Interviewed by C. Wangrin, October 22, 2004
(This oral history has not been fully edited or checked for quality control.)
C: They’re going to take me on a little tour of their house and tell me about it. When was this house built?
B: The original portion of the house was built in 1853 by Washington L. Heller, who would be GraceAnn’s great-great grandfather. He was the brother of Samuel Heller who donated his home for the first hospital in Napoleon.
C: Yes, I remember that.
B: Then the house was renovated a couple of times, but most drastically in the late 1800’s when GraceAnn’s great-grandfather, Russell B. Heller, converted it to the Queen Anne style architecture. It remained largely in the same mode for many years. GraceAnn and I added a room and made several improvements to the home in 2001-2002. That’s what you are seeing today.
C: It’s certainly impressive.
G: The entrance was the front porch. At one time it was wide open, in fact at one time Mother had the front porch painted white and we went back and took the white paint off to put it back to the original. There are stones that are actually fit into the work on the front porch. We speculate, we’re not absolutely positive, but my great-grandparents both traveled quite a bit. These were stones which were probably brought back from some of their trips because they’re all just a little different.
C: Each one just a little different from the other. Interesting. This is an old, old desk here, isn’t it? I remember seeing desks like that.
G: That used to be upstairs and it would come out from the wall and there was a bed on the back. It would pull out for guests. It has the drawers and the shelves; it had everything that you could put your clothes on so it was for company when it came. The piece that held the mattress is still up in the attic, but it was just warped and we certainly didn’t need it. The wicker furniture out here on the front porch was done at our cottage at Lakeside on Lake Erie, which belonged to my great-great grandfather originally. The wicker furniture was my mother’s first furniture that she had when she went into housekeeping. Mom gave the cottage back to the Lakeside Association. We no longer could use it as much as we thought we should be able to. I made the request that I have the wicker furniture. This little piece over here I played with as a child. It was finished painted white with a brown lacquer over it. I refinished it because I really didn’t care much for that.
C: Do you remember playing with that as a child? G: These are stickers that I put on there
C: Oh, really?
G: I didn’t refinish that part so it would still be there. C: Is that an old family Bible?
G: Yes, this is one that came from Lakeside. This is a picture of my mother, my grandparents and my great-grandparents at the cottage.
C: I remember pictures like that. I don’t know how they got that effect. The glass is curved.
G: That’s my mother on the hammock. This was Mother’s little iron. She used to tell me that back in those days most of them had help at home. When the lady was doing the ironing, she would keep her little iron there so she could iron along with her and not burn her fingers.
B: Most of those irons came from salesmen’s samples when the family had a hardware store downtown.
G: Right. This is a salesman’s sample and Mom said she played with this as a little girl. Her grandfather brought it home for her so she could play with it.
C: My mother used to tell that a traveling salesman who stayed at their house over night gave her a little washing machine. It was a little tiny thing, she loved it.
G: These chairs came down through the family. One of these chairs I re-caned to see just how hard it was to do. I was told you couldn’t have chosen a harder thing to do because a round seat is the hardest pattern. I learned to do it, so I felt very good about that. These pictures are all family pictures. I’ve been very blessed that this house has never been outside the family. That’s the reason Mom always wanted it kept in the family. She said, “You’ve got such a nice house in the country.” I said, “Mom, someday we’re not going to be able to take care of that big house and all the property.” This piece is one of the few pieces that doesn’t actually belong in the house, but it is Napoleon history. It’s a hall tree. It belonged to the Morrisons who lived on the South Side. They had a grocery store there. They had a lot of very beautiful furniture, and Ben’s parents knew their son who got them to get rid of some belongings he still had stored here. They had an auction, and Dad bought that at the auction, and it survived their father, thank goodness.
C: This originally belonged to your family, then? I can just see them hanging their hats on that.
B: No, they actually purchased it from the Morrisons. GraceAnn’s mother, who was Ruth Heller, was an only child and an only grandchild.
G: Mom said everybody considered her a spoiled brat because she was the only one. Her grandparents would carry a cushion for her to sit on in the pew at church. She was just very much babied. When she went away to college and got her teaching degree, they wouldn’t give her a job right here which would have been a block away. They said she’ll never last, she’s just too spoiled. She isn’t serious. So they gave her a schoolhouse out in Colton. A one-room schoolhouse. She said she taught kids who were older than she was. There was a stove, and she had a lot of older kids who would help carry the firewood in, and that was her first year. The second year she was out at Dietrich school, which she had to walk to teach. Finally they decide if she managed to handle those two country schools, she must be serious. She finally got a job here just a block away from home. She taught there for 35 years. She went to college one year, and then went back. She went to Ohio Wesleyan, Ohio Northern, and Bowling Green. She ended up graduating from Defiance College, but she took a lot of course in the summertime to keep her degree current.
This used to be my great-grandfather’s library, but we reversed the two rooms and made this into the music room. This piano was given to my mother for her 18th birthday from my great-grandfather.
C: That still has the old ivory keys.
