Biography of Horace S. Walbridge
Lucas County, OH Biographies

It is frequently difficult to discriminate among the individual factors in a city's growth and upbuilding, The difficulty is not present in considering the career of the late Horace S, Walbridge. He had a few peers and associates, but in the third of a century from the early '50s until the late '80s there was none whose position was of more unqualified prominence and whose interests and resources touched and vitalized more of the business, industrial, civic and philanthropic institutions, not only of Toledo, which for so many years represented his home city, but of the entire Maumee valley. A great deal of the important history of this section of the country is reflected in his personal biography.

Into a lifetime of less than sixty five years Horace S. Walbridge crowded manifold activities. He was born July 21, 1828, in Syracuse, New York, and died at his home in Toledo, January 31, 1893, For several years before his death he had been closing up his affairs and withdrawing from many enterprises which had felt the stimulus of his judgment and management, and it will serve to indicate somewhat his prominence as a business man to note the institutions with which he was still officially identified when death took him away. He was at that time vice president of the Toledo Gas Light and Coke Company; president of the Western Electric Light and Power Company; president of the Woodlawn Cemetery Association; a director of the Superior Consolidated Land Company in Superior, Wisconsin; and in a public way was a member of the board of elections.

He came of substantial stock, being a son of Chester and Mary (Walbridge) Walbridge. In 1831, when he was three years of age, the family moved from New York state to Columbus, Ohio. Chester Walbridge there became a member of the firm of Bond & Walbridge, merchants, Two years later, in 1833, he moved his family to the town of Toledo. His family then consisted of his wife and three sons, Hiram, Horace S, and Herman D, At Toledo the father became identified with real estate interests,

The year of their arrival at Toledo, Horace S, Walbridge had just about reached school age. School facilities were very limited and meager at that time, and the late Mr. Walbridge never boasted of a liberal education, though he had learned the fundamentals in the Toledo schools and had that great endowment of natural ability which enabled him to acquire a liberal education by his own experience. When only twelve years of age he became a clerk for Stephen Marsh, who was then one of the pioneer merchants of the town, Later he was with Charles G. McKnight in a similar service for eighteen months, Then, at the age of fourteen, he went to Palmyra, Michigan, as clerk in the store of Walter A, Titus & Company, During the winter of 1845-46 he superintended the construction of a sawmill at Ottawa Lake, Michigan This sawmill was designed largely for sawing material for the track of the old Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad, In the spring of 1846 young Walbridge, then eighteen years of age, invested in a stock of straw hats, made by the French people at the Bay Settlement in Monroe county, Michigan, and took them to Cincinnati to dispose of them,

Soon afterward he entered upon a new phase of his career which brought him into active touch with the great commission business of the middle west and also the transportation, banking and industrial affairs in and around Toledo. At Toledo he became an employe of Thomas Watkins, who was then doing a forwarding and commission business. Partly as a result of the Irish potato famine in 1846-47 there followed a year or so of enormous speculation in grain, and during that eager and bustling time young Walbridge was bearer of special market news to the agent of the house at Adrian, Michigan. On horseback he made the trip of thirty three miles in four hours.

In August, 1852, Mr. Watkins passed away, and Mr. Walbridge, then twenty four years of age, took charge of the business of P. Buckingham & Company of Toledo, The following winter he traveled extensively along the route of the old Wabash and Erie canal, and invested an aggregate of about one million, five hundred thousand dollars chiefly in bread stuffs and hog products. He was thus the medium for distribution of an immense sum of money for those days, and it is said that one half of the currency was forwarded by mail from eastern banks without the record of a single loss. Mr. Walbridge's ability and energy were then rated at a salary of one thousand dollars per year, which was a very generous amount for that time.

At the end of the year he became a member of the firm, and continued as such until the business closed, February 1, 1857. It was succeeded by the commission house of Brown, Walbridge & King, Here were three names then and later conpicuous in Toledo commerce. His partners were the late Matthew Brown and Frank J, King, Another reorganization occurred later when the firm became Brown, Walbridge & Company and still later H. S. Walbridge & Company, the other partner being Ebenezer Walbridge. This firm continued until the spring of 1868. It was from the beginning one of the strongest and most successful commission houses in Toledo, and its sterling reputation was recognized in all the important centers of the middle west.

In 1865 the house of Walbridge, Watkins & Company was established at Chicago, and was maintained there until the senior member withdrew from the grain and commission trade at Toledo in order to direct his attention to other matters, including real estate.

