LIMA — By all accounts, Adelia Satterthwait was a woman of “peculiar habits.”
In April 1941, The Lima News ticked off some of them: She often was seen about town “dressed in a style that had been outmoded 50 years;” Her house was not wired for electricity and she would not “fire the furnace even on the coldest of days;” And, although she cherished a military sash worn by her grandfather, Gen. William Blackburn, she allowed his grave in an East Wayne Street Cemetery to fall into disrepair.
“The cause of the elderly lady’s peculiar habits was never determined as she minded nobody’s business and cared to have nobody mind hers,” the News added.
That a newspaper would care to mind her business nearly five years after her death was the result of something else peculiar about Adelia Satterthwait: In the depths of the Great Depression she was rich, really rich. “Her accumulation was apparently the result of years of the utmost frugality and wise and lucrative investments, added to her original inheritance from her father, Lima’s first dentist,” the News explained.
When Adelia Satterthwait died at the age of 80 in July 1936 she left an estate estimated at nearly $1 million (the equivalent of about $17 million today) to be divided among a handful of relatives — and a trust fund for unmarried women over 50 years of age. She had never married and was often described as a “recluse” or a “spinster.”
Adelia Satterthwait was among the second generation of one of Lima’s pioneer families. Her father, Barclay A. Satterthwait, was “of old Quaker stock,” according to the News. Her mother, Eliza, was the daughter of Gen. William Blackburn, who served in the Ohio Militia during the War of 1812.
Barclay Satterthwait was the son of Richard and Rebecca Wright Satterthwait, whose names appear often in the meeting rolls of Philadelphia-area Quakers in the early 19th century. The Satterthwait family eventually settled in Columbiana County in eastern Ohio. Barclay Satterthwait and three of his brothers settled in Allen County around 1840.
James Malkin Satterthwait was a shoemaker. When he died at the age of 87 in April 1905, the Lima Times-Democrat wrote that he was “popularly known among many of the older citizens of Lima as ‘Uncle Jimmy.’” Born in Philadelphia, “The deceased resided in this city most of the time since 1839 and was one of the city’s number of prosperous pioneer citizens. His wife died a year ago last February and they are survived by four daughters and two sons.”
Joseph Wright Satterthwait also was born in Philadelphia and had lived in Lima for approximately 50 years at the time of his death at 70 years of age in 1894. A silversmith, he married three times and fathered three children.
Isaac W. Satterthwait was born in Columbiana County in 1829. According to an 1885 history of Allen County, Isaac W. Satterthwait “was educated in Columbiana County, and early learned the jewelry trade. In 1850 he opened a store in Lima, where he conducted a successful business until 1883, when he retired, having laid up a nice competence. He was married March 5, 1855, to Martha, daughter of Dr. McHenry, who is the oldest physician and one of the first in the county.”
An 1857 ad in the Allen County Democrat declares that “I.W. Satterthwait dealer in clocks, watches and jewelry (in the) southwest corner of the Public Square has just received a large assortment of ladies and gents breast pins.” Satterthwait eventually moved the business into what became known as the Satterthwait block at 135-139 N. Main St. At the end of the 19th century he moved his family to the Los Angeles area where Martha died in 1901. Isaac Satterthwait died in California at the age of 93 in 1922.
Barclay Satterthwait operated his dental practice out of an office in the northeast corner of the Public Square. He served Lima as postmaster in 1844, was elected treasurer in 1846, and trustee in 1847 and again in 1851.
When, as the Times-Democrat reported Sept. 23, 1908, the 93-year-old Barclay Satterthwait “answered the final summons,” he was one of the oldest residents of Allen County. Besides his other interests, “He also followed the work of silversmithing and in the pursuit of his work invented a vulcanized rubber plate for dental uses, which invention brought him much wealth. He always took an interest in real estate investments in which his judgment proved good, the properties owned by him growing rapidly in value. This line of investment attracted him to other cities and at the time of death he was the owner of valuable real estate in Dayton. A number of years past he had spent a great deal of his time in the Gem City.”
Despite all of his involvements, the Times-Democrat concluded, Barclay Satterthwait “was a peculiar character and his intimate friends were few.” He was survived by younger brother, Isaac, about 22 cousins and his “peculiar” daughter Adelia, who “lived alone in the imposing structure at Union and Spring streets and had no close friends.”
She did have lots of property.
On April 6, 1936, she fell at the YWCA and suffered a fractured hip. She died a little more than three months later of complications from the injury. “Miss Satterthwait was owner of the Sherwood block on the Public Square; numerous properties in the uptown district on East Market Street; Munch Garage building on North Union Street; a large lot in Pierce and McDonel streets; more than 100 acres south of Lima; a property at 137 E. Spring St. and a block in the center of the business section of Dayton, Ohio,” the News wrote July 21, 1936. “There were no immediate relatives and only a few distant relatives. She had no club or lodge affiliations but was a member of the Lutheran church.”
The “large lot” between Pierce and McDonel streets would become the site of the original Lima Senior High School.
On July 30, 1936, the News reported, “The somber, weather-beaten brick home in Union and Spring streets, sheltered by huge shade trees saw more activity Wednesday than it had in years as cousins gathered following the admission of the will to probate by Judge Raymond P. Smith. The privacy and reticence she so cherished in life, however, now appears to be broken. Rumors about town are to the effect that the will of Miss Satterthwait will be contested.”
Within weeks the lawsuits rolled in from those left out of the will, which was not settled until April 1941 with the auction of the “last of the fortune that took a lifetime” for Adelia Satterthwait to accumulate. “The 21 forgotten heirs pushed their case to the limit and the 14 ‘remembered’ heirs sacrificed a portion of their shares to enable the others to share,” the News wrote.
While the distribution of her estate occupied the attention of the heirs, Adelia Satterthwait’s fund for unmarried women captured national attention. Newspapers and radio stations across the country reported on the fund after the will was revealed in July 1936.
The News reported Aug. 24, 1936, that an inquiry had been received from 62-year-old Lena Albers, of Atwood, Illinois, who had heard a radio report about the fund. “She added that she is very much interested in the particulars, ‘as I think I qualify.’”
The property in downtown Dayton was bequeathed to the trustees of the English Lutheran Church of Dayton to be “used for the aid and assistance and benefit of maiden ladies over 50 years of age in the Ohio Synod and particularly in Montgomery County,” according to the News.
With the sale of the last of Adelia Satterthwait’s Lima properties, the News wrote in 1941, “executors hope to write ‘finis’ to one of the most unusual cases recorded in Allen County courts.”
Next week: The Satterthwait block.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.