Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Meet George Wickens Part 1

In the history of Lorain, George Wickens was a giant of a man. It's a shame that in 2012, I'll bet that very few people in Lorain even know who he was.

Quite simply, he was a mayor of Lorain and a successful businessman who loved the city and worked tirelessly to improve it. He was one of the city's biggest supporters and most beloved citizens.

As is often the case, the best way to get a measure of a man is to read his obituary, and George Wickens' was quite extensive. I present it below as it ran in the Lorain Daily News on Thursday, March 19, 1908.

After reading it, I'll think that you'll agree that, sadly, Lorain probably has had no one to compare with him since.



End Came at 7:45 This Morning, Caused by Pleuro Pneumonia
George Wickens Was Lorain's Most Active Advocate of Optimism for Its Future

March 19, 1908 front page
George Wickens, Sr. died at his residence, 142 West Erie Avenue at 7:45 o'clock this morning after a four days illness with pneumonia.

Mr. Wickens, whose death came as a great shock, was one of Lorain's most highly respected and prominent men and his demise is mourned by all. In his death the city loses a man who took a great interest in all things pertaining to the welfare of the city and her citizens and whose place Lorain will be unable to fill.

Mr. Wickens was as prominently identified with the growth and development of Lorain as any man now residing in the city and for years has been prominently connected with the public life of the town. He was a self-made man, one who from absolutely nothing had, by intelligence, energy, business acumen, and unquestioned probity, worked his way from the bottom rung of the ladder to prosperity and comparative affluence. He was a leader in both branches of his business and was well and favorably known throughout the state. In all local matters he was always to be found on the right side, aiming constantly to build up and improve the interests of his fellows and his city.

Mr. Wickens was one of the few of Lorain's citizens who was able to accomplish what he set out to do where the interests of the city was at stake and was a man of action. While working for the interests of the city from all standpoints his one great hobby was civic improvement, and towards beautifying Lorain he has done more than any other man. He was an enthusiastic member of the Civic Improvement league, and only yesterday, with the welfare and beautification of the city still uppermost in his mind, he called City Engineer Schickler to his bedside and gave him instructions towards improving several of the city parks and changes that he desired to be made in the plans for the new cemetery to be opened adjoining Elmwood.

In municipal affairs as well as in his private life he was a staunch advocate of Roosevelt's policy of a "Square deal for all" and his life was lived on those principles.

Taken ill on Sunday, Wickens' illness was not thought to be serious, but on Monday he grew suddenly worse and sank slowly until he passed away this morning. Yesterday it was thought that his condition was slightly improved.
The deceased, who was fifty-five years of age, was born in Basingstoke, South England on July 19, 1852. At the age of ten years, he commenced working in a furniture store learning the trade of cabinet maker and joiner. Completing his apprenticeship he came to America in 1871 and for a time lived at St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada. He came to Lorain in 1872.

For ten years he was engaged in carpentry work, contracting and building, and in 1883 embarked in the undertaking and furniture business, with which he was identified at the time of his death.

While engaged in the carpentry business in Lorain, Mr. Wickens built many of the older houses now located on the east side and was the contractor that built the old lighthouse which now stands at the end of the west pier of the river. In 1886 he became a member of the Funeral Directors' association of Ohio and on June 2, 1892, he was elected its president.

In 1875 Mr. Wickens married Miss Celia E. Chapman and one child was born, George B. Wickens. This wife died the following year. In 1877 Mr. Wickens married again and this time in England to Miss Mary A. Colly and three children were born, William A., Elizabeth and Edward M. A little over a year ago, Mr. Wickens was married to Miss Elizabeth Wallace. Surviving him other than his wife is his three children, George, Edward and Mrs. L. M. Lewis.

In 1878 the deceased was granted a preachers license by the second London district of the Methodist church and for many years was a member and preacher in the Lorain M. E. church and superintendent of the Sunday school. He has visited his native land many times, returning at one time in England for four years. Only last summer he spent several months in Europe with his wife and daughter Elizabeth.

In public life Mr. Wickens was a most potent factor. In politics he was a Republican but not a radical. His ideas were broad upon public questions, which gained for him unbounded popularity. He was elected mayor of the city in 1894 and served the city as its chief executive for two years. He was mayor of the city when the plant of the National Tube company came to Lorain and had in his possession at the time of his death the first piece of steel ever turned out by the plant. In '97 Mr. Wickens was elected as a member of the council from the second ward and later was a member of the boards of cemetery trustees and water works trustees. He was elected a member of the first board of public service in 1903. At the last municipal election he was again elected to the office of member of the board of public service by a large majority. He was also a member of the board of library trustees.

