LIMA — Eva Canary Stewart, who was born July 10, 1863, and who lived in Lima for 80 of her 86 years, was no stranger to hard work. Eva worked various jobs, from cigar-making to sewing, washing, scrubbing, cleaning others’ homes and even growing and selling garden products. Records from the Allen County Courthouse show that before, during and after Eva started her business making vanilla extract, she did what it took to take care of herself and her family.
Before she created her business, on Nov. 29, 1884, Eva Canary married John W. Stewart. The union was not a happy one, according to a report in the Sept. 15, 1890, edition of The Lima Daily Times.
“A tired wife. She seeks divorce from a useless and brutal husband,” read the headlines.
“Eva Stewart: on Saturday last, filed suit for divorce from her husband, John W., whom she charges with neglect of duty and cruelty. He has failed to support her and her three children, and has repeatedly struck and beaten her. The defendant is a son of the late John Stewart, of Bath Township, who died several weeks ago.
“He (John W. Stewart) has been in the Ohio penitentiary for stealing a horse from his father, selling it at Westminster, pocketing the money and running away. The old gentleman replevined the horse from the purchaser and the thief was arrested, tried, convicted and served his term. He afterwards married Eva Canary, who now seeks divorce from him. The Stewarts have been living on the South Side for some time,” according to the story.
Eva asked for custody of their children and reasonable alimony from John. She also requested that he not be able to dispose of his share of his father’s estate. For unknown reasons, the divorce was dismissed and no record was made.
As almost 23 years passed, Eva Stewart filed for divorce from John several times, but each case was dismissed without record — until April 12, 1913. Court records indicate that Judge W. Klinger granted Eva a divorce and an annulment of her marriage to John W. Stewart.
According to Lima’s city directory, in 1906-7, John W. Stewart was a lineman and Eva was a cigar maker. The couple is recorded as living separately; Eva resided at 474 N. West St. while John lived at 139 Pearl. Shortly after this, John Stewart was admitted to the Allen County Infirmary, where various news reports indicate he lived for more than 30 years.
The Allen County Infirmary, which was another name for Poorhouse or Poor Farm, was a tax-supported residential institution where people went if they could not support themselves for whatever reasons, including illness. Stewart was reported to be one of the best-liked inmates at the infirmary.
Eva Stewart began her business, Mrs. Eva Stewart’s Vanilla Extract, in 1906. She and John had six children: Frank, Clarence, Clara, Evelyn, Edward and Charles. Eva hoped the money earned through her business would help support the family.
Her vanilla extract proved to be successful enough that the business was still going strong 25 years later. An ad in a local newspaper in 1931 says “WANTED, five hundred housewives to use Mrs. Eva Stewart’s Vanilla. Celebrating our Twenty-Fifth Anniversary. Two bottles for the price of one. Delivery service.”
Prices for the extract, according to a Nov. 28, 1922, advertisement, ranged from 25 cents for 2 ounces, to $1 for a pint. In an April 17, 1929, ad, a special offer is reported: Buy one 50-cent half pint bottle and get one free.
Although no records are found of any legal disputes, in a March 16, 1932, advertisement, readers might wonder if some kind of competition or rivalry existed between Eva Stewart and her son, Edward. The following ad gives Eva’s name and address: “Notice to vanilla users: The vanilla sold by Ed. Stewart & Co. is not vanilla manufactured by Mrs. Eva Stewart, of 25 years in Lima. ‘2 bottles for price of one.’ Mrs. Eva Stewart, 302 McPheron.”
In a July 30, 1933, advertisement, a notice which gives a different business name along with Edward’s address states, “Notice: All Stewart Extract Co. products carry the name ‘Stewart’ Extracts on the bottle. Don’t be deceived by salesmen selling inferior brands and representing them as Stewart products. Our company has manufactured quality extracts for 20 years and gives a money-back guarantee. Stewart Extract Co., 1120 E. North St.”
John W. Stewart died at age 77 on Dec. 31, 1933; Eva Stewart, 86, died on March 14, 1949. Edward Stewart continued to run the Stewart Extract Co. business until 1973, said Edward’s grandson, Dick Stewart.
Dave Courtney, also Edward Stewart’s grandson, said that Edward was forced to sell the business, which was bought by James O’Neill and moved to Venedocia.
“Ed Stewart received pressure from the health department regarding the fact that he was making a food product and doing taxidermy work in the same facility. Being unable to meet the requirements to produce a food product, he was forced to sell the business,” Courtney said.
Dick Stewart has memories of helping his grandfather with the extracts. Edward died Nov. 29, 1979.
“I remember my grandmother and father and Edward bottled that product along with food colorings and flavorings in the basement of 443 E. McKibben St. All the work was done by hand,” said Stewart.
“(The extracts) are hand bottled and hand labeled still,” said Courtney. “I recall as a 7- or 8-year-old traveling around to the small-town groceries to deliver his extract products. Many times, we would come back with a station-wagon load of vegetable and fruit products and other store products — so trade was definitely involved,” he said.