Reminisce: Pillars were founding family of Lima’s museum


By Greg Hoersten - For The Lima News



Ella Pillars, shown here in 1933, spent more than 23 years as the curator of the Allen County Historical Society’s museum in Allen County Memorial Hall’s second floor. She replaced her deceased husband, James, who was the first curator.

Ella Pillars, shown here in 1933, spent more than 23 years as the curator of the Allen County Historical Society’s museum in Allen County Memorial Hall’s second floor. She replaced her deceased husband, James, who was the first curator.


Courtesy of Allen County Historical Society

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This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.

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See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce

Each spring the farmer’s plow turned over the warming western Ohio soil, turning up a banquet for the birds and, often, bits and pieces of the lives of those who’d walked the fields in earlier times. That attracted the interest of young James Pillars.

Like many youngsters in the second half of the 19th century, Pillars “had been bitten by the Indian bug,” Frank G. Love wrote in the 1976 history of Allen County. “Somehow, he’d learned that farmers in the County frequently turned up Indian relics as they plowed and turned the earth, and this bit of information ignited the lad’s imagination and, in the end, became the seed from which the present-day (Allen County Historical) Society grew.

“Jimmy was an Indian nut,” Love wrote, “and by foot and by pony and by bicycle he scoured the surrounding area for every Indian artifact he could barter, trade, wheedle, or in desperation, buy. The collection grew and grew, it filled boxes and baskets and shelves and cupboards, and was the glory of Jim’s life and his driving passion not to mention his chief topic of conversation.”

Fortunately, Love added, “he later found a girl, Ella, with whom to share his life who also shared his passion.”

James and Ella Pillars would loom large in the formation and growth of the Allen County Historical Society.

James Pillars was born in Lima on Nov. 4, 1856, the oldest child of Isaiah and Susan Fickel Pillars. Isaiah Pillars was a former county prosecuting attorney, state representative and, from 1878 to 1880, attorney general of Ohio. Except for time spent away at school, James Pillars spent his entire life in Lima. He served as county surveyor, city engineer and as a deputy in the surveyor’s office.

Ella Littler was born in Greene County the day after Christmas in 1856. She was the daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. James Littler. In 1869, the Littler family moved to Westminster, where Rev. Littler served the pastorate in the Methodist Episcopal Church. After two or three years in Westminster, the family returned to southern Ohio before coming back to Lima around 1879. Rev. Littler died in Lima in March 1881, and his wife died in December 1894.

In September 1883, James Pillars married Ella Littler at the home of his father at 637 W. Market St., an event described in the Lima Democratic Times.

“After the elegant repast that followed the ceremony and congratulations, the happy pair invited all the friends present to accompany them to their brand new cottage on Spring Street (directly behind Isaiah Pillars’ house), where they held a reception till a late hour. The cottage had been completed and furnished from top to bottom by the groom, even to the full larder that was ready to be drawn upon for breakfast the next morning.”

Although James Pillars’ vocation was civil engineering, his avocation was collecting Native American artifacts, which he often and proudly displayed.

“County Surveyor Pillars display of relics and curios, in the south end of the fine art hall, is one of the most interesting exhibits on the grounds” at the Allen County Fair, the Lima Daily Times wrote in September 1890.

Meanwhile, sentiment had “been crystallizing in favor of a local historical society,” Rusler wrote, adding that “things were brought to a focus in 1908, and the name of James Pillars will always be associated with the organization. The story of the organization of the historical society and of the building of the Allen County Memorial Hall are closely linked together. When it was nearing completion, it offered permanent shelter for the society.”

The “moving spirits” in effecting the organization of the historical society were H.D. Campbell, Ezekiel Owen and Grant M. Sprague, who, according to Rusler, met in December 1908 in the Lima Club, which at the time was located where the Argonne Hotel now stands. The plan was to call a follow-up meeting of interested parties. A charter was ordered and another meeting scheduled for January 1909.

At that meeting on Jan. 15, 1909, 10 trustees, including Campbell, Owen and Sprague, were named. At a subsequent meeting five days later, Theodore D. Robb was named president, Campbell vice president, J.W. Lutz secretary and George Feltz treasurer.

“When it came to the choice of curator,” Rusler added, “there was just one name in the minds of all – James Pillars.”

According to Love, although every member of the group displayed a keen interest in native artifacts and relics, “James Pillars was probably the hub around whom the others revolved.”

However, his tenure as curator lasted only about five and a half years. On June 29, 1914, the Lima Times-Democrat reported, “James Pillars, 57 years of age, died at his home at 636 W. Spring St., Sunday morning at eight o’clock, following an illness of five weeks, during which he suffered from valvular heart trouble.”

The historical society did not have to look far for his replacement.

“Mrs. James Pillars was elected as secretary, succeeding John Lutz, who has left the city, and was also made curator, the place held by her husband before his death,” the Lima Morning Star and Republican-Gazette reported Jan. 13, 1915.

“Under her leadership items coming into the society were meticulously catalogued,” The Lima News wrote in a 2006 story. “Her handwriting, with its Victorian flourishes, labeled all items donated. And it was Ella who is credited with keeping the donations legitimate. She had to curtail the early rule that said anyone donating $100 could display anything they wanted in the society’s offices.”

Anything, the newspaper added, came to include such artifacts as a louse which had resided briefly on the donor during World War I and a fruitcake from a wedding.

Ella Pillars’ work drew attention from the Times-Democrat, which In November 1919 pointed out that those interested in studying “rare exhibitions” need not visit larger museums “as they have a worthwhile one right at home.” The room on the second floor of Memorial Hall was “in charge of Mrs. Ella Pillars” and contained many Native American artifacts donated by her late husband, the newspaper added.

“For more than 23 years she worked in the little museum housed on the second floor of Memorial Hall,” the News wrote in March 2001. “During that time, she devoted herself to the work, free of charge. Only toward the end of her career did she receive a stipend for her efforts.”

The end came in October 1937 when she resigned.

“In the years that she has served she has been able to tell thousands of persons all they wish to know about the rare exhibitions on display on the second floor of Memorial Hall,” the News wrote Oct. 3, 1937, adding, “Mrs. Pillars has seen the Allen County Historical Society grow from its infancy to the present time when some feel it will be necessary to construct a new fireproof building to hold the unique collection of pioneer days.”

The cornerstone of that new building, the current museum building on Market Street, was laid in June 1954.

Ella Pillars, 84, died July 11, 1942, at a home for the aged in Cincinnati, where she had moved shortly after resigning from the museum. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery next to her husband.

Ella Pillars, shown here in 1933, spent more than 23 years as the curator of the Allen County Historical Society’s museum in Allen County Memorial Hall’s second floor. She replaced her deceased husband, James, who was the first curator.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/01/web1_Pillars-Ella-1933.jpgElla Pillars, shown here in 1933, spent more than 23 years as the curator of the Allen County Historical Society’s museum in Allen County Memorial Hall’s second floor. She replaced her deceased husband, James, who was the first curator. Courtesy of Allen County Historical Society

By Greg Hoersten

For The Lima News

SOURCE

This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.

LEARN MORE

See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]

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