Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bio Sketch: John W. Van Cleve (1801-1858), early settler and mayor in Dayton, Ohio

John Whitten Van Cleve (1801-1858), son of Benjamin and Mary Whitten Van Cleve, was one of the first white children born in Dayton. John was born on June 27, 1801, five years after his father had arrived at present-day Dayton. John would become locally noted for his literary, scientific, and artistic achievements, and his life-long and unpaid work for the public good.

John was a born scholar, endowed with a vigorous intellect and a facility for acquiring knowledge of both mathematics and languages. John entered Ohio University at Athens when he was sixteen years old. He established quite a reputation for his scholarship at the university; he was a teacher of Greek and Latin at the university before graduating.

Upon his graduation, John studied law with Judge Joseph H. Crane, and was admitted to the bar in 1828. John’s political career included serving elected terms as recorder in 1824 and 1828, as well as three terms as Mayor of Dayton between 1830 and 1832, and he was several times the city engineer. In December 1828, John purchased an interest in the Dayton Journal, which he edited until 1834. John was also involved in the drug business, in partnership with Augustus Newell, their firm being Van Cleve & Newell. Van Cleve & Newell was on the north side of Third Street, just east of Main.

In his later years, John W. Van Cleve became an accomplished musician, painter, engraver, civil engineer, botanist, and geologist. John was a founder of Woodland Cemetery, being president of the Woodland Cemetery Association from its inception in the early 1840s until his death. In 1847, John also became one of the founders of the Dayton Library Association, which would eventually become the present-day Dayton Metro Library system.

John W. Van Cleve died from tuberculosis on September 6, 1858, in Dayton. His funeral was held the following day at the Phillips House, and he was buried inWoodland Cemetery, Dayton. He had no spouse or children.

Tombstone of John W. Van Cleve in Woodland Cemetery

Tombstone of John W. Van Cleve in Woodland Cemetery


This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey and Jared Baldwin in April 2010 for the Van Cleve-Dover Collection (MS-006) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654. Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection and in the citations below. Please contact the library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.



Conover, Charlotte Reeve. Dayton, Ohio: An Intimate History. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1932. Pp. 95-98. [Dayton 977.173 C753DAY 1932]

Conover, Frank. Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: A. W. Bowen, 1897. Pp. 177. [Dayton 977.172 C753C 1897]

Drury, Augustus Waldo. History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago; Dayton: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1909. Vol. 1, pp. 167-168. [Dayton 977.173 D796]

Edgar, John F. Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity, 1796-1840. Evansville,IN: Unigraphic, 1976. Pp. 72-76. [Dayton 977.173 E23P 1976]

Hall, Agnes Anderson. Letters from John. S.l.: S.n., [n.d.].  [Dayton B V2224H]. (This source gives extensive information about John W. Van Cleve’s relationship with the Charles R. Greene family.)

History of Dayton, Ohio. Dayton: United Brethren Publishing House, 1889. Pp. 643-644. [Dayton 977.173 H673]

The History of Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: W. H. Beers & Co., 1882. Book 2, pp. 755; 756. [Dayton 977.172 H673]

Steele, Robert W., and Mary Davies Steele. Early Dayton. Dayton: W. J. Shuey, 1896. Pp. 67-76. [Dayton 977.173 S814E 1896]

Van Cleve, John W. A Trip from Dayton to Chicago by Water in the Year 1847: Described in Verse. [Dayton,Ohio: H. Lowe], 1911. [Dayton 811 V222T]

Obituary of John W. Van Cleve, Dayton Daily Journal, September 7, 1858, page 2.

Bio Sketch: Benjamin Van Cleve (1773-1821), early settler and county clerk in Dayton, Ohio

Benjamin Van Cleve (1773-1821) was one of the earliest European settlers of what would later become the city of Dayton, Ohio.

Benjamin Van Cleve

Benjamin Van Cleve

He was born February 24, 1773, to John Van Cleve and Catherine Benham Van Cleve inMonmouth County, New Jersey. In December of 1789, John and Catherine Van Cleve headed west with their family, including 16-year-old Benjamin, and arrived at present-day Cincinnati on January 3, 1790. Less than two years later, on June 1, 1791, John Van Cleve was murdered by Native Americans while tending his fields. For a number of years after his father’s death, Benjamin carried the burden of supporting his mother and siblings.

Benjamin Van Cleve was one of the first settlers of Dayton,Ohio, when he arrived with a small group of others at the present site of downtown Dayton on April 1, 1796. Benjamin Van Cleve’s other important roles in Dayton history include teaching at the first school in the city, being the first postmaster of Dayton, and serving as the clerk of courts for Montgomery County. He was also a surveyor.

In 1805, Benjamin Van Cleve was among the founders of the first library incorporated in the state of Ohio; the library was located in Van Cleve’s log house in Dayton. Benjamin himself wrote down his memoirs in his Memoranda, which contains, among other things, the most accurate and detailed description of General Arthur St. Clair’s defeat and the only reliable account of the settlement of Dayton in 1796.

On August 28, 1800, in Dayton, Benjamin married Mary Whitten, who was born February 17, 1782. Benjamin Van Cleve had five children with his first wife, Mary Whitten Van Cleve; she died on December 28, 1810. On March 10, 1812, Benjamin married Mary Tamplin, by whom he had no children. Benjamin died on November 29, 1821; his second wife Mary died in 1825 or 1826. The remains of Benjamin Van Cleve and both of his wives were interred in their final resting place in Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, on February 29, 1844.

