L. J. Bonar: The Sage of Mansfield

Lewis John Bonar was born in a log cabin near the small community of Lucerne, Knox County, Ohio on March 23, 1836.  His father, James Bonar, had a small farm and Lewis spent his boyhood turning the soil and chopping wood.  He would define his boyhood as a life of “denial, toil, hard work, and drudgery,” and would often fantasize about running away to the sunny south, but “an opportunity never presented itself.”  His father, James, and mother, Jane Lewis, had purchased the parcel of land from Jane’s father, John Lewis.  Lewis’ Grandmother, Hannah Congar Lewis, would often tell stories of the “thrilling and exciting tales” told of their experiences with the Native Americans, who lived within 200 yards of their cabin.  James and Jane had 4 children while living on the farm: Lewis John was the oldest, next was Matthew Leander, born March 5, 1839, then Katherine, born March 31, 1843, and finally, Milton Ludlow, born January 12, 1852.  Shortly after Milton’s birth, the family sold the farm near Lucern and bought a farm two miles east of Johnsville, Ohio in Morrow County.  Lewis’ father, James, died on March 13, 1854. He and his mother stayed on the farm for two more years, but farm life never appealed to Lewis and the family eventually made their way to Bellville, Richland County, Ohio.

Lewis J Bonar

Lewis had a rudimentary education in his childhood, focused on the “three R’s,” as he called it.  He attended school in the winter months when he was not needed on the farm, but this instilled in him a desire for further education.  When he was 19, Lewis walked 12 miles from his family home to Mansfield to purchase books from Dimon Sturges’ book store.  He purchased Charles Rollin’s “Ancient History” and Addison’s “Spectator.”  These books were some of his prized possessions at the time and stayed in his library until his death.  The following year, around 1856, Lewis accepted a position at the Strong and Waring general store in Bellville.  He stayed there until the start of the Civil War when he volunteered for three months of service under Capt. Miller Moody.  Because of his small stature, 5’10” and 128 pounds, Lewis was deemed unfit for service and was rejected, but he did conduct some clerical work at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio.

Julia Jackson Bonar (from the Mansfield News Journal, 27 January 1899)

When he returned home, Lewis, or L.J. as he became known, married Julia A. Jackson on December 11, 1861.  Julia was the daughter of Judge Benjamin Jackson of Bellville.  The couple would soon move to Mansfield buying a home on the west side of South Main St. for $1800.00. L.J. would work for seven years as a salesman for Blymyer Bros. before entering the insurance business.  It was in insurance where L.J. really made a name for himself. He worked for various companies up until 1871 when the Chicago Fire upended the insurance world.  Fifty-eight companies filed for bankruptcy and thousands of policyholders were never paid.[1]  In 1872 a friend, John P. Vance, asked him to be a special agent with the Insurance Company of North America for Ohio.  L.J. reluctantly accepted, beginning work on Valentine’s Day in 1872.  He would remain associated with the company for nearly sixty years.

Despite his long career in insurance, L.J. Bonar is probably best know for his work in Mansfield civic organizations.  Around 1880, L.J. was one of the original organizers of the Mansfield Humane Society.  At first he would refuse any official position in the organization, but he would eventually serve 38 years as president of the society, retiring in 1927.  Another organization in which L.J. found immense pride was the Abraham Lincoln Society.  In 1908 he approached Huntington Brown and and suggested they create a suitable observance of the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  This call resulted in the creation of the Abraham Lincoln Society. L.J. would be secretary of the society for the first four years, before taking over as president, a position he held until 1925.

Lewis J. Bonar’s home at 166 Park Ave West (from the Mansfield News Journal, 12 May 1960)

On January 26, 1899, Julia Bonar, Lewis’ wife, died at the home of their Park Ave West neighbor, Capt. J. P. Rummel, while visiting.  The couple had three children, two dying in infancy and one son, James G. Bonar, who followed his father into the insurance business.  On December 21, 1901, L.J. would marry Miss Harriett Webb in Erie, Pennsylvania.  The two would return to Lewis’ home at 166 Park Ave West in Mansfield.  On July 16, 1930, Lewis John Bonar died at his home on Park Ave West. He was one of Mansfield’s oldest citizens at 94 years old.  His wife, Harriett, would continue to live in the home until her death in 1959, a few month shy of her 100th birthday.  In 1960 the home was purchased and demolished to make room for a two-story commercial building.[2]


  1. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/645.html
  2. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio).  08 July 1960, p. 1.
  3. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 17 July 1930, p. 1.
  4. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 17 July 1930, p. 2.
  5. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 31 August 1959, p 11.
  6. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 27 January 1899, p. 5.
  7. Bonar, Lewis J. A Sketch and Some Sketches (Hale Sturges Printing Co., Mansfield, Ohio).


