Biography of Charles E. Benham
Cuyahoga County, OH Biographies

CHARLES EDWARD BENHAM at the age of nine yeais "went to sea" on the Great Lakes. That was about 1856, the year the republican party presented its first national candidate for president, and five years before the outbreak of the Civil war. Captain Benham has been closely associated with marine transportation, and for some years sailed the lakes as master and vessel owner, and has been a witness of and participant in a remarkable period of development and change affecting the destiny of the City of Cleveland.

He was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, September 29, 1847, son of Samuel and Harriet N. (Williams) Benham. His parents represented old New England families, his father being a native of Middletown, Connecticut, and his mother of Weymouth, Massachusetts. She died in 1897, at the age of seventy five. Samuel Benham, as a young man, located at Ashtabula, where for many years he was engaged in merchandising, and after 1852 was identified with mercantile interests in Cleveland, being first located on River Street and later on Detroit Street. He, too, died in 1897, aged seventy seven years. During the Civil war, with headquarters in the Northern Transportation Building on River Street, he shipped provisions to the army for the Government. Prior to that he had been interested in the vessel business at Ashtabula, interests that coincided with the early experiences of his son, Charles E., on the Great Lakes.

Charles Edward Benham was educated in the public schools of Ashtahula, and in the Bryant and Stratton Business College at Cleveland. From his earliest recollections he had a great fondness for the water, and began sailing on the lakes in the summer seasons when only nine years old. During the winter months, following the completion of his commercial course, he read medicine with Doctors Boynton and Van Norman for two years, and afterwards with Doctor Van Norman alone for two years, likewise attended lectures at the Huron Street Homeopathic Medical College, but with no intention of engaging in practice as a life work, his reading being done simply for his interestin the profession, and while navigation on the lakes was closed.

On August 13, 1862, when sixteen years of age, he sailed his first vessel, as master of the Industry, on Lakes Erie and Huron, and from that time forward was in command of vessels of every description. He first became financially interested in shipping at the time he was made master, and gradually increased his investments, owning at different times the schooners Henry C. Richards, Queen City, Zack Chandler, C. H. Johnson, Reindeer, George Sherman, and the steamers Metropolis, Ketchum, Nahant, H. B. Tuttle and Edward S. Pease, some of which he also sailed. For eleven years he was the owner of the tug Sampson, the most powerful tugboat on the Lakes, which he sailed for five years. He also owned numerous other tugs, and at one time controlled and operated the White Stack Tug Line of seven tugs. In 1882 he practically left the Lakes, but has continued his financial connection with vessel interests to some extent to the present, although he ceased to be actively interested therein when he entered the United States Government service as special deputy collector of customs in 1898,

At the beginning of the Spanish American war, during the administration of Luther Allen as president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Captain Benham, as chairman of the Navigation Committee, converted the United States cutter Andy Johnson into the First Naval Reserve Ship of Ohio, and commanded her for a number of trips.

About 1882 Captain Benham entered the firm of Palmer and Benharn, vessel owners and agents, and while associated therewith represented the marine interests of the Mercantile Insurance Company and also looked after the wrecking and appraising for several different companies. The firm of Palmer and Benham was the first to occupy quarters in the PerryPayne Building. This relation was discontinued in 1897, when the firm became C. P. Gilchrist & Company, vessel owners, the principal partners being C. P. Gilchrist and Charles E. Benham. Later Captain Benham conducted an extensive business in marine surveying, appraising, wrecking and looking after the construction of steel and wooden ships. Probably no other man in Cleveland has a wider acquaintance with the various crafts which navigate the lakes or is more competent to speak with authority upon shipping interests.

In 1887 Captain Benham moved his residence to the West Side, becoming a member of the Water Board of the West Cleveland Corporation, of which he was chairman until the annexation of that district to Cleveland. He was chairman of the West Cleveland annexation committee and also chairman of the joint committee of annexation of the two cities. As a member of the water board he established the same system as used in Cleveland for the tapping of all water lines and also the system of keeping records in the office. Thereafter, under the Gardner administration, he was a member of the Infirmary Board, and under Mayor McKisson was a member of the City Council. During his term of service he acted as chairman of the committee which investigated the books of the Consolidated Street Railway Company to ascertain the cost of carrying passengers. Aside from his private business interests and public service already mentioned, he was for a term of years the first vice president of the West Cleveland Banking Company, now a branch of the Cleveland Trust Company, with which he has been connected since its organization. He is likewise interested in various other financial and commercial institutions and enterprises, and is the owner of valuable West Side real estate. He has been an active member of the Chamber of Commerce for many years, and at one time was chairman of the navigation committee; has for a long period been a member of the river and harbor committee, and has recently been made a life member of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed by Cleveland to represent the city in the deep water convention held in Toronto, and in many other ways has put forth effective and far reaching efforts for the promotion of public progress. He was elected to serve the unexpired term of Herman Baehr as president of the Cleveland Chamber of Industry, when that gentleman was elected mayor of Cleveland, and was later reelected, serving for the ensuing year 1911. Captain Benham is also a member of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce.

In an organization which has had for its object the benefit of shipping interests Captain Benham is known as senior past grand president of the International Shipmasters Association of the Great Lakes. The social side of his nature has found expression in his membership in the Cleveland Yacht Club, the Rough Riders Club and Tippecanoe Club, and in his membership in all branches of the Odd Fellows, Masons and other fraternal organizations.

Captain Benham is numbered among the few lake commanders who have not only mastered navigation but have also displayed marked ability in dealing with the financial problems of lake transportation. Through the utilization of the opportunities which have been opened in connection with the shipping interests of Cleveland he has won a thoroughly creditable success. At the same time he has never lived a self centered life, but with broad outlook he has cooperated with concerns of public importance wherein the city has been a direct beneficiary; nor has he been unmindful of the social and beneficial amenities of life, which are a source of much happiness to him.

On New Year's eve of 1867 Captain Benham married at Cleveland Miss Mary J. Prescott, a daughter of William Prescott, of Boston, Massachusetts. Mrs. Benham, who died January 10, 1899, was very active in charitable and benevolent work, and was a past grand president of Edgewater Rebekah Lodge No. 264. She was a liberal contributor to the Old Ladies Home and other benevolent institutions. By marriage she became the mother of five sons and two daughters: Capt. C. A. Benham, master of steamers of the Hutchinson fleet until his death in July, 1919; William P., master of the steamer C. L. Hutchinson; George E., master of the steamer John Owen, which was lost on Lake Superior, near Caribou Island, with the entire crew on November 13, 1919; Robert H., formerly chief engineer of the steamer J. J. Sullivan, now Government inspector of steam vessels at Cleveland; Harrison M., who graduated from Case School of Applied Science and is now division superintendent of the New Jersey division of the New York Telephone Company; Eva May. wife of J. U. Karr, of the Pioneer Marine Supply Company, dealers in ship supplies; and Jennie M., wife of Lawrence J. Efferth.

On March 16, 1911, Captain Benham married Miss Minnie M. Hayes, daughter of the late Thomas J. and Jennie Hayes, formerly of Wooster, Ohio. Mrs. Benham successfully filled various positions as bookkeeper and public accountant in Cleveland for about twenty five years and has been for the past seven years recorder for the Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America, and is connected in an official way with other fraternal organizations.

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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