Tombstone of Benjamin Van Cleve

Tombstone of Benjamin Van Cleve in Woodland Cemetery

The five children of Benjamin Van Cleve and Mary Whitten Van Cleve were: John Whitten Van Cleve (1801-1858), who was unmarried; William James Van Cleve (1803-1808); Henrietta Maria Van Cleve (1805-1879), who married Samuel Best Dover and later married Joseph Bond; Mary Cornelia Van Cleve (1807-1878), who married James Andrews; and Sarah Sophie Van Cleve (1809-1839), who married David C. Baker.


This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey and Jared Baldwin in April 2010 for the Van Cleve-Dover Collection (MS-006) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654. Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection and in the citations below. Please contact the library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.



Bond, Beverley W., Jr., editor. “Memoirs of Benjamin Van Cleve.” In Quarterly publication of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio. vol. XVII, no. 1-2, January-June [1922]. Cincinnati: The Abingdon press, [1922]. [Dayton B V222BO]

Conger, William R., compiler. Benjamin Van Cleve (1773-1821). Fort Worth,TX: American Reference Publishers, 1968. [Dayton B V222AAB]

Conover, Charlotte Reeve. Dayton, Ohio: An Intimate History. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1932. Pp. 21-22; 52; 53; 57; 58. [Dayton 977.173 C753DAY 1932]

Conover, Frank. Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: A. W. Bowen, 1897. Pp. 176, 177, 862, 1277. [Dayton 977.172 C753C 1897]

Drury, Augustus Waldo. History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago; Dayton: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1909. Vol. 1, pp. 40; 66-70; 93-94. Vol. 2, pp. 871; 272. [Dayton 977.173 D796]

Edgar, John F. Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity, 1796-1840. Evansville,IN: Unigraphic, 1976. Pp. 29-32. [Dayton 977.173 E23P 1976]

Fillers, Mildred, compiler. Extracts from Benjamin Van Cleve’s memoirs, Colonel Robert Patterson’s memoranda and Colonel J. F. Hamtranck’s letters, 1775-1804 / [copied by Dayton Public Library]; maps copied by Mildred Fillers. Dayton,OH: Dayton Public Library, 1951. [Dayton 977 E969 1951]

History of Dayton, Ohio.Dayton: United Brethren Publishing House, 1889. Pp. 36-44. [Dayton 977.173 H673]

The History of Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: W. H. Beers & Co., 1882. Book 2, pp. 272-273. [Dayton 977.172 H673]

Jillson, Willard Rouse, compiler. Harrod’s Old Fort, 1791, as described and platted in Benjamin Van Cleve’s manuscript biographical memorandum dating from the year 1773. Frankfort, KY: KentuckyState Historical Society, 1929. [Dayton 976.9 V222h]

Starr, Christine. What They Wrote in Their Diaries. New York: [n.d.]. [Dayton B V222S]

Steele, Robert W., and Mary Davies Steele. Early Dayton. Dayton: W. J. Shuey, 1896. Pp. 34-50; 57-58. [Dayton 977.173 S814E 1896]

Van Cleve, Benjamin. The Memoirs of Benjamin Van Cleve. [S.l.: s.n., 1778-1819]. [DaytonB V222AA]

Van Cleve, Benjamin. Memoirs of Benjamin Van Cleve. [S.l.: s.n., 18–?]. [Dayton B V222AB]


Society of Ohio Archivists Annual Meeting 2012

On Friday, May 18, 2012, I attended the Society of Ohio Archivists 2012 Annual Meeting at the Lakeside Room of the Conference Center at OCLC in Dublin, Ohio. (It seemed like I was just there… Oh right, I was [CDM-MUG 2012].) I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this was my first SOA Annual Meeting ever, and now I’m wondering, Why haven’t I been attending these all along? There were lots of great presentations and interesting projects.

Update 6/21/2012: Many of the speakers’ presentations/text are now available at the SOA 2012 conference web page.


The plenary speaker was Jason Crabill, manager of Curatorial Services at the Ohio Historical Society. In his presentation, “Celebrations, Commemorations, and Collections: Delivering Immediate Impact and Creating Lasting Value,” he focused on recent activities surrounding the Civil War sesquicentennial and asked: What do we mean by “celebration” vs. “commemoration”? What was done last time (for the Civil War centennial)? How are things different today and why? What does this mean for archivists? He talked about how the centennial was more of a “celebration” (the whole “Big Man, Big Event, Big Philosophy” mindset). By contrast, the current activities are more of a “commemoration,” with a deliberate shift towards something a bit more solemn, with a bit more balance between Big Men/Events and reflections on the causes and bigger issues.

Jason Crabill delivering plenary session at SOA 2012

Jason Crabill delivering plenary session at SOA 2012

Jason asked us as archivists to really think about what we’re doing to commemorate the Civil War and always keep in mind why we’re doing it and the long-term effects of these efforts. With digital projects in particular, he advised us to make sure we plan for effective long-term access, citing several areas to keep in mind while attempting to ensure that long-term access. In my opinion, Jason gave us lots of interesting food for thought, both in regards to how we as a society think of history, as well as how we as archivists preserve and promote it.


Concurrent Session #1 options included: “Help Us Help You: Using Focus Groups for Marketing Participants” presented by Stephanie Dawson, Emily Gainer, and Joe Salem, of the University of Akron, or “We Look at Giants: The University of Cincinnati Archival Grant Projects” presented by Kevin Grace, Doris Haag, Laura Laugle, Stephanie Bricking, of the University of Cincinnati.

I attended “We Look at Giants,” in which UC archivists discussed two large scale manuscript processing projects funded by grants. Kevin Grace and project archivist Laura Laugle discussed the NHPRC-funded Theodore Moody Berry Project, which has involved process the papers of Ted Berry, the first African American mayor of Cincinnati. Doris Haag and project archivist Stephanie Bricking discussed the NEH-funded project to process the archives of Albert B. Sabin, inventor of the oral, live-virus polio vaccine.

