Orin H. Booth was born February 17, 1831, in Rochester, New York to Hiren and Sarah (McCleod) Booth. When Orin was about 4 years of age the family moved to Media County, Ohio. It was here that Orin developed an interest in the printing trade and, at the age of 19, Orin went to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, and lived with his sister Miranda and her husband, Dr. M. K. Hard where he worked as a printer. A short time later he would become connected with the Wooster Democrat, later renamed the Wooster Republican. While in Wooster, in 1853, Booth was one of the founding members of the Wooster Gunners, the nine men responsible for the firing of cannons at parades and other celebrations. He briefly returned to Medina County, Ohio to marry Harriet A. Jennings on September 8, 1853. It was also in Wooster where Booth first met Gen. Thomas Thompson Eckert. Eckert would later become Chief of the War Department Telegraph Staff from 1862-1866 and Assistant Secretary of War from 1866-1867. This meeting would change Booth’s life as he learned the art of telegraphy from Eckert. A short time later Booth would leave the Newspaper business and take charge of the telegraph office in Salem, Ohio. Around 1854 Booth would come to Mansfield to work under Thomas Eckert, who was superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Office in the city. A short time later, in 1859, Booth would become superintendent succeeding Eckert upon his resignation.
Booth continued to work as superintendent of the telegraph office throughout the war, moving the office from the Wiler House into Z. S. Stocking’s Building on the corner of Fourth and N. Main Streets. In 1864 he was elected corresponding secretary of the Sanitary Fair hosted in Mansfield. Sanitary Fairs were held throughout the North to help the war effort. The fair in 1864 was for the benefit of “soldiers’ families and others, in Mansfield and vicinity, needing aid.” In 1867, Booth, along with Roeliff Brinkerhoff and others, started the Mansfield Lecture Association. The goal of the association was to procure “scientific and literary lecturers.” In addition to this, Booth was also secretary of the Mansfield Independents Baseball Club and active in the Republican Party. In 1871 Booth’s duties were expanded when he was made superintendent of the telegraph lines running along the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis Railroad. Having already been in charge of the lines on the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne and Chicago Railroad, this put him in charge of more lines than anyone else in the country, with over two thousand miles of lines and four hundred and fifty operators. By 1880 he would be in charge of nearly three thousand miles of lines.
In 1875 Booth returned to his printing roots and became editor and proprietor of the Mansfield Herald, while still maintaining his position as superintendent of the telegraph office. It was during his five years of running the Herald that some of the only negative comments directed at him can be found, those coming mostly from the Democratic-run Ohio Liberal newspaper. In August of 1877 Booth first brought the marvelous invention of the telephone to Mansfield. On August 24, 1877, a demonstration was set up at the Congregational Church. A line was set up between the old parsonage and the church. Singers would begin singing at the parsonage while an audience in the church would file along a table in the church, each taking time to listen to the remarkable invention. Booth stated that he was ready to take orders from anyone who was interested in having the device. It was reported that M. D. Harter already had a line run from his office in the Aultman-Taylor plant to the Western Union office, which he found extremely useful in conducting his correspondence. In September Booth would conduct a successful test by making a talking connection with Salem, OH. Booth, along with Samuel Uhlich and W. L. Leonard, started a telephone exchange in Z. S. Stocking’s Building, which they ran for a few years until selling out to the Central Union Telephone Company in 1881.
It was around 1879 that Booth made a contribution to Mansfield that is still around today, but until recently, it was attributed to another. The Booth-Craig House sits on the northwest corner of Mulberry and West Thirds Streets and is today the home of the Chamber of Commerce. Thanks to architectural historian Craig Bobby and Oak Hill Cottage, we once again know the true beginning of this structure. The 1882 Mansfield City Atlas clearly shows Booth’s name on the property and newspaper articles chronicle its construction, saying it will “be one of the finest, if not the finest, residence in the city” and its architect was none other than Levi C. Scofield, the architect of the Ohio State Reformatory. For more information check out this blog post at oakhillcottage.org.
Unfortunately, Booth only enjoyed his magnificent residence for a short time. He died December 30, 1883, at the age of 52. Two years prior, his health started declining and he made a trip out west to “Yellowstone and other western grandeurs,” returning to Mansfield with renewed vigor. Sadly, his health declined again and he suffered and struggled through the last 16 months of his life. Dr. J. W. Craig, who would buy Booth’s home a year later, said his death was caused by “exhaustion from a diseased condition of the arteries, as well as from hydatids in the ventricles.” About a year before his death, while suffering from his illness, he penned the following poem after attending a funeral, one of many published in the Mansfield Herald.