LIMA — Businessman Lorin E. Stamets owned a lot of Lima in 1919, including several lots in an area known as the “hollow” on Faurot Avenue between Collett and Baxter streets.
That summer the hollow became a lot less hollow as a nearby landowner, who had been leveling his property to prepare it for housing development, dumped the excess soil into the hollow, which had the side effect of making that land more valuable as it was leveled out. The developer decided it was time to approach Stamets with an offer for the property.
“Stamets, who has multitudinous properties about town, thought so little of the Faurot Avenue lots that he sold them willingly,” The Lima News wrote June 15, 1919. “Stamets claims that he will go out and look at the next property he sells. Perhaps someone has improved it for him.”
Stamets could afford to be cavalier, even after finding himself on the short end of what the News called a “clever” land deal. The Stamets family had done well since John P. Stamets, Lorin Stamets’ father, had opened a hardware and buggy business after arriving in Lima from Bucyrus more than a half century earlier.
Lorin Stamets was born Sept. 20, 1861, in Ashland County and was the only child of John P. and Malinda Kern Stamets to survive infancy. In 1877, John Stamets moved his family to Lima from Bucyrus to open a hardware and buggy sales business. Lorin Stamets, who married Minnie Reichelderfer in 1883, was associated with his father in the hardware business and operated the Stamets-Coon lumber yard, which he sold around the turn of the century.
In April of 1897, John Stamets died. Three months later, the Stamets’ home on the south side of the 100 block of West Market Street was demolished. At the time the house, which started as a log cabin in 1831, was thought to be the oldest dwelling in Lima. The land on which it sat did not remain vacant for long.
“It is an assured fact that L.E. Stamets will build a business block on his property adjoining the new Hetrick block on West Market Street,” the Lima Times-Democrat wrote Feb. 14, 1898. “The building will be four stories high and will be one of the finest structures in the city. J.A. Chapin, the architect, is at work on the plans and they are nearly completed. The building will be completed this summer.”
A carriage shop originally occupied the ground floor of the building but, with the advent of the electric railway in Lima in 1901, the Western Ohio Railway’s station occupied the eastern half of the building. Most of the rest of the building was comprised of apartments.
When he died in August 1935, The Lima News noted among his “multitudinous” holdings in Lima was “the Allen hotel site, the Eilerman buildings and buildings in Spring and Elizabeth streets.” He also had been secretary-treasurer of the Woodlawn Cemetery Association for nearly a quarter century. Stamets and his wife, who died in 1933, spent the winters in Florida and lived in the Barr Hotel when in Lima. They had no children.
On Aug. 25, 1935, the News announced that “ultimate bequests aggregating about $400,000 (the equivalent of over $7 million today) to three Lima public welfare institutions are made in the will of Loren E. Stamets, 73-year-old wealthy real estate owner, who died Wednesday in Memorial Hospital. Following the expiration of life annuities to a score of relatives, friends and employees, the estate will be divided among the Lima Hospital Society, the YMCA and the YWCA. These organizations also receive immediate gifts. This is believed to constitute the largest bequest to welfare organizations in the history of Lima.”
Stamets’ estate was substantial enough to be worth fighting over — and it soon was.
About a month after Lorin Stamets died, a cousin, Dr. Zeanith Stamets, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, brought suit in common pleas court to break the will. “The said paper writings, purporting to be the last will and testament and codicils attached thereto, are not the last will and testament of said Loren (sp) E. Stamets. The plaintiff asks that each document be set aside and held null and void,” the suit read, according to story in the Sept. 22, 1935, edition of the News. In short, it would later be revealed, Dr. Zeanith Stamets was contending his cousin was not competent to make a will when it was drafted in 1921.
The case was scheduled for trial before Allen County Common Pleas Court Judge Emmet E. Evans beginning June 21, 1936. It didn’t last long and ended with Dr. Stamets and his chauffeur facing jail time. “The bombshell was exploded in the attempted will breaking case when a defense attorney disclosed suggested testimony had been written for witnesses,” the News reported June 23, 1936.
Dr. Zeanith Stamets’ chauffeur “admitted on the stand he passed to some dozen persons around Lima, who were later subpoenaed as witnesses, typewritten statements of testimony in the case,” the News explained, adding that one of the would-be witnesses told the court the chauffeur promised “to make a well of about $200 or $250 in your pocket.”
Both Dr. Zeanith Stamets and the chauffeur were subsequently tried on contempt charges.“Terming the evidence tampering of Dr. Zeanith Stamets, Fort Wayne physician, ‘So corrupt, its aroma arises so strong it can be smelled to the high heavens,’” Judge Everett declared, according to the June 25, 1936, edition of the News. Everett sentenced Stamets to 90 days in the Toledo workhouse and fined him $200 for contempt of court. The chauffeur was handed a 10-day jail term and a $100 fine.
Meanwhile, the actual attempt to break the will arrived in common pleas court in October 1936 and ended just as surprisingly as the had the June trial. “Stamets will case, which been on trial in common pleas court for more than a week, was halted shortly before noon Wednesday when counsel for the contestants requested Judge Sumner E. Walters to instruct the jury to bring in a verdict sustaining the validity of the document,” the News wrote Oct. 14, 1936.
Napoleon attorney Otto Hess, a member of counsel, apologized to the court. “We feel now,” he said, “that Lorin E. Stamets was educated, that he could read and write, that he could transact his business, that he was a businessman in the city of Lima with a great reputation and able to draw his own will.” In his opening statement, the News explained, Hess had claimed evidence would show Stamets was “unable to read and write, exhibited unstable tendencies during his youth and that he was of unsound mind at the time the will was made and signed in 1921.”
In February 1937, after numerous appeals, the 63-year-old Dr. Zeanith Stamets agreed to pay his $200 fine. The 90-day workhouse sentence was dropped.
The will case, however, found new life, but, after years of legal wrangling, was firmly and finally dismissed in November 1943 when the Federal District Court in Toledo found the will to be valid.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.