LIMA — In 1915, author Nevin O. Winter, of Toledo, was preparing what the Lima Daily News declared would be “an exhaustive history” of Northwestern Ohio. “Ezekiel Owen, of Lima, historian of the Allen County Historical society, will assist in the work,” the Daily News added in the Sept. 20, 1915, story.
Owen, who possessed an exhaustive knowledge of local history, contributed a chapter on the history of Allen County to the book, which was published in 1917. Beginning with the roots of the county in the aftermath of the War of 1812, Owen wrote of the century of prominent people and big events that made the county what it was in 1915.
In subsequent talks and newspaper columns, Owen filled in the chinks, taking an entertaining look back at the memorable, every-day history that happened along the way.
Owen was right for the job as a member of the Allen County Historical Society with a background in newspapers. Born in Lima in 1859 to wagon manufacturer David Owen and his wife Fannie Rose Owen, he also had been around for much of the history he wrote about.
In 2012, the Allen County Historical Society dedicated two issues of its Allen County Reporter to Owen’s writing, noting that he was possessed of a “glowing personality” and “a well-equipped mind.” Owen, the Reporter noted, “was a prize pupil (how not? His mother was a teacher!) and he was active in his father’s business when not in classes.”
Owen graduated from Lima High School in 1878 and “spent the next seven years at the printing trade,” the Lima Morning Star and Republican-Gazette wrote in August 1930. He helped publish the Daily Republican in Lima in 1882 before, along with his brother, Owen T. Owen, taking over the Dunkirk Standard newspaper. He would later sell the Standard and go to Stockton, Kansas, where he purchased the Western News.
In 1895, after selling the Western News, he returned home to manage the Lima Advertiser. Three years later, the Star noted, Owen was back with the Daily Republican “as a bookkeeper, assisting as an editorial writer on historical subjects and as drama critic.” By 1910, Owen was secretary-treasurer of the Daily Republican.
Owen, who in 1908 became one of the charter members of the Allen County Historical Society, also “was a frequent contributor to the Lima press, writing on historical subjects, on which he was a recognized authority.” Many of Owen’s pieces appeared in the Lima Star’s Sunday edition in the mid-1920s in a column titled “Do You Remember.”
Owen wrote of the coming of the railroads in 1854 and the coming of Civil War conscription less than a decade later, of early movie houses, and of the first appearance of a circus in Lima, which was escorted by a delegation of men and boys all the way from Allentown.
Golf “made its appearance locally in 1898 or 1899,” Owen wrote. “George Bendison, then with the Manhattan Oil Company, knew of the interest taken in golf in the East, and to his efforts is due the inauguration of the game in Lima. The first links in Lima began at the Spencerville road and Woodlawn Avenue and followed the city railroad around to Lakewood avenue and then possibly as far east as Cole street.”
Through Owen’s newspaper columns, readers learned that as a drummer boy in the Union Army, Lima resident George R. Christia was a playmate of Tad Lincoln, the son of the president; that, in 1870, an elevated sidewalk was built from Circular Street to the Ottawa River to carry pedestrians over a perpetually soggy section of South Main Street; that Lima’s first mayor, Henry DeVillier Williams, a dog lover elected in 1842, died of rabies from a dog bite in 1846; and that a bicycle dealer named W.E. Rudy became the county’s first automobile owner in 1898.
Owen’s columns not only informed but also entertained. In 1868, Owen wrote, livery stable owner Robert Hume, who had a contract with the Dan Rice circus, received notice that an injured elephant was being sent to him to board until the circus arrived in town.
“The first night the elephant was fastened in a barn on the alley … just south of the Square. Before morning the elephant had torn the barn down and was loose in the alley below Spring Street,” Owen wrote. The elephant was then fastened to stakes in a churchyard on the northeast corner of Elizabeth and Spring streets, which she soon pulled up before trampling down a fence and destroying “a number of young trees in Hume’s lot,” Owen added. Finally staked “good and strong,” the elephant remained in custody until the arrival of the circus later that summer.
Owen offered trips through time, often taking readers to an earlier time in a familiar place. “In its primeval condition the site now occupied by the Public Square was pretty much like a heavily wooded swamp,” Owen wrote. “After it had been laid out and the trees and stumps removed, it still retained its original characteristics. In wet weather mud — black and blue sticky mud was everywhere, deep and plastic, making passage through it by man or beast decidedly uncomfortable, if not almost impossible.”
In another column, he described the Square “on a winter night long ago.” Owen wrote that “At midnight everything was dark, no lights showing anywhere, with the possible exception of a spluttering streetlamp here and there that added to the gloom rather than to dispel it.” Signs, which in those days were suspended from iron rods, added an eerie symphony. “In the breeze each of these signs gave out squeaks and squawks and intermittently the larger signs would slap and thump and bang …. Before the journey had been completed, the luckless traveler would take to his heels down Main street or up Market street and rejoice that the ordeal was over,” Owen wrote.
More alluring was McBeth Park, which was near the intersection of Spencerville Road and state Route 117. “It is beautifully wooded, with a great ravine running throughout. About 1890 a dam was built across the ravine at the south line of the park, the result being a beautiful lake covering many acres,” Owen wrote, noting the park’s popularity grew after it was leased and improved by the Western Ohio Railway, which was constructed through the park’s western edge in 1901. The interurban line saw the park as an incentive to riders. “Cement walks were put in from the station down the through the park, and a dance pavilion, all open with a stage at one end was constructed,” Owen wrote.
Owen’s own story came to an end on Aug. 11, 1930. “Ezekiel Owen, 72, president of the Allen County Historical Society, printer, former newspaper publisher, writer of historical sketches and active in church and lodge work, died of heart disease at 5:30 p.m. yesterday in his home at 117 North Baxter Street. Owen, who had substituted as teacher of a Sunday school class in the Market Street Presbyterian church Sunday, complained of illness yesterday morning and his physician was called. Death came suddenly late in the afternoon,” the Lima Morning Star and Republican-Gazette reported.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.