Category Archives: Oberlin

The Seminary

Seminary Close Up

Detail of “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil. 1857.” Original object in private collection. Photo by author.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to examine a magnificent hanging school map. The massive, brightly colored object is sixty inches long by fifty inches wide, and depicts all of Lorain County in the mid-nineteenth century. In the upper right corner is a tiny inset, just eight by eight inches at its widest points, showing the young village of Wellington. When I first saw this oversized map, my family owned a house on North Main Street, so my eye was drawn to that area of town. There, in the block just south of my future home, was written in letters less than one-quarter of an inch wide the notation “Semy.”

The first association that came to mind was of course the word “seminary.” But I had never heard of any sort of religious preparatory school in Wellington, no institution dedicated to training future priests, ministers or rabbis, which is the modern usage of that term. What was this mid-century seminary? Whom did it teach? Whom did it employee? What I have come to discover is that the story of the Wellington Seminary is the story of two Wellington women, who founded it and ran it for fifteen years.

Mary Ann Adams was born in Otis, Massachusetts in 1816. She was the youngest of thirteen children; her parents, Amos (1766-1836) and Huldah Wright Adams (1772-1840), celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary a few months after her birth. The Adams family left western Massachusetts around 1821, and by 1823 had settled in a wilderness area soon to be named Wellington, Ohio. Mary Ann was just seven years old as her father and older brothers set to felling trees and cultivating land for several family farms in what is now the northeast quadrant of the town.

A decade later and ten miles north, the Oberlin Collegiate Institute opened its doors. December 1833 saw the first classes held for what would eventually become Oberlin College. Mary Ann Adams was one of the first females in the new institute; her name appears on an 1834 list of students certifying their views regarding admitting people of color to the school. (Adams, as did more than half the student body, voted against admittance.)

Ladies Hall 1835-1865

Ladies’ Hall, home of the Ladies’ Department of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute (after 1850, Oberlin College) from 1835 to 1865. This wood frame structure stood on the south side of College Street, facing Tappan Square. Today that area is an access road between the Oberlin College bookstore and Bibbins Hall, home of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. From “General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1833-1908,” pg. int. 71.

Though Oberlin did accept both male and female students from its inception, initially only male students could pursue the “classics course” and receive a bachelor’s degree. In its earliest days, Oberlin’s female scholars were expected to follow the “ladies’ course” which did not result in a degree. Adams pursued the ladies’ course, which took five years of study (including preparatory work), and finished in 1839. It was not until 1841 that the first three female students elected to complete the more rigorous classics course, and were awarded bachelor’s degrees. By that time, Adams was serving as Assistant Principal of the Ladies’ Department. She would hold that position for three years, before being named Principal for seven more, beginning in 1842. All told, Mary Ann Adams would be a key figure in the Ladies’ Department of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute for its first, formative fifteen years.

In her history of coeducation at Oberlin, Father Shipherd’s Magna Charta (1937), Frances Juliette Hosford describes the Ladies’ Board, a small group of women who governed the actions of all females admitted to the institute in its earliest days. Hosford points out that there were no college-educated women in the country at that time. The Ladies’ Board was instead comprised of the wives of college officials and prominent Oberlin community members. The group was socially very conservative and operated independently of the faculty, reporting only to Oberlin’s trustees. As a result, Hosford argues, it became “a law unto itself” and operated in “a star chamber atmosphere” (pg. 27).

Adams seems to have come into conflict with the Ladies’ Board repeatedly over her tenure. The precise nature of the conflict is not always clear, but there are tantalizing clues left in letters from students that can still be read in the Oberlin College Archive today. Antoinette Brown, one of Oberlin’s most distinguished alumnae, thought very highly of Miss Adams, and mentioned her frequently in letters to friends. Only once did she ever describe discord between them, when in 1847 Adams arranged for Brown to earn extra money by teaching additional classes, but “the Ladies Board disarranged everything” because they disapproved of Brown wanting to study theology with male students and become a minister (quoted in Lasser, Soul Mates, pg. 22). Brown continued to admire Adams even after the trouble, noting her “firmness & dignity of charac[ter]” in another letter weeks later (ibid., pg. 29).

Years of conflict with the Ladies’ Board and ongoing poor health eventually caused Adams to resign in early 1849. Antoinette Brown opined, “I feel as though I had lost a good friend tried and true” (ibid., pg. 48). Adams returned to Wellington, moving into her older brother Gideon’s brick house on what is today North Main Street. Gideon (1809-1875) and wife Bertia Hull Slocum Adams (1812-1880) had seven children, the youngest of which were then a set of infant twins. Mary Ann Adams, nearing thirty-five years of age and used to an independent life, must have immediately concocted a plan of self-employment. In later published accounts–described in more detail below–1849 is universally agreed upon as the year that Mary Ann Adams, using land and a building belonging to her brother, opened the Wellington Seminary.

Gideon Wright Adams

Gideon Wright Adams (1809-1875), older brother of Mary Ann Adams.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the term “seminary” referred to a private educational facility, often exclusively for women. They began to open across the Midwest in the 1830s, as educationally-minded New Englanders emigrated and settled there (Woody, Women’s Education in the United States, pg. 366-368). These were not schools focused solely on religious education, in the modern sense of the term. Adams did refer to the Oberlin Ladies’ Department as “our Seminary, a Literary & Religious association” (Fletcher Papers, B. 7, F. 3). Certainly in the nineteenth century, religion was a much more pervasive component of morally-focused education. But young women would not have attended the Wellington Seminary to prepare for a life of religious orders. And it is worth pointing out that while Adams was a devout Congregationalist, the woman to whom she eventually turned the seminary over was an equally devout Methodist.

It is curious that Adams’ name remains the one most strongly associated with the Wellington Seminary in all subsequent published histories. She did found the school sometime in 1849, but by September 1850 she relinquished it to marry an Oberlin student seven years her junior, Charles Conkling of Leroy, Illinois. There is evidence of love, or at least attraction. A female student wrote in 1848, “Mis Adams & Conklin are ingaged & they court strongly & act just like fools–they cant be married in less than two years for he is only [a] junior” (Oberlin File, 21/1, II: Letters by Students, F. 8). Indeed, they did wait two more years before marrying at Gideon Adams’ Wellington home “in a most elegant style” described in some detail in yet another student letter (AMA Archives #104941). But whatever happiness the pair found together during their courtship did not last.