One of the points the presenters wished to convey was the following (quoted from conference program): “Important to the success of the grants is the concerted effort to develop outreach methods that effectively generate public support as the work progresses, and to clearly convey the national or international importance of the individuals whose papers were the subject of the grants.”

One of the ways that this was accomplished in both grants was through the use of blogs.  Laura Laugle wrote and posted to the Theodore M. Berry Papers Project Blog anything interesting that she found, which she said was “a great way to help others discover [the collection]” as she did. I found Laura’s advice about writing an archives blog noteworthy: “Do whatever you think is interesting. Don’t worry so much about rules; just be yourself and put it online, and you will have success.”

Laura Laugle discussing the Ted Berry Project

Laura Laugle discussing the Ted Berry Project

Stephanie Bricking writes blog posts about the Albert B. Sabin Archives on the UC Libraries blog. She, too, posts about interesting finds in the collection. She also had a couple of other really interesting ideas for archives bloggers. Not only does she write up posts about Sabin and put them “out there,” she actively seeks out interested organizations and stakeholders and directs them to the blog. (This can also help you get positive IDs on unidentified photographs, she added.) Furthermore, she has a Google Alert set up to notify her about anything new on the Web about Sabin. (I had never heard of Google Alerts, but I will definitely be checking that out!)

Other salient points from this presentation came from Doris Haag and Kevin Grace as well. Haag spoke mostly about how to handle potential legal issues, but she also said, “If [archival collections] are not accessible, they might as well not exist.” (A statement after my own heart.) Grace pointed out the advantage of releasing some of the research material onto the Internet via the blog before the entire collections are fully accessible; after all, providing access through arrangement and description is the purpose of the grant, so why not share some of those tasty nuggets as soon as you find them?

My goodness, I have written a lot about this session, but can you blame me? I’m an archivist blogger blogging about fellow archivist bloggers. (Try saying that five times fast.) I like to think that I try to do some of the same things that these archivists are doing with their blogs, for some of the same reasons: get the information out there! When I find or learn something really cool in our archives, I feel compelled to share it. (And getting stuff about our collections into the Google database doesn’t hurt either.)

And now…on to the rest of the day.


Concurrent Session #2 options included: “Time has Come Today: Creating a Sustainable Library and Archives” presented by Andy Leach and Jennie Thomas of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or “Meet your Patrons Where They Are: Social Media in the Archives” presented by Beth Anderson (Wright State University), Janet Carleton (Ohio University), and Liz Tousey (Bowling Green State University).

I attended the presentations on social media.

First, Liz Tousey discussed ways to use the Flickr Commons, HistoryPin, and tumblr, and certain kinds of blogs to promote your collections. I say “certain kinds” of blogs because she specifically mentioned sites like Letters of Note and My Daguerreotype Boyfriend (love that one!), where materials from many sources can be reposted or linked. I had heard of HistoryPin — a super-cool site which overlays geo-tagged historic photos on top of current street views — and have even contemplated putting some of our (Dayton Metro Library’s) images on there, but it hasn’t happened yet. (Looking at the HistoryPin map of Dayton makes me want to do this even more, as there are very few pinned photos for the Dayton area.)

Liz Tousey showing the HistoryPin site

Liz Tousey showing the HistoryPin site

Beth Anderson of the Wright State University Student Technology Assistance Center (STAC) talked about creating promotional YouTube videos for the WSU libraries (love this video for the archives!). In emphasizing how easy it is, Beth said, “It’s just a couple old ladies running around [in the library] with Flip cameras,” then editing the video using iMovie 11 and posting on YouTube. She said each video only takes an hour or two to create. She handed out a list of tips called “The Sock Monkey approach to Promo YouTube videos,” the first rule of which is to “keep it short & simple (60 seconds.” She also advised making the videos fun, funny, and catchy, which (in addition to keeping it short) helps to keep students’ attention and can have the added bonus effect of making your video go viral among the student body. (I find this sort of like hiding medicine in something tastier; everybody wins.) Including student workers in the videos also helps, because they want to show all their friends when it’s finished – which obviously also helps spread the video throughout the student population.

Janet Carleton discussed social media activities revolving around Maggie Boyd, the first female graduate of Ohio University whose diary for the year 1873 (her senior year at OU) was digitized 10 years ago for Ohio Memory. Now, the OU archives is repurposing Maggie’s digitized diary in the form of the @MaggieBoyd1873 Twitter feed, as well as WordPress blog posts and Pinterest boards about various aspects of Maggie’s world. The social media items link back to high resolution images of the relevant original diary entries.


Next up, we had a tasty lunch and then the SOA Business Meeting.

The 2012 SOA Merit Award winners were William C. Barrow, Special Collections Librarian at Cleveland State University, and Angela O’Neal, Director of Collections Services at the Ohio Historical Society.

The election was also held. Emily Gainer was re-elected to the position of treasurer. Newly-elected SOA Council members are Jacky Johnson, Western College Archivist/ Special Collections Cataloger at Miami University, and…yours truly [Lisa Rickey, Reference Librarian/Archivist at the Dayton Metro Library]. (I appreciate the vote of confidence, and I hope that I live up to everyone’s expectations!)


The next time block of the conference consisted of an Employment Roundtable discussion and Poster Presentations.

