William Harmon: The short term of the first paid fire chief

According to his obituary, William Harmon was born in Hayesville, Ohio around 1851 and arrived in Mansfield shortly after his marriage.  But other records indicate the family may have been in Mansfield as early as 1859.  The 1860 U.S. Census places the family in Mansfield’s 3rd ward and John Harmon, William’s father, is listed in the 1858-59 Mansfield city directory.  Regardless of when the family arrived in Mansfield, William would follow in his father’s footsteps becoming a carpenter and a respected citizen of Mansfield.  On April 10, 1872, William married Laura J. Crider, the daughter of Tobias and Mary Crider, a Mifflin Township farmer.   William continued to work as a carpenter throughout the 1870s and 1880s and, on June 3, 1884, was elected by the Mansfield City Council to the position of fire engineer,[1] receiving a salary of $60 a month.[2]

William Harmon became the first paid fire chief for the city of Mansfield and was one of the main proponents for the creation of a paid fire department around 1881, but his time as chief was short.  In May of 1886, Harmon resigned from the department and stated he was moving to Kansas City.  The following week, reports came out that the mayor was going to charge Harmon with malfeasance in office and gross official misconduct.  The mayor argued that Harmon had violated the trust of Mansfield citizens and had conspired with others to set fire to and burn many buildings in the city.  The buildings included homes and businesses owned by many prominent citizens, including a warehouse owned by Peter Ott, a barn owned by Manuel May, a barn owned by Dr. William Bushnell, and the Covenanter’s Church on West Market St. (today Park Ave West), just to name a few.  Most citizens felt Harmon could not be guilty of the charges, but felt an investigation was necessary to get to the bottom of the matter.

In early June, the city council held the Harmon Investigation in which a number of men who had worked under Harmon were questioned.  First was George Stevens, who stated Harmon had suggested burning a number of buildings in order to “show the citizens how we can fight fire.”  He also stated that Harmon had asked him to set fire to Blymyer’s barn after Blymyer refuse to vote to increase his pay to $75 a month.  The next witnesses, James Nash and George Englehart, confirmed the testimony of Stevens.  Two other witnesses, Louis Schissler and Fred Longsdorf, stated they had heard Harmon make comments like this, but felt he was “too sensible a man to do anything of the kind.[3]”  A few days later Harmon was acquitted of all charges by a vote of 8-2.  The council stated that charges were a result of ill feelings between the chief and other members of the department and that the chief and other members had often joked about burning old buildings.  This was the basis for the charges against the former chief.[4]

William Harmon made his way out to Kansas City and built a name for himself in that city as a contractor and builder, as well as chief of the Kansas City Fire Department.  He was responsible for the erection of many buildings in the city, including the Altman Building, the Askew Building, and the Loose building.  He was remodeling the Union Depot at the time of his death on February 19, 1899.[5]


Sources:

  1. Richland Shield and Banner (Mansfield, Ohio). 07 June 1884, p. 5.
  2. Mansfield Herald (Mansfield, Ohio). 03 July 1884, p. 6.
  3. Mansfield Herald (Mansfield, Ohio). 03 June 1886, p. 6.
  4. Richland Shield and Banner (Mansfield, Ohio). 05 June 1886, p. 4.
  5. Mansfield News Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 26 Feb 1899, p. 5.

1928: The First Summer Library Program

In 1928 newly hired children’s librarian, Miss Helen Keating, created a program to keep children interested in reading throughout the summer.  This would be recognized as the first Summer Reading Program offered by the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library.  The theme was travel and the program consisted of reading books that correspond to twelve different countries.  Miss Keating, who married Louis Ott in 1930,[1] had an interest in librarianship her entire life.  After obtaining her degree in library science from Case Western University, she became the first children’s librarian at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library.  She would later serve four terms as president of the library board and serve as librarian of the First United Presbyterian Church for the last 19 years of her life, where she was recognized for her hard work in 1977 by being awarded the distinguished service award by the national Church and Synagogue Library Association.  In addition to this, she continued her work in encouraging children to read by publishing a bibliography called “Helping Children Through Books,” in 1974.[2] On April 22, 1982, the children’s room of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library was dedicated in her memory.

Mrs. Helen Keating Ott

The program began May 28, 1928 and children were encouraged to pick up their “ticket” at the library.  They were required to read one of four books to begin their journey: either “Friend in Strange Garments” by Upjohn, “Peeps at the World’s Children,”  “Young Folk’s Books of Other Lands,” or “Little Lucy’s Wonderful Globe.”  After that they would travel onto England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Tyrol, Italy, Spain, and Russia.  After children would read a book for a country, they would have to report back to the librarian to have their ticket punched.  Once completed they would receive a certificate bearing their name and school.[3]

Mrs. Ott in the Children’s Room, around 1928.

