LIMA — As knots of people gathered along West Market Street to watch, the 1902 version of the future of inter-city transportation made its noisy Lima debut.
Around 12:30 on the afternoon of March 11, 1902, a big interurban car of the Western Ohio Railway “loomed up at the brow of Market Street and came swooping down toward the square, giving chase to one of the smaller cars belonging to the city line,” the Lima Times-Democrat wrote. “A team of delivery horses in front of Watson’s grocery allowed the first car to pass unnoticed, but when the big combination hove in sight, accompanied by an occasional blast, and with its electric lights ablaze, they saw the unusualness of it and tried to back the wagon into the grocery.”
The car’s noisy arrival at the new interurban station in the equally new Stamets building on the south side of the 100 block of West Market Street marked the beginning of “a new epoch in the history of the city,” the newspaper declared. The Stamets family, whose name graced the building housing the interurban station, played an integral part in it.
Just over 70 years earlier, In the fall of 1831, the year Lima was founded, a shoemaker named John Marks constructed a crude cabin in what would become the 100 block of West Market Street. It was believed to have been the second or third occupied dwelling in the city. Marks, however, did not dwell there for long and the cabin passed through several owners before winding up in the hands of John P. Stamets.
John Stamets, according to a 1906 history of Allen County, was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, on July 5, 1829, the son of Henry and Sarah Stamets. The Stamets family was descended from Johann Phillips Steinmetz, who had immigrated to Pennsylvania from Germany. On Feb. 1, 1855, John Stamets married Malinda Kerns and the couple had three children, two daughters who died in infancy, and a son, Lorin E. Stamets, who was born in 1861.
“In his early business life, Mr. Stamets left his native state and moved to Ohio, where he resided in Wayne and Ashland counties,” according to the 1906 history. “During the five years prior to coming to Lima, he resided in Bucyrus, where he was engaged in the dry goods business. In 1877 he located at Lima, engaging first in a hardware business and later in the sale of wagons and buggies.”
“We learn that the firm of King & Sons, hardware dealers of our city, have sold their establishment to J.P. Stamets, of Bucyrus. The new proprietor will take possession in a few days. Mr. Stamets also purchased the residence of Mr. King,” the Allen County Democrat reported on Jan. 25, 1877, adding that “Mr. Stamets has been for years a prominent businessman of Bucyrus, and we welcome him to our city.”
The 1878-79 directory of the city lists Stamets residence as two doors west of the county courthouse, which until the early 1880s stood in the southwest quadrant of the square. An April 1877 ad in the Democrat for Stamets store, which at that time was in the northeast corner of the Square, claimed the store offered “Everything in the hardware line. And as cheap as the cheapest.”
Less than a year later, on March 7, 1878, the Democrat announced, “Mr. J.P. Stamets, has sold his hardware establishment to C.F. Donze, of Bryan, Ohio, who has taken possession of the premises and is making things lively in the hardware trade.”
Stamets, however, did not stay away for long. By July 1881, ads in the Democrat were touting the wagons, reapers, mowers and general hardware at a store in Lafayette. By the following summer Stamets was offering a similar line at a store in Lima, while an ad in the Democrat in May 1883 noted that Lorin Stamets had joined his father in the business. “J.P. Stamets & Son have knocked the bottom out of prices on wagons and buggies,” the ad promised.
Stamets’ store in Lima was on the southwest corner of East Market and Union streets and was a two-story wood-frame building, which also boasted a hall used by many churches and civic organizations for meetings well into the 1920s.
“Some of the colored folks gave a dance in Stamets hall last night,” Lima’s Daily Democratic Times reported on Christmas Day 1885. In July 1888, the same newspaper noted that Lima’s Democrats, a number that included Stamets, held “an enthusiastic meeting” in the hall.
Stamets was also an enthusiastic Lutheran and his hall often served as a meeting place for Lutheran as well as other religious groups. “About $40 were cleared by the supper given yesterday by the General Synod Lutheran church, in Stamets’ Hall,” the Democratic Times reported on Oct. 23, 1890. “There was quite a rush in the evening, when ex-Governor Foraker, Congressman Boothman and John P. Green were there. Foraker sat at one end of the table, Boothman about halfway down, and Green near the farther end. The ladies who got up the supper are well satisfied over their success.”
By the early 1890s, Stamets had stepped away from the business, which was now run by his son and was known as L.E. Stamets & Co. The company continued to offer wagons and buggies as well as horse-drawn sleighs.
John Stamets, meanwhile, stayed active in Democratic politics and dabbled in the produce business, selling train carloads of apples to area grocers.
Stamets Hall, too, continued to be a popular meeting place. On May 9, 1894, the Democratic Times announced that “the Lima Cycling club, which was incorporated under the laws of the state of Ohio, at Columbus, day before yesterday, met in the Stamets block last night with an unusually good attendance, and the organization was made permanent by the ratification of the former election of L.E. Stamets as captain and A.A. Creps as secretary and treasurer of the club.” October 10 of the same year, the newspaper revealed that “Prof. Eckford has leased Stamets’ hall for the winter where he will open next Monday night for the reception of all who wish to learn the standard dances.”
In February 1895, John Stamets sold the store to businessmen from Auburn, Indiana. “Mr. Stamets, who now retires from the business after 15 years active participation in it, thanks the people of Lima and Allen County for the liberal patronage extended to him …”
Two years later, on April 26, 1897, John Stamets died at his home at 121 W. Market St. According to the 1906 county history he was “one of the honorable businessmen and old-time citizens of Lima.”
By late that summer the place John Stamets called home would be gone, too. The Times-Democrat reported July 23, 1897, that the Stamets home, which it described as the “oldest home in the city,” was to be razed. By that time, the cabin Marks had built 66 years earlier comprised only the kitchen of the home. “It is one of the last links between primitive Lima and the city as it is today,” the newspaper wrote.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.