultural fairs; served as president of the Holstein-Friesian Association of America; and was an organizer of the National Dairy Union. After Horr’s untimely death in 1894, the Enterprise commented on the speed with which his Holsteins were being purchased and shipped around the country. But the Bawndale Stock Farm endured under the leadership of his son, also called Charles, who continued to breed, sell, and host annual visits of faculty and students from the agricultural department at Purdue University in Indiana.

I suspect Charles Horr would be amused by the mythology that has grown up around the humble animal known as Molly Bawn. It was Horr’s considered opinion, after all, that “a dairy cow should be regarded as a machine designed for the conversion of food, air and water into milk” (Enterprise, 1/21/1891, pg. 4).  Whatever else may be said about Molly, the milk-producing machine discharged her duties exceptionally well.

UPDATE: I just finished rereading Frank Chapman Van Cleef’s excellent article, “The Rise and Decline of the Cheese Industry in Lorain County,” published in 1960. Van Cleef’s father was a longtime employee of Charles Horr, and the author himself also worked in the local cheese industry. In his twenty-five page examination of what made Wellington a national hub of cheese production, Van Cleef never mentions Holstein cows. In fact, he argues persuasively that the industry peaked in the late 1870s, and was already in decline by the time Molly Bawn and her herdmates came to town. Van Cleef also mentions Charles Horr’s 1877 trip to Europe. As the result of a visit to Wellington by a provisions dealer from Glasgow, Scotland, Horr-Warner agreed to produce five to eight hundred boxes of cheese for weekly or semi-weekly shipment overseas. Later that year, Horr made a reciprocal visit, to Glasgow and Liverpool. No day trips to the Netherlands to shop for cattle are mentioned.

Program Announcement IV

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The Patricia Lindley Center for the Performing Arts, Wellington, Ohio.


Into the Wilderness: A Massachusetts Household Emigrates to Ohio
Inaugural Lecture of the 2018 Wellington Bicentennial Series

Patricia Lindley Center for the Performing Arts
January 9, 2018 | Doors open at 6PM; lecture begins at 7PM

In 1818, a Dutch farming family from the Berkshire region of Massachusetts left behind all they knew and traveled west on foot to begin a new life in the Ohio country. Many of us have heard stories of the founding of Wellington, but what you may not know is that one member of that settler household was a woman of color, a freed slave who had formerly belonged to the family she now accompanied “into the wilderness.”

This talk is free and open to the public. If you would like to indicate your interest in attending, you can do so on the Wellington Bicentennial Facebook page. And please take a look at the other monthly lectures and presentations scheduled for the remainder of the year!

Nearing the Finish Line

22540112_1462986340416558_4120680513426473012_nRegular readers of the blog may have noticed that it has been fairly quiet of late. That is because I have been spending a great deal of time on finishing up the manuscript and publication process for my forthcoming book! I received the first proof this week and have been busy copy editing.

The book was due to be shipped to those who pre-ordered a copy in December. We are currently running ahead of schedule and it looks as if copies may be mailed out in November. Fingers crossed!