Oberlin Evangelist, 1850-09-11, pg. 7

Marriage announcement of Charles Conkling and Mary Ann Adams. “Oberlin Evangelist,” 9-11-1850, pg. 7.

Nine months almost to the day of the wedding, the couple’s first child was born. Alice Cowles Conkling was named in honor of Mary Ann’s predecessor as Principal of the Ladies’ Department, Alice Welch Cowles. Two more children, Charles Grandison (named for minister and Oberlin president Charles Grandison Finney) and Florence Perry, followed by 1859, when Mary Ann was forty-two years old. Husband Charles spent three more years studying theology at Oberlin, graduating in 1853. He began traveling out of state; for example, a newspaper notice directs correspondents to address him in western New York in 1854 (Oberlin Evangelist, 11-22-1854, pg. 7). It is unclear whether Mary Ann and the children accompanied him on these trips.

Then, in 1862, tragedy struck. In January, three-year-old Florence died. Ten weeks later, eight-year-old Charles also passed. Whether Mary Ann’s marriage was already beginning to unravel before this unimaginable loss, or the death of two of his children unhinged Charles Conkling, I do not know. But Mary Ann’s life became a nightmare. Two years later, the Congregational Church in Oberlin brought Conkling in to answer charges of cruelty, violence against his family, verbally abusive and violent actions against his boarders, and borrowing money with no intent to repay. Thirteen testimonies survive in the Oberlin College Archives describing a wife in feeble health, fearful for her surviving daughter’s safety, trying desperately to eke out a living and often “on the point of starving” (Records of the First and Second Congregational Church 31/4/1, B. 6). Conkling was characterized as a lazy ne’er do well who forced his wife to keep boarders, then stole her earnings and caused such regular unpleasantness that no one in Oberlin wanted to live in the household.

I do not know the immediate consequences of the church trial. The 1870 federal census shows only “Mary Conklin,” 55, living with daughter Alice, then nineteen and attending Oberlin College herself; she graduated in 1873. Mary Ann Adams Conkling died in 1871 and is buried in Oberlin’s Westwood Cemetery with her two younger children. Her oldest daughter seems to have left Ohio shortly after graduating, and later documents note her places of residence as including both Oklahoma and Texas. She does not seem to have ever married. Her abusive father, Charles Conkling, died in the Wayne County Infirmary, i.e. the Wooster poorhouse, in 1902. A newspaper report dismissed him as “a peripatetic lecturer and idler” (Western Christian Advocate, 6-4-1902, pg. 30).

IMG_0169

Headstone of Mary Ann Adams Conkling (1816-1871), Westwood Cemetery, Oberlin, Ohio. Her two youngest children are buried with her; their names are inscribed on the opposite side of the marker. Photo by author.

I promised that this was the story of two Wellington women, and in fact, the history of the Wellington Seminary lies mostly with the second. When Mary Ann Adams married in 1850, she transferred management of her new school to Elizabeth “Eliza” Hamilton. Eliza was the daughter of Asa (1799-1866) and Lydia Deland Hamilton (1804-1881). Asa was born in Vermont, Lydia in Massachusetts. By the early 1820s, the young couple was living in Sheridan, New York, and it is there that Eliza was born in 1824. Shortly after her birth, the family moved again to recently settled Wellington, Ohio.

Asa Hamilton was an interesting character. He served as a Lorain County Commissioner, postmaster of Wellington, and was an active Mason. (His headstone in Greenwood Cemetery is topped with the symbol of the Royal Arch masons, a triangle with three T’s joined at the base.) The 1850 federal census shows twelve people living in the household, including a number of young men working for Asa’s carpentry and joinery business. Eliza Hamilton, then twenty-five, had no profession listed. But that was soon to change.

Asa Hamilton grave

Headstone of Asa Hamilton (1799-1866), Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. The symbol atop the stone is that of the Royal Arch Masons. Hamilton was an active Mason, serving as Wellington’s representative to the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ohio in Massillon in 1857. Photo by author.

The Hamiltons and the Adams family were neighbors. Their properties in the northeast quadrant of the village abutted, precisely in the area where Adams and Hamilton Streets are today. Eliza and her mother, Lydia, are listed in Wellington Corporation tax records as owning multiple parcels of land, with multiple structures, in the block between what are now Hamilton and Clay Streets. When Mary Ann Adams decided (if the decision was hers) to relinquish control of the newly formed seminary, it may have seemed to Eliza Hamilton like an opportunity too good to be missed. In the 1860 federal census, her profession line was filled: “Supt [Superintendent] Wellington Seminary.”

It appears that Gideon Adams retained ownership of the land and building for some time. Only in 1860, a decade after she began running the school, do Eliza Hamilton’s taxes first include the half-acre in Lot 21 described as “C[orner] Mn & A[dams] St.” The parcel was valued for tax purposes at $260, confirming the presence of a structure. Hamilton owned the lot until 1864, when she sold it to the village to be incorporated into the public school system. It is struck through in her 1864 taxes and annotated “Wellington Union School Not Taxable.”

I have not been able to locate any primary documentation related to the school itself, whether a student roster or any materials related to the school’s curriculum. In every published instance save one that I have found, it is referred to as a seminary. (One 1861 notice, published in an Oberlin paper, called it the “Wellington Academy.”) It is noted as the “Female Seminary” and the “W.F. Seminary” (which I assume to be an abbreviation for “Wellington Female”) in two separate 1863 Lorain County News notices. However, I found a reference in a brief biographical sketch of Wellington resident Lucius E. Finch which noted that he left “the seminary taught by Miss Eliza Hamilton at Wellington” when he was sixteen, circa 1859. Another biographical sketch of Pittsfield resident Robert Merriam mentioned that he “received his education at the common schools and at the Wellington Seminary…” Since Merriam enrolled at Oberlin College in 1854, presumably his time at the Wellington school predated that year. There are newspaper references to another school, taught by Mary H. Ladd, called both the “select school” and once, the Wellington Seminary. But that school seems to post-date Merriam’s attendance by a decade, while Finch clearly indicates that he attended Hamilton’s school.