The Employment Roundtable was facilitated by Rachel Bilokonsky (University of Dayton), Dawne Dewey (Wright State University), Noel Rihm (Wright State University, Public History student), and Lonna McKinley (National Museum of the United States Air Force). The point of this roundtable seemed to be to have a discussion about the state of the profession (and the job market) and get ideas about what, if anything, SOA can do to improve the situation. (If you have suggestions, please share them on the SOA listserv.)

As director of the Public History program at Wright State University, Dawne Dewey had several bits of advice for current students. She advises, “Do more than the minimum” and “diversify [your coursework].” She also emphasized the importance of internships and volunteer work and said that, in her observation, students who “go the extra mile” tend to do better in the job market after graduation.

Current Public History student Noel Rihm advised getting a mentor and not being afraid to go after “big” internships (such as the Marine Corps-affiliated internship she will be doing in Quantico this summer!). Lonna McKinley added, “You don’t know unless you try.” (And, as my high school guidance counselor Mr. Smith used to say—in reference to scholarships, but it works for internships too— “If you don’t try, you know you won’t get it.”)

Another bit of advice was: be prepared to move. I had heard this one; there are a lot of archivists in Dayton because of the WSU program (of which I am a grad). And not all are lucky like I was, finding a job in Dayton; some have to choose between a job in Dayton or a job in the field.

Another bit of advice: don’t be afraid of grant-funded positions; it doesn’t look like “job-hopping”.

Once the discussion was turned over to the audience, other viewpoints emerged. A couple of project archivists voiced valid complaints regarding the state of the profession, with so many positions coming only through grants (and thus being finite in term). For instance, it’s difficult to justify moving your family to take a temporary job. One archivist said her husband left his job to move with her and then was laid off at his new job (I assume because he was “low man” on the proverbial company totem pole). They said it is aggravating — and I agree — that so many positions have become this way and that we have become complacent to it.

On the other hand, the obvious question is: Yes, but what, if anything, can we do about it? And yes, it sucks, but I can also see the logic of, Aren’t grant jobs better than no jobs at all – both for the archivists and the materials that need our attention and would otherwise continue sitting in storage? Lots to think about, and the problem is pretty massive. But it’s certainly something we need to think about and do what we can to change.

In response to “going the extra mile” while in grad school and not rushing to graduate, someone pointed out that taking extra classes and extra time in grad school all costs extra money. It was even stated that those who can afford the luxury of extra time and courses have an “unfair advantage” in the job market.

An interesting way of looking at things. I certainly see the validity and value of these comments, as well as Dawne’s. I suppose in a way it comes down to weighing opportunity costs and (in a way) gambling. You basically have to guess at which you think will be more valuable to you later on: an extra course or internship (or two) that may give you that edge (both of which take time, if not money – after all, you could volunteer for free, but it still costs time which can equal money), or the money you would save on tuition or potentially earn if you graduate sooner and are (hopefully) able to get a job sooner.

Someone else pointed out the homogeneity of the workforce in archives, particularly in reference to race. He wondered if there might be a reason that there seem to be so few people of color in the archives field. Another interesting question; something to think about.


Following the Employment Roundtable — which I think could have easily gone on for quite a bit longer than it did (which is why it was suggested that it be continued on the SOA listserv), a Poster Session was held.

Poster Session!

Poster Session!

Poster Session presenters included:

  • “Getting Things Done” by Karen Caputo, Grant Joslin, Amanda Nelson, Danielle Ross, and Maria Pease of the Ohio History Service Corps;
  • “Bridging the Divide: Integrating Privacy Sensitivity Audits into the Archival Appraisal Process” by Judith A. Wiener and Anne Gilliland of the Ohio State University Health Sciences Library;
  • “Aerial Photographs: Taking Off into the Digital Realm” by Shayna Muckerheide, MLIS-Archives intern at the Sandusky Library;
  • “Worn Chappals: Soul Imprints” by Jacqueline Ruiz of the Asian Indian Heritage Project;
  • “Mississippi Freedom Summer: The Digitization Process at the Archives” by Jacqueline Johnson and Elias Tzoc of Miami University;
  • “Capstone Project: Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton Records” by Jeremy Katz, Wright State University Public History student; and
  • “Oral History: A Dynamic Source for Community Development” by Elise Kelly, Wright State University Public History student.


Concurrent Session #3 (the final time block) options included: “Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board Regrants Program” presented by Fred Previts (Ohio Historical Society), John Runion (Stark County Records Manager), Natalie Fritz (Clark County Historical Society), Meghan Hays (Shaker Heights Public Library), and Ron Luce (Athens County Historical Society), or  “Mind Mapping for Archival Processing: Using Personal Brain Software to Facilitate Arrangement of the Auguste Martin Collection” presented by Jillian Slater and Amy Rohmiller of University of Dayton.

I attended the session on OHRAB Re-Grants. How could I not? My dear friend, former classmate (and on that particular day, carpool-mate) Natalie was one of the presenters! The presentations discussed projects that had been made possible with funding from the OHRAB Re-Grants program.

Natalie Fritz and the Clark County Historical Society have been using their grant funding to re-house probate records. Natalie shared some of the trials and tribulations of the project, as well as some of the neat stories that have been uncovered. This current re-grant project is a continuation of a previous re-grant. Most of the work is being undertaken by volunteers, and Natalie mentioned how glad she was that the volunteers were happy to hear the project would continue. They have found many interesting items in the probate records, the only downside of which is the inclination to read everything (because it’s so interesting!), which makes the work go a little more slowly. (I should note that they haven’t had any trouble meeting their grant deadlines, though, so hey, if reading the cool stuff keeps everyone happy and the work still gets done on time, it sounds like a win-win situation to me!)