On July 4, 1928, it was announced that a first grade school student completed the tour. His name was Robert Emmer, a 10-year-old from Western Avenue School.  The following week, Agnes Contra of St. Peter’s Perochial School became the first girl to complete the tour.  This was followed by Ruth Roesch, Anna Menrath, Evalyn Gross, and Mary and Helen Baughman by the end of July.  Thirty Children completed the tour when in ended on October 1, 1928, each having read 15 books.  The program proved successful and the following year the theme of “treasure hunt” was selected.  Each child received a folder with thirty treasures listed and clues led to certain books where the treasure might be found.  Forty-eight children found fifteen treasures and seventeen of these children had completed the travel tour the year before.

Children gathered around the circulation desk, date unknown.

The Summer Library Program looks different today.  It is not only open to children, but now adults can join in the fun and the prizes are much larger.  MRCPL’s Summer Library Program starts Monday, June 7, for more information check out the library website at https://www.mrcpl.org/visit/slp2021/.


[1] Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 09 Oct 1930, p. 14.

[2] Helen Keating Ott. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 06 Aug 1979, p. 12.

[3] Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 28 May 1928, p. 16.

Strange Lights in the Night Sky

The Coyne helicopter-UFO incident has been called one of the most credible by many believers.  Lt. Col. Lawrence J. Coyne, 1st Lt. Arrigo Jezzi, Sgt. John Healey, and Sgt. Robert Yanacsek were flying back to Cleveland from Columbus in an Army Reserve helicopter on the night of October 18, 1973.  Around 11:00 at night, Healey noticed a red light to the west heading south. A few minutes later, Yanacsek noticed a red light to the east, keeping pace with the helicopter.  Coyne instructed them to “keep an eye on it.”  The light began to approach the helicopter. A collision seemed imminent to the 36-year-old Coyne, who had 19 years of flying experience.  Coyne grabbed the controls from Jezzi and began a powered descent.  The light decelerated and hovered above/in front of the helicopter.  What the men saw, they would never forget.  “A cigar-shaped gray metallic object filled the entire front windshield.  A red light was at the nose, a white light at the tail, and a distinctive green beam emanated from the lower part of the object.”  The green light moved over the helicopter and bathed “the cockpit in green light.”  A few seconds later the light accelerated moving to the west.[1]  This wasn’t the first time lights in the sky puzzled Mansfield residents.  The News-Journal has reported sighting dating back to the 1940s.

1940s

The term “flying saucer” was first coined after a rash of UFO sightings in Northeast Oregon in June of 1947.  A few weeks later, on July 8, 1947, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release saying they had recovered a “flying disc” on a nearby ranch.  Soon the entire nation was hooked. UFO fever swept the nation and sightings rose exponentially.  Mansfield wasn’t immune to this fever. The following year on March 4, 1948, Mrs. Olive Owen of 503 Cline Ave. reported seeing a strange light to the west just before dark.  Mrs. Owen “reported a strange streak of light, traveling back and forth across the heavens.  Mrs. Owen and her neighbors armed themselves with telescopes better to observe the as yet unexplained light which kept getting brighter as it came closer and closer to earth,” until it “disappeared below the horizon.”[2]

1950s

On June 7, 1952, Val Isham, an amateur astronomer, reported seeing a strange round object in the sky around 2:40 a. m.  He watched the object move north to south in the sky to the east, claiming it stopped for a few minutes in the sky before continuing on its way.[3]  On September 12, 1952, there was a flurry of sightings across multiple states.  Mrs. Carl Breyman of Possum Run Rd., with her husband and a friend, Kenneth Parker, saw an object traveling a “terrific speed” at around 8:05 p. m.; it was the brightest thing they had ever seen.[4]

The next year, a Shiloh family witnessed flying saucers dog fighting on the night of July 12, 1953.  Wilgus A. Patton was driving on Route 178, about five miles south of Plymouth, when he saw what he described as “two things that looked like tadpoles at first glance.  They were tremendously large and appeared to be flying at about 1,000 feet and about three miles away from us.”  He continued saying “they were diving at each other at terrific speeds and acting like they were dog fighting.”  After about 70 seconds, they disappeared to the north.[5]  Less than two weeks later, on July 24, lights were again seen in the sky.  At 11:40 p. m., Mrs. H. H. Clingan reported seeing two bright lights that merged into one and disappeared over the horizon. Other residents reported seeing the lights as well.[6]

On September 3, 1956, John Adamescu reported seeing a saucer-like object in the sky around 5:29 p. m. while he was seeding his lawn.  He estimated the object to be flying at about 15,000 to 20,000 feet, based on its relationship to the clouds.  Adamexcu, a weather observer and forward air observer with the Army during World War II, said “the object was foreign to any plane or other weather instrument he has ever encountered, including jet aircraft.”[7]

1960s

On October 23, 1960, Charles Price and friends and family reported seeing a strange object while driving from Butler to Bellville on State Route 97.  Price claimed the object hovered, spinning about 1,000 feet in the air.  The object had light and dark areas which gave it a pulsating appearance.  They witnessed the object for about five minutes before it sped away.[8]  In 1966 Virgil A. Stanfield wrote in the News Journal about the UFO craze.  Stanfield wrote: “one day a teacher from a high school in the Mansfield area came to the News Journal office to accuse the editors of holding our the ‘real facts on flying saucers.’  He said the Air Force and newspaper editors had known all along that there were saucers and the newspapers had been sworn to secrecy for security reasons.”  However, this may have been a clever advertisement for a series of articles on flying saucers which were to appear in the News Journal the following Sunday.[9]

Many of these experiences can be explained as meteors, weather balloons, or known aircraft, but questions remain, leaving many to as the question: “Are we alone?”

