Reminisce: Early Lima doctor builds the Harper Block — Hofeller, Hiatt & Clark was a tenant for about 99 years

In early February 1899, as finances for Lima’s first hospital were being firmed up, one of the city’s first doctors made what the Allen County Republican-Gazette described as a “splendid offer” to the hospital’s board.

“Dr. W.H. Harper has agreed to give $5,000 to the new hospital if the hospital will take his name,” the newspaper reported February 3, 1899. While some hospital trustees were “eager to accept the offer,” the Republican-Gazette added, others “contended that after the citizens in general have responded liberally and the enterprise is now a success, it wouldn’t be fair nor just to accept the money and change the name to something different from what was originally contemplated.”

In the end the hospital didn’t take his name (it’s unclear if they took his money), opening two months later in early April 1899 as City Hospital on East Market Street. Today, Lima Senior High School occupies the site.

Although Harper Hospital was not to be, Dr. Harper, who was 80 years old in 1899, could find consolation in the fact his name already graced a Lima building. That building, unlike the City Hospital, still stands, if only for a little longer.

In July, the Allen County Board of Commissioners announced plans to purchase the former Hofeller, Hiatt and Clark building on the southwest corner of North Main and West North streets with plans to raze it and build a county administration building on the site to be ready for occupancy in 2025.

The building that will be leveled sometime in the next two years was built by Dr. Harper nearly 140 years ago and was known as the Harper Block.

Dr. Harper was born March 29, 1819, in Greene County “of good and sturdy stock,” the Republican-Gazette wrote in April 1901 when Dr. Harper died at the age of 82. “His father was born at Harper’s Ferry and was descended from the people who gave that historic spot its name.”

In 1840, the newspaper wrote, Dr. Harper married Clarissa Winans, “who was his happy helpmate and wife until 1896, when she was called to the beyond.” Three years after marrying Clarissa, Dr. Harper completed his medical studies and after practicing for two years in Greene County came to Lima around 1845, becoming the city’s third doctor. When he arrived, the Republican-Gazette noted, “the Public Square had not been cleared of its stumps and mud holes and the echoes of the Redmen had scarcely ceased to echo in the neighboring forests.”

During the Civil War, Dr. Harper served as a “pension surgeon” for four years as well as a surgeon with the 151st Ohio National Guard unit. For two years following the war he was Lima’s postmaster. “Among his other acts, showing his breadth of mind and love of expansive influence, he organized the Northwestern Ohio Medical Society and for a year was its president,” the Republican-Gazette wrote. He also found time to father 10 children, four of whom were living at the time of his death.

In 1884, he built the Harper Block, moving his own home, “an old brick house standing high above the street” at the southwest corner of Main and North streets to the west end of his lot to make room for it.

“The moving of the old house excited great curiosity, as it was the first example of the kind in Lima,” the Republican-Gazette wrote in a 1925 reminiscence. “Practically everybody thought it would tumble down before the job was finished, but it did not. Following the removal of the house the lot was graded down and the Harper Block, which remains to this day, was erected.” Dr. Harper, meanwhile, moved his family into a home in the 500 block of West North Street while his former home became a boarding house.

By October 1884, the Allen County Democrat was reporting the Harper Block was nearing completion, noting, “It adds greatly to the appearance of North Main.” In November, the Democrat moved into the basement of the Harper Block and took the opportunity to ask subscribers for help with the extra expenses. “If each one would pay but one dollar, or one dollar and fifty cents, it would enable us to meet the extra expense very nicely.”

The Democrat was soon joined by businesses like J.W. Williams and Company dry goods store, which moved from the southeast quadrant of the Public Square to a corner room in the Harper Block. In March 1885, a 450-barrel cistern was “sunk in the rear of the Harper Block for the convenience of tenants,” the Democrat reported.

An ever-changing cast of tenants would occupy rooms in the Harper Block over the years. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, and tailors rented rooms in the building, joining major tenants on the ground floor like J.W. Williams and, in later years, the Boston Store and Van’s Hosiery. The new Lima Telephone Co. set up its exchange on the third floor of the Harper Block in 1895. From 1921 to 1923, American Legion Post 96 had its headquarters in the block.

In 1924, Maurice Hofeller, who had opened a clothing store on the east side of the Public Square in 1898 and had subsequently moved to 236 N. Main St. in the Norval Hotel Block, announced his shop, now known as Hofeller & Hiatt, would relocate once more. This time the move was directly across North Main Street to the Harper Block. “Remodeling of the rooms formerly occupied by the New System Baker in North Main Street will be started at once by Hofeller and Hiatt,” the Lima News reported Nov. 2, 1924.

About the same time the shop moved into the Harper Block, Paul Clark joined the firm making it Hofeller, Hiatt and Clark. Eventually, with the deaths of Hofeller and Hiatt, Clark, who had bought out his partners’ heirs, became sole owner of the men’s clothing store.

In 1961, after Harper Block tenant Van’s Hosiery store went out of business, the block was renovated. “Instead of painting and cleaning up the three-story building, the company lopped off an unneeded third floor, put in complete new first-floor stone and glass fronts and covered the second floor, front and sides, with a porcelain bird-proof cover,” the Lima Citizen wrote in April 1963. “The resulting building made an eye-catching addition on a corner of town which formerly was avoided by the pigeon-wary pedestrian.”

Hofeller, Hiatt & Clark was joined in the Harper Block that year by Chicago-based Bazley Meat Market. Eight years later, in June 1969, Hofeller’s purchased the building from Bazley and announced plans to expand into the adjacent room the meat market had occupied.

In February, the owners of Hofeller, Hiatt and Clark announced the business would be closing after 125 years in downtown Lima, about 99 of them in the Harper Block.





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


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Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].