G: This piano actually had the ceiling fall on it at Lakeside. All the strings were rusted in place and it was just a mess. I have antiqued it green, it used to be popular to do that kind of stuff. When Mom passed away, because we have Ben’s mother’s Steinway, I offered this piano to my nieces and nephews, anybody in the family. It was very important to Mom. She played this piano the day before she died. Nobody wanted it, so I said I can’t get rid of it. We had the whole thing restored. The man who restored it said it is a very unusual piece, a very nice piece, and well worth saving.
C: Was it your grandfather or great-grandfather who started the Heller-Aller Company?
B: No, that would be her great-great uncle, who lived at the house at the corner of Clinton and Scott. It later became Napoleon’s first hospital. The father and three or four brothers came here as they moved west. They came originally from Pennsylvania, and then parts of the family kept moving further west. Before they came to Napoleon, they were in Van Buren and Hancock County, so there is family history down there.
C: Where in Pennsylvania?
B: The original land was in Hellertown, in Eastern Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia. Hellertown still exists. GraceAnn and I visited there a couple of years ago. We have uncovered evidence that parts of the family moved up to Western Pennsylvania, and then came into Northeastern Ohio, the Canton area, then Van Buren, and moved east in several years to Napoleon. Some of them just kept moving further west. They were merchants and landowners. Sam Heller did start the windmill factory. GraceAnn’s great-grandfather and grandfather were more into retailing. They had the hardware store downtown. That’s how they got here.
G: They were even involved in one of the banks, the Heller and Saur Bank.
C: Was that a relative of Florian Sauer?
B: It was spelled differently. It was spelled S-a-u-r. Now we’re standing in what we call our library and we had the shelving built. The books you see were stored in the attic of this house, and they are some wonderful books. My attorney is _____. And when he comes here, he has to go through them and admire them.
C: I’ll bet that ladder was from the hardware store.
B: Yes, you’ll notice it has drawers on each side, looks like it dates to the 20’s or 30’s. One thing I want to show you….obviously when the house was built, it was pre-indoor plumbing and as soon as it came along, they added this little room on which is original tile, the original tub. Up in the corner there you’ll notice it is literally hooked onto the house. We left the hook there and this tub. There’s a picture of GraceAnn’s mother in the tub and she was born in 1903, about the time the plumbing was built.
C: I’ve never seen a tub that size.
G: It’s very unusual. It’s still capable, but when they took it out and went to put it back in, they took 999999, so we can’t turn it off. We could go to the basement and turn the water off if we wanted to use it.
B: We’ll show you what we added on here, the back bedroom and bath. This room is for when we occupy the house, I wasn’t quite willing to live in the Victorian age, so this is more comfortable.
C: I like this little alcove here and the overstuffed chairs.
B: Our idea of a tub is a little different than the other one.
C: You could have a tub bath together!
(Something about wisteria, cannot hear.)
G: That window over there actually came out of a mausoleum that was torn down over in Liberty. The cemetery you go by when you turn on 24 and go into Liberty.
B: The mausoleum had deteriorated and so my construction company got the contract to demolish it and these window frames came from there.
G: They had been smashed up so badly, but there was still enough of a pattern to see what it was originally, so I had it rebuilt. The reason I left the _____. I’m not going to make anyone else guess where the house was added on to.
C: Is this bed an antique?
G: This one isn’t, but we have _____. This window used to be _____. These windows came from a house in Tiffin. These doors are accidental, but they are the right vintage for the house. _____ nephew is a curator _____.
C: You have an interesting house. What is this thing?
G: (something about “initials in a hatband”) When they went out of business, it was sitting there.
B: I remember playing with it as a little kid.
G: This has my mother’s _____. A lot of her old schoolbooks, and a lot of my grandfather’s.
C: It’s a nice little display.
B: Notice the fireplace, it was probably added during one of the additions.
G: This is a similar tile which was done in _____ fashion.
C: It’s a little familiar to me. I’ll bet that is from the 20s.
B: The Bloomfield home has the _____.
G: This picture up here is my grandmother’s grandfather. Grandpa Andrews… It was supposedly painted before he came over.
C: He must have liked to read, with the book.
G: The book was probably his _____. All these pictures are my grandmother and grandfather Hellers. He was quite a hunter and a fisherman. I refer to them as grandmother and grandfather because of my mother. She was scared to death of my great-grandmother because she was very strict. You can see it in the picture.
B: This at one time was the entrance to the house, where that window is and that was changed in later renovations.
G: We’re playing with the idea of actually putting doors there again. It was just a little single door, but if we could do it correctly, it would be nice to open the house up and let air through.
B: The furniture is original to the room. It’s been here ever since it was built. The same person built the fireplace and the hutch because the _____ on them look similar, and it could have been a door-to-door contractor.
G: It is on wheels which I never realized it was. Mother had this room carpeted and they carpeted around it. When we came in, the plaster was in very poor shape and it needed all the walls _____. We removed every bit of plaster on the first floor.
B: It would have been nice to save the original plaster, but there was just too much water damage.
