LIMA — A photography studio, part of Lima history, was drawn into the dirt because of the malice of its new owner.
The southwest quadrant of the Town Square was once known as Bowdle’s Block after the family that helped to build it. The Bowdles wouldn’t just build the block, however, they would also open up a prolific shop there. This shop was a photography studio that would serve the Lima community for decades until an unfortunate scandal in 1896.
The origin of the area can be traced to the Rev. Milton Bowdle and his family who were responsible for its construction. As such, they were honored by having their family name attached to the area in the 1870s. One of Milton’s sons, Elisha T. Bowdle, would go on to open up a photography studio in the third story of a building on his namesake block. Photography was still an advancing field in the day of Elisha T. Bowdle.
The Lima News on Nov. 20, 1879, announced, “E.T. Bowdle has fitted up a new photograph gallery in the Bowdle Block, southwest corner of the Public Square. As the rooms were built expressly for this business, and he has the best material and operators, he guarantees the finest class of work at low prices.”
Bowdle wasn’t alone in his studio. Cassius Jones Young, a fellow photographer, aided him in the operation of this studio. As business picked up, Bowdle also hired assistants Harry Hiner and Samuel M. John. Due to the passion of these photographers, this small photography studio became popular.
Eventually, Elisha T. Bowdle’s other duties as an evangelist began to eat into his job as a photographer. Harry Hiner offered to take over the shop and bought it in April 1891.
The son of Dr. Solomon Hiner, founder of the Lima City Hospital, Harry Hiner began to perfect his art. A story from the Lima Daily News April 22, 1893, noted the quality of Hiner’s craft. “That he is a natural artist, no one who examines his pictures can deny. There is a life and tone to them.”
This was when the legacy of the store began to grow compromised from within.
In about 1895, Hiner left the photography business to become a telegraph operator. By 1896, the photography studio was passed into the hands of S.L. Hubbard. Unlike the shop’s two previous operators, Hubbard was not a photographer. He was a con artist. As he opened up his new studio, Hubbard went around town offering outrageously good deals on photography sessions — paid for up front.
Given the quality of the previous two owners’ work, Limaites seemed eager to take advantage of S.L. Hubbard’s offer. When the date came for everyone to have their pictures taken, they found out Hubbard had taken their money and skipped town. This led to a humorous editorial from the Oct. 9, 1896, issue of the Allen County Republican Gazette which remarked, “He’s Gone. Picture man contracted a lot of work, collected a pile of money, and then, well, he’s gone.”
Little is recorded of the photography studio after this took place, but the shop was purchased by a company known as Duffield and Hughes. This pair attempted to reboot the studio to its original glory, but the damage to its credibility was absolute by this point. From here, the building and the block itself would change hands various times until it would lose its name of Bowdle. Its history would end with the purchase and construction of Veterans Memorial Civic Center, where it once stood.
As for the photographers, Elisha Bowdle would continue his life as an evangelist until he died in 1943. Harry Hiner would pass away in relative obscurity after a life of working odd jobs after his photography work. Cassius Jones Young moved to Hampton, Ohio, after he was done working in Lima and opened up his own successful studio there. Samuel M. John would follow suit, opening up a studio in Kenton.
These four men worked to bring the field of photography to Lima and other Ohio cities. Today, longtime Lima residents possess photographs of their ancestors marked with the original E.T. Bowdle Photography logo.
Reach Andrew Ewry at firstname.lastname@example.org.