In his business life Mr. Wickens has been most successful and in the last twenty-five years has built up one of the most extensive furniture businesses in this section of the state. In 1900 he erected the three story business block on Broadway now occupied by the Boston Store. In the spring of 1899 a branch store was opened on Tenth avenue. In 1904 the five-story building in which the business in now located was erected, the store opening for business on December 13, '95. The Parkside Chapel, identified with the undertaking business of Wickens and Ransom, was erected in 1903.

Vintage postcard showing the Parkside Chapel
Last summer Mr. Wickens was the delegate sent by Ohio to the International convention of funeral directors held in one of the southern cities and up to his death was one of the three members of International committee on embalming, representing the United States.

At a meeting of the Ohio Furniture Dealers' association held in Cleveland recently, he was elected president of the association.

Mr. Wickens belonged to many secret societies and was a charter member of the Ohio Anti-Saloon league organized at Oberlin a number of years ago. Among the numerous lodges of which he was a member are the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, K. O. T. M., Rathbone Sisters, Red Men, Protected Home Circle, National Union, Modern Woodmen, Woodmen of the World.

The death of Mr. Wickens has caused a wave of regret from one end of the city to the other. He was probably one of the most charitably inclined men of Lorain and there has been hundreds of little deeds of kindness that have gone unnoticed by those not intimately connected with him. No one wanted if Mr. Wickens was aware that help was needed and he did not wait until some charitable institution had taken up the case but furnished immediate relief.

Funeral arrangements have as yet not been completed.

On that same page, an article with the headline A WICKENS HOBBY MAY BE LOCAL INSTITUTION tells how an idea of George Wickens foreshadowed Lorain's modern Pride Day. The article stated, "If the suggestions of the board of trade are carried out, Lorain will have regular days set apart each fall and spring as holiday clean-up days. Health Officer Hug, at the meeting last night spoke of the necessity of such a move. "To those who have occasion to pass the alleys and back yards about the city it becomes at once apparent that the conditions are decidedly unsanitary, unsightly and very offensive to aesthetic natures. Clean-up days was a hobby with George Wickens, and a mighty good one, too, and I think it would be an advisable thing to have the city carry out his suggestions. Clean-up day should become a regular institution each spring and fall.""

The suggestion by Dr. Hug was to be presented as a resolution to Mayor King.

The Elyria Chronicle of March 19, 1908 also reported the passing of George Wickens in a front page article. GEORGE WICKENS, PROMINENT LORAIN CITIZEN IS DEAD was the headline. The article noted that he was a well known popular business man with "many friends in Elyria."


Loraine Ritchey said...

And there was the Wurmser connection :)

Dan Brady said...

As Loraine mentioned (how could I forget) – Architect H. O. Wurmser of Lorain designed Wickens' Parkside Chapel.

Anonymous said...

142 West Erie Avenue comes up in the vicinity of the service drive (on the BRL side) for the Bascule Bridge. Hard to believe people once lived where that bridge now stands.

Who do you think would be the "city's leading citizen" today? Hmmm...

Lisa said...

Really, Blogger? ^ that's me!

Drew Penfield said...

The numbering system for addresses in Lorain changed a few times around the turn of the century. The 1905 insurance map for that part of town shows 142 West Erie to be next door (west side) of the Parkside Chapel.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog vety much. Any thoughts to which 'secret societies' Mr. Wickens belonged?

Lisa said...

@ Drew
Today that would be in the vicinity of Frey Funeral Home & City Hall Place?

Dan Brady said...

I think the "secret societies" the obituary is referring to are pretty much the various lodges listed, such as the Odd Fellows, the Red Men, Knights of the Maccabees (K.O.T.M.), Knights of Pythias, Modern Woodmen of America, etc. Those fraternal organizations all used to be really big in Lorain; it seems like everyone, especially if you were in business, belonged to at least a few. (My grandfather was a Mason and an Elk.)

Anonymous said...

Although the Wickens Chapel is long gone, I'm wondering if the Frey Funeral Home was once the Wickens home?
George's grandson, William Wickens, a prominent Lorain attorney, wrote 2 books on the history of Lorain. They're really worth reading and mention quite a bit about the Wickens Family. BRHS probably sells copies...

I agree that George never received the recognition he deserved. Is it too late?