Get to Know Your Mayors: Huntington Brown

Huntington Brown was born in Trumbull County, Ohio on December 30, 1849, to James Monroe and Mary (Hicks) Brown.  His grandfather was the Hon. Ephraim Brown, who, along with Thomas Howe, was the original owner of Bloomfield Township, Trumbull County, Ohio.  Ephraim Brown built the first saw-mill in that vicinity in 1815 and the first flour-mill in 1823.  In addition to this, he assisted in the founding of the town library and worked in the Ohio legislature to secure a good common-school system.  This hard work was passed down to Huntington and his other grandchildren, all of whom made their way to Mansfield, Richland County, Ohio in the 1860s and 1870s.


Bloomfield Township, Trumbull County, Ohio 1856

James and Mary’s first child, Ephraim, was born on April 1, 1845, and died in infancy at the age of 1 Month, 8 days.  Their next child, James Ephraim, born on March 21, 1846, arrived in Mansfield around 1878 after gaining employment at the Aultman-Taylor Company as the assistant to M. D. Harter, his sister’s husband.  The eldest sister, Mary Lucinda, was born on December 21, 1847, and would go on to marry the Hon. M. D. Harter on March 4, 1869.  That same year, the couple would move to Mansfield, Ohio where Harter had secured a position managing the Aultman-Taylor Company.  Huntington’s twin brother, Hicks, would arrive in Mansfield, Ohio around 1875.  Hicks would go into business with John Staub opening a flour-mill.  In a short time, the partnership was dissolved and the Hicks Brown Company was created.  Hicks was a senior partner in the company until his untimely death of typhoid fever on December 17, 1884.  One other sister, Annie, born on August 18, 1856, died at the age of 8.

BROWN_Huntington - Centennial Bio

The Brown family moved to Massillon, Ohio when Huntington was young and it was there that he attended public school.  He would later go on to attend Nazareth Hall, a Moravian academy in Pennsylvania.  It’s believed Huntington arrived in Mansfield, Ohio around the same time as his sister, Mary, in 1869, shortly after his father’s death in 1867.  The first time he is mentioned in local Mansfield newspapers is on October 22, 1873, where it was reported he went to Fulton County on a hunting trip with J. C. Burns, V. Gutzwiler, Jr., Richard Smith, and Prosecuting Attorney McCrory.  He first showed up in city directories in 1873, living at 236 West Market St.  Huntington, like his brother James, was employed at the Aultman-Taylor Company andm by 1879m was superintendent of the company.  He stayed there until around 1888 when he became one of the owners and the manager of the Hicks Brown company.

hicks brown

It was during this time, in 1887, that Huntington Brown became involved with the Mansfield Electric Street Railway, helping to erect the first electric streetcar line in the city.  He would become Vice President of the company.  It was around 1895 that Huntington Brown retired from active management of business, but he still maintained a presence on many boards and committees, including the Mansfield Savings Bank.  Brown was very popular and very well-liked in the city, a member of numerous lodges including the Freemasons.  In 1899 he was elected Mayor of Mansfield running as a republican against democrat J. P. Henry.  Brown was one of two republicans elected that year in the normally democratic city, speaking to his reputation and ability to speak to both parties.