G: They actually took the top piece off and wheeled the rest into the kitchen so we could refinish the floors. The floors in here are original, but Mom had radiators, so where the radiators are, we ended up removing the flooring from the hallway. It had water damage so we removed all that and saved the pieces so we could fill in. The old dishes and tea-set came from a door-to-door salesman, so great-grandfather sent him down here to show his wife. He had two sets, one was platinum with gold, and the other was gold with platinum center. My great-grandmother bought one set, and her sister-in-law bought the other set. This was Grandmother Heller’s tea set and butter dish. A lot of the dishes in there were her dishes.
C: They look old.
G: There are coffee cups as well as teacups.
C: Were these imported from China?
G: I don’t know. My great-_____.
C: This was for chocolate.
G: That was Aunt Minnie. That was Minnie _____, who was my great-aunt, and she really came to help take care of my grandmother when she got ill. She helped raise me. My mother taught school, and I was always underfoot. She used to take me and my friends to Lakeside, to the cottage, and let us stay there with her for a week at a time.
B: Nothing very historical out here, the kitchen is obviously modernized.
C: That’s the way you want it, utilitarian.
B: It had been remodeled previously. We added this room here, some of the fixtures came from the hardware store. This supposedly was in the Post Office, which shared a building with the hardware store downtown where the restaurant is now. Half of it was our hardware store, and half of it was the Post Office in the 1930’s, I think.
G: This is a picture of Washington Heller, that’s R.B. Heller, and that’s William Heller. This sign, if you could see it, says “Napoleon Post Office” on it. The hardware store was 122, so the Post Office would have been 124 West Washington Street.
B: You remember when the retail store was still there, there were two halves. There is a lot of old advertising memorabilia on the walls.
G: _____. His grandfather became a substitute mail carrier. He got $100 for his retirement. _____ came from the Post Office. That clock, which still runs, came from the Post Office because when my grandfather Heller owned the building. My mother would tell me that if a light bulb went out, he had to go down and get up on a ladder and change the light bulb, because he owned the building. That’s the reason we still have a few things left.
C: Where did that clock come from?
B: That one we bought in Port Clinton.
G: That one doesn’t have local history, but it still works. The old wagon was Ben’s.
C: And wood wheels!
G: The sled was his father’s.
C: That’s really old, isn’t it? Look at the wooden _____ and _____.
G: That duck has my grandfather’s initials. He was out fishing with my Mom on the river and the duck _____ came apart, so he put his initials on it, and gave it to Mom. It’s always been here. The scale here was up on the third floor of the hardware. It’s a scale for weighing feed.
C: I remember those things. They used to have great big rolls of paper to wrap things.
G: I still have a couple of larger ones, this is the only little one. This is a scale from the hardware to measure the mail. The little collection of advertising things, most of them are Napoleon, one was here in the house, which my great-grandfather collected. Let’s go upstairs. The _____ on the stairs was a wedding gift to my mother. This piece over here came out of the McClure music store in Napoleon. The McClure family owned it. It was across from the hardware. _____ it’s velvet lined for the plates _____.
C: I wonder if that store was here when Mike Lombardi was teaching.
B: Yes, until about 1930.
C: The portrait is of R.B. Heller.
G: Yes, that would be the one who gave his home to the hospital. Sam Heller was a Presbyterian, and R. B. Heller and Washington Heller were Methodists. Sam Heller was a Democrat, R.B. and Washington were Republicans. I think they were good businessmen. What one didn’t, the other one did, because they were partners in business together. The picture down there is Sam and his wife, and those pictures are the Presbyterian members, one is all the men, and the other is of the women. There is one child, C.D. Brillhart, his father is holding him. This bedroom is my _____. This is a picture of my grandmother in her wedding dress, and this is the dress, right there. The framed piece was a gift when they were married with a picture of my grandmother and grandfather. I’ve added my mother. She had a very unusual wedding dress. I played with it when I was young, and it _____. I added my wedding dress, and my two girls’. There is a picture of my mother-in-law and my father-in-law in that little frame there when they got married. They had five dollars between the two of them! This is her dress.
C: What about that dress?
G: I don’t know. It was in the family, it was in this trunk, which was amazing. My in-laws used to go to auctions all the time and they had this stored out in the summer kitchen. We figured they had bought it all from auctions. We went through everything to find the family items. I told my daughter to at least keep one of the 999999 We closed the trunk and we stored it until we had this house refinished, about 15 years, not knowing there was anything in it. I thought I would clean it out, and that was where my mother-in-law’s wedding dress and these coats were all in there. All the bowties were probably grandfather’s. Most of his pictures show a bowtie when he was working as a mail carrier. This dress was my mother’s baby dress. That is a picture of her in it. That was her baptism dress. She was being held by her grandmother. This is _____. Lots of family history. _____ used to work as a beautician, so a lot of these curling irons were hers.
C: I can remember when you put those curling irons in the chimney of a lamp and they would heat them up that way.
G: It’s amazing how much needlework I found, some unfinished with the needle still in them. The quilts were all _____.
