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 two chapters in the series can be read here and here.

The decade of the 1870s saw Henry Lee continue on twin paths of accumulating wealth and securing a respected position in the community. It is also the period of Lee’s life about which we know the least.

Henry D. Lee about 1874 — Galion Inquirer, March 4, 1922

Knitting machine mania continued to grip America as the 1870s progressed. We know that Henry slowly began a change in focus, however just how quickly that move came about is not clear.

One source on which we have already cast some doubt states emphatically that Henry’s entry into the oil business took place in 1875, after taking out a second, larger business loan. 1 There is nothing to back up that assertion in source material of the time. In fact, evidence suggests instead that Lee continued to dabble in the world of household contraptions until at least 1878.

In that year, he was given a seventeen county territory to sell a “patent bosom board stretcher.” 2 An advertisement in September of that year gave notice of the availability of the device at the Crawford County Fair:

“However much the bosom may be internally disturbed, men can always appear with an unruffled front to outward appearance, if they secure a bosom board stretcher, exhibited by an agent of H.D. Lee, Esq, as Scotts Bosom Board and Stretcher.” 3

As the decade ended, Lee finally made his decision to enter the world of oil.

In February, 1879, the Galion Inquirer announced that Henry Lee had purchased oil works in Galion then owned by H.M. Smith & Co.. The sale price was $6,000. 4 The Smith operation was located “…on Washington Street east of the C.C.C. & I. R.R.” (the Big Four rail line). This would likely have placed it on today’s South Washington Street in the area of Ohio Door & Sash and Galion Tire Works. It carried “…Canned oils in quantities. Carbon, Benzine, Fish, Boiled Linseed, Raw Linseed, Lard, Neats Foot, Lubricating, Castor, Olive, Turpentine, Varnishes, Japans, etc..” 5

This was likely at or near the time Henry took out his second loan from Bank President Christian S. Crim. As an indicator of his improved fortunes (his savings amounted to $20,000 at this point), the loan was for $50,000. 6

Henry was well-known and respected. In late 1878, he and Emma opened their house to the movers and shakers of Galion for a large party. The fete was referred to as “…the social event of the season” by local newspapers, and was held in the Lee’s substantial home on the northeast corner of Market and Church Streets. According to the Bucyrus Telegraph Forum there were 300 guests, with the “favored ones” arriving at 6:00 p.m. and the rest before 8:00 p.m.. 7

The previous August, the couple hosted a reception during a soldiers’ reunion event in Galion. The guests of honor were US Representative Charles Foster and soon-to-be Governor of Ohio, and also Milton Barnes, Ohio Secretary of State. It would not be the last such evening at the Lee house.

Henry and Emma may have been showing off a bit. The year before, the Lees took the step of making “handsome improvements” to their house. 9

The end of the 1870s brought sad news to the family, an event which triggered the disintegration of the Lees’ marriage. On April 29, 1879, William Colburn, Henry’s father-in-law, died. 10 Henry and William’s wife Margaret were named co-executors. In legal paperwork filed ten years later, that moment was pinpointed as the beginning of substantial turmoil.

From a business point of view, the arrival of 1880 brought with it the new Central Ohio Oil Company, Henry’s true ticket to riches. In that year’s census, he was listed as an “oil merchant,” and that is exactly what he was.

1 NRHP Form

2 Bucyrus Journal — July 18, 1878

3 A quick Google search will reveal that a “bosom board stretcher” is actually a type of ironing board.

4 Galion Inquirer — February 21, 1879

5 Galion Republican Free Press — December 21, 1876

6 NRHP Form

7 Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum — December 20, 1878

Findlay Republican- Courier — August 30, 1878

9 There has been no shortage of speculation in the last thirty years about whether or not the brick residence on the northeast corner of Market and Church Streets in Uptowne Galion was actually home to Henry and Emma Lee. Some have claimed that it was actually the Colburn residence, but censuses do not back up that suggestion. We can now assert without a doubt that this was the Lee House from sometime in the 1870s through the 1880s.

In the 1850s, the Crawford County Auditor created a set of pen and ink drawings of every structure then standing in Galion. I have seen these images, although their whereabouts are unknown after remodeling of the Crawford County Courthouse. The drawings were so meticulously created that the number of windows in the monitor roof of the Hackedorn Building (Quay Drug) could actually be counted. That map showed a large house on the site of the Lee House. Based on the newspaper account of the Lees doing improvements to their home, 102 East Church Street seems to be a brick house dating from at or near the beginning of the Civil War to which the Lees added a mansard roof and decorative windows in 1877. Through the 1990s, the main part of the house had the same roof line as the rear, west extension.

A Google Maps image of the house can be viewed here.

In the early 2000s, the then-owner of the house sought and obtained a grant from the H.D. Lee Co. Archives in Merriam, Kansas to restore the curved, beveled glass window on the southwest corner of the facade.

AUTHOR’S NOTE — August 2022 — I have now been able to complete a cursory title search for the house, and have determined that the structure was built sometime between 1855 and 1875 by Jacob Riblet. As such, it is one of a select few known surviving houses built by Galion’s first family of contractors.

The house was sold to Lee in 1877, suggesting that it had a simpler roofline before then. As noted above, Lee undoubtedly added the mansard roof, wide overhanging eaves, decorative window treatment, and a long-missing wrap-around front porch.

10 William Colburn is said to have been the first burial in the then-new Fairview Cemetery. The Colburn marker is not far from the Veterans area where Memorial Day services are held.

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.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay