Lima jeweler Homer H. Hughes had a keen eye for gems, a skill he sharpened in the Hughes and Son jewelry store at 135 N. Main St.
“He was so expert,” according to one account, “that when a lady customer walked into their store he could tell from the back if her diamonds were real.”
So, in mid-January 1916, when, as the Lima Republican-Gazette reported, “a little girl in a gingham dress” walked into his jewelry store, stood on her tiptoes so she could see over the showcase, handed Hughes a necklace and asked if it was “any good,” Hughes’ keen eye told him it was, while his common sense told him something was amiss.
“That necklace is worth $5,000,” Hughes told the newspaper. “Those 92 pearls are well matched, though not perfectly round, and the clasp is set with 20 diamonds.”
It was also not the sort of bauble the 11-year-old Lima girl should have been sporting around town. Hughes called the police.
The girl told police a janitor in Toledo, where she previously lived, found the necklace in a trash bin and gave it to her. She said she had been wearing it ever since, although she admitted she had lent it to friends and once briefly lost it in on a playground. With Hughes’ help, the necklace was eventually tracked to its rightful owner, a Detroit socialite, who had lost it more than a year earlier and rewarded the 11-year-old by paying for her music lessons.
By 1916, Homer Hughes had had nearly a decade working behind the showcase of the store founded by his father, Richard Martin Hughes. R.M. Hughes, born in 1857, was the son of John L. and Hannah Emeline Hughes and the grandson of Richard Hughes, who had arrived in Allen County in 1833.
“My father’s name appears early in the history of local jewelry stores,” Homer Hughes wrote in a 1935 paper on the history of jewelry. “His first job was with ‘Daisy’ Rice in a store that followed the old (Isaac) Satterthwaite store in the southeast corner of the Square.”
R.M. Hughes’ “first apprenticeship was followed by a 22-year term in a Lima store owned successively by E.D. Horn and Adolf Fox,” The Lima News wrote in May 1928. “His next venture was for himself when he purchased a half interest with Hugh Cameron.”
The Hughes and Cameron firm was short-lived and was succeeded around 1904 by the Macdonald Jewelry Co., of which R.M. Hughes was a partner with R.D. Macdonald and William Melville. Macdonald eventually withdrew from the partnership “and the firm was succeeded, upon the death of Melville, by Hughes and Son, a partnership composed of R.M. Hughes and his son, H.H. Hughes, the latter having purchased an interest at the time of Macdonald’s retirement,” the News wrote.
Homer Hughes was born in November 1889 and graduated from Lima High School in 1907. According to family accounts, his dream was to become a builder, but injuries he received in a wreck on the Lake Shore Electric Railroad near Lorain in August 1908 ended the dream.
“His right hand was frightfully mangled in the wreck and the hospital surgeons found it necessary to amputate the middle finger at the first joint,” the Lima Times-Democrat reported August 8, 1908.
In December 1914, Homer Hughes married the former Charlotte M. Aiken – “one of the pretty girls of Bellefontaine,” the News wrote – and the couple became the parents of two children, Homer H. Hughes Jr. and James Aiken Hughes. A third child, Richard Aiken Hughes, died in infancy.
Soon after the trolley accident, Homer Hughes joined his father in the store, which became Hughes and Son Jewelry. An ad in the December 3, 1907, edition of the News proclaimed, “The Hughes & Son Jewelry Co., formerly the Macdonald Jewelry Co., No. 135 N. Main St., will in the future be conducted under the above name.” Later ads would tout the store as “the Tiffany of Lima.”
“The jewelry establishment of Hughes & Son is not only the oldest house in this line in the city,” William Rusler wrote in his 1921 county history, “but it is the most reliable, and a beautiful and varied assortment of jewelry and silver goods is carried, and orders are executed for the most artistic work from original designs, which come from a wide area.”
The store’s wares occasionally proved tempting to thieves, including pint-sized ones. In February 1918, the News reported the arrests of six children between the ages of 5 and 10, who had gone on a crime spree in downtown Lima. The children had stolen rings, bracelets, a Colt revolver, watches, clothing “sufficient to clothe themselves,” a bolt of expensive cloth, two pairs of rubber boots and a pocketbook containing 35 cents.
At the Hughes jewelry store, they “succeeded in getting away with three Elks’ emblems valued at $25…” the newspaper wrote, adding that when the children were “taken to headquarters they all wore new coats, shoes, and hats.”
In November 1925, founder R.M. Hughes died at the age 68.
“He retired from active business four months ago because of failing health,” the News wrote. His wife, Anna M. Ashton, whom he’d married in 1885, had died eight years earlier in November 1917.
The following spring saw the younger Hughes, who had previously invested in an apartment block at Market and Collett streets as well as residential land along Shawnee Road, looking to expand the jewelry store from its Lima base. In April 1926, Hughes took over the E.C. Scott & Co. of Piqua. The Piqua store was, the News reported, the “first link in a proposed extensive jewelry chain.” That chain grew by another link less than a year later when, in February 1927, Hughes announced the opening of a jewelry store in Marion.
Although the chain never grew beyond that, the original link, the Lima store, soon moved from its longtime location at 135 N. Main St.
“Homer Hughes, jeweler, announced that he will make vast improvement to the three-story building which adjoins the Lima Trust Co. to the north,” the News wrote in August 1927. “According to tentative plans, there will be an entire new front on the building and the ground floor will be arranged for two store rooms, one of which will be occupied by the Hughes jewelry story,” the newspaper added.
“The room has been tastefully decorated and equipped,” the News wrote May 20, 1928, the day before the opening of Hughes and Son at 55 Public Square. “One of the features of the arrangement is a huge crystal lighting fixture, said to be one of the finest in the city.”
Hughes and Son remained at 55 Public Square for most of the next quarter-century. On Sept. 4, 1952, the News announced the store, which Homer Hughes had operated for 46 years, was closing.
“I have no definite plans for the future,” he told the News several days later.
For a man with no plans, Homer Hughes kept busy. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Lima Convalescent Home starting in 1954 and served as its administrator until 1963. He also was active in the Allen County Historical Society and the Lima YMCA, serving several terms as its president beginning around 1948. He died at the age of 93 in January 1983.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.