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.

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The Newman Building and Quality Furniture Fire

The Month of February has brought fire and destruction to Mansfield a number of times.  A few weeks ago, we looked at the fire that ripped through the Baxter Stove Co. in 1899.  75 years ago, another fire destroyed a Mansfield Landmark and other neighboring businesses.  On February 13, 1944 a fire, which started in the Ringside Nite Club at 28 and 30 East Third St., devastated half a city block on North Park St. causing $500,000 in damages.

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Ringside Nite Club on East Third. (Photographer Unknown)

The fire was estimated to have started between 4:00 and 6:00 am and, at 6:40, two young boys noticed the flames and informed a passing police officer.  A short time later, the fire department was at the scene.   The Newman Building was hardest hit; the 3 ½ story building housed the Ringside Nite Club, two restaurants, two cigar stores, and a number of attorneys’ offices.  The fire then spread to the neighboring building which housed the Quality Furniture Store.

Select Photos to view larger (Photographer Unknown)

The neighboring towns of Ashland and Shelby sent firefighters to help fight the blaze, arriving shortly before 9:00 am, and Fire Chief Frank R. Stahl returned early from Columbus where he was attending a meeting of the executive board of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ association.  No one was reported injured in the fire.

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The cornerstone for the Newman Building was laid in 1882 and named after Mary Newman Cummins, who was the granddaughter of pioneer Jacob Newman.  On October 13, 1864, Mary married Capt. Abraham Cahill Cummins.  Capt. Cummins and Mary resided in the Newman Home, which was located at the site of the Newman Building, until her death in 1877.   In her will, Mary stated that the home would be razed and in its place a building would be erected in her memory.  Capt. Cummins built a new home on the northeast corner of Park Ave West and Bowman Street.  In 1913 Capt. Cummins erected another building in the back of the Newman Building facing East Third.  At the time of the fire, the buildings were still owned by the family, belonging to Mrs. Leo D. Wright, granddaughter of Mary Newman Cummins, and her two sons Lieut. Thomas B. Wright, who would become Mayor of Mansfield, and Pvt. Richard Wright.

After the fire, the buildings were razed and in 1947 the new Sears-Roebuck Store was opened at the site of Quality Furniture.  Sears stayed there until 1969 when they moved to the Richland Mall.  Since then the building has housed the Richland Community Service Center where various community organizations are located.

Ebert and Donnellan: Early Streetcar Motormen

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On August 8, 1887, Mansfield rode into the future on one of the first electric streetcar railways in the country.  This photograph shows one of the first motormen, George Ebert.  In a newspaper article from 1932, they identify the other man as Edward Donnellan and the residence in the background belonging to John Nunmaker on Springmill Street near Mulberry.  Looking at city directories and Sanborn maps, it appears Nunmaker lived in the house partially obscured by the streetcar and the home in view was occupied by David Stambaugh, a carpenter.  The house is still standing today.

 

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1902 Sanborn Map showing location where photograph was taken

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Springmill St. today taken from Google Maps

George Ebert would have been only seventeen years old when the streetcars started running.  According to information on FindAGrave.com, he was born on December 16, 1869 here in Mansfield.  In an article from the Shield & Banner from 1887, it states the streetcars started operation on August 8, 1887, an exciting job for a young man in a fast growing city.  George was still a streetcar conductor in 1894, according to the city directory.  On May 1, 1899, George became a city fireman and was severely injured in a fire set by an arsonist in January of 1900.  George continued to be a fireman and, in 1913, was appointed captain of the No. 4 fire station.  There was scandal in the fire department in 1913.  The previous captain, Charles H. Eyerly, was brought up on multiple charges, including threatening the firemen under his charge, taking vegetables and wood bought with city finances for his own use and kicking the horses on the shin to make them back under their harness.  Ebert was one of the men threatened; a witness testified Eyerly said he would get him out of the station within two weeks.  In March of 1913, Ebert was made a Lieutenant and William Ryder was appointed Captain of station No. 4.  A month later, Ryder resigned a day before he was supposed assume his duties and Ebert was made Captain.  Ebert’s captaincy was short. In November of 1915, he was also brought up on charges, including being intoxicated while on duty, gossiping about employees, incompetency and conduct unbecoming of an officer or a gentleman.  On November 23, 1915, Ebert was dismissed from the fire department, a decision he appealed, but dropped the case and officially resigned on December 15, 1915.  Ebert worked as a clerk for various businesses until his death on July 30, 1932.

Edward Donnellan was an Irish immigrant who came to Mansfield in 1886, according to the 1900 census.  His wife, Mary, arrived a year later and by 1900 they had six children and were living on Cline Ave.  In November of 1909, Edward was injured while working for the Mansfield Railway Light & Power Co. when he fell from the top of a car at the brans where the kept the streetcars  and broke his collar bone.  The following month, Edward got pneumonia and died on December 14, 1909.  He left behind his wife, Mary, and eight children, 5 sons and 3 daughters.

The street cars ran for almost fifty years in the city.  The Mansfield News Journal reported on June 7, 1937 that “the old car rattled around the loop from Park Avenue West to Fourth Street shortly before midnight last night, coming to rest in the East Fourth Street car barns.  “Old 51” had made its last run and the streetcar era had ended in Mansfield.”