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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Mansfield Librarians: Miss Helen J. Fox

Helen Jennette Fox was born February 3, 1882, in Hayesville, Ashland County, Ohio to Joseph Benton Fox and Christiania Wallace.  Joseph Benton Fox was an insurance agent and moved to Mansfield, Ohio around 1897-98 according to Mansfield city directories.  Helen was the oldest of six children and the only girl.  Her brothers were Frederick H (b. 1883), Ralph D. (b. 1886), George W. (b 1891), Homer Eugene (b. 1893), and Leo Ronald (b. 1896).  Upon arriving in Mansfield, Helen began attending Mansfield High School and graduated in 1901.

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Record of Birth for Helen Jennette Fox

Miss Fox began working for the Mansfield Memorial Library in May of 1904.  She started when Miss Hedges resigned from her position as assistant librarian.  Mrs. Clara C. Carpenter, Chairman of the Committee on Library and Reading Room, stated in her 1904 annual report that Miss Fox “has shown in a marked degree her adaptability and fitness for the work.  Her earnestness and faithfulness we heartily commend.  Her whole heart seems to be in the work although her compensation is so trifling.”  Miss Fox continued her dedicated work under head librarian Miss Martha Mercer.  In 1905 she represented the library at a meeting for the State Library in Cleveland and, by 1912, was working full time.  In July of 1914, Miss Fox went to Chautauqua, New York and attended the Chautauqua Summer Library School.  This was a six-week course that instructed students on organization, administration, cataloging, and reference skills.

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Helen Jennette Fox

Miss Mercer retired as head librarian on September 1, 1914, and Miss Helen Fox was selected to take her place.  A number of services were added under Miss Fox and funds were obtained from the Richland County Commissioners to perform county work.  “Branch” collections were added to Bellville, Butler, Pavonia, Lexington, Lucas, Ontario, Shiloh, and three county schools.  In addition to this, city branches were added to two fire departments, three schools, and the YMCA.  After much discussion, the librarian’s salary was raised to $840 annually in 1917 from $780 in previous years.

During World War I, the library collected books to be sent to troops.  Some were sent to Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio for which the library received a letter of appreciation from Camp Librarian Burton E. Stevenson.  The library had to temporarily close in 1918 due to the spread of Spanish influenza.  Miss Fox continued to expand the reach of the library and in 1921 collections were added to the Ohio State Reformatory, the County Infirmary, and Mansfield General Hospital.  The library struggled to provide services and it was recommended that the library become a school district library since the city was unable to provide a large enough budget.  This helped immediately and, in 1925, the library was redecorated and new stacks were purchased.  The following year, more stacks and new typewriters were purchased.

1927 saw the hiring of the first trained children’s librarian, Miss Helen S. Keeting, whom the Children’s Room is dedicated to today.  The following year, the first Summer Reading Program was introduced with the theme “Travel Tour through Europe.”  Thirty children completed the program in the first year.   In addition to the work done to improve the library, Miss Fox was also involved in many civic organizations, including the Fortnight Club and the Business and Professional Women’s Club.  She also served as vice president of the Ohio State Library Association.

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Upon leaving for work on the morning of January 2, 1931, Miss Helen Fox died due to a cerebral hemorrhage.  Her death came as a shock to her friends and family as news spread quickly throughout the city.  At the young age of 48, Miss Fox had dedicated almost 27 years to the Mansfield Library.  Miss Gladys Nichols was placed in charge of the library until a replacement was found.  On Monday, January 5, 1931, services were held at the First Presbyterian Church conducted by Rev. Dr. A. M. Hughes.  Members of the library board, both past and present, attended the funeral as a group.  Helen Jennette Fox was buried in the Mansfield cemetery.