LIMA — Sitting atop a still-producing oil field with an expanding industrial base and a population that had more than tripled in the previous 25 years, Lima’s future, the Times-Democrat assured its readers in a story on Dec. 23, 1905, was looking very good.
Under the headline “Lima: A City of Golden Promise,” the Times-Democrat gushed that the city was “seated like an empress amid the regal splendor of her glorious empire” and, possessed “of every attribute essential to the making of a city of mammoth proportions, Lima may be termed the metropolis of a wide expanse of nourishing territory.” In case readers missed the point, the story added that “brains and grit, together with enlarged opportunities for profitable business operations tell the story of the rise of a splendid city that is not wanting in a single element of the highest modern civilization.”
To back up its bragging, the Times-Democrat ticked off a list of businesses that was indeed impressive, and long. Among the many on the list were, the National Roofing Tile Co., the East Iron & Machine Co., the Lima Pork Packing Co., the Star Iron Works and the Economy Machine Co. The Eagle Stave Co. turned out staves and hoops for barrels and Model Mills produced Pride of Lima Flour. Lima residents in 1905 could enjoy a cigar rolled at the Deisel-Wemmer Co. and a beer from the Imperial Brewing Co. on a passenger train pulled by a steam engine from Lima Locomotive and Machine Co.
There was even, according the newspaper, an increase in the “number of drink-dispensing establishments.” And for all plumbing and heating needs, which were growing as buildings from homes to hotels installed indoor plumbing and heat that didn’t involve piling logs in a fireplace, there was the Lima Plumbing & Heating Co.
“The Lima Plumbing & Heating Co. is the oldest and most completely equipped establishment of its kind in the city. This business was founded by Baxter & Co., who were succeeded by A.C. Reichelderfer. In February 1905, the present company assumed the ownership, having been incorporated under the Ohio laws, with a capital of $10,000, paid in,” the newspaper wrote.
“Their display rooms, office and work shop are at 71 Public Square …,” the newspaper continued. “The officers of the company are C.M. Cantieny, President, and Victory Gonnella, Secretary and Treasurer. The above gentlemen, together with C.C. Cowles and Henry Roach, constitute the board of directors. All are well known in business circles, and by reason of the excellence of their workmanship and their high circles, the are able to command the most extensive patronage of any similar institution in Lima.”
Baxter & Co., the forerunner of Lima Plumbing & Heating, was formed in the early 1880s. “A.C. Baxter Jr. & Co. have opened out on East High Street with a complete and full stock of gas fixtures, and the requisites of a first-class plumbing establishment,” the Allen County Democrat wrote on Nov. 17, 1881. “Alf is a well-known young man and will give satisfaction to all who give him work.”
Judging by the absence of advertising from other firms in the 1880s, A.C. Baxter, Jr., & Co. was one of the few options available. Ads from 1885 described the firm as “the only first-class plumbing, gas and steam fitting establishment in the county.” The ad promised Baxter & Co. could fill needs for lead pipe, sheet lead, iron pipe and fittings, bath tubs, sinks, and a full line of goods for steam and water pipe fitting.
The field got much more crowded in the 1890s as Lima boomed thanks to the 1885 discovery of oil. Cantieny, Cowles and Gonnella all were involved with other plumbing companies before coming together as the Lima Plumbing & Heating Co. The newly formed company eventually moved to expanded quarters at 125 E. Spring St., a building formerly occupied by O.F. Rasor Truck and Storage Co.
As Lima grew and new buildings went up, Lima Plumbing & Heating was often awarded contracts for their plumbing and heating needs. One of the first, awarded in September 1905, was for plumbing work on an addition to the county infirmary. The company won with a bid of $245.
The first decade of the 20th century also was the decade of President Theodore Roosevelt, who gained much of his notoriety for breaking up the trusts, the corporate conglomerations he felt restrained trade. Trust busting zeal trickled down to the local level and, in 1906, even ensnared Lima Plumbing & Heating.
On Oct. 10, 1906, the Allen County Grand Jury handed up indictments against the operators of Lima Plumbing & Heating, among others, in what the Times-Democrat declared “must now be known as the Plumbers’ Trust.”
“The history of the prosecution against this alleged Plumbers Trust goes hand in hand with the investigation at last spring’s session of the grand jury,” the Times-Democrat wrote. “At that time attention was called by several parties to existing prices of plumbers and lumber dealers, and the prosecutor was urged to take on an investigation.”
On March 16, 1907, according to the Dayton Herald, the Allen County Plumbers’ Trust acknowledged its guilt and “threw itself on he mercy of the court.” The court was merciful, assessing fines of $50 each against five, and the indictments against six others, not held as principals, were nolled.”
Lima Plumbing & Heating got back to plumbing and heating. Among the projects the company worked on in the 1920s were the Cambridge and Argonne hotels, the City Loan building and the W.T. Grant store. Ownership of the business eventually passed on to Walter C. Milnor and Harley Hall, who would run the business jointly until Milnor, citing illness, withdrew from the partnership in April 1949. By 1953, the company was being operated by Hall and Kermit Graessle.
Lima Plumbing & Heating remained a fixture at 125 E. Spring St. until it went out of business in July 1975.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.