LIMA — The 500 block of West Market Street has changed much since the elegant homes of old Lima families like the Dowlings, Neals and Deringers lined the street in the late 19th century. Today the block is home to a Rite Aid drug store, Frank’s car wash, a McDonald’s and other reminders that the 19th century was a long time ago.
But, standing between the Sleep Center of Lima and Sherwin Williams Paint store on the north side of the block is a two-story, red-brick survivor of that earlier time. Since 2007 the building at 540 W. Market St. has been the home of the Huffman, Kelley, Brock and Gottschalk law firm. But, when it opened nearly 110 years ago, it was, as Lima’s Republican-Gazette described it, “a handsome, modern apartment house,” which would become home to many prominent Lima residents.
The apartment house, which was named the Marquette and contained four units, was erected beginning in 1910 by banker Ernest T. Mitchell, whose roots in Lima ran very deep. Led by Ernest Mitchell’s grandfather, John Porter Mitchell, the Mitchells were the second family to arrive on the town site, moving into an unoccupied cabin in 1831. John Porter Mitchell built and operated a tavern on Lima’s Public Square and was one of Allen County’s first commissioners.
Ernest Mitchell’s father, Thornton Taylor Mitchell, was a saddler and harness maker who became a banker. As a child, The Lima News noted in a 1925 story, the Shawnee chief Quilna “became greatly attached” to 4-year-old Thornton T. Mitchell and would often “obtain permission of the parents to take (Thornton) to the Shawnee settlement” which was near the intersection of Fort Amanda and Shawnee roads “where the lad was entertained in primitive regal manner for four or five days at a time.”
In 1878, Thornton T. Mitchell became associated with S.A. and A.C. Baxter and the organizers of the City Bank of Lima. Three years later, Thornton T. Mitchell bought out A.C. Baxter. He turned the bank over to his son Elmer B. Mitchell about 1889. Ernest Mitchell eventually acquired a third interest and, on Thornton T. Mitchell’s death in 1907, another of his sons, Thornton W. Mitchell, became a partner.
Besides being a partner in the bank, Ernest Mitchell, who was born in 1864, was a partner with F.J. Banta in the candy business and owned and operated a shoe store known as the Famous on the Public Square.
In the summer of 1910, Ernest Mitchell was the driving force behind the construction of the Marquette. “E.T. Mitchell is making preparations for the erection of a handsome modern apartment house, which will be erected next to his residence on West Market Street. It will occupy the site of the old Nicholas home, which is now being moved for that purpose,” the Lima Republican-Gazette reported Aug. 30, 1910.
The building opened the following year. According to a classified ad in the Lima Daily News on Dec. 17, 1911, “A first class front room on ground floor (apartment), with gas for lights and heat, suitable for two gentlemen or man and wife” was available for rent.
In addition to the “gas for lights and heat,” tenants of the Marquette could say they lived in a building planned and erected under the supervision of McLaughlin and Hulsken architects of Lima. The architects, who rated a 28-page story in the September 1911 issue of Ohio Architect and Engineer magazine, had, among other buildings, designed Memorial Hall, the Elks Club, the tuberculosis hospital, the Carnegie library and the mausoleum of the S.A. Baxter family in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Peter Hulsken was a native of the Netherlands, who moved to Lima in 1909 after working in New York City, Detroit and Toledo. McLaughlin, who designed the Marquette, was a Lima High School graduate who earned a degree in architecture from Columbia University in New York City before returning to his hometown to design some of its most iconic buildings.
Over the years, the four apartments in the Marquette would be home to up-and-coming doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Among the earliest tenants was Thornton W. Mitchell, the brother of owner Ernest Mitchell.
In 1915, Thornton W. Mitchell, the young father of two children, was killed in an automobile accident near Indian Lake. “Thornton W. Mitchell, well known banker and secretary of the Lima Driving Park association, met his death almost instantly last night about 7 o’clock on the highway between Lakeview and Russell’s Point when he was struck by one automobile and run over by another,” the News wrote Sept. 7, 1915. Mitchell was walking along the highway after inspecting a farm in the area.
Tragedy again touched the Mitchell family in 1921. “Mrs. Herbert Mitchell Baxter, 31, Mitchell (Marquette) Apartments, 540 W. Market St., was almost instantly killed and her husband, H.F. Baxter, was injured when an automobile in which they were riding and being driven by Mr. Baxter overturned a half mile south of Hume on the Wapakoneta Road shortly before 1 o’clock Friday afternoon,” the News reported Feb. 25, 1921. Mrs. Baxter (Marguerite Mitchell) was the daughter of the Ernest Mitchell and had been living with her mother and father in their Marquette apartment. Herbert F. Baxter was the grandson of S.A. Baxter.
Ernest Mitchell died May 6, 1925, in a Toledo hospital, where he had been taken two months earlier because of heart trouble. He was three days past his 61st birthday. Exactly three years after his death, the Marquette was sold.
“John H. ‘Jack’ Wallace, retired businessman, of 1062 W. Elm St., Tuesday closed a deal with the trustees of the estate of the late Ernest T. Mitchell, whereby he became the owner of the Marquette Apartments, 540 W. Market St. The consideration was given as $40,000 …,” the News reported May 6, 1930. “The building contains four apartments that are modern in every detail. Several thousand dollars will be expended by the new owner in remodeling of the structure and in construction of several garages at the rear of the building. ….”
In September 2006, the Marquette was acquired by the law firm of Huffman, Kelley, Becker & Brock, who were looking for expanded quarters in the downtown area. “The building, just west of the new Lima Sleep Center and across the street from the Perry Building, was famous for its luxury apartments, large rooms, high ceilings and the marble entryway with a script ‘M,’ the News wrote Sept. 19, 2006.
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