Shortly after his election to office, Mansfield was thrown into chaos.  In August of 1899, a traveling apostle and faith healer by the name of Cyrus Fockler was arrested after Dr. Boles said he interfered with his care of the two-year-old child of Frank D. Calver.  The Calvers were members of John Alexander Dowie’s Christian Catholic Church of Zion, which believed that all that was needed to cure the sick was prayer and faith in God.  Things got worse in July of 1900 when a six-week-old child who was “being treated with prayer” died.  The resulting riots quickly threw Mansfield and Mayor Brown into the national spotlight.  Fockler was run out of town, barely escaping with his life.  Two other church elders were painted blue from head to toe and two more were later tarred.  Dowie said Brown and Ohio Governor Nash were doing nothing to protect his church elders and suggested the national guard be sent to “Devils” field, as he called it,  to do the job local officials refused to do.  It became a weekly parade of Dowieites being escorted through the town to the train depot by police and Mayor Brown with mobs of hundreds and at times thousands of citizens throwing stones and spoiled produce.  For a full account of the riots check out Robert Carter’s book The Mansfield Riots of 1900.

brown leaves of healing

In 1901, Mayor Brown lost reelection to democrat Thomas R. Robinson but regained the office in 1903 by beating former mayor Robert McCrory by 119 votes.  Robinson would go on to later become Prosecuting Attorney.  In 1905, Brown again lost reelection to William F. Voegele, Jr.  Brown was again chosen by republicans to run in 1907, this time defeating Voegele by 131 votes.  Brown again defeated Voegele in 1909, this time by 151 votes.  Huntington Brown lost the republican primary in 1911 to S. F. Bell.  Bell would go on to lose the election to William E. O’Donnell by only 46 votes.

After his retirement from politics, Huntington Brown’s health began to decline.  He made trips to health springs and Europe in order to ease his suffering and at times his spirits appeared to improve.  On January 20, 1914, while returning from a business trip in Philadelphia, PA, he fell suddenly ill.  He was taken to the home of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Carrie Brown, in Massillon, Ohio.  Brown lapsed into unconsciousness and died on February 8, 1914.  Huntington Brown never married and in his 40 plus years in Mansfield, lived in hotels or lodged in others’ homes.  The 1900 and 1910 census shows him lodging with Melissa A. Barbour, the mother-in-law of John C. Burns, who was one of his companions on his 1873 hunting trip.  Brown’s body was brought to Mansfield so citizens could pay their respects, then returned to Massillon to be buried in Massillon City Cemetery.

Eligible Bachelors of 1880

Many traditions made their way to America with the immigrants that brought them.  One of these is a leap day tradition where women proposed to men, rather than the traditional other way around.  There are many theories in the origin of this tradition.  One is that Queen Margaret of Scotland created a law in 1288 allowing women to propose on leap day, though there is no evidence to support this.  Another comes from the 5th century where the Irish St. Brigid of Kildare asked St. Patrick to allow women to propose on this day because many of the men were too shy to ask the question.  St. Brigid immediately proposed to St. Patrick.  He refused and gave her a silk gown as a consolation.  This is where another part of the tradition comes from.  If the man refused the proposal, he was to buy his suitress a gown or gloves.  Gloves were apparently given to cover the woman’s hands, this way people wouldn’t be able to see she wasn’t wearing an engagement ring.[i]

Mansfield was no stranger to this tradition.  In the February 4, 1880 edition of the Ohio Liberal, nearly two full columns were given showcasing the eligible men in the city.  The paper reads:  “The following named gentleman have been residents or our city from three to forty years and if anyone desires reference as to their eligibility let them drop a line to this office, and we will satisfy their doubt.”[ii]

Below is a selection of the most prominent of the 37 bachelors listed:

Hon. Manuel May


May was a judge of “national reputation” and according to the paper was “possessed of ample means to make any of our lady friends comfortable for life.”  May died a bachelor and never married and, in the 1900 U. S. Census, he is living with his cousin Rachel Rawson.  His obituary states that “the deceased, though a bachelor, was a great lover of amusement and has been identified with several social and dancing clubs in his day.”[iii]

John C. Burns


Burns, the son of Col. Barnabas Burns, was Prosecuting Attorney in 1880 and said he was unable to get married until Manuel May did.  Burns couldn’t hold out that long and, on August 29, 1883, the 43-year-old Burns married 30-year-old May L. Barbour.  Around 1906, the couple moved to Chicago where Burns was associated with the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Company.  Burns died in Chicago on February 11, 1931.