What are we to make of this? Was the Wellington Seminary exclusively for females under the guidance of Mary Ann Adams, coming as she was from a decade of female education? Did the school begin to accept young men when Hamilton took over? The evidence of the two male biographies would seem to support that theory. Why then was the school continually referred to as the Female Seminary, as late as 1863, shortly before it closed its doors? In the absence of further evidence, we may never know.

Wellington moved to reorganize its public school system during the Civil War. Asa Hamilton actually presented a remonstrance to the Ohio House of Representatives (via Sidney Warner) protesting the passage of a law authorizing the citizens of Wellington “to levy a tax to build a high school house in said village” (Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, Vol. 59, pg. 474-475). Whether Hamilton was working to protect his daughter’s economic interests, or just opposed taxation in general, is not clear. Regardless, his efforts failed, the tax levy was passed, and by 1867 the village had a modern, three-story brick Italianate housing its upper grades, the Union School. (Sadly, that very building is being demolished as I write this.)

The village purchased Eliza Hamilton’s land and building in 1864, and renamed it the North Primary School, i.e. what we might today call the elementary and middle school grade levels. (There was also a South Primary School on South Main Street, on the lot adjacent to my family’s current home.) That was the end of the fifteen-year history of the Wellington Seminary. Hamilton continued to teach, offering private classes in her own home. She remained in Wellington until nearly the end of her life, when she briefly moved closer to her brother in Pennsylvania. They died one month apart in 1877. Eliza’s remains were supposedly returned to Wellington and interred next to her father, Asa Hamilton, but there is no stone marking her grave.

Over the course of 1876 and 1877, The Wellington Enterprise published a series of short notices which, taken together, explain the fate of the 1849 seminary structure. Builder Hiram Allyn, who lived directly across from the school, purchased “the old North Primary School building” in April 1876. He moved it across the street onto a lot adjacent to his own house. He then renovated the structure and turned it into a residence. By May 1877, the paper noted, “The old seminary, now the new dwelling house, is further transformed by being painted a light drab, with dark brown trimmings; and blinds have been added. A new fence encloses the yard and lot…” (5-10-1877, pg. 3). I argued in a 2013 post, linked above, that the home which currently sits at 112 Adams Street is, at its core, the 1849 seminary. The village erected a small brick school house to replace the relocated wooden structure, which later became (old) St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, still standing on the lot today.

112 Adams Street

112 Adams Street, Wellington, Ohio. I believe this house contains the structure of the 1849 wood-frame Wellington Seminary, purchased and remodeled by Hiram Allyn in the 1870s.

The opening of Mary Ann Adams’ school in 1849 was first recorded in a published history just three decades later. The History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) credited Gideon Adams with erecting the building, and characterized the operation as “academical” without officially naming it. The passage noted that Adams had experience in female education, without specifying the gender(s) of her Wellington students. In 1896, Adams was heroine-worshipped in Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve, depicted traveling valiantly “back and forth from Wellington to Oberlin on horseback when the mud and water was [sic] up to the stirrups.” It is mentioned in passing that she “taught a private school for young ladies in Wellington” (vol. 2, pg. 310).

In 1922, Mrs. W.B. (Carrie) Vischer restored Eliza Hamilton to her rightful place in the seminary narrative in her lecture and subsequent publication, “History of Wellington.” Interestingly, Vischer referred to the school as “The Academy,” so subsequent modern authors have followed suit and used that inaccurate name. Vischer dated the school to 1849, but erroneously attributed construction of the building to Mary Ann Adams’ father, Deacon Amos Adams, who in fact died in 1836. She described the school as private, but open to “the youth of Wellington” apparently irrespective of gender. Carrie Vischer was born in 1861, so it is possible that she knew Eliza Hamilton, though she would have been a young girl when the latter left Ohio. That having been said, Vischer sketched a charming, albeit simple, portrait: “Miss Hamilton was a very intelligent woman, and to attend her school the road to success was assured. Miss Hamilton was assistant superintendent of the Methodist Sunday school for many years, her father being one of the first members of the Methodist church. Miss Hamilton was unique in appearance, always attired in bloomers. Her reason was ‘she could accomplish her work with more ease and comfort while thus attired'” (pg. 5). Later local history enthusiasts Robert Walden and Ernst Henes clearly borrowed liberally from Vischer’s text, and both highlighted Hamilton’s unorthodox fashion choices.

I find both educators fascinating. They had many similarities beyond the enterprise they shared. Each woman was born in another state but spent her entire life in Lorain County. Adams remained unmarried until much later than her contemporaries; Hamilton chose never to go down the path that ended so disastrously for her neighbor. Both women had a long history of chronic health problems, which they struggled against while working for their own financial support. There is evidence that each assisted other women in her community, providing money and even a place to live within her own household. Mary Ann Adams’ obituary noted, “Her scanty salary was often in great part devoted to assisting struggling young ladies in achieving their education. Many of her pupils will remember her with gratitude, and thank God that they ever came under her influence” (Lorain County News, 4-27-1871, pg. 3). Hamilton’s lengthy tribute in The Wellington Enterprise, very likely written by co-editor Mary Hayes Houghton, suggested that “her sympathy for the helpless and unfortunate prompted her to unreasoning self-sacrifice for those whose lives she sought to make better and brighter. How little she demanded for herself. How generously she planned and unremittingly toiled for others” (11-15-1877, pg. 3)!

As with so many of the topics I have researched, this one only leaves me wanting to know more. What was daily instruction like in the Wellington Seminary and what topics were the young people learning? Were the students, in fact, all females in certain periods of the school’s existence? Did they board in the school building, as Oberlin’s female students boarded and studied in Ladies’ Hall? Does the fact that the school was described as “private” suggest that only the wealthier citizens of the village could afford to have their children attend? And what of Adams and Hamilton–did each woman enjoy teaching, or did she do it simply because it was one of the only occupations open to unmarried women in the mid-nineteenth century? Curiosity is the blessing and curse of the lover of history.

