By Thomas Palmer
Here on Galion History Corner we are taking a look at the life of a former Galionite whose name you have likely heard because of a clothing company he established over a century ago. The man’s name was Henry D. Lee.
During the twenty years he lived here, Henry D. Lee was a passionate Galion promoter.
Part of that passion was channeled into politics at a local level with occasional hints of aspiration to higher office.
The first real mentions of Lee’s political activity come from the very early 1880s. In April of that year, he was named as a delegate to the Ohio Republican Convention. 1 That October, Henry and Emma held a reception at their home for Ohio Governor Charles W. Foster, Jr.. 2
Ohio Governor Charles Foster, a regular visitor to the Lee House in Galion
In early 1881, Henry Lee was elected to represent Ward Two on Galion’s City Council, where he was an active and involved member. 3 His name is frequently mentioned in Galion Inquirer accounts of Council meetings, making motions of various types and coming up with several suggestions on civic improvements. In October 1885, for instance, he suggested that the City convert part of the rear of the then-City Building into an Armory. 4
Lee held his Council position until March 1885. 5
It could be argued that Lee’s greatest contribution to the future of Galion took place in the city’s decision to create its own municipal electric system. Coverage of a Council meeting in July, 1886, shows that Lee was clearly an early proponent. That evening, Council considered various proposals for “…illuminating the city by the electric light system” before deciding to send a committee of three to visit non-municipal electric systems in Columbus, Akron, and Springfield, Ohio, as well as Huntington, Indiana. Lee was one of those chosen to make those visits. 6
Galion was from the start interested in charting its own future by owning its own plant.
The apex of the debate on City electric took place at a boisterous and important community meeting held on May 17, 1888 at the City Opera House. In a front page story entitled “Let There Be Light!,” the Inquirer gave a detailed account of the evening’s discussions. Three representatives spoke, each representing one of the systems being considered. The fourth person to speak was Henry D. Lee. What he shared reveals much about the man and his “full speed ahead” and direct approach to business.
“Mr. H.D. Lee being called upon, said that he failed to see the necessity of this meeting. The people want the electric light and there was no reason why council should not proceed at once and secure a plant. Our gasoline lighting is better than gas, of course, but it is not satisfactory, and our people are at the mercy of the gas company and the present unsatisfactory system of lighting.” A couple of minutes later, Lee made his move. “After some further discussion, a motion by Mr. Lee that it be the sense of the meeting that council take proper steps to secure electric light for this city was carried unanimously and the meeting adjourned.” 7
Three nights later, Council voted unanimously to move ahead with a purchase.
An electric power dynamo circa 1894
To make a final decision, all of City Council and the City Treasurer boarded a train in Galion in late June and made their way to Chicago. There they ate at a restaurant owned by a former Galionite, George Ritzhaupt, and played tourists before visiting the light power company there. The party inspected the dynamos of Thomson & Huston, Western, Ball, American, United States and other companies. The next day, the group traveled to Huntington, Indiana to see the equipment of Fort Wayne Jenney Company before visiting the main plant in Fort Wayne the next day.
Ten bids were soon received, and in late August the order was placed with the Fort Wayne Jenney Company. The purchase was paid for with the issuance of $12,000 in bonds. 8
Henry Lee continued to toy with statewide politics as well. After the 1880 reception at the Lee House for the Governor of Ohio, he negotiated some sort of deal with Foster to become the nominee for the United States House of Representatives. While the details of that negotiation are not known, it is apparent that the Governor did not follow through with its terms. 9 He got to know Governor Joseph B. Foraker as well, as Foraker served as attorney for the Black Diamond Railroad, which was discussed in Chapter Four. 10
In our next chapter, we will be turning our attention to Henry D. Lee the person. Small glimpses of his personal life have survived and shed light on what he valued and the personal struggles he overcame.
1 Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum — April 30, 1880
2 Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum — December 15, 1880
3 Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum — October 15, 1880
4 Galion Inquirer — October 9, 1885
5 Galion Inquirer — March 13, 1885
6 Galion Inquirer — July 23, 1886
7 Galion Inquirer — May 25, 1888
8 The initial capacity was for 76 arc and 400 incandescent lights. The system was either the first or second municipal power system installed in Ohio; the only one which might predate Galion’s was purchased and installed in Painesville about the same time. Galion is said to be one of the first 15 cities in the world with a city-owned electric generating and distribution system.
By 1893, the following Ohio cities had municipal electric: Ashtabula, Galion, Loudonville, Marietta, Miamisburg, Oxford, Painesville, St. Clairsville, and Shelby.
9 Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum — July 21, 1882
10 Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum — July 23, 1886
Each Saturday, we share a post about local history. We call this series “Galion History Corner,” and we will be sharing not only stories about our shared heritage but also updates on history news here in southeast Crawford County.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield, whose “Your Historical Galion” was a fixture in weekend editions of the Galion Inquirer. Dr. Mansfield was a friend and family physician, and he inspired the current generation of Galion historians to continue his work.