Natalie Fritz discussing the Clark County probate records project

Natalie Fritz discussing the Clark County probate records project

Meghan Hays talked about a project to digitize a really cool collection of Shaker Heights building information cards. The cards include information such as when the building was constructed, original value, the architect, sometimes even a reference to where the blueprints can be found. (Man, I wish we had these for Dayton! I am so jealous on that count!) The cards can be viewed online at, which is handy since it enables volunteers to work on the indexing/transcription remotely.

Ron Luce of Athens County Historical Society also talked about a project to preserve county probate records. He said he was horrified by the state of the records at the courthouse. (A year or two ago, I had a similar experience at an Ohio county courthouse that shall remain nameless, so I can relate!) So Ron asked if the historical society could have them, to preserve them better. After much discussion, it was eventually decided that yes, the historical society could take them. Preservation activities have included new boxes and shelving for the probate records.


And so, another SOA Annual Meeting came to a close, about 4:00 p.m. I found the conference very interesting, informative, and thought-provoking. In my humble opinion, I think it was a great success, although, as I admitted in paragraph 1, having never been to one of these before, I have no frame of reference for what the SOA Meeting is “suppose to” be like. I expect that this will be the first of many for me, however…or at least, I hope so!

I was also one of several people “live-Tweeting” the conference under the hash tag #ohioarchivists. You can see all my Tweets, including several more photos, at my Twitter feed @LisaRickey.

Bio Sketch: Howard Forrer Peirce (1865-1899), prominent musician in Dayton, Ohio

Howard Forrer Peirce was born May 4, 1865, in Dayton, Ohio, the youngest child of Jeremiah H. Peirce (1818-1889) and Elizabeth H. Forrer (1827-1874).[1] Howard was named after his uncle, Howard Forrer, who had died the previous July.

In the late 19th century, Howard Forrer Peirce was well-known as an excellent pianist in Dayton as well as other parts of the country.[2] He has been called “our most gifted native musician.”[3]

Howard Forrer Peirce

Howard Forrer Peirce (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 27, Folder 22)

Howard’s tremendous musical talent began as a child. His first music teachers were his mother and sisters, particularly his sister Mellie. He learned to play by ear and then by reading music.

Howard Forrer Peirce as a child

Howard Forrer Peirce as a child (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 27, Folder 22)

In 1875, when Howard was 10 years old, his sister Mellie returned from a year abroad, most of which was spent in Germany. She brought home the piano music for Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, which Howard studied enthusiastically.[4]

When Howard was 13, he was abruptly invited to play the piano accompaniments to a public choral performance of Handel’s oratorio, “The Messiah.” This invitation resulted from the sudden illness of the regular accompanist, and although he had only two days to prepare, Howard executed the performance perfectly, to the surprise and delight of many of Dayton’s older musicians.[5]

About that time, Howard began to study with Prof. Louis Huesmann, one of Dayton’s oldest and most respected music teachers. Huesmann had been a student of German musical scholarship, particularly Palestrina, Bach, and Beethoven, and he conveyed this knowledge to Howard.[6]

Howard Forrer Peirce

Howard Forrer Peirce (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 27, Folder 22)

For four years, Howard studied harmony and composition under prominent Dayton pianist, composer, and music teacher W. L. Blumenschein. Howard would later participate in organizations associated with his teacher, such as the Dayton Philharmonic Society and the Cincinnati May Musical Festival, both of which Blumenschein directed.[7]

In the early 1880s, Howard was already beginning to play piano in public, although some sources state that he did not make “his first public playing” until 1885.[8] For instance, in December 1883, Howard played organ “with a rare skill for one so young” for a Dayton Philharmonic Society performance.[9]

Howard attended Cooper Academy for his general education. He was “highly educated in all directions, and was a careful, critical student of literature.”[10]

For a short time in 1884-1885, Howard worked as a book-keeper at Peirce & Coleman, his father’s lumber business.[11] However, Howard’s foray into business did not last long, as his true passion was music.

In 1885, at the age of 20, Howard gave a series of piano recitals from Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, and Chopin.[12] This concert series has been called “an epoch in the musical history of Dayton.”[13] Professor James A. Robert called the concerts “rare experiences, even to the most cultivated of his audience.”[14]

In April 1886, Howard traveled to Europe to continue his musical studies, arriving in Munich a few days before his twenty-first birthday. He studied about two and a half years at the Munich Conservatory of Music, where he received instruction from Josef Giehrl on the piano and from Joseph Rheinberger in theory.[15]

In addition to his musical studies, Howard took many vacations to sightsee and visit art and literary centers while in Europe.[16]

Howard Forrer Peirce in Munich, ca. 1887

Howard Forrer Peirce in Munich, ca. 1887 (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 27, Folder 22)

In September 1888, Howard left Munich and went to Florence, where he studied with noted Italian pianist and composer Giuseppe Buonamici, through March 1889.[17] Howard had made plans to leave Florence for Rome at the first of April, but before he departed, he went to bid his teacher Buonamici farewell. The following week, from Rome, Howard wrote a lengthy letter to his father regarding a decision presented from his conversation with Buonamici:

Dear Papa, Last Sunday before I started for Rome, I went to tell Signor Buonamici good-bye. He opened up a subject that he has hinted at a good many times before. He is very anxious that I should stay another year in Florence. Of course I have told him all along and on Sunday, that it was impossible, but he was anxious that I should at least write to you about it, and I thought I could do no less… I have given as reasons for my going home, when he has spoken of it before, that I did not feel, in the first place, that I ought to ask you for the money for another year, even if you felt as if you could afford it, and then, I have already passed the age when I ought to be earning my own living, and am anxious to get home and see you all—a little homesick—and that I knew you wanted to see me—all very important reasons to me… He feels, as I do, that I have not done much this year on account of my hand. The only really good work that I have done with him was the first month. Since my hand has gotten well, I have worked to be sure, but have been half afraid to. Have really accomplished very little. I think too he has some ambition for me, as I have had for myself, to play in concert—at least be able to. And, tho’ he has not said it, I know he would not think me prepared for it next Fall, but another year would make me able…

Howard next wrote about the possibility of a patronage arrangement, suggested by Buonamici as a solution to the problem of funding Howard’s studies and living expenses for another year. However, even with the money problem potentially solved, Howard was still torn. After three years abroad, he missed his family.

