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.
There is little doubt that Henry Lee possessed a keen business mind.
After the launch of the Central Ohio Oil Company, little held back Lee’s exercise of ambition. By the end of the decade of the 1880s, he was said to have forged a good friendship with no less than John D. Rockefeller, the richest man of the time. 1
Henry’s company grew and grew. Lee forged alliances with the “right people” who would, he thought, ensure success. He took on partners; one was Otho L. Hays, a man who in due time would figure as one of the main protagonists in an infamous local bank failure. 2
Lee also sought to create more wealth by working on business deals in allied fields. One such enterprise was the Black Diamond Line, a proposed railroad from Zanesville to Galion which would transport loads from Ohio’s coal country to this part of the state. The route would run through Galion and up to Leesville, where it would connect with what would later become the Pennsylvania Railroad, a major east-west rail thoroughfare.
The goals of the Black Diamond Line planners were grand. Eventually, they said, they could envision traveling from the Virginia coastline, through Ohio, all the way to Chicago. 3
Another Lee enterprise was the Central Ohio Wheel Company, a going concern purchased by Lee with Hays and others. The facility had been started by young entrepreneur Charles C. Andrerson, whose brilliant business career ended with his early death at age 38. 4 Lee traveled to Niagara Falls in early 1887 to attend a wheelmakers’ convention, clearly wanting to create more alliances. 5 If Lee had remained in Galion, there is little doubt that he would have ended up an automobile manufacturer.
The Galion Inquirer could not get enough of the local celebrity Henry Lee. More than once the paper sent a reporter to interview the business leader, who would sit back and pontificate on what he saw as the primary opportunities of the day. 6 Lee hired bright young and well-connected talent as well. When Bloomer Gill and Nellie Stewart decided to get married in 1885 against her parents’ wishes, the newspaper account of the wedding stated that Bloomer was then working for Henry Lee at Central Ohio Oil. 7
At some point in the 1880s, Lee decided to make a very bold move. He sold 51% of Central Ohio Oil to the Standard Oil Co. of John D. Rockefeller, a company in the process of buying up almost all of America’s oil refining capacity. Henry Lee now took on the additional role of executive of and point person for Standard Oil. In 1887, Lee represented Standard Oil in purchasing property in Mansfield for a new facility. 8
As he traversed the state, the distinction between Standard Ohio and Central Ohio Oil was not always clear. In 1886, he appeared before the city council in Zanesville saying that Central Ohio Oil was poised to open a branch there. Later in the same article Lee is quoted as emphasizing that Standard Oil would be making Zanesville a bulk oil station. 9 The apparent bottom line is that the two companies were largely acting in tandem in building markets and distribution systems.
It is interesting to note that during this same time period, Henry Lee was rapidly becoming a very sick man. He faced his illness with resolute determination and at first he did not allow his infirmities to cripple his entrepreneurial zeal. That day would come very soon, however.
In the next chapter we will consider the public sector career of Henry D. Lee. Lee had a unique and singular role in Galion political history.
1 Oil Paint and Drug Reporter, Vol. 19 (1916)
2 The business scandal involving Hays and Edward Flickinger will undoubtedly be the subject of a future short history series. Suffice it to say that a Galion bank and a 300 employee local business went under, while both men ended up in prison. That said, Otho Hays somehow ended up with the tallest memorial at Fairview Cemetery.
3 See, e.g., Bucyrus Journal — December 3, 1886
4 Galion historians were largely unaware of Charles Anderson’s time and investment in Galion until early 2022. Anderson moved to Galion to launch the operation in September 1883, and then passed away suddenly less than three years later. This concern went on to become the Galion/Flickinger Wheel Works, and was located in large buildings between what today is the Municipal Building on Harding Way East and the railroad tracks. The “Pete’s Place” building, still standing on the east end, immediately abutted the wheel works. Galion Inquirer — February 19, 1886.
5 Galion Inquirer — June 3, 1887
6 Galion Inquirer — December 10, 1886; Galion Inquirer — March 4, 1887. Below is an excerpt from the latter article:
“The inquisitive youth of the Inquirer called upon vice president H.D. Lee at his private office in the Central Ohio oil works yesterday and thus interrogated him:
‘Did you have an important railroad meeting at Zanesville?’
‘Yes, sir’ was the reply. ‘The meeting was both important and satisfactory. I feel more encouraged than I ever did before. There is no doubt in my mind but that the road will be constructed. I only regret that some of our people are holding back their subscriptions.That is very discouraging. Don’t you think so?’ ‘…I am satisfied that Galion will soon be an important station on a direct line from Chicago to the sea coast.’”
7 Galion Inquirer — March, 1885
8 Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum — May 27, 1887
9 Zanesville Daily Times-Recorder — September 29, 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.