UPDATE: Within one day of publishing this post, I discovered that the Lorain County News (1860-1873) was finally digitized and publicly available. Since this topic was uppermost in my mind, I began searching for additional information about Mary Ann Adams Conkling. I found four notices that furnish new details about the story of her life. The first, dated weeks after her young son Charles died–the second child she had lost that year–announced her opening a private school “at her residence on the corner of Pleasant and Lorain Streets” (6-11-1862, pg. 2). Even in her grief, Mary Ann had to support her surviving daughter. In 1864, the same year her husband was brought before the Congregational Church to answer for his abusive behavior, a “Chas. Conklin” was listed among Oberlin men who volunteered to join a new company of the 41st O.V.I. regiment (4-13-1864, pg. 3). Three years later, “Rev. C. Conkling” was again mentioned in the paper and described as “of Ashland formerly of Oberlin” (3-6-1867, pg. 3). Why was Conkling no longer living with his family? Because his wife was about to divorce him. The divorce was granted in late 1869, with Mary Ann receiving the Oberlin house and lot, as well as $1,000 alimony. Charles Conkling was also ordered to pay all court costs. (1-5-1870, pg. 2). Mary Ann Adams secured her marital freedom after two decades; whether she ever actually received her $1,000 is, though highly unlikely, lost to history.

 

“A New and Most Commodious Route of Travel”

"The Oberlin Evangelist," July 17, 1850, pg. 7.

“The Oberlin Evangelist,” July 17, 1850, pg. 7.

I must apologize to regular readers of this blog for my recent lack of posts. Workaday life has kept me rather busy since the holidays. But I ran across something while researching another topic that I thought was too good not to share. I learned that the complete run of a periodical called The Oberlin Evangelist–more than six-hundred issues dating from 1838 to 1862–has been digitized by Oberlin College and is available, free of charge, online. While digging through search results related to Wellington, I found the above notice, which announced in July 1850 that the new railroad line through the village was finally operational.

For a fare of $1.12 1/2, travelers could make their way from Cleveland to Oberlin, via Wellington, in just three-and-a-half hours. That journey included both a thirty-five-mile train trip southwest and a subsequent leg of nine miles north via carriage. (Today, travel from downtown Cleveland to Oberlin via motor vehicle takes approximately forty minutes. The highway, unlike the railroad, takes one to Oberlin before Wellington.) William H. Plumb was initially designated by the railroad company as the purveyor of carriage rides at no additional charge between Oberlin and Wellington, for both the arriving and departing schedules (Plain Dealer, 7-1-1850, pg. 2). By the end of the century, several companies based out of Wellington were providing transportation and parcel delivery, including Smith’s Omnibus and Transfer Line, which in 1890 reported carrying nearly 5,000 passengers over the course of the preceding year.

GoogleMap image showing the geographic relationships between 1) Cleveland; 2) Wellington; and 3) Oberlin, Ohio. Distance from downtown Cleveland to Wellington is thirty-five miles; the centers of Oberlin and Wellington are nine miles apart.

GoogleMap image showing the geographic relationships between 1) Cleveland; 2) Wellington; and 3) Oberlin, Ohio. Distance from downtown Cleveland to Wellington is thirty-five miles; the centers of Oberlin and Wellington are slightly less than nine miles apart.

In trying to pin down the precise date of the first train through Wellington, I subsequently looked at some mid-century Cleveland newspapers. Though regular daily service between the two locations officially commenced on Monday, July 1, 1850, I found a notice from The Cleveland Herald–reprinted in the June 21 edition of The Lancaster Gazette–which noted that two powerful locomotives from the Cuyahoga Works “run daily to Wellington; and already quite a business in passengers and freight has been turned to the rapid iron way” (pg. 2). That suggests that trains were routinely running through the village by at least mid-June.

The Plain Dealer noted with some amusement on July 4, 1850 that “a new feature presented itself in our Cleveland celebrations. The morning train of cars from Wellington brought in from a thousand to fifteen hundred people, strangers, who mingled with our citizens in the festivities of the day; and the 2 o’clock train brought nearly as many more.– It was a novel sight to see a train of thirteen cars, (eleven of them platform cars arranged with benches, to accommodate passengers, ‘Thick as leaves in Valambrosia,’) all entering our city, filled to their utmost capacity with the belles and beaux of the country” (pg. 3). If, as the paper facetiously suggested, Wellington and its environs sent upwards of three thousand people north that Independence Day, it was an impressive feat indeed. According to the 1850 federal census, there were only about 1,500 residents of the township, including a lingering community of young, male laborers characterized as “Rail Road Contractors” and “Irish Shanty” dwellers.

Detail from article printed in "The Plain Dealer," 7-1-1850, pg. 2.

Header illustration from article printed in “The Plain Dealer,” 7-1-1850, pg. 2.

In the August 14 edition of The Oberlin Evangelist, a report on the college’s upcoming commencement celebrations concluded, “We are requested to state in this connection for the encouragement and benefit of those friends of ours who come from the East, that the Rail Road fare from Cleveland to this place, (via Wellington) is only one dollar, it having been reduced since our former notice” (pg. 7). The piece did not explain why rates were reduced after only one month in operation. The same paper pronounced the CC&C line finished in February 1851, with trains speeding “from Lake to River daily, Sundays excepted.” In fact, only the Cleveland to Columbus run was open at that time; the full connection to Cincinnati was ultimately accomplished by a series of corporate mergers and acquisitions that culminated in 1872.

When The History of Lorain County, Ohio was published in 1879, trains had been passing through the village for thirty years. That publication referred to the railroad’s construction as “the turning point to the fortunes of the place” (pg. 352). And so it must have seemed: nearly eight million pounds of cheese and more than one million pounds of butter were shipped through Wellington that year, the high-water mark of export. But thirty years more saw cheese production dry up and a new mode of transport poised to dramatically transform the country. In 1910 there were already 468,500 registered vehicles in the United States; by the time we entered World War I in 1917, that figure had skyrocketed to more than five million. In the span of a human lifetime, Wellington both gained and lost its chief industry, as well as the cachet of serving as a regional economic and transportation hub; one could argue that it is still dealing with the consequences of that seismic shift to this day.