…As for myself, as I said, it seemed almost an impossibility at first, as I have thought so long about coming home this Summer, and am so anxious to see you again. If you should come over this Summer, which I can’t help thinking would be a very good thing for you, that objection would be partly removed.

Coming home, I should settle down to teaching, and if I am going to teach, want to be a good teacher and I know that would take all my time, and goodbye to playing, tho’ I might have success and make money and be with my family, and maybe be a stronger man. Staying here, I should make myself able to play—whether I should have success at it is a question—and gratify my ambition, and make myself able to teach better when I do begin. From the association with the people I am thrown with in Florence, I would become broader, musically and intellectually—whether it would be of any practical value I don’t know. I think that is how it stands. There are good and bad consequences on either side. I think I should be a little disappointed whichever I did. I want to come home and I want to stay. It might be better to come home and it might be a turning against Providence not to stay. Can you decide it? This is a hard letter to write for I know it would be perhaps as much of a disappointment for you at home, as for me, if I should not come home this Summer. I should not think of its being a possibility if Buonamici had not suggested the money arrangement. As soon as you have a little time, I wish you would please write me what you think. With much love, your son, Howard.[18]

As it turned out, Howard’s decision was made for him, when he was called home a few weeks later by his father’s failing health. Unfortunately, by the time the seriousness of J. H. Peirce’s condition was realized and communicated to his youngest son Howard, the distance and a steamship strike prevented Howard from reaching Dayton in time. J. H. Peirce died on May 8, 1889; Howard arrived home about two weeks later.[19]

After his return to Dayton in 1889, Howard taught private music lessons for several months.[20] On June 17, 1890, twenty-five of his piano students (including niece Beth Parrott, nephew John E. Parrott, and cousin Mary Bruen) performed in a recital held at Five Oaks.[21]

Howard Forrer Peirce at the piano, probably in the Music Room at Five Oaks

Howard Forrer Peirce at the piano, probably in the Music Room at Five Oaks (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 27, Folder 22)

In the late summer of 1890, Howard moved to Boston, where he gave concerts and took speaking lessons from Mrs. Eliza J. (Ellery) Thorpe. He first resided at 86 Boylston Street, but when his sister Elizabeth and cousin Mary Bruen (who often accompanied Howard as vocalist) decided to join him in November, the trio found more suitable lodgings at 198 Tremont Street.[22]

The girls returned to Dayton by the end of April 1891, and Howard had intended to go with them; however, his teacher Mrs. Thorpe objected. Apparently, Howard had a stutter that they were working to eliminate, using a special method developed by Mrs. Thorpe.[23] Howard wrote to his sister Sarah on May 10, to let her know he was staying a bit longer:

When this reaches you, you will have had E’s note saying I am not coming—perhaps E. may herself be home. I had decided to come with her till Friday when I went out to Newton Center. Mrs. Thorpe was very much against it, and I felt I was not strong enough to keep what I have gained after I left her. So now I am going out there to board and devote all my time to it. Will have no piano and no music, and all my acquaintances will think I have left Boston… Three or four weeks of that must prove whether I or the method is any good. Mrs. T. says she knows her method is right, tho’ it may be several years before I am perfectly free from stammering. I am more sorry than I can tell not to come home now, but while I am about it I might as well do all I can. I hope it will not be longer than the first of June…[24]

Howard returned to Dayton in the middle of June 1891.[25] He resumed teaching private music lessons; became organist at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church; accompanied the Dayton Philharmonic Society and later the Cincinnati May Musical Festival chorus (both of which were directed by his former teacher W. L. Blumenschein); and played many concerts in Dayton and throughout the United States and Canada.[26]

In 1897-1898, Howard played several concerts in New York City with Harry Plunket Greene, an Irish baritone the same age as Howard.[27] On December 1, 1897, Howard even played a recital in the Chamber Music Hall at Carnegie Hall.[28]

Howard Forrer Peirce at age 34 [33] (ca. 1899)

Howard Forrer Peirce at age 34 [33] (ca. 1899) (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 27, Folder 22)

In the fall of 1898, Howard was planning to return to New York City to play additional concerts with Greene. However, illness forced him to cancel his engagements in the city.[29]

Howard was suffering from tuberculosis. One of his obituaries later referred to “the dread disease whose attack had been so swift and so utterly without warning.”[30] However, his death certificate stated that he had been afflicted with the disease for 6 years.[31]

Instead of returning to New York in early 1899, as he had planned, Howard’s family instead took him to a tuberculosis sanatorium in Phoenix, Arizona, in early March, with the hope of slowing the progress of his tuberculosis.[32] Such sanatoriums were common in the treatment of tuberculosis prior to the introduction of antibiotics to combat the disease in the 1940s, and the warm, dry climate of the Southwest made it a popular location for tuberculosis sanatoriums.[33]

In addition to keeping him from his musical career, Howard’s illness ultimately prevented him from marrying his fiancée Marie Agnes Schwill, a 26-year-old singer from Cincinnati. The exact details of when or how Howard met Marie are unclear; however, they probably met through their mutual interest in music. (Howard had played in Cincinnati and been involved with the Cincinnati May Musical Festival.) Howard and Marie probably met no later than July 1898, when Marie and a friend Amy Kofler opened a school of music in Dayton, in a studio formerly occupied by Howard Peirce in the McIntire building. (This may have been in anticipation of Howard and Marie’s impending marriage.)[34]

Marie went with Howard to Phoenix, along with several members of his family. Howard’s doctor from Dayton, Dr. William H. Webster, also joined him in Phoenix.[35] But ultimately, neither his family, nor his doctors, nor the climate could save him.

