LIMA — Benjamin F. Matthews was born to Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Matthews in Perry County, Ohio, in 1854. Benjamin Matthews was well known as one of Lima’s most prominent architects.
Matthews lived on his father’s farm in Athens County until he was 14, when he went to Nelsonville to finish high school. After leaving school, Matthews learned carpentry and worked in a planing mill, where cut and seasoned boards from a sawmill were turned into finished lumber. He also worked in various building operations, which led to his interest in mechanical drawing and designing.
Matthews married Lizzie Powell in 1886; the couple had three sons: Orval H, Lewis P. and Burl B.
In 1891, Matthews went to Columbus, where he worked as draftsman and superintendent with John Flynn, who was a respected architect in Columbus. During his three years of studying and working with Flynn, Matthews assisted in making designs for six fire department buildings, St. Mary’s Academy and other important city structures.
For one year, when he felt competent to enter the field as an architect, Matthews formed a partnership with H.C. Jones. Then from 1895 until 1898, Matthews worked on his own, honing his skills as an architect in Columbus. He had many commissions there and in towns surrounding Columbus.
In 1899, Matthews opened an office in Lima, where he employed two draftsmen and kept busy designing and supervising the construction of buildings.
According to a June 20, 1905, news report, Matthews submitted a plan for a contagion detention hospital, with two stories and a basement.
“His estimated cost for a frame building with a shingle roof is $5,500, or a brick veneer with a slate roof for $500 additional. This estimate includes a hot air system of heating.”
But because there were no other plans submitted and at least one other firm seeking permission to present their ideas, the matter was referred back to the Board of Public Service with directions to invite competition from all local architects who wanted to submit plans.
An April 23, 1910, news story reported that the Methodist Episcopal congregation in Lafayette had hired Matthews to prepare plans for a new temple of worship, which would cost about $10,000.
“It is to be a handsome and modern structure, with ample seating capacity and it will be a building that the citizens of the enterprising little town can well be proud of,” stated the report.
A few months later, in late June 1910, thousands were in Athens to attend a dedication of the Athens Masonic temple, which Matthews designed. The new Masonic building was completed at a cost of $50,000.
Among the many business and public buildings and personal residences credited to Matthews are the following: City Market House; the grandstand at the Lima Driving Park; the pavilion at McCullough Lake; the Adgate Building; Dr. Johnson’s residence apartments; and the homes of W.B. Van Note, A. L. White, (later T.R. Schoonover), W.T. Agerter, E.M. Gooding, R.T. Gregg, Oscar W. Bell and George Mehaffey.
Bell’s home at 1056 W. Market St. and Mehaffey’s at 1044 W. Market St. are still standing today. Agerter’s residence at 1405 Lakewood Ave. is now Agerter Condominiums.
Matthews died at age 62 on Oct. 27, 1916, at his home at 843 W. Spring St., after an illness that lasted for more than two years.
Matthews’ son, Orval, attended The Ohio State University in Columbus and assisted his father with his work. He later became an architect. Another son, Burl, died Nov. 26, 1918, in France. He was serving in World War I when he fell ill with influenza.
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