In 1869 Mr. Walbridge was appointed one of the trustees under the Ferguson bill in the construction by the city of Toledo of the Toledo & Woodville Railroad. He was subsequently president of the board five years, while the line was being constructed, For at least twenty years Mr. Walbridge was prominent as a Toledo banker, He was president of the Northwestern Savings Bank during its existence, was one of the first directors of the organization of the Second and of the Northern National banks, and remained on the board of each institution for some time. He was one of three Toledo citizens who, with seven other associates, brought about the construction of the Columbus & Toledo Railroad. He was also one of the five whose action was chiefly responsible for the Detroit & Toledo connection with the Canada Southern Railway.

Some of Toledo's most important early industries grew and flourished largely because Mr. Walbridge supplied capital and because of his judgment as a manager, In 1868, with Matthew Shoemaker, he took part in establishing the Union Manufacturing Company, which for a number of years was one of the most prosperous enterprises of the city. He was a large stockholder and was manager of the Maumee Rolling Mill, which was commenced in 1882 and completed and put in operation in November, 1884. About the time the plant was opened there occurred an extreme depression in the iron trade, and the mill was suspended, and the plant burned April 9, 1887. It was rebuilt, largely of iron construction, and was operated with natural gas as fuel from the recently opened gas fields, In February, 1888, it started operations, giving employment to five hundred men. These two were not all of the enterprises to which Mr. Walbridge gave his attention.

For many years he was interested in Toledo real estate and owned and handled many important sections of city property. It was chiefly through his efforts that the Woodlawn Cemetery was provided.

He could not be considered a politician, though some offices came to him, but his best service was rendered as a business man, and in those quasi public positions which carry heavy responsibility but practically no remuneration and are not the prizes of politics. He was a republican from the time the party was organized, For several years he was a member of the Toledo city council, and as already stated, he was on the board of elections at the time of his death, He was president of the Lincoln Club of Toledo in 1864 and of the Grant Club in 1868, In 1879 he was a republican candidate for the state senate, and though running more than one thousand votes ahead of his party ticket in Lucas county, he was unable to overcome the normal democratic majority in his district. He positively declined to become a candidate for congress in 1880, though his nomination would probably have been equivalent to election.

After all his busy career as a merchant, banker, railroad builder, industrial leader, he never neglected those interests which were always an intimate part of his life and character, church, home and every moral institution. The definite details of this phase of his life can only be spoken of in general terms. He would have been the last to permit a specific record of his benevolences. It is known that he was almost constantly searching out the worthy poor, but the individuals benefited were often unaware of the source whence came their aid. He was one of the founders of the Trinity Protestant Episcopal church of Toledo and for over thirty years was a vestryman. He gave generously of his means for the upbuilding of the church and for other churches, since he was not rigidly sectarian. As an officer and liberal supporter, he was prominent in the organization and maintenance of the Protestant Orphans' Home, the Home for Friendless Women and the Protestant Hospital. He was president of the Toledo Society for the Suppression of Vice.

If the features of his career have been mentioned with due proportion and discrimination, it is evident that the late Mr. Walbridge was a man of absolute democratic simplicity and a fine type of the American business man of the past century. He was, in fact, very quiet and unassuming in demeanor, and in many ways exemplified that old 4-12 classic ideal, "fortiter in re, suavitef in modo" - "Strongly in deed, gently in manner," He took life as he found it, but was always ready to work for the amelioration of evil conditions, and he was always animated by an optimism and a belief that the world was getting better, Those who remember his many acts of kindness and love recall that his benevolence was especially prominent along about the Christmas season of the year,

On October 18, 1854, Horace S. Walbridge married Miss Isabella D. Watkins of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Mrs. Walbridge was born May 13, 1831, in Westport, Massachusetts, a daughter of Thomas W, and Mary (Davis) Watkins, Mrs. Walbridge came to Toledo as a bride, and for almost forty years she and her husband traveled life's journey together. She was an active member of the Trinity Episcopal church and one of its most devoted communicants. She passed away at her home in Toledo, December 17, 1909. Mr. and Mrs. Walbridge were the parents of five children, three of whom are still living : Thomas H, is the oldest ; Mrs. N. Grace Secor is the wife of Arthur J. Secor of Toledo; and Mary D. is the wife of E. W. Newton of Los Angeles, California.

Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio
BY: John M. Killits, A.M., LL.D.
S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago and Toledo

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