Reid Carpenter


The paper said no one had the courage to propose to Carpenter, but not to “be afraid of him … he was never known to say no to the fair sex when they asked a favor.”  Reid was the brother of the nationally known travel writer, Frank G. Carpenter, and was a prominent figure the Mansfield’s industrial development, being one of the organizers of the Ohio Brass Company.  Reid married Miss Clara P. Cornell in Mahoning County, Ohio on October 23, 1889.

Curtis McBride


McBride was a law student at the time and it was reported he wrote “poetry beautifully and, quotes Tennyson from beginning to end.  Won’t someone console this youth and snatch him from an early grave?”   McBride would go onto become a prominent lawyer and state legislator.  The Ohio Liberal must not have received the news because McBride would first marry Minnie Rhodes on August 26, 1879, in Ashland County, Ohio.  Minnie would die on December 11, 1900, of Bright’s disease.  McBride would then marry Frances Clark in Monroe, Michigan on January 2, 1910.

Huntington Brown


Brown was referred to as “the catch of the season” by the paper.  At the age of 21, Brown toured Europe and, upon his return, began working for the Aultman and Taylor Company.  In 1889 he began managing the Hicks-Brown Company.  He would go on to serve four terms as Mayor of Mansfield, being first elected in 1899.  Brown never married and died of Influenza on February 8, 1914, in Massillon, Ohio at the home of his sister-in-law.



[i] https://www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/celebrate/book-your-ceremony/ready-to-make-the-leap-the-origins-of-women-proposing-on-a-leap-year-day
[ii] For the Young Ladies and Widows. The Ohio Liberal, 04 FEB 1880, pp. 6. (Mansfield, Ohio).
[iii] The Mansfield News, June 22, 1903, pp. 3 (Mansfield, Ohio).

Michael D. Harter – A Lonely End to a Successful Life

Michael D. Harter was born April 6, 1846 in Canton, Ohio to Isaac and Amanda Zenobia Harter.  Michael’s father, Isaac, was a self-made man who came from humble beginnings.  Isaac first arrived in Canton in 1822 when his sister, Mrs. George Dewalt, arranged for him to be indentured to William Christmas, a leading merchant in the city.  Isaac worked for no pay, only board and clothes for 10 years before becoming a partner at the age of 21 and taking over the business in 1836 after Christmas died.  He sold dry goods, groceries, hardware, leather, boots, shoes and hats.


The Harter family contributed much to the banking business in Canton and here in Mansfield.  In 1866, Michael, along with his brother George, and with help from their father, established the banking house George D. Harter & Brother, in Canton, Ohio.  The original building still stands today.  The Aultman’s and Harter’s were two of the biggest banking families in Canton.  Michael’s brother George was married to Cornelius Aultman’s daughter, Elizabeth.   In 1869 Michael was approached by Cornelius Aultman to manage his new company, the Aultman-Taylor Company, in Mansfield, Ohio.   Michael accepted the offer and moved to Mansfield sometime in 1869.  It is also noted in Baughman’s History of Richland County that Michael was involved in the mercantile business with future Mansfield Mayor, Huntington Brown, in 1869.  On March 4, 1869 Michael married Brown’s sister, Mary, in Massillon, Ohio.


Banking was in Harter’s blood and, on February 26, 1873, The Mansfield Savings Bank was organized.  After the erection of its banking house on the corner of Fourth and Main streets, its doors were opened for business on the 15th of October of that year.  Its officers were Barnabas Burns, president; Michael D. Harter, vice president; and R. Brinkerhoff, cashier.   Michael was also treasurer of the Mansfield Mutual Fire Insurance Company, which originated on August 5, 1873; a partner in the banking business, Isaac Harter & Sons in Canton, Ohio; president of Isaac Harter Milling Company in Fostoria, Ohio; and had an interest in a stock company with Gen. R. Brinkerhoff and W. S. McMillen that started The Ohio Liberal newspaper here in Mansfield.