C: I remember the velvet.
G: These are a lot of the family pictures I haven’t gotten up. This is Mother’s high school graduation, I think there are three copies of that framed. We call this room the “McKinley Room”. This bed was my great-grandparents’ and President McKinley was a good friend of my great-grandfather’s. They were personal friends. When he was campaigning to be President, he stopped here in Napoleon and he might have stayed here one other time, but we always called this the “McKinley Bed.” I’ve come across at least three different documents that McKinley signed. One was just a personal note to my great-grandfather and one was when he asked him to serve as Sheriff of Napoleon, Ohio, when they had the last hanging. He was in charge of the National Guard at the same time. This letter asks him to please go and serve at the Sheriff’s wishes and do what he asks.
C: I didn’t even know they had a hanging in Napoleon.
G: I think they had more than one, but this was the last one. It’s written up in the history books pretty well. The picture over there as painted by my great-grandmother, it’s supposed to be my great-grandfather on Turkey Foot Creek.
C: Turkey Foot Creek ran through my in-law’s farm.
G: My great-grandfather was on the board for the Deaf and the Dumb. He was appointed by McKinley. He has all these books. This desk was actually built by a blind person. It has drawers on the front and matching drawers on the back. It’s quite a unique piece. The dresses in here were my great-grandmother’s.
C: Look at that bonnet.
G: The little shoes. The nightgown and bed socks. When we were down at the Harding home, they said that back before they had the capability of heating, they had the bedroom on the first floor attached to the main room so you could keep it warmer. The other bedrooms were up here. This is the same tub that was here. The other fixtures are different, but we left the old tub. It’s actually been removed and set back in.
C: That shower curtain goes all the way around.
G: This was actually the main bedroom in the house. We’ve made this into a suite for our daughter so that when she’s here, she has a home area. The room back here, nothing’s been changed much, but this used to be the maid’s quarters.
C: They had their own kitchen and everything.
G: This is a place for Jane, and then the back stairway is here. This is the trunk room. When people came for visits, they had to have a place to put their trunks. I actually have three old trunks in here. This one has my mother’s initials on it, she used it when she went to college. You have to be careful going down this back stairway because the ceiling is low. Here’s a half step and we end up in the kitchen. This goes to the garage. There was probably an outhouse right here before they added on the bathroom.
C: You sure have a lovely place here.
B: At Forest Hill Cemetery, looking at the crypts, a lot of people have been forgotten, and their stories could be told. In some areas you can see neighborhoods, and there are two crypt rooms, one of them occupied by the Tietjens family who were partners in the Heller-Aller company. The other side is the Root family, also a later partner in Heller-Aller. There is no one buried there because they moved out of town. Lots of interesting stories. I, like GraceAnn, am a native of Napoleon. My mother was the daughter of John and Lula _____, on Avon. The house is no longer there, it would have been adjacent to Loose Field. My father came to town in 1920 as a crane operator, building the DT & I Railroad bridge east of Napoleon between Napoleon and Liberty Center. That was Wren Reese. I’ve been mystified how they ever met, and unfortunately I never asked. How a crane operator and a musician ended up getting married. Anyway, they traveled. He was in construction and paving work building bridges for various companies. During the Depression when they all went out of business, he was unemployed and so they came back to Napoleon to live with my grandparents until he got assistance through the WPA and ended up working for the Ohio Highway Department. In 1940 he started his own bridge-building business which I entered after college and diversified quite a bit with national specialty contracting working with concrete pavement.
C: Didn’t your company have the guard rail _____?
B: We painted guard rail briefly. That wasn’t too profitable. We built bridges up until the 1980’s and then went into pavement repair working coast to coast. We have had jobs in Korea and Hong Kong, Hawaii, and a lot of work in California in recent years and a lot of work in Virginia. I sold the business about three years ago and doing a little of this and a little of that.
C: Was your brother in the business?
B: I purchased my brother’s interest over 10 years ago. He originally was, but I bought him out, so he wasn’t involved. We feel fortunate. As a child, I was in the 500 block of West Washington, and we’re in the 300 block here, so GraceAnn and I were neighbors. We’re 16 days apart in age, she’s older, and we have known each other literally all of our lives. I went to Florida to college and thought I’d find an out of town girl, but ended up coming back to Napoleon, and GraceAnn and I were married my senior year of college, 44 years ago.
G: I’d like to say, yes, we’ve known each other for years and he used to pull my braids. I used to say, “Ben Reese, someday I’m going to get even with you!”
B: My first name is actually John and in the business world I was known as John after my grandfather, John Ringhisen. My middle name is Benton after my father’s father, who was _____ Benton Reese in Clearfield County, Ohio. I was called Ben or Benny until I went to college. In the business world I signed my name John B., so for the record I’m the same guy.
C: When you were married, did she insist on calling you Ben?
B: It just comes naturally to her.
C: Tell me, do you remember any little incidents about your childhood?