“Plain Justice”

"Camp Denison, above Cincinnati O., on the banks of the Miami River, first used by General Cox as a recruiting camp, and later in the war as a permanent camp of instruction in the West." Etching by Frank Leslie, "Leslie's Weekly Illustrated" (1862). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

“Camp Denison, above Cincinnati O., on the banks of the Miami River, first used by General Cox as a recruiting camp, and later in the war as a permanent camp of instruction in the West.” Company C, 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry trained at Camp Dennison from May 6 to June 26, 1861, before departing by train for the eastern border of Ohio and what was then Virginia. Etching by Frank Leslie, “Leslie’s Weekly Illustrated” (1862). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

“Congressman S. H. Williams has introduced a bill in the house of representatives to correct the military record of N. Huckins of Oberlin. Mr. Huckins served more than ninety days, while the record does not show this fact” (Oberlin News, 7-19-1916, pg. 5).

I first came across this brief notice very early in my research on Canadian Noah Huckins. At the time, I knew virtually nothing about his life prior to settling in Wellington, Ohio. I had located his name in the 1890 United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War. (Most of the federal census documents for that year were destroyed in a later fire, but some veterans’ data for approximately half the states–Kentucky through Wyoming–survives.) That entry told me that Noah Huckins was a musician in Company C, 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Date of enlistment was given as June 20, 1861 and date of discharge September 20, 1861, for a total service time of three months.

Noah Huckins, ca. 1860. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

Noah Huckins, ca. 1860. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

Huckins was a private in Company C, also known as “Monroe’s Rifles.” The company was comprised almost entirely of Oberlin College faculty and students, and was nicknamed in honor of Ohio state senator James Monroe (1821-1898), a professor at the college and ardent abolitionist and reformer. Because of its strong ties to the school and the local community, “Monroe’s Rifles” received extensive coverage in the Oberlin newspaper, the Lorain County News, as its young soldiers made their way to training camp and thence into conflict.

I had so many questions about this period in Huckins’ life. Why did a student from Baldwin University join an Oberlin College company? Why did he join at all, given that he was from Canada and had not been in this country very long? Was he truly a musician, or was that a clerical error? (I found this mystery particularly interesting, given that his daughter, Ibla, later attended the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.) The brief period of service indicated on the census schedule always struck me as strange; I am not an expert in military history, but three months seemed like too brief a time to train, let alone utilize, a raw recruit. When I first saw the 1916 notice at the top of this post, I  thought perhaps it was the answer to that particular question, i.e. Huckins did serve longer than three months, but the military record was somehow incorrect.

Recently, I learned about a company called American Civil War Ancestor. They conduct research at federal, state and local records facilities in the Washington D. C. area, including the National Archives and the Library of Congress. I sent in a request form and within a few weeks I was sifting through nearly 170 digital files, all the paperwork associated with Noah Huckins’ Compiled Military Service Record and his Pension Record. What an interesting and complicated tale they tell.

Huckins was just twenty-one years old when he left his junior year at Baldwin University to enlist. He was mustered into Company C at Camp Taylor in Cleveland on April 25, 1861. The company’s term of service was three months, as no one believed that the rebellion would last very long. According to his official service record, Huckins was mustered out at Oberlin on August 18, 1861. The remarks field indicates, “Declined entering 3 years service. Was furloughed at Camp Dennison. June 14, 1861.” That short, hand-written notation would cause Huckins a great deal of trouble a half-century later.

Physical description of Noah Huckins from his Compiled Military Service Record. Throughout the documents, Huckins eyes are listed as blue, grey and hazel; his height estimates vary by some four inches.

Physical description of Noah Huckins from his Compiled Military Service Record. Throughout the documents, Huckins’ eyes are listed as blue, gray and hazel; his height estimates are equally inconsistent.

In 1915, the now-elderly hardware salesman was living in Oberlin when he was notified that he was being dropped from the veterans’ pension roll “on the ground that he did not render ninety days service during the Civil War.” In an attempt to reduce the swelled ranks of pensioners from the Civil War (the largest such cohort in American history) and the Spanish-American War, the government passed a bill saying that veterans were required to have served a full ninety days to receive monies, and that any furlough time did not count toward that ninety days. They then set about reviewing files and canceling the pensions of many “three month” veterans.

Both Huckins and his classmate John Baldwin, Jr. had been members of Company C’s regimental band. When the company’s three-month enlistment was drawing to a close in 1861, it was reorganized as a three-year company and all the soldiers were asked to reenlist. Most did, but some–including Huckins and Baldwin–did not. Those who did not choose to “re-up” were furloughed in June and allowed to return home, because the rest of the company was about to start marching into what is today West Virginia.

Noah Huckins fought the revoking of his pension fiercely. His argument was simple: he had served more than his alloted ninety days, because he and Baldwin had remained with the company after the other “three month” soldiers went home. The two men were detailed with the band to accompany “Monroe’s Rifles” as they left Camp Dennison by train for a long march from Bellaire, Ohio through Clarksburg, Weston, Glenville, and eventually Sutton, Virginia. (The western portion of Virginia did not became a separate state until June 20, 1863.) It was only on August 2nd, at Sutton, that Huckins and Baldwin were finally allowed to leave military service and make their way back to Ohio. They were officially mustered out at Columbus on August 18th.

Example of Huckins and Huckins hardware store letterhead, from Noah Huckins Pension Record correspondence.

Example of Huckins and Huckins hardware store letterhead, from Noah Huckins Pension Record, Case #1080455.

Huckins wrote repeatedly to the Commissioner of Pensions, and submitted at least six sworn affidavits from former comrades-in-arms (four of whom were also classmates at Baldwin University), as well as character testimonials from Oberlin business associates. He even had the Adjutant General of the State of Ohio write to the pension review board to avow that Ohio had no record of any furloughs granted to Private Huckins during his period of service. Huckins went so far as to note in one letter, “I was paid in full for ninety days service, although I had in fact served ninety-eight days” (2-13-1915, pg. 2). By my calculation, he served 116 days from enlistment to discharge, or 100 days if his time after leaving Sutton is subtracted. The pension review board believed that Huckins had been furloughed and “subsisted himself from and after June 14, 1861, and never thereafter returned to duty” (Statement of Facts, 4-9-1915, pg. 1). By their count, he had served just fifty days. The cancellation of benefits was upheld.

Even after the final decision of the review board had been rendered, Huckins continued to pursue the correction of his military record through the legislative process. What he wanted, he wrote in a letter to the Commissioner of Pensions dated May 15, 1915, was “plain justice in this matter.” The latest correspondence in his Pension Record dates to May 1920, a little more than a year before his death at age eight-two. If the matter was ever resolved in his favor, there is no evidence of it in his military files.