Harter Home

In the 1870 Harter built his home at 381 Park Ave. West, which was built with stone quarried near the future site of the Reformatory.  It was often the scene of social affairs and, after Harter’s death, was used as a residence for a group of businessmen known as The Circle Club.  In 1959 the home was razed and a car wash was put in its place.

harter PC031

On February 27, 1876, Isaac Harter, Michael’s father, died unexpectedly at the age of 64.  Through Isaac’s hard work and dedication, he had become one of Canton’s most respected and successful businessmen.   Michael shared his father’s work ethic and, even though much of his time was taken up through his many business efforts, he still found time to give back to the Mansfield community.  In 1881 he was involved in the incorporation of the Mansfield Normal College with John Sherman, H. C. Hedges and Judge Geddes and, on November 10, 1881, the Soldiers Monument in Central Park was dedicated.  Harter was “the donor of the monument, [and] was received with hearty applause by the assembled thousands and delivered [a] presentation address, appropriate and eloquent both in matter and in style. At the close of his address Mr. Harter formally presented the monument to the patriotic citizens of Richland County. It was then unveiled and viewed with admiration by the people present.”  In addition to this, in 1884, Harter was one of the many people involved in getting The Ohio State Reformatory built in Mansfield.   In 1886 he donated the land on the triangle of Marion Ave. and Park Ave. West, where St. Luke’s Lutheran Church is located.

harter PC033

Monument in early 1900’s, before it was re-cast in 1998.

In 1891 with Reid Carpenter, Rush Taggart and S. N. Ford, Harter purchased the Citizens Electric Railway, Light & Power Company, of Mansfield.  This company later built the Shelby Interurban Railway.  It was this same year Harter, a Democrat, began representing Ohio’s 15th district in the U.S. House of Representatives and, in May of 1891, he officially retired from business to dedicate his time to his church, family and his political party.  When asked why he was retiring at the young age of 45, Harter replied:

“I think I am setting an example which I hope will be followed by many other business men; that of retiring upon a reasonable competency and leaving the way open for other men to prosper in the calling they give up.  It is the everlasting greed to make money, rather than to be useful that is fast making of Americans a narrow, selfish, grasping, and I believe unhappy, dissatisfied people.”

During his time in Congress, Harter was in favor of the gold standard.  This would put him at odds with his Mansfield neighbor, Senator John Sherman, and the Silver Purchase Act.  Harter’s views eventually won out when the Silver Purchase Act was repealed after the economic depression, known as The Panic of 1893.  President Cleveland oversaw the repeal to prevent the depletion of the government gold reserves as the Act allowed investors to buy silver, exchanged it at the Treasury for gold dollars, and then sell these gold dollars in the metals market for more than they had paid for the silver.  Many of his colleagues opposed his political views, including many in his own party, and Harter declined another nomination in 1895 and returned to Mansfield.

On February 19, 1896, Michael D. Harter arrived in Fostoria, Ohio to look into his business interest in that city.  He appeared in good health and spirits in the days after his arrival.  He was staying in a house he and Mrs. Harter had furnished for their son, which was in the charge of Mr. and Mrs. S. M. Knapp.  When he retired for bed on the evening of February 21, he told Mrs. Knapp to not call him in the morning if he did not arise for breakfast.  When he did not get up in time for dinner, Mrs. Knapp became uneasy and his room was checked.  A shocking sight greeted those who entered his room.  A report of his death said “Mr. Harter was lying in bed attired in his night robes, with a 32-calibre revolver clinched in his right hand.”  It continued: “there was a bullet wound in his right temple, the bullet having passed through his head; the blood that had oozed from the wound had dried and his lifeless body was already cold.”  He was staying in his son’s room and it was with his son’s revolver that the act was committed.

No evidence was found that Harter had planned suicide.  He had mentioned that he had been unable to fall asleep and this was a known condition he dealt with.  It was reported that on the night he took his life, he had taken three morphine pills to induce sleep, which he had obtained from a druggist in the city.  He had written in a letter to his wife, dated Feb. 20, that he was having trouble sleeping and was afraid to resort to opiates, fearful of what effect they would have on him.  On Feb 23 Harter’s remains arrived back in Mansfield and a funeral was held in his home on Park Ave West, on Feb. 26 at 2:00 pm.  In the week following his death, full pages in the Mansfield Newspapers were dedicated to Harter.  The shock of his death was felt throughout the city and condolences and sympathy poured in from around the country.