B: I’m not sure where to go. My first cousin is Dr. Phil Cochran, who lives here in Napoleon. As children, we grew up more like brothers than cousins. We’re very close. We started a business venture called the Phil-Ben Car Company. We took our little wagon with wooden sides, fixed it all up, painted Phil-Ben on it, and took it down to my uncle’s electric shop. Unfortunately, we almost manufactured one and never sold it. I would guess we were 8 to 10 years old at that time. My friends were girls, GraceAnn and her friends, Mary Beth Tietjens and her sister Emily, lived next door to me. Janet Bernicke was on the other side of me, Maureen Meekison, Bridget Beck, Linda Liefer, Sara Sauer.
G: Neil Sheibley, and later John Swearingen in the neighborhood, but most of them were girls.
B: For the record, we’re _____ in 2004. We had quite a good band. Mike Lombardi was succeeded by Roger King while I was still in high school. I remember my first trip to the band was to the Ohio State Fair in the early 1950s. As we were boarding the school buses at Central School on Main Street, a police car and ambulance went by, which in those days was fairly unusual. We got to Columbus and happened to notice a newspaper that gave the news of a murder in Napoleon. A man had murdered his wife and two of three of his children, including one who was a member of the band. She was supposed to be there and we had waited briefly for her, but had a long way to go, so took off without her. Then we found out that she had been murdered. The family name was Hefflinger and they lived up on Welsted Street. As a child, up until fairly recently, I thought I wanted to be in the newspaper printing business because one of my neighbors on Washington Street was Don Orwig, who published the Northwest News at that time. Their print shop was on Main Street where the Meekison Law Office is now. I used to go down there and Don would let me help him print. The smell of the ink and the type fascinated me immensely. I always thought that is what I wanted to do. I bought one printing press in my life and we still have it, an old pedal printing press, but I never made it into the newspaper business. Until a few years ago, I thought I would still do that, but now I’ve decided I really don’t want to. I have good memories of standing in the shop of the Northwest News. The Northwest News was the Democratic paper and the Henry County Signal was the Republican paper. Don’s nephew John Orwig was part owner of the Henry County Signal and later upon Don’s death, the two businesses merged and continue today with different people running the business. There were a lot of other newspapers before that, of course.
C: Do either of you have any memories of the Depression?
G: The only thing I remember is stamps, but that was World War II.
B: We were both born in 1939. I, like GraceAnn, remember the rationing coupons. My father had a different kind of fuel rationing sticker in the window. He could get more, but he wasn’t supposed to use it for personal use, just for back and forth to work. He drove from here to _____. He was always alarmed when he was using the car for some personal trip that somebody would notice the sticker and challenge him on it. That never happened. I vaguely remember VJ Day. We were kindergarten age at that time. I remember we did some posters, but I don’t remember a big celebration or anything.
C: Were there men coming home?
B: Oh yes, I’m sure every family had somebody. My uncle, my mother’s brother was an officer in the Army. I think we all knew people, and a lot of them still around town too.
C: What about when Pearl Harbor happened?
B: I have no memory at two years old. World War II, I don’t remember much at all. The Korean War in the 50s, my brother, for some reason, who was a student at Purdue University and doing fine, all of a sudden my parents get a phone call from him and he quit college and joined the Army. He ended up in the Korean War for a couple of years, a period of great angst for the family, while he was over there.
C: Did he happen to be a prisoner of war?
B: No, he got shot at a few times, he had a Purple Heart, but he survived in pretty good shape. This is sort of a side story, but he had been in Korea and Japan for quite a while, so was attracted to Asian women. When he got home, he was hell-bent to go back to Japan and get a wife. Probably one of the first nights he was home, we went down to what was then Tony’s, and met up with some of the Freedom Township German girls, and all of a sudden, his tastes changed! He ended up marrying a very attractive Freedom Township woman, and they lived for many years. That I remember.
C: I remember there was a house where the Post Office is now, an old man lived in it.
B: By the time we came to town, the Post Office was built, in the late 30s when that was built. There were actually two houses between the Methodist Church and the Post Office. _____ Wilson lived in one of them, and _____.
G: My great-aunt was friends with both of them. The big house that was there, I remember a woman having a pre-school there.
B: But that was in the 60’s.
C: My youngest son went to _____ School for a little bit, and she painted each of the stairs with a number so they could learn their numbers. Some old man had lived there before _____ bought it. He must have died. Do you remember a lady who used to walk to town every day and wore a hat? If she and her husband were getting on well together, she wore a white hat.
B: That was Mrs. Gomer and they lived up on the west end of town. He lived in a little shanty out behind the main house and she lived in the main house. As kids, we would see her either in a white dress or a black dress. We made up names, one woman who used to walk a lot we called “Tiptoe through the Tulips”, but that wasn’t Mrs. Gomer. She and her husband didn’t get along all that well, so she wore black a lot!
G: What we have is a city directory from 1909.
B: We looked at all the addresses and when we were here in town, we’d walk the streets and try to find the houses. The directory was printed before a lot of the houses were even built.
