LIMA — Professor John Davison was born in a cabin near West Newton, became a prominent Lima educator and administrator, and, in the early decades of the 20th century, was a popular and prolific public speaker. On Aug. 19, 1924, between speeches at the Teacher’s Institute in Greenville, the 66-year-old Davison was stricken by an apparent heart attack and died.
“Medical men,” The Lima News wrote the following day, “are of the opinion that the attack would not have been fatal had it not been for a prolonged illness from blood poisoning from which the professor has been suffering and which weakened his vitality.” Oddly, the newspaper noted, Davison had contracted blood poisoning two months earlier in Greenville when he pricked his finger on a thorn from a rose given to him by a high school girl following a “brilliant speech.”
Among Davison’s survivors was a son, John Hay Davison, who would gain prominence as a Lima lawyer and judge, and, like his father, enjoyed a long connection with the Allen County Historical Society.
According to William Rusler’s 1921 county history, the Davisons arrived in Allen County with planter, slave owner and former Virginia state legislator John Davisson (the second “s” was later dropped). “His affairs becoming involved,” as Rusler put it, and “he left Virginia with a small residue of his property and in 1834 reached Champaign County, Ohio, and in the fall of that year came up over the trail through the timber to the southeast corner of Allen County.” A 1905 history of Western Ohio noted that at that time “the timbered land abounded in such game as deer, bear, wild turkey and pheasant.”
For pioneers like Davisson, it also abounded in hard work, to which Davisson was unaccustomed. “The strenuous undertaking of making a pioneer home was too much for him,” according to the 1921 history. His health broken, Davisson returned to Champaign County and died in the spring of 1835.
However, his wife and children, including Amaziah Davison, the father of Professor John Davison and grandfather of John Hay Davison, returned and made a go of the homestead. Amaziah Davison “grew up in the woods on the old homestead taken up by his father in Allen County and cleared a farm on which he lived from 1834 until his death in 1895,” according to the 1917 history. Amaziah Davison, a Republican, served as an Auglaize Township trustee.
John Davison was born on the farm in July 1858 to Amaziah and his wife, the former Mary Clark. John Davison attended the village school in West Newton, was graduated from Ohio Northern University in 1883, eventually earning numerous other degrees from ONU, including master’s and doctorates.
After a short stint teaching at Harrod, “Dr. Davison for about 10 years was superintendent of schools at Elida, Ohio, and from 1895 to 1899 was Dean of the Normal Department of the Lima Lutheran College,” Rusler wrote. “He was professor of literature in the Ohio Northern University at Ada from 1899 to 1905, and for the next 10 years was superintendent of the public schools in Lima.” From 1915 until his death, he was vice president and dean at Ohio Northern.
In 1886, he married Clara E. Hay, of Auglaize Township, and the couple had four children, Evelyn, Walter, Joseph and John Hay.
A Republican like his father, he was nominated by the party in 1893 for the office of county auditor. “The Republicans of Allen County have nominated for auditor a man of whom they are not ashamed,” the Allen County Republican-Gazette announced Sept. 12, 1893. “John Davison, of Auglaize Township, is so well known to the people of this vicinity as to need no introduction. He was born in a log cabin at West Newton in 1858, and his spent his entire life in Allen County. On the farm with its environment, he grew to sturdy manhood, a prime favorite wherever he was known.”
Not surprisingly he was not a “prime favorite” with the rival Lima Times-Democrat, which wrote Nov. 2, 1893, “It certainly requires an extra amount of gall on the part of Mr. Davidson (sic) to even ask some Republicans to vote for him, much less Democrats, whom he has time and again characterized as ‘copperheads,’ ‘traitors, etc.’”
Despite what the Times-Democrat on the day after the 1893 election called “the most villainous campaign that the Republicans of Allen County ever conducted …,” Democrats swept the county offices, and Davison returned to education.
After his death in 1924, the Republican-Gazette wrote that Davison “made great improvements in Lima’s school system during his 10 years as superintendent. Most of the ward school were housed in rented rooms when he came. Almost all were given modern school buildings during his administration.” The newspaper also noted that for the last 20 years of his life “he had been in wide demand as a lecturer for special occasions and before teacher’s institutes,” delivering about 6,000 lectures “traveling as far west as North Dakota, and east to Maryland and Boston.”
John Hay Davison was born June 16, 1903, in Ada, and had been a resident of Lima since the age of 2. He attended the Lima public schools, while his father was superintendent, and was graduated from Lima Central High School in 1921. He received his bachelor’s degree from Ohio Northern in 1924, and two years later was graduated from the Ohio State University Law School. That same year he entered practice with the local firm of Parmenter and Reid.
He was married to the former Mary Clark and the couple had two daughters, Annette and Julia.
In 1930, Davison was appointed to his first political office, serving as assistant prosecuting attorney for six months. Ten years later, Davison made his first attempt at election to public office, running for Allen County probate judge. “In addition to his legal practice,” the News wrote March 15, 1940, “Davison has considerable business experience as the former secretary of the Jones Hardware Co., Public Square, and in farming. He operates the family homestead farm near West Newton.”
Although ultimately unsuccessful in that bid for judge, Davison, who had served as an assistant county prosecutor almost continuously from 1935 until 1952, was not done. “He was active in 1957 efforts of the Allen County Bar Association to gain approval by the state legislature for a second common pleas judge for the county,” the News wrote in 1968. “At that time Allen County was the largest county in the state with only one judge.”
In 1958, he became a candidate for that second judgeship and was successful. He won a second six-year term in 1964 but would not serve the full term. Davison died July 19, 1968, at the age of 65.
John H. Keller, a longtime local social activist, and the political opposite of Davison, eulogized the man who served with him on the board of the county historical society for more than three decades. “A life of active, intelligent opposition to the personal and social sins of the day merits our commendation,” Keller wrote. “Not many of us possess his conviction, tenacity and dedication.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.