Biography of George H. Ely
Cuyahoga County, OH Biographies

GEORGE H. ELY. A student and reader of rare appreciation, a man of broad intellectual ken and high ideals, there is reason to believe that the late George H. Ely, long one of Cleveland's most honored and influential citizens, made much of personal sacrifice of his inherent tastes and inclination in giving for many years the greater part of his time and attention to the regulation of large business interests, rather than to the enjoyment of the more purely intellectual phases of life. In his self denial, however, he gave evidence of his distinct appreciation of his individual stewardship, and made his influence constructive and benignant along every line of endeavor. He was loved for his cultured and gracious personality, and was admired for his large and worthy achievement in connection with industrial and commercial enterprises of broad scope and importance.

George H. Ely was born at Rochester, New York, October 18, 1825, and his sudden death occurred January 24, 1894, in the City of Washington, District of Columbia, whither he had gone to lend his influence in a protest against the proposed congressional abolition of the duty on iron ore, a matter which he considered one of grave industrial and economic importance, as he had been long and prominently identified with them interests involved in this purposed legislation.

Elisha Ely, father of the subject of this memoir, was one of the founders and builders of the City of Rochester, New York, and it was there that George H. Ely passed the period of his childhood and youth, the while he was given the advantages of a cultured home and the best available educational facilities. In 1848 he was graduated from Williams College, in which he completed in two years the prescribed four years' course and from which he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts, his alma mater having conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts in the year 1851. As a young man he was called upon to devote about two years to supervising the interests of the large landed estate and flour mill property which had been accumulated by his brother, Alexander L., in and near the City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and upon his return to his native city he there became largely interested in the manufacturing of flour. About three years later he became concerned in the development of the great mineral resources of the Lake Superior region, and on the upper peninsula of Michigan he was associated with his brothers, Samuel P. and Heman B. in the constructing of a private railroad for the transportation of iron ore, this line eventually becoming a part of the Duluth, South Shire & Atlantic Railroad. This pioneer line was completed in 1857 by George H. and Samuel P. Ely, the brother Heman B. having died in the preceding year. Samuel P. Ely made large investments in iron ore lands, and was one of the founders of the Lake Superior Iron Company. The Ely brothers were pioneers in opening up and developing the great iron producing districts of both Michigan and Minnesota, and it was his experience in this connection that eventually made George H. Ely an authority in matters pertaining to the iron industry. In 1863 he established his permanent home in Cleveland, as a partner in the firm of H. B. Tuttle & Company, and he continued to his death his active association with the iron industry, in which his capitalistic interests were large and varied and through the medium of which he did much to advance Cleveland as one of the leading lake ports in the reception of iron ore from the great ranges in the north. He gave his influence to the project that resulted in the construction of the fine locks and ship canal at Sault Ste. Marie, and was called into consultation frequently when national consideration of the iron industry was under way. His loyalty in protecting and advancing the interests of this great industry has become a very part of its history. As a member of the firm of George H. & S. P. Ely, with headquarters in Cleveland, he played a large part in the development of the iron business. In 1890 he became one of the organizers of the Central National Bank of Cleveland, and upon its incorporation was elected its president, an office which he retained until his death. He was a loyal member and supporter of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, and served as a director of this organization. He was a member of the four executive committees of the American Protective Tariff League, and in this connection gave valuable service. He was called also to the office of president of the Western Iron Ore Association. From an editorial that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time of the death of Mr. Ely are taken the following extracts : "From the beginning of his active life, he was intimately connected with the iron interests, having large holdings in iron mines in the Lake Superior country. No man had a more thorough knowledge of that branch of the iron industry, or commanded more attention when setting forth its importance and explaining its needs. It was for this reason, as well as from knowledge of the influential value of his reputation for sincerity, that he was so frequently chosen to represent the business interests of Cleveland - manufacturing, commercial and marine - that are so greatly dependent on the prosperity of the iron industry. He labored unceasingly, and unsparingly of himself, in the faithful discharge of such trusts."

Mr. Ely had in the most significant sense the faith that makes faithful in all things, and to him duty was the veritable canopy of life. He was liberal, progressive and public spirited, and did much to advance the civic and material welfare of his loved home city. His charities and benevolences were large and found varied avenues of concrete expression. He served as president of Lakeside Hospital, and was a trustee of Adelbert College, and of Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Humane Society, the Industrial Home and other benevolent institutions. He was for thirty years an elder and trustee of the Old Stone First Presbyterian Church. His political allegiance was given to the republican party, and he gave two terms of characteristically loyal and effective service as a member of the Ohio State Senate, his first election having occurred in 1883, and he having been returned by a still larger majority in the election of 1885.

The sudden death of Mr. Ely brought sorrow to the community in which he had so long maintained his home, and from manifold sources came tributes of appreciation and of sorrow, these including formal resolutions by business, civic and social organizations, the church of which he had long been a member, and countless friends having marked their sense of loss and bereavement.

The home life of Mr. Ely was one of ideal order, and in this connection his noble and lovable nature best manifested itself. His wife, whose maiden name was Amelia Ripka, of Philadelphia, survived him. The one surviving child, Emma R. still maintains her home in Cleveland and is the widow of Gen. George A. Garretson, a review of whose career is given in the preceding sketch. The son, Montague, died in Princeton College in 1880, and Laura died in 1877, aged thirteen years. Two children died in infancy.

A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924

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