G: It’s amazing, the names you go through, and the names still exist. Their descendants are here. A lot of them are no longer here. Gilson, Meyerholtz.
C: Dr. Gilson had his office right beside my husband’s. The story goes that he answered the phone in the middle of the night one night. The person on the other end took quite a while to tell what the trouble was, and all of a sudden he snored!
B: Doctoring was different back then too!
C: Did your mother have any memory of this Dr. Bloomfield?
G: Not that I know. My great-aunt knew the daughter, Eva. I can remember as a kid going over. The closest I ever got was sitting in the swing on the front porch.
B: That home, maybe we should discuss that a little bit. It’s noted in records, I’m sure, that GraceAnn and I donated the home to the Historical Society and it was unexpected. I always knew the home was there, never knew anything about it. When we were rebuilding this home, I noticed it was deteriorating, and didn’t look too good, and it was for sale. I asked my realtor to check in on it, and found out what the deal was. We made an offer, and it was accepted. I truthfully had never been inside it. We bought it sight unseen. My intention was to turn it into offices or something, it was in a commercial location. But the first time GraceAnn and I walked in and observed the condition of the woodwork and the beauty and saw what could be done, we started thinking in terms of a museum, but were clueless as to how to go about finding someone to do this. We connected up with an intern who was working with the local Historical Society back then, Lisa Crouse, and she gave us excellent guidance on how to do it. Ultimately we were able to donate it to the Historical Society. A lot of people have done a lot of work on it, and it looks outstanding.
C: A lot needs to be done yet, especially to the Carriage House, but we’ll get it done.
G: That was the thing that bothered us because it was really bad. If I went into Mother’s kitchen and looked out the window, that’s what we saw.
B: We made a special request to the people working over there to put a coat of paint on the Carriage House, at least so we could look at it.
C: We have to work on the upstairs because that’s where they’re having these “Mom and Me” programs. With little children up there, they have to make everything safe.
B: We went through it a couple of weeks ago. A lot of work has been done. The acquisition of it by me and the ultimate gift was a God-directed accident, but I never had any intention of buying the house, and I sure never had any intention of giving it away, but that’s how it worked out. Dr. Bloomfield was quite the _____, because a couple of stained glass windows at the Presbyterian Church have his daughter’s name on them.
G: I have a picture where my great-grandfather was a Sunday School teacher up here at the Methodist Church, and Dr. Bloomfield’s daughter was in his class.
B: There must be a connection between the Presbyterian and the Methodist.
G: The Presbyterians and the Methodists and the Republicans and Democrats, they covered every angle!
C: You know, Russ Patterson used to live across the street when he was a boy and he remembers the Bloomfield family. They had a daughter, didn’t they?
B: Yes, Eva Yeager. I expect she would be older than Russell. Our memory is of a man and wife who lived by the railroad, and she took in boarders. It was a boarding house. Her name was Winfield. Grace Ann _____ Yocum, who I bought the home from. We’re blessed that we are able to give _____. My mother was the organist at the Presbyterian Church. I remember as a child, she would be playing the organ, and my father would fix the Sunday dinner. Sunday lunch was a special meal. Ten years ago I concluded I’d like to see a new pipe organ installed in the church, so we made a major gift toward the purchase of the organ in memory of my mother. We have a bell tower in the church. Previously we’d had an electronic device of some sort, and it became obsolete. We discussed purchasing a new electronic carillon. I said, “The people who built this church built a bell tower, and I’m sure planned on putting some bells there in some year, so I decided that we’d take it upon ourselves to accomplish that. Grace Ann and I purchased four bronze cast bells. They were installed several years ago.
C: The music is very pretty, I like it.
B: The music you hear is still electronic, but it’s an improved system. The bells strike on the hour and half hour. They are the real thing. They light it at night.
G: We were having a terrible time. The vibration of the bells would cause the light bulb to go out. I think they finally have the right one up there. So far we’ve only had one major complaint that the noise bothers them, but otherwise we’ve had good responses.
B: Wayne Park’s heyday was in the 30s and 40s, I think. The biggest thing I remember about it in the 60s is that we put on a melodrama there, and my mother was the piano player for the melodrama.
G: It was 1960 because it was when we got engaged!
B: I’d forgotten that part! Wayne Park was a popular spot, and may answer my questions about where my mother and father met, I don’t know. A lot of couples did meet there. It wasn’t a real acceptable place to go when we were kids. That was off limits. We did tear the building down.
C: They had a melodrama close to your father’s company, didn’t they?
B: We did one down on the farm.
C: Didn’t you make use of that old railroad caboose for the play?
B: No, that was just something my dad purchased. It sat by the pond for fishing poles. The current owners are trying to save it. It came from down in Kenton, Ohio where there was a railroad yard. My dad built a lot of bridges in that part of the state. He bought two cabooses. One is behind _____. Those weren’t of local origin.
C: My kids played in some of those melodramas and I remembered they had one on this bluff overlooking the golf course where the clubhouse was. One time they had a play and she was to be an Indian princess and was supposed to dance around this fire. To light this fire, they had a string up to the top of this tree, and put it down into the fire, except the tree caught fire! It was an exciting evening.