This is a thorny issue. On the one hand, I do not believe it is right for the government to rescind benefits it has pledged to supply, particularly to veterans. The justification for the cancellation seems particularly suspect. On the other hand, even if Huckins was telling the absolute truth about his tour of duty, he served a little over three months of his life in the Union Army. Two-thirds of that time was spent training on Ohio soil. So far as I can tell, Huckins never came near any actual fighting; Company C did not have its first engagement of the war until three weeks after he left Sutton. The aged veteran acknowledged that he was paid the going rate of $13 per month for his military service, for a total of $39. Prior to the pension stoppage, he had received steadily increasing checks for 128 consecutive months, or nearly eleven years. During that time, when he had a very successful hardware business and was living in a house described as “one of the handsomest” in Oberlin, he collected something like $1,600 in “invalid” benefits, describing himself on one form as “unable to earn a support by manual labor by reason of: general disabilities attendant upon old age and eye sight” (Declaration for Invalid Pension, 4-1-1904). Whether this was a deliberately misleading claim on Huckins’ part, or simply the verbiage required of all applicants, I do not know.

Even after immersing myself in this man’s life for so long, I often still feel like I know nothing about him.

Sereno and Mary Bacon

"Residence of S. D. Bacon, Wellington, Ohio." From "History of Lorain County, Ohio" (1879), opposite pg. 349. A caption notes that the engraved images are taken from photographs by William F. Sawtell.

“Residence of S. D. Bacon, Wellington, Ohio.” From “History of Lorain County, Ohio” (1879), opposite pg. 349. A caption notes that the engraved images are taken from photographs by William F. Sawtell.

On April 8, 1889–almost exactly 125 years ago–Noah and Ermina Huckins sold their house, barn and two adjoining lots fronting Lincoln Street to local farmer S. D. Bacon for $2,750. Regular readers of the blog will recall that one of my unanswered questions about Huckins is why he chose to sell all his properties and businesses in Wellington to become junior partner in an Oberlin hardware store.

I had always assumed that when Huckins sold the Italianate house he built on family land in 1876, he immediately departed with his wife and children. But I recently discovered notices in The Wellington Enterprise that suggest only Huckins left the village right away. “Mr. N. Huckins who is now engaged in business in Oberlin returns occasionally to visit his family and friends,” the paper reported on April 17, 1889. I took that to mean he was visiting extended family; his wife’s siblings still lived in Wellington.

But nearly three months after the sale of the house, this notice appeared in the Oberlin notes section of the Wellington paper: “N. Huckins, of the firm of Carter & Huckins, has rented the residence of Mrs. Mary Jewett, No. 18 East Lorain street, and will remove his family from Wellington to this place about August 1st” (6-26-1889, pg.5). From what I can determine, the Jewett home stood on the present day site of a park across from the Allen Memorial Art Museum and is no longer standing.

Undated image of East Lorain Street, Oberlin, Ohio. The house at the left of the frame is likely the Jewett home rented by Noah Huckins in 1889. Image courtesy of "Oberlin in the Past" Facebook page.

Undated image of East Lorain Street, Oberlin, Ohio. The house at the left of the frame is likely the Jewett home rented by Noah Huckins in 1889. Image courtesy of “Oberlin in the Past” Facebook page.

Where was Huckins’ family living while he started over in Oberlin? I do not know, but the most likely scenario is that they temporarily moved back into the Adams family homestead, then occupied by Ermina Huckins’ twin brother Erwin and his wife, Mary Emma Mallory Adams. The Adams homestead was just north of the Huckins’ house on Main Street. Why Noah Huckins would sell everything and move less than ten miles away without already having another home in which to settle his family is a mystery. His son Howard was then fifteen; daughter Ibla was eleven. Perhaps Huckins wanted to allow them to complete the school year. I know only that the family did not purchase a home in Oberlin until 1890, when they bought a modest dwelling at 151 Forest Street from Mary Humphrey.

Meanwhile, my Italianate had its second owners. Sereno Dwight Bacon had been born in Vermont in 1825 but emigrated with his family to Lorain County in 1842. He married Mary Ann Bailey in 1846; she was born in New York but was adopted after her mother’s early death and moved to Medina as a child. The Bacons bought a two hundred acre farm in Wellington Township in 1851 and raised three children there.

The 1860 federal agricultural census recorded that Bacon owned eighty-two milch cows and thirty-four sheep, as well as swine and horses. (An 1879 newspaper notice indicates that his sheep flock had grown to more than 260 animals just two decades later.) That year, his farming operation had produced 1,300 pounds of butter and 10,800 pounds of cheese. This is six years before the first cheese factory opened in Huntington, Ohio; the Bacon farm produced five-and-a-half tons of cheese onsite, in addition to all its other crop and livestock management.

(L) Detail of the Bacon farm, from "History of Lorain County, Ohio" (1879), opposite pg. 349. (R) Photo by author of private residence on Pitts Road, 2013.

(L) Detail of the Bacon farm, from “History of Lorain County, Ohio” (1879), opposite pg. 349. (R) Photo by author of private residence on Pitts Road, 2013.

By the time the Bacons purchased my house, it was clearly their retirement home. Sereno Bacon was sixty-four years old and had done very well financially; tax records indicate that he ranked among the wealthiest individuals in Wellington throughout his years of residence in town. One of the things I find most interesting about the Italianate’s first two owners is that both made their fortunes from the so-called Cheese Boom, but in very different ways. Bacon was a dairy farmer, producing the milk that (after the mid-1860s) middlemen made into cheese in a nearby factory. Huckins felled trees and built thousands of wooden boxes to ship that cheese to far-away markets.

The Bacons’ living children were grown and married by the time Sereno and Mary left their farm on Pitts Road and moved three miles to the “Cheese City.” The 1890 census records do not survive, so I do not know the composition of the household when they first moved into town. I do know that their grandson, Aaron Lynn Bacon, born in 1881, moved in with them after his mother’s death. Aaron Lynn was therefore the third child to live in the Italianate, after Howard and Ibla.

