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.

The first chapters in the series can be read here, here, here, here, here, and here.

First block of Harding Way West about 1950. the Colburn/Emma Lee house is at 119–123

This time we share a rather sad tale to which we have referred in prior chapters, and which had ramifications which lasted for decades.

As we have profiled Henry Lee, we have paid scant attention to his wife, Emma. There were references to her in the early years of her marriage, as her father, William Colburn, was a benefactor and likely inspiration for Henry’s business career. She is mentioned occasionally in chapters focusing on the 1870s and early 1880s.

Instead of attempting to describe the path that led to the Lees’ split, I will instead share excerpts from court records of their divorce. These words talk about a highly dysfunctional situation and the likely presence of some degree of mental illness. Please note that it was Henry who brought the divorce action against Emma, and these are words from the filed complaint. I have added some paragraph breaks to make the selection more readable, but I have not changed any words.

“On or about the day of August A.D. 1869 at Galion in the said County of Crawford and State of Ohio he was married to the defendant and he has ever since conducted himself toward the said Emma L. Lee as a faithful and obedient husband.

That plaintiff and said defendant lived happily together up and till the death of William Colburn the father of said defendant which occurred in __ month 1880 that at the death inherited a large estate, that said plaintiff and M.J. Colburn the mother of said defendant were appointed administrator and administratrix of said estate they entered upon the discharge of their duties as such when trouble commenced, said defendant spending the greater portion of her time with her mother absenting herself from plaintiff and her home

…that said plaintiff in order to regain confidence of said defendant to have peace in his family resigned as such as administrator since which time the said defendant has managed her own estate received the income and profits thereof that said plaintiff and said defendant got along together fairly well after plaintiff resigned as administrator up to June A.D. 1886. That during that time plaintiff done everything in his power to make it pleasant and agreeable for defendant and to make her home inviting (that he furnished her all the money out of his own private means that he could afford) allowing her to enjoy her own income and property in her own way and to suit herself

…that in Jun 1886, Mrs. Clark the sister of this plaintiff departed this life leaving Walter Clark aged about 16 years the nephew of this plaintiff. That the plaintiff brought the said Walter Clark to his home in Galion engaging him to take charge of plaintiff’s barn and do the same work and occupy the same room as a former hostler, that defendant became angry because plaintiff employed his nephew, that plaintiff retained said nephew in his employ from June 1886 to June 1888 during which time defendant absented herself from her home spending her evenings at her mothers or other places unknown to plaintiff.

That the defendant disregarding her duties as a wife was guilty of gross neglect of duty from June 1886 to June 1888 during which time she failed and willfully neglected to perform the reasonable duties and obligations of a wife that she neglected the plaintiff by absenting herself during all the period aforesaid, that she willfully neglected plaintiff aforesaid at various times when he was sick and helpless.

That said defendant from the 15th day of October 1888 to the 30th date of November 1888, was guilty of gross neglect of duty toward the said plaintiff in this to wit: The said plaintiff returned from New York where he had been receiving medical treatment for a dangerous disease from which he then suffered and from the effects thereof he is now prostrated, that the said Emma L. Lee, having full knowledge of the dangerous and helpless condition of said plaintiff and the care and attention he required willfully neglected to provide said plaintiff with the necessary food and willfully neglected to give him any attention whatever such as was due from a wife to a husband from the 25th day of October to the 30th day of November that she willfully neglected to take any kind of care of plaintiff during the period aforesaid that for weeks she did not even speak to plaintiff and that during his illness he has had to depend upon strangers and friends to nurse him and take care of him during all the period aforesaid.”

As we will share in the next and final chapter in this series, Henry left for Kansas in the latter part of 1889 while Emma stayed in Galion. She moved into her parents’ home on West Main Street. 1 In 1923, her death and subsequent estate liquidation caused a sensation that was covered nationally. Instead of reciting details here, we will instead refer to this overview written by Dr. Bernard Mansfield: Recalling the eccentric Mrs. Lee and a massive auction — Galion Inquirer –May 29, 2021

Emma Lee was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Galion adjacent to her mother and father. She is not mentioned on the large Colburn marker, but is marked with a simple stone with the letters “E.L.L.”

As has been mentioned, this house stood on the site of the current Keller Auto Parts store on Harding Way West, immediately to the east of the Galion Theatre. It was demolished sometime between 1950 and 1960 and replaced with a building that housed A&P and the Fabric Circle.

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.