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.
In the future, with data tracking currently a part of everyday life, it will most likely be an easy task for future Galionites to know much of what their forebears were like as people. While more difficult for us, through newspaper accounts, court records, and more we can also get a sense of those who came before us, including Henry D. Lee during his Ohio years.
These glimpses into Lee’s life will be shared in no particular order.
A Respected Citizen — Two newspaper accounts suggest that Lee was very much admired and respected in Galion. First, in December, 1882, he was given a $400 diamond pin by his “intimate friends” in the city. 1 The fact that this gift was so described and was also of this value (about $11,000 in today’s dollars) is testament to the esteem in which he was obviously held. Two years before, Lee, in addition to the Mayor of Galion and a Mr. Green, were “serenaded” by Case’s Band, a popular local performing ensemble. 2
Unlucky with Animals and Buggies — The September 22, 1877 edition of the Galion Sun-Review told of a “near escape” for Lee with a misbehaving horse. “He had hitched his colt to a skeleton wagon, to exercise him, not being accustomed to the harness. After the hitching was completed and the lines were thrown across the buggy preparatory to taking the seat, the colt began to plunge about, reading up on his hind feet and striking with his fore feet. Mr. Lee had the presence of mind to grasp the reins close by the bit, while the crowd that was standing about ran away, and the horse struck him over the head, shoulders and breast with his front feet, several times.”
In May, 1878, Lee’s buggy was ruined “..to such extent that it will be sent to the manufacturer for repairs. The breaking of an iron reach that supported the box on the side springs caused the mischief.” 3
A Strange April Fool’s Day — This event took place in April, 1880. This account seems to suggest an April Fool’s prank, however it is difficult to tell from the newspaper story exactly what transpired:
“The Hon. James Robinson was the victim of a severe caning on Thursday the First. It occurred thus:
He had been the chairman of the Railroad Committee in the effort made at Galion to obtain the Ohio Central Road, and Messrs. H.D. Lee, J.W. Coulter and others called a meeting to close up what had proved an unprofitable and unfortunate business.
The meeting being called to order by Mr. Robinson, Mr. Lee, in well chosen terms, expressed the regret that the cause, and the interests of Galion had been betrayed by a Judas and intimated rather broadly that the chairman was the party. Mr. Robinson became very uneasy and restless under this infliction; Mr. Coulter followed in the same strain and directly accused the Hon. Chairman of having sold out the interests of Galion to Bucyrus. Mr. Robinson was exceedingly indignant at such accusations which were as unexpected as they were possibly unmerited.
Mr. Caton rose boiling with indignation and insisted that such conduct should have summary judgment as a warning to others. Warming in his denunciation he suggested a caning then and there. Whereupon the unfortunate chairman was caned by Caton himself.
It was a fine gold headed ebony cane and was presented as a mark of the appreciation of his fellow citizens. And now the Hon. gentleman denies he said “damn it” but the authority of Pinafore utterly refutes this and the indignation was so great that the cuss words had to come.
All however is now lovely and he will not forget such a severe April fooling.” 4
Mr. Lee and the Tramp — We posted an extra story in this series a couple of weeks ago about an instance when a “tramp” entered the Lee House on Church Street. It can be read here.
An Inquisitive Mind — Lee was specified as one of the Galionites who attended an April, 1884 lecture given by philosophical speaker, clergyman, and writer Joseph Flavins Cook. 5
Faced Tragedy — Sad news shared in the February 11, 1887 edition of the Galion Inquirer profiled the suicide of Henry’s brother, Francis, in a New York City hotel. An engagement ended because of ill health, and a refusal by an insurance company to grant a policy appeared to be the precipitating factors, in addition to what may have been mental health issues. The suicide was described in shocking detail (involving applying a pocket-knife to the throat), including Francis’ last words to another brother who heard what was happening from an adjacent hotel room. Francis had actually lived in Galion for a time and clerked in the post office. 6
Lee’s Progressive Illness –Henry D. Lee was not a well man during the decade of the 1880s, fighting what was diagnosed as pulmonary tuberculosis. As early as 1878 he was said to be “lying quite ill” at his residence at Church and Market. His divorce paperwork, which we will review in the next chapter, details his illness in some detail. 7
It was said that during a period of recuperation he read about the health benefits of relocation to the west, which prompted his 1889 move to Kansas. 8
We have two more chapters to follow in this series. We will next look at what had to be a very bitter divorce for Henry and Emma, which served as a precursor of sorts for their futures. We will then close with Henry’s move to Kansas and how Galion remained a part of his life, even after achieving remarkable success with the Lee Jeans Company.
1 Galion Inquirer — December 29, 1872
2 Bucyrus Journal — October 22, 1880
3 Galion Sun-Review — May 25, 1878
4 Bucyrus Journal — April 4, 1880
5 Galion Inquirer — April 18, 1884. In his lectures, Cook attempted to convey recent developments in European science and philosophy in a way that reconciled them to Protestant belief; his commentary stressed social amelioration and civic responsibility. Wikipedia
6 Henry immediately left for the east to accompany the body to its final resting place. The post noted that “Within the past nine months Lee has lost his mother, a sister, and a brother. He has the heartfelt sympathy of the community in his troubles.”
7 Galion Inquirer — September 13, 1878
8 NRHP form
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.