For more on the Coyne helicopter incident check out Tim McKee’s article UFOs Over Richland County: 1973.


Sources:

  1. Zeidman, Jennie. A Helicopter-UFO Encounter Over Ohio. (1979).
  2. Strange Light, Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 05 March 1948, p. 13.
  3. Mansfield Astronomer Sees One!. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 07 June 1952, p. 1.
  4. Flurry of Sky Objects Bring Jitters. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 13 September 1952, p. 1.
  5. See Flying Saucers ‘Dogfighting’ Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 13 July 1953, p. 1.
  6. ‘Saucers’ Seen Again. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 25 July 1953, p. 5.
  7. Mansfielder Says He Saw Flying Saucer. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 04 September 1956, p, 2.
  8. Sky Show. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 25 October 1960, p. 13.
  9. Stanfield, Virgil. The View From Here.  Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 19 October 1966.

First United Methodist Church

Methodism has been a part of Richland County since the county’s inception.  One of the earliest preachers in Methodism to live in the area was Rev. James Copus, who arrived in 1809 with his family, and settled along the Black Fork River in Mifflin Township.  Three years later, Copus and three soldiers would be killed by Native Americans when they felt they had been double-crossed by Copus after their home, Greentown, was burned to the ground.  From Copus and other traveling ministers, the seed of Methodism was planted in Richland County and many congregations would grow out of the movement.

One of the first preachers of any denomination to live in Mansfield was Rev. Dr. William B. James.  James came to Mansfield in 1814 when the town consisted of only two block-houses and 22 cabins.  One of these cabins was constructed by James at the northwest corner of East Third and Water (today North Adams) streets.  James’ cabin stood for nearly one hundred years, being one of the last of the original cabins to survive.  Many early services were held in James’ cabin.  In 1816 James would lay out the town on Petersburg, today Mifflin, in Ashland County and later, after he remarried after the death of his first wife, move to Vermillion County, Indiana.  James would die in 1826 of cholera while on a trip to New Orleans.

In 1818 construction began on the first church, located on lot 56, on what is today North Adams St.  Matthias Day was hired as master carpenter and, since there was little cash, was paid in wheat, corn, flour, whisky, and even shoe-making.  The congregation quickly outgrew this church and, in 1834, money was raised for the erection of a new church on lot 118, at the corner of what is today Park Ave East and North Adams Street.  The church was completed and dedicated in the fall of 1836 and the previous church was sold to the German Reformed Church in 1840.

First United Methodist Church before renovation.

The congregation again outgrew their 45 by 60 feet, one-story church and it purchased a lot on the east side of Central Park in 1867.  The work of collecting the $33,000 for the new two-story gothic structure began and the new church was dedicated on July 3, 1870.  The structure was brick with a spire stretching 170 feet into the sky.  The structure was 108 feet in length and 50 feet in width.  Much of the finishing and plastering work done inside the church was completed by Mansfield citizen E. D. Lindsey.  This church served the congregation until 1906 when the entire building was renovated.  The old spire in the center of the church was removed and a tower was constructed on the southwest corner.  The red brick was encased in Sandusky limestone and the structure was enlarged to 136 by 60 feet.  The church was almost lost to fire on December 20, 1930. Firemen were able to contain the blaze and save the structure, but almost $16,000 of damage was done to the interior.  The building was again renovated to repair the damage.

Original Plat Map of Mansfield. 1) Site of Rev. Dr. William B. James cabin. 2) Site of first church. 3) Site of second church. 4) Site of current church.

On July 1, 1956, the cornerstone was laid for a four-story education building containing a chapel, offices, classrooms, parlor, and kitchenette on the east side of the building.  The new addition cost $144,000 and was made of Indiana limestone to match the present church.  In 1973 a three-floor elevator tower was added and complete re-decoration of the Sanctuary was done at a cost of $186,000.  In 1977 new stained glass windows were installed on the east side of the education building and, in 1980, Heritage Room was established to display some early church records.


Sources:

  1. One Hundred Fifty Years of Methodism in Mansfield and Richland County. (1964)
  2. First United Methodist Church – 170 years. (1984)
  3. Mansfield Herald (Mansfield, Ohio). 7 July 1870
  4. The Mansfield News Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 01 October 1967, p. 5D