LIMA — As a young boy, Branson Harley Holmes fell in love with the violin; as a young man, he fell in love with Helen Hope Burton. Hope and Harley, as they were known, would be together 64 years, much of it spent in the pursuit of art.
Harley Holmes was born Aug. 9, 1887 — “at elderberry time,” his son, Burton Holmes, wrote in a January 1977 letter to The Lima News — to prominent Lima residents Frank W. and May Harley Holmes. His grandparents, Branson P. and Jane W. Holmes arrived in Allen County from Granville in the 1840s. Harley grew up in a home at 212 N. Elizabeth St.
“The Holmes family is one of the oldest in the county,” a 1905 county history noted. “For over 33 years, Branson P. Holmes, father of Frank W., was a successful merchant at Lima and was an acknowledged founder of the city’s prosperity.” Frank W. Holmes was president of Fidelity Coal & Supply Co. “and has been identified for years with the oil and other industries of this section … ,” according to the history.
“Music, though, was and is Harley’s forte,” The Lima News columnist Hope Strong wrote July 2, 1972, “and at age 8 (he) began his lifelong affair with the violin.”
The Lima Citizen, in a Feb. 22, 1962, story, wrote that “Harley recalled a visit to a cousin’s home where he tried his musical aptitude. He was just 8 and after his ‘thrilling experience’ with the violin asked to take lessons.”
Burton Holmes recalled that his father also mastered a second instrument, trombone, and “was active with several dance orchestras and played professional gigs at such famous places as Lake Winona and as far distant as Birmingham, Alabama.”
After graduating from Michigan Military Academy in Orchard Lake, Michigan, Harley enrolled in the University of Michigan and “with the aid of his trombone” became a member of the University’s marching band. He was graduated from Michigan in 1909 and went to New York City, where his oldest brother, Van Cleve, held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, to study law at Columbia University.
Yet he still found time for music. While in law school “he formed an orchestral group to provide dinner music for guests at the Hotel Lennox in Manhattan,” his son wrote. “Following graduation from law school, he became a member of the New York Bar and an associate of Corbitt & Stern, a distinguished Wall Street law firm. At the same time, he managed to find time to teach violin at the Henry Street Settlement as well as at the Cornwell Heights School on Storm King Mountain overlooking the Hudson River.”
Then, while home for a visit, the young lawyer met Helen Hope Burton.
Hope was born Feb. 3, 1892, in Westminster to Dr. E.G. and Emma Jane Brown Burton. She was graduated from Lima High School in 1910, attended Washington Seminary and was an accomplished poet and sculptor. Her sister, Edna, dubbed Edna de Lima by an early voice teacher, sang professionally for many years in Europe. Hope and Harley married on July 3, 1912.
In his 1977 letter, Burton Holmes described his mother as “the dominant inspiration” for his father’s career.
Harley passed the Ohio Bar and set up a private practice in Lima. The couple moved into 1321 Lakewood Ave., “a seven-room house designed by Mrs. Holmes and completed by workmen — except for the front door, which somehow was lost — while the couple was on their wedding trip to the Adirondacks,” the Citizen noted.
Harley dabbled in politics during this time, winning election as a justice of the peace. “He happily remembers marrying numerous Lima couples,” his son wrote, “and sadly recalls having to officiate at their separations.” He also remained active in music, serving as director of the Faurot Opera House Orchestra. He also often assembled local musicians to perform concerts in the Public Square and Faurot Park.
In the early 1920s, he yielded to his longtime passion for music and, with the help of his friend Lincoln G. Dickey, general manager of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, joined that organization as a violinist. The Sept. 16, 1924, edition of Cleveland Topics magazine, described what, besides the practice of law, the orchestra’s new violinist sacrificed to make the move.
“The garden reaches to the confines of the public park, wild woodbirds mingle their notes with the more conventional strains within doors, and inviting table and chairs lure one to tea upon the lawn, flowers bloom along the borders of the garden walks,” the magazine wrote of Hope and Harley’s home on Lakewood Avenue in Lima, “but forsaking these paths of peace the young musician and his artistic wife choose the confinement of a Cleveland apartment hotel for the 32 weeks of the symphony season. The violinist husband will for this coming winter conduct a professional ensemble at Fenway Hall. In his studio there he will impart to young Clevelanders who become his pupils (many of them it is to be hoped) some of his enthusiasm and reverence for the art of music, and will help them secure the joy in violin playing which has come to him.”
In 1925, Harley joined the faculty of the Western Reserve Academy in Hudson to help organize an orchestra at the school. The following year, he moved his family to Hudson and divided his time between the school there and the Cleveland Symphony.
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Hope and Harley came home and moved into a house at 1630 Shawnee Road. “Returning to Lima,” Hope Strong wrote in 1972, “he taught orchestral music, primarily the violin, at the request of the then head of school music (for Lima schools) … a position he filled until the mandatory age of retirement, 70.”
“At the same time,” Burton Holmes noted in his letter, “he enjoyed teaching violin, in the classical tradition, to countless numbers of Lima’ younger citizens … . With his wife Hope, and others, he helped form the Friends of Music of Northwestern Ohio and for many years served on its executive committee.”
On July 11, 1976, a little more than a week after their 64th wedding anniversary and her 84th birthday, Hope died. The anniversary was the last time Hope and Harley, by now a resident of the Lima Convalescent Home, had been together. Besides her involvement with the Friends of Music, Hope had been a member of the former Women’s Music Club, the Art Study Group, the Lima Art Association and the Lima Symphony Orchestra Guild.
Less than a year later, on May 30, 1977, 89-year-old Harley died. The couple is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.