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.
A bitter divorce. Declining health. Circumstances forced a decision for Henry Lee that he may not have wanted to make but nevertheless found inevitable. By the end of the 1880s, he relocated to Kansas, largely on doctor’s orders to see a drier, warmer climate.
As early as 1878 he was exhibiting signs of fatigue and illness likely related to his bout with consumption. 1 In early 1889, he started a series of resignations and in selling his Galion-based assets. In January, he stepped down from his position with the Black Diamond Railroad, and in May, he resigned as chairman of Central Ohio Oil. 2
By September, he had made public his intention to move from Galion to Kansas.
On October 4, 1889, the Lee House at Church and Market Streets was the scene of a farewell reception given by Lee’s friends. He had already made trips to Salina, Kansas to make needed arrangements for the move. As the Inquirer shared, “A farewell reception was tendered to Mr. H.D. Lee by Supt. and Mrs. A.M. Mosier, last Monday night. A number of Mr. Lee’s intimate friends were present and the affair was an enjoyable one, save for the regret because of his departure.” 3
A couple of weeks later, the move was completed.
Lee’s twenty years in Galion meant that he had established ties here in the form of real estate, bank accounts, and many friends. It took many years for his local affairs to sort themselves out.
The May 20, 1891 Galion Inquirer carried news of a substantial auction at the Lee House. All of his household goods, “elegant furniture,” and more was sold to the highest bidders. 4 The house would soon be sold or leased to R.E. Gardner of the Flickinger Wheel Works, while ownership of a “double house” on South Market Street owned by Lee was sold to J. Bollerer in 1893. 5
From time to time, Lee returned to Galion. In April 1893, he registered as a guest at the Central Hotel, the same establishment in which had worked as a clerk and shoe shiner. He also kept tabs on local businesses. 6 When the Inquirer became a daily newspaper in January, 1893, he sent words of congratulations to the owners. 7
What Lee then did in Salina, Kansas was truly remarkable. In no time he had built a company that employed hundreds as well as large buildings there and in Kansas City. A timeline of the company through the next 100-plus years can be found here.
Interestingly, in building the H.D. Lee Company’s operations in the west, Lee’s closest business associates were relocated Galion men including Wes Cowden (related to Col. Robert Cowden) and L.C. Staples. 8
Outliving Emma by five years, Henry David Lee died on March 15, 1928 and was laid to rest in a mausoleum in Salina.
1 Galion Inquirer — September 13, 1878
2 Crawford County News — May 9, 1889
3 Galion Inquirer — October 4, 1889
4 Galion Inquirer — May 20, 1891
5 The house location has not yet been identified. Galion Inquirer — April 8, 1893; July 1, 1893
6 Galion Inquirer — April 12, 1893
7 Galion Inquirer — January 27, 1893
8 Bucyrus Journal — June 1, 1894; March 6, 1899
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.
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