LIMA — Lima in March 1847 was a wide spot in a vanishing wilderness that fewer than 1,000 people called home.
But the town had a newspaper and, scattered among the latest dispatches from the Mexican War, the Lima Argus reached out to residents with ads from the town’s growing number of merchants, many promoting products offering cures for almost anything.
For instance, the hearty pioneer whose hair was vanishing faster than the wilderness was tempted by an ad from E.S. Linn’s store for Dr. Graham’s Tonic Hair Balm. Besides giving the hair a “beautiful luster and a fine glossy appearance,” the tonic “promotes the growth and prevents the falling off” of hair, the ad promised.
Linn’s also offered Hebrew Plaster, “obtained of a celebrated Jew doctor by a traveler in the European countries,” for the treatment of “rheumatism, spinal diseases, lame backs … corns, swelling, tumors, etc.” If the Hebrew Plaster didn’t do the trick, the New York Cash Store suggested its port wine could be used “for medical purposes …”
Among all the dubious claims, however, was an ad for a merchant offering a tried-and-true cure for common cold — coverlets. Made from wool, flax, cotton or hemp, coverlets were produced on looms in the home and were used as the outermost covering on a bed. They provided warmth at night and, with bright patterns woven in, a touch of decoration during the day.
With the introduction of the Jacquard attachment, which used a system of punch cards to guide the loom, designs such as flowers, birds, portraits and landscapes became possible. The introduction of the attachment around 1830 also meant the Jacquard coverlet became the province of professional weavers, who often put their names, towns or some identifying design into a weaver’s block in the corner of their coverlets.
In Lima in 1847, the most prominent weaver was John H. Meily. His ad in the Argus gave instructions for the exact amount of yarn needed for a coverlet, offered to dye the wool and noted cotton warp yarn could be purchased at various shops in Lima. “Meily used a distinctive identification in his weaver’s block — two small cornucopia and the words ‘Lima/Ohio,’” Patricia A. Cunningham wrote in the spring 1984 edition of the Northwest Ohio Quarterly. “The date, Meily’s name and the client’s name do not appear anywhere on the coverlet.”
When Meily died on Christmas Day 1883, the Lima Times-Democrat noted that when he settled in Lima in 1842 “the primeval forest stretched away on every hand over what is now beautiful farms …”
Meily was born of German immigrant parents in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, in 1817. He migrated to Mansfield in 1836 before coming to Lima in 1842, moving into an empty cabin in the 100 block of North Main Street. He subsequently bought a two-room home in the 200 block of North Main Street, using one room for the loom and the other as living space. He produced coverlets and rugs on the site until approximately 1850. Meily, the Times-Democrat wrote, learned weaving from his father.
After selling the weaving business, Meily, according to the Times-Democrat, built the first foundry in Allen County. He then moved on to the production of bricks, some of which were used to construct the Meily block on North Main Street, and sold agricultural implements before “finally engaging in real estate business until his ultimate retirement from active life.”
According to Cunningham, after Meily built the foundry, another weaver, John Adams, may have taken over Meily’s coverlet and carpet factory, continuing to use the cornucopia design in the weaver’s block. Adams, born in Germany in 1812, is believed to have produced surviving coverlets, one of which reads “Westminster, Allen Co. O.” in the weaver’s block, while the other reads “Roundhead/Hardin Co.” The 1850 census lists Adams as a weaver living in Auglaize Township. He moved to Roundhead about 1856 and died there 25 years later.
Some of the region’s weavers apparently were as colorful as the coverlets they produced. A local history noted that W. Bichel, who made coverlets in Bellefontaine in the mid-1830s, “was evidently a very difficult man to get along with. He spent part of his free time quarreling with his wife and the rest reading the Bible to her. At one point after she spoke back to him, he hit her on the head with the Bible. They finally divorced. He left Bellefontaine, Ohio, and several years later she married a tailor.”
Although professional weavers produced most coverlets after the advent of the Jacquard attachment, some were still made in the home. Among the coverlets donated to the Allen County Historical Society is one made by Mrs. Daniel C. Vaughn about 1858. “Mother Vaughn was well known by a great many people, and though somewhat peculiar in her ways, was greatly respected for her kind disposition and Christian character,” the Putnam County Sentinel wrote when she died in October 1879, adding, “she lived her time and died of old age, not sickness or disease.”
A native of Wales, Mrs. Vaughn came to the United States in 1824. Mrs. Vaughn and her husband “settled where the town of Vaughnsville now stands, which was laid out by them and from which it has taken its name,” the Sentinel wrote. She outlived her husband and three children.
A coverlet donated by Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Clevenger of Putnam County was made by Hugh Gilchrist, who learned weaving in his native Scotland. Gilchrist eventually settled in Indiana, building a loom house of logs 16 feet high.
William Marion Clouse, a veteran of the Civil War who was born and lived most of his life in Van Wert County, wove another of the coverlets donated to the historical society. Others were produced by Letitia McCoy, a native of West Virginia who married Milton Bowdle and lived most of her adult life in Auglaize Township. Charles Tharp, of Bath Township, also produced one of the donated coverlets.
Many of the coverlets produced at the end of the 18th century fell prey to what the Encyclopedia of Collectibles described as the pioneers’ “thrifty habit of using something until it falls to pieces …”
“A coverlet too tattered for display on the bed would be given a second career as a horse blanket. Farmers have used old coverlets to protect produce on the way to market,” according to the encyclopedia.
The popularity of the later Jacquard coverlet faded after the Civil War and many of the looms in the 1870s and 1880s were turned to the production of rugs. The coverlets made on the Jacquard-controlled hand looms “became the most wanted coverlets in the second quarter of the 19th century, and today are the ones that most collectors want,” the encyclopedia noted.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.