The Bacons rarely appeared in the newspaper, in stark contrast to Noah Huckins’ hundreds of mentions. My walk-through of the Italianate with architectural historian Shawn Godwin suggested that the Bacons probably wired the house for electricity soon after moving in, but otherwise changed it very little. (I subsequently learned that electricity was first available in the village in August, 1896.) I am tempted to characterize this as “a quiet life.”

Sereno Bacon died in 1901, shortly after the couple’s fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. Mary Ann Bacon survived until 1909, though tax records continued to record the house as belonging to her deceased husband for those eight remaining years of her life. The Bacons are buried in Greenwood Cemetery with a daughter and infant grandchild who predeceased them. The two surviving Bacon children sold the Italianate shortly after their mother’s death.

Headstone of Sereno and Mary Bacon, Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of Sereno and Mary Bacon, Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Aaron Lynn Bacon inherited the family farm on Pitts Road and had just finished renovating his grandparents’ 1861 brick homestead (pictured above) when he was tragically killed. The accident occurred only a few years after his grandmother passed away. “KILLED BY INFURIATED BULL,” screamed the Enterprise headline. The young farmer was feeding the animal early on a Sunday morning when it charged him, breaking his legs and ribs. He “suffered much from his injuries” and died the next night, September 3, 1912. He was not yet thirty-one years old. Aaron Lynn Bacon is also interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

Aaron Lynn Bacon. From "Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio, Volume 1" (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, opposite pg. 899.

Aaron Lynn Bacon. From “Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio, Volume 1” (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, opposite pg. 899.

Headstone of Aaron Lynn Bacon at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Bacon is buried with his aunt and uncle, Ada Bacon Harris and Hugh Harris. Hugh owned a shoe store in Wellington and eventually became Lorain County Treasurer. Photo by author.

Headstone of Aaron Lynn Bacon at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Bacon is buried with his aunt and uncle, Ada Bacon Harris and Hugh Harris. Hugh owned a shoe store in Wellington but later moved to Elyria and became Lorain County Treasurer. Photo by author.

While conducting this research into the history of our house and its owners, we made a discovery. The story of Aaron Lynn being trampled by the bull sparked memories of a similar incident in my husband’s family history. It turns out that my husband is related to the Bacons. Since he grew up in the area, it is not terribly surprising to learn that we are connected to a previous occupant of the house. But imagining that other, ill-fated little boy bounding down our floating staircase makes it all the more poignant to watch my own son, his great-great-great nephew, growing up.

“The Last Runaway” by Tracy Chevalier

Cover art for "The Last Runaway" (2013) by Tracy Chevalier.

Cover art for “The Last Runaway” (2013) by Tracy Chevalier.

My apologies to regular readers of this blog. After many days of silence, I am now flooding you with posts. This will be the last one today, I promise. I’m tying up loose ends as I prepare to work on a series of longer topics in the days to come.

You may also be wondering why I am featuring a work of fiction in this entry, something I have never done here before. I debated whether to include it, and ultimately decided that anyone reading the blog might be interested in this book, as well. If you are not a fan of historical fiction, please feel free to skip this particular post.

It is not my intention to write any sort of critical review of the work, only to call it to your attention. I happened to pick up a used copy at a library book sale; I knew nothing about it beyond thinking the cover very beautiful and recognizing the author’s name. Tracy Chevalier, who famously wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring (later turned into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson), also happens to be a 1984 graduate of Oberlin College and something of a local celebrity. Imagine my surprise when I learned that much of this story is set in Wellington and Oberlin in the early 1850s.

The book gives a fictional account of English Quaker Honor Bright as she travels with her sister to settle in Ohio in the mid-nineteenth century. She eventually spends time boarding at a millinery shop on Main Street, directly across from the local hotel in Wellington. Chevalier works in references to the construction of the railroad line, Dr. Johns, and the activities of the Underground Railroad in both towns during the period. She also sets a portion of the story in a supposedly adjacent Quaker settlement called Faithwell, but that is a community that existed only in the author’s imagination.

If any of you have already read this book, I would love for you to leave a comment and let others know your thoughts on it. I would just ask that, even if you didn’t personally love it, you be kind and considerate in your remarks.

Wellington Milling Company

Wellington Milling Company, ca. 1890. Photo 970601 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Wellington Milling Company, ca. 1890. Photo 970601 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

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).

Noah Huckins, ca. 1860. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

Noah Huckins, ca. 1860. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

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.

Charles W. Horr. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Charles W. Horr. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

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).

Detail of Wellington Village map showing the location of Wellington Milling Company. Note that Horr, Warner & Co. headquarters was immediately southwest of the mill. From "Atlas and Directory of Lorain County, Ohio. Illustrated. 1896." Pgs. 100-101. Photo by author.

Detail of Wellington Village map showing the location of Wellington Milling Company. Note that Horr, Warner & Co. headquarters was immediately southwest of the mill. From “Atlas and Directory of Lorain County, Ohio. Illustrated. 1896.” Pgs. 100-101. Photo by author.

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.

The Chinese Laundry

Detail of an image taken of Public Square, Wellington, Ohio, between  1892 and 1902. Sign over basement entrance to Wells building reads, "WAH SING LAUNDRY." My thanks to Mr. Alan L. Leiby for providing the enlargement.

Detail of an image taken of Public Square, Wellington, Ohio, between 1892 and 1902. Sign over basement entrance to Wells building reads, “WAH SING LAUNDRY.” My thanks to Mr. Alan L. Leiby for providing the enlargement.

A really marvelous development was brought to my attention recently. The Library of Congress has added twenty years of The Wellington Enterprise to its “Chronicling America” digital newspaper repository. The papers–rather confusingly grouped into three separate holdings–date from 1879 to 1899, and include nearly 900 keyword-searchable issues. Many thanks to fellow blogger and Wellington historian Joshua Fahler for alerting me.

As you might imagine, I immediately spent hours compiling search terms, to see if I had missed anything important in my old-school visual scanning of the issues on microfilm. Optical character recognition can be very spotty with nineteenth-century newspaper print, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many things I was able to locate. I still prefer the more immersive experience of reading the issues sequentially, but the search box is undeniably faster for “clean up” checking of proper names, etc.

One of the first names I wanted to search for was Wah Sing. To cover additional possibilities, I also checked terms such as “John Chinaman” and “Chinese laundry,” phrases often used in the reporting of the time. I uncovered a wealth of additional information about the Chinese laundry in Wellington. The dozen notices that I found disproved some of the suppositions I posed in my previous two posts about Wah Sing. I debated whether to remove those posts, but ultimately decided to leave them intact and use this entry to correct some of my mistakes.