Marie Schwill and Howard F. Peirce in Phoenix, 1899, shortly before his death

Marie Schwill and Howard F. Peirce in Phoenix, 1899, shortly before his death (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 27, Folder 22)

Howard F. Peirce died of tuberculosis on April 19, 1899, in Phoenix, Arizona; he was 33 years old.[36] He was buried on April 25, 1899, in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.[37]

The death of Howard Forrer Peirce brought great shock and sadness to many in Dayton, and several memorials were printed in the local newspapers. One such memorial filled nearly an entire page. They told of his life, especially his musical career, but also of his character. One such memorial described his talents not only as a musician but also as an outdoorsman:

…To some friends, the dearest vision of Howard Peirce will show him at the piano, with his soul shining through his dreamy eyes and speaking in his tender touch, and the mental ear will help the mental eyesight to keep that picture clear and bright, while life lasts.

For other friends his memory will arise anew each spring with the green leaves, the bird songs and the smell of the new earth. He was a Nature enthusiast. He loved a tent by the river, a canoe, a book. Lying under the stars was a delight to him. He was a camper by instinct and by practice. He knew how to live out of doors gracefully… He loved it all, and lived in it; seriously though responsively; with quiet appreciations, with earnestness and humorous sympathy…[38]

Today, a large, rose-shaped stained glass window dedicated to Howard Forrer Peirce provides a lasting memorial. The window was originally installed at the First Unitarian Church of Dayton, founded in 1910 at the corner of Salem Avenue and Five Oaks Avenue. Howard’s Aunt Mary Peirce and sisters Sarah and Elizabeth Peirce were among the founding members of the church, and they donated the window to honor Howard’s memory. It is a fitting monument for a former church organist. Although the First Unitarian Church no longer occupies that building, the window was removed, saved and eventually restored. It can be seen today at the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Centerville, Ohio.[39]

Howard Forrer Peirce stained glass window at the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Photo courtesy of Maury Wyckoff. Used with permission.

Howard Forrer Peirce stained glass window at the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. (Photo courtesy of Maury Wyckoff. Used with permission.)

Special thanks to Maury Wyckoff for permitting me to use these great photos of the Howard Forrer Peirce stained glass window!

Detail of the Howard Forrer Peirce stained glass window. Photo courtesy of Maury Wyckoff. Used with permission.

Detail of the Howard Forrer Peirce stained glass window. (Photo courtesy of Maury Wyckoff. Used with permission.)


This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in April 2012 for the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654. Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection and in the citations below. Please contact the library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.

[1] Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 126; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Obituaries, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 27:21, Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio), and also quoted in Bruen, Christian Forrer, 126; Frank Conover, Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio (Chicago: A. W. Bowen, 1897), 309.

[2] Charlotte Reeve Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1907), 215; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21; Harvey W. Crew, History of Dayton, Ohio (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1889), 559-560.

[3] Charlotte Reeve Conover, Memoirs of the Miami Valley (Chicago: Robert O. Law Co., 1919), vol. 2, 112.

[4] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 215; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21.

[5] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21.

[6] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 309; Crew, History of Dayton, 559;

[7] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 300-301, 309; Crew, History of Dayton, 559-560; Conover, Memoirs of the Miami Valley, vol. 2, 106-107.

[8] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216.

[9] “The Messiah Last Night,” Dayton Daily News, 28 Dec. 1883, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 27:20.

[10] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 215.

[11] Dayton City Directory, 1884-1885.

[12] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21.

[13] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216.

[14] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216.

[15] Various letters from Howard F. Peirce to his family, FPW, 24:1, 24:2, 24:5, 24:6, 25:1, 25:4, 25:5; Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216-217; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 309.

[16] Various letters from Howard F. Peirce to his family, FPW, 24:1, 24:2, 24:5, 24:6, 25:1, 25:2, 25:4, 25:5; Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 217; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21.

[17] Various letters from Howard F. Peirce to his family, FPW, 24:2, 24:6, 25:2, 25:5; Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 216-217; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 309.

[18] Howard F. Peirce to his father Jeremiah H. Peirce, 7 Apr. 1889, FPW, 24:2.

[19] Mellie Peirce to her brother Howard F. Peirce, 16 May 1889, FPW, 18:21.

[20] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 217;Dayton City Directory, 1890-1891.

[21] “The First Recital Given by the Pupils of Mr. Howard F. Peirce, Assisted by Miss Stout,” Dayton Daily Times, 18 June 1890, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 27:20.

[22] Various letters from Howard F. Peirce to his family, FPW, 24:7, 25:3, 25:6; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 309.

[23] Mrs. Thorpe eventually published a book on her method: Eliza Jane Ellery Thorpe, Speech Hesitation (New York: Edgar S. Werner Publishing & Supply Co., 1898).

[24] Howard F. Peirce to his sister Sarah H. Peirce, 10 May 1891, FPW, 24:7.

[25] Howard F. Peirce to his sister Sarah H. Peirce, 3 June 1891, FPW, 24:7.

[26] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 217; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21; Conover, Centennial Portrait, 309.