G: I was in “The Chalk Garden”, but Ben’s mother didn’t play in that one.
C: I remember her sense of humor, she was funny.
B: Very outspoken!
G: When she finally dropped out of the Child Conservation and Literary Society, my mother said, “It isn’t any fun any more when Jo isn’t there.” Before the _____, Mom and Merle Warden and _____ used to go and travel together. Every weekend they’d go antiquing somewhere, just to get together. Members of downtown merchants, we could tell stories on those.
B: When we were younger, we still had a downtown for the retail businesses. Grace Ann’s family owns quite a few of the buildings downtown. We mentioned the hardware store.
C: Is that the store that used to be Watson-Lash?
B: No, it was bought out a couple of times. We bought out the Watson-Lash business when they decided to retire, and I was in the construction business, which is a risky business, and difficult. I thought if I can do that, I can run a retail store. We bought out the hardware and gift store, and we had a lot of fun for a while. We liked to go to gift markets and buy all this stuff, but we discovered quickly we didn’t know a bit how to sell it. We struggled along with it. GraceAnn did most of the work. I traveled a lot. I wrote the checks and got tired of it, so we decided to close the business down and auction everything off that we didn’t want. We weren’t able to rent the building, so we were faced with a big empty business. We reopened a gift store in just half of the building, made it very elegant, lovely things….and very few customers! An opportunity came along to rent the building to an antique shop. GraceAnn said, “Give me 30 days.”
G: Two daughters were getting married within two months, one wedding was in May and one was in July. We would have a going out of business sale, and if they would take over what we don’t sell on consignment, they can have it in a month. Between weddings, we had a sale and retired from the retail business. I kept saying I missed some of the customers, but as far as the headache, I don’t miss that at all. We never enjoyed Christmas; we were there till the very last minute. I told the kids if there was anything they wanted, just to go and pick out their own presents. It was so hectic and we worked so hard. It did take all the fun out of it.
C: There was a toy store upstairs over the hardware store, and they had so many toys that the shelves were so high in the middle of the aisle. I was picking out toys for my children one time. I heard a woman say, “I fell down and got a black eye, so I just painted the other one to match.” I peeped around the end, it was Harriet Harper, and she had painted her second eye black, so she had two black eyes!
G: She painted murals on the second floor of the store, they were still up there. There were nursery rhymes.
C: I remember at their house they had railroads all around their house in the great room. I remember Bob Downey talking about Wayne Park, some acquaintance of his had an old shack on the river. He said they’d go out there and wait until everybody was dancing. We’d go up there and steal the whiskey that the men had stored outside because they weren’t allowed to bring it in!
G: Lots of memories of Chucky Dillon’s place, when we were in school.
B: Special school _____. High school in the morning, grade school in the afternoon, and his father had a downtown office at that time, in what is known as the Vocke building, and I would go to school for a half-day and go into the coffee shop she’s referring to, which was at the corner of Washington and Scott, the Corner Coffee Shop. I’d eat my hamburger and French fries and work at my Dad’s office doing payroll or whatnot. It was much simpler in those days, so I could do it. So I was a working guy at 14 or 15. Well-fed.
G: Social Security _____.
B: But I’m drawing it now! There have been two hardware stores downtown which were probably the longest fixtures of the downtown retail business. The kids’ favorite hangout was the old five and dime store in what is now the Hahn Center at the corner of Washington and Perry. It was there for many, many years. It was the Morris Store at first, and then a Murphy’s store. They had everything comparable to Wal-Mart today on a smaller scale. You could find anything you wanted in there.
C: Did they have offices upstairs?
B: There have always been offices up there. The store office was in a loft, so you could see that.
C: Maybe to catch people stealing?
B: There was another smaller five and dime store that was run by Ed _____. That was where _____ is now.
G: Living on the south side still _____. He was saying how many kids lived within two blocks up on Welsted. He has lots of memories too.
C: Do you remember Gloria Peterson? She tells about one winter, cold, she went into the dimestore in a big hurry and got her purchase ready. She wanted to get her money out, took her gloves off, and gave a yank, and her teeth fell out on the floor!
G: They used to have these drawings at the Crahan store on Saturday night. That was a big shopping night. You got an entry ticket for every dollar you spent and put your name in.
B: The prize was probably 5 bucks!
G: They did the same thing at the movie theater. Minnie would always get all dressed up and go downtown to Spengler’s. She’d never go in the back room, but in the front room, and get a glass of buttermilk. _____ was a great friend of hers, she lived down here on Main Street, she would pick her up and they’d walk to downtown Napoleon.
B: We aren’t old enough to remember when the retail business was very strong in Napoleon, but Saturday night was the night the stores stayed open and the farmers came in and would go into Spengler’s or Tony’s, and the wives would go shopping. They had big crowds then.
G: Shoemaker’s and Cash Quality and all those, were open on Saturday nights.