By far, the most glaring error that I made was to assume that, given its rural setting, Wellington most likely had only one Chinese resident during the nineteenth-century. I painted Wah Sing as a highly unusual person, even in the context of Wellington’s fifteen percent foreign-born population, which I have noted several times. But this new information, which in turn caused me to reevaluate the materials I already had in hand, now allows me to report that I can record at least nine distinct Chinese individuals connected with the operation of a laundry in Public Square between 1884 and 1899.

In my original post on Wah Sing, I noted that the first published announcement I have found of a Chinese laundry in Wellington was made by Sone and Chong in December 1884.

By the summer of 1890, the newspaper was making reference to “our enterprising, live and let live Chinese laundryman, Col, Chas. Moon” and commented, “Charley is so different from the generality of his countrymen that he enjoys the respect of all who know him” (6-18-1890, pg. 5). Seven months later, a repeating series of notices announced that an unnamed “we” had purchased “the laundry business of Charley Moon” (1-28-1891, pg. 5).

The next time a Chinese individual appears in the Enterprise, it is in connection with the assault that I detailed in my first post on Wah Sing; I recounted the trial and sentencing of William Gulde and Clinton Wadsworth in a second post. The victim of that crime was referred to by multiple names, one of which was Thomas Chinsing. I erroneously assumed that this must actually be Wah Sing, and wrote the discrepancy off as the discriminatory reporting practices of a time when newspapers regularly used names such as “John Chinaman.” But I now know that Wah Sing did not move to Wellington until nearly two years after this attack.

It was therefore Thomas Chinsing, not Wah Sing, who had a cousin in Cleveland and a brother in Painesville. His brother was a telegraph operator who spoke fluent English and served as a translator at the assault trial in April 1891. There were four separate robberies of the laundry in the previous two years; how many proprietors the establishment had in that period remains a mystery.

In September 1892, The Wellington Enterprise noted, “A new John Chinaman arrives in town about every new moon to take charge of the laundry. It must be that the business doesn’t pay very well, or this place has become exceedingly attractive to them and they are all anxious to come and remain a short time” (9-14-1892, pg. 5). And indeed, in that year I find records of at least two other individuals connected to the laundry. In July, a man named Sing Lee apparently returned from Painesville after an absence of three months, as “the celestial that succeeded him in the laundry…failed to pay up and so John [Chinaman, i.e Sing Lee] came back and took possession” (7-20-1892, pg. 5). Was there a connection between Sing Lee and Thomas Chinsing, given that each had some association with Painesville? I don’t know, nor do I know anything about the “non-paying” individual who ran the operation for that three-month interval.

By October of the same year, the proprietor of the laundry was listed as Ham Yuen in a notice asserting that the business would not be relocating to North Main Street, but would remain in Public Square. And readers of the earlier post will recall that local historian Robert Walden also recorded a man named Charley Lee as Wah Sing’s immediate predecessor, but without giving any indication of what time period he lived in the village.

“The latest celestial to arrive has a new sign, which reads, ‘Wah Sing, Laundry'” announced the paper on December 21, 1892. (Astute readers may note that I have adjusted the dating on the photograph at the top of this post accordingly.) Federal census data indicates that Wah Sing emigrated to the United States sometime between 1878 and 1880–just prior to passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act–and made his way inland from the west coast, arriving in Wellington twelve years later. By 1896, he was contemplating a trip home to China “to visit his wife and children” (12-16-1896, pg. 5). He ran into some trouble with money; both the Enterprise and the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported that he loaned $300 to another Chinese individual who was either away without leaving his whereabouts or had deliberately absconded with the stolen funds, depending on which report you believe.

Whatever the truth of that incident, Wah Sing’s financial issues were somehow successfully resolved. In October 1897, he left Wellington to make the six-week journey home to China, with the intention of remaining away for nearly a year. He left the laundry in the care of his cousin, Gin Gim, and returned as he had promised in October 1898.

I cannot verify the accuracy of Robert Walden’s published memories. All of the incidents that I wrote about in my first post, Walden explicitly described as happening to “Waugh Sing.” Whether he was conflating memories of interactions with multiple Chinese laundrymen, I do not know. What I can say is that the few published mentions of Wah Sing in the last decade of the century may paint a very incomplete portrait of his life, but they do not necessarily suggest someone in total isolation and misery. Obviously Wah Sing was able to visit his family in China for nearly a year. He was noted several times traveling to friends in Cleveland, including attending a celebration of Chinese New Year in the city in 1899. There is evidence of community and connectedness for several of these men, despite the scantiness of the extant written record.

I found mentions of other Chinese laundries operating in nearby Oberlin and also in Newark, Ohio, about ninety miles south of Wellington (near the state capital, Columbus). The article about Newark was denouncing a series of attacks against “a couple of respectable Chinese laundrymen” in that town, in which white patrons were actually hiding explosives in their own laundry. The piece is worth quoting at some length: “And now the industrious foreigners can go on rinsing the sweat from white men’s shirts and perspiring over the polishing board as their lazy persecutors would not if they never had a change of clean underclothing. It is a national disgrace that a well-behaved Chinaman cannot walk a square in the streets of our cities without meeting with staring impudence and hooting insult, even from our well educated school children…Because he has not the bullying propensities of the Anglo-Saxon, and is physically weak, and is quiet, peacable, willing to work hard and to do his work well, he is everywhere imposed upon by our ‘superior race,’ and treated with such want of fairness and courtesy that it is no wonder the observing Celestial is not apt to think well of either the civilization or the religion of this country” (7-15-1880, pg. 2).

Did Wah Sing feel that he was treated with a “want of fairness and courtesy” by his Wellington neighbors? My fear is that there is no way to ever truly know. But then I recall that just a few days ago I though there was one man running the Chinese laundry, and now I know that there were many. That gives me hope that other sources of information may still exist that can offer more insight into this part of our history. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The palest ink is better than the best memory.” Our collective memory of this small community within our midst may have disappeared, but we can begin to reconstruct the evidence of their presence and thereby deepen our understanding of the true complexity of our shared past.