B: I remember 3 downtown groceries. Winzeler’s, the Tanner store, and Bill Beck had a store on Washington Street where Sterling’s used to be.
C: Where was the one Florian Sauer had?
B: I used to hang around there quite a bit because Florian had a daughter my age, Sara, and we were good buddies. I had a Cushman motor scooter back then, and she’d get behind me and hold me around the waist and I kind of liked that! Back when I was 14 or 15, before I had a car. Sara was in town just a couple weeks ago.
C: They stayed at Rebar’s.
B: Yes, they’re good friends.
C: Carolyn is helping me now, she’s typing.
G: Oh, good! Having Carolyn get Jim back here has been very good for us.
C: Oh, my yes! A very active and capable person.
G: How many drugstores were there? Two Shaffs, and Gilbert and Herr.
C: What about the bank?
B: That building always housed a bank.
C: Did it have two doors at that time?
B: I think it did. There was also a bank across the alley on Washington Street.
Napoleon Post Offic _____.
C: Are those your bells we’re hearing now?
G: Lists a number of buildings….possibly looking at a map….1892? 1886? Looking at photo?
C: I’ve come across old ledgers. I don’t know if they would want these at the Methodist Church. My great-grandfather and grandfather were doing the books, and when checks were made out, they both had to sign them. There are bunches of them, I only need to keep one as a memory. These were signed by Washington Heller, my great-great-grandfather. Either he bought a house on Washington Street or they changed the name.
B: We’ve referred to the name Seidlinger, Russell B. Heller’s sister by marriage, married William Seidlinger. They built a home catty-cornered from this home at the corner of Webster and Washington across the street. Their daughter was Mary Seidlinger, who later became Mary Vocke, who was quite a woman about town. Vocke refers to the flour mill people, and their home at Avon and Main where the Bed and Breakfast now is. Mary Seidlinger Vocke was known for her little Pekingese puppies that she would take with her wherever she went, including restaurants and grocery stores, and you better not challenge her!
G: She would sit the dog on the table and the dog would eat like a _____. She got away with it.
B: The Idle Hour was the high school hangout when we were that age, on Perry Street.
C: That was where my daughter learned to smoke, unfortunately.
B: Later years, we couldn’t have gotten away with that in those days! The Idle Hour and the Palmer House were attached to each other.
C: The Palmer House must have gone out of business first, didn’t it? What was that, a bar?
B: The Palmer House was just a family restaurant, it was around for years, probably when my mother was young. The Idle Hour opened in the 50s, it was more of an ice cream and soda shoppe. They weren’t connected originally, but I’m thinking that one or the other bought each other out. Then they both went out of business.
C: I remember Biddie’s restaurant on the South Side. That was famous for its chicken dinners.
B: At that time Route 6 was a very well-traveled road. Biddie’s was regionally famous for Sunday chicken dinners.
C: Would people come out from Toledo?
B: I’m sure they did, from all around.
C: How’d it happen that they closed it down?
B: The family all died out. Bittenkofer was the name of the founder, and in our day it was operated by her daughter and son-in-law. They separated the motel from the business and ended up selling. He retired. There were lots of motels on the South Side in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. They called them tourist cabins in those days. I’m old enough to remember when Holiday Inns started. Two weeks every summer we would take a driving trip, by the time I was 16, I had been in all 48 states. I saw the inside of a lot of tourist cabins! In the 50s when motels started, they were pretty fancy places. I liked those a lot. We took our first trip to Florida when I was in 6th grade.
C: They were always little individual buildings?
B: You would pull the car up beside them. Now they’re very quaint!
C: They still have people living in them, I guess. Out on the river road behind that little ice cream _____.
B: Those are the same ones.
G: This is a picture of Mary Vocke. They had two sons.
B: These are her grandsons.
G: We know his kids, and the young man reminds me a lot of them. It would be his great-uncle.
G: Dr. George would come here every day and would take me temperature every day, I was five years old. I was supposed to go into first grade, but because I had scarlet fever, I ended up staying back one year. I can remember him as a big guy and he wore suspenders. I had to stay in the house and my great-aunt and my grandfather stayed with me. My grandfather read books to me. He had so much patience with me. I was quarantined. Afterwards the blankets, mattress, and my favorite rabbit had to be burned. I had a picture taken of me with it before, so at least I have a picture. My mother and brother and sister all got to go down and stay at the Wellington Hotel. I was jealous because they got to stay there, but Mom was teaching school. After school they’d walk by and wave to me in the window, and I’d wave, and they’d go off. I probably had it a lot nicer than they did because I had home-cooked meals and got to sleep in my own bed. I still have good memories of the doctors and their black bags. I could tell a story about Dr. Stough. When Mom got so bad, he came over and I’m sure he would tell you, he and my mother had a very special relationship. It was like a mother and son relationship. He came over and said he didn’t know what to bring because he didn’t have a black bag anymore. I thought, what a shame, they should have one! I remember Mom asking Dr. Stough who to call because he was retiring and he said there was a young man who didn’t have a bedside personality. Dr, George didn’t have a whole lot of bedside personality either!