[27] Conover, Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, 217; Various letters from Howard F. Peirce to his sisters, FPW, 24:8, 25:7; Miscellaneous Correspondence from Harry Plunket Greene to Howard F. Peirce, FPW, 26:14.

[28] “Howard Forrer Peirce, Piano Recital,” New York Times, 29 Nov. 1897; “Mr. Peirce’s Piano Recital: First Appearance in New York of a Young American Pianist” (review), New York Times, 2 Dec. 1897.

[29] Otto W. Beck to Howard F. Peirce, 7 Sept. 1898 and 15 Jan. 1899, FPW, 26:3; Stewart Henston to Howard F. Peirce, [no date] 1899, FPW, 27:10.

[30] “Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), [20 Apr. 1899], unidentified newspaper, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Obituaries, FPW, 27:21.

[31] Death certificate of Howard F. Peirce, 19 Apr. 1899, “Arizona Deaths, 1870-1951” (database), FamilySearch, accessed 15 Feb. 2012,

[32] “Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), [20 Apr. 1899], unidentified newspaper, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Obituaries, FPW, 27:21; “This was at Phoenix where Uncle Howard died” [family photo], in Howard Forrer Peirce: Photographs, FPW, 27:22; “Pianist Peirce Dying,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 Apr. 1899, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1841-1922.

[33] Kyle L. McCoy, The Arizona Story (Layton, UT : Gibbs Smith, 2008), 240.

[34] “Pianist Peirce Dying,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 Apr. 1899; “Music: Miss Kofly and Schwill in Dayton,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 July 1898, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1841-1922; “Schwill, Marie A.,” Dayton City Directory, 1899-1900; and “This was at Phoenix where Uncle Howard died” [family photo], FPW, 27:22.

The Apr. 18, 1899, Cincinnati Enquirer article identified Marie Schwill as Howard’s fiancée; she is identified in the cited photograph as “Miss Marie Schwill (later Mrs. Karl Bitter)” and can be seen sitting next to Howard in the photograph cited.

After Howard’s death, Marie Schwill (1872-1944) was married in 1901 to Karl Bitter, a well-known sculptor. They lived in New York City and had three children: Francis, Marietta, and John. Marie apparently remained in touch with the Peirce family, as photos of Francis Bitter can be found in FPW, 40:4.

[35] “Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), [20 Apr. 1899], unidentified newspaper, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Obituaries, FPW, 27:21; “This was at Phoenix…” [family photo], FPW, 27:22; Howard F. Peirce: receipt for medical services from Frank & Wm. H. Webster, 18 Oct. 1898, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Bills & Receipts, FPW, 27:17. Both Marie Schwill and Dr. Webster are pictured in the cited photograph.

[36] Bruen, Christian Forrer, 126; “Mr. Howard Forrer Peirce” (obituary), Dayton Journal, 21 Apr. 1899, FPW, 27:21.

[37] Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 26 Oct. 2011, Howard is buried in Section 77, Lot 24.

[38] C. R. C. [Charlotte Reeve Conover], “Howard Forrer Peirce: In Memoriam,” [Apr. 1899], unidentified newspaper, in Howard Forrer Peirce: Obituaries, FPW, 27:21.

[39] Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church web site, accessed 18 Jan. 2012,

Coming Soon: Finding Aid Bio Sketches

Most of you reading this probably already know what an archival “finding aid” is, because you make them, use them, or both. But for those who may not be as familiar with them — like my mom (hi, mom!) — I will explain the term a little before just jumping in with it.

The official DACS definition of a finding aid is: “a representation of, or  ameans of access to, archival materials made or received by a repository in the course of establishing administrative or intellectual control over the archival materials.”

It could be a card file, a database or XML file (EAD), or something else, but I for one usually think of the traditional paper finding aid, with an Introduction (basic info like title, dates, amount); Biographical/Historical Sketch (background on who created/collected the “stuff”); Scope and Content Note (slightly more detailed explanation of what’s included with subjects, formats, dates, etc.); and the Container Listing (what’s actually in the boxes and folders? where can I find the “stuff”?).

Manuscript finding aids, Dayton Metro Library

Manuscript finding aids, Dayton Metro Library

If the collection pertains mostly to a person (or people), you write a “Biographical” sketch; if it’s a company/organization, it’s an “Historical” sketch. Subtle distinction. DACS refers to this part of the finding aid as the “Administrative/Biographical History Element.”  (I usually refer to this section as simply the “Bio Sketch,” though, since I am usually working on people-centric collections and let’s face it “Administrative/Biographical History Element” is just too darn long for everyday conversation.)

According to DACS Chapter 10, Administrative/Biographial History,

the purpose of this element is to provide information about the organization(s) or individual(s) associated in some way with the creation, assembly, accumulation, and/or maintenance and use of the unit being described in order to place the material in context and make it better understood…

Earlier on, DACS called the Administrative/Biographical History Element “one of the most significant aspects of the description of the context of creation” (Chapter 2.7).

So, that being said, I like to make sure I do a good job on my Bio Sketches. If you don’t do a good job of presenting to the finding aid user who this person is (although, if they are interested in your finding aid, they probably already have some idea!), then they are not going to understand how all the parts of his/her/their “stuff” fit together.

And odds are, you probably did a pretty decent job researching the person(s) before/during the act of processing (arranging and describing) their materials, because YOU the archivist had to get a good sense of how all the “stuff” fit together in order to do justice in organizing it. Am I right? So it just makes sense to go ahead and put all that stuff you’ve learned about the person into your Bio Sketch, right?

Well, that’s what I try to do, anyway. How much good is it doing only in my head? I could write it down and benefit others, as well. That probably makes it sound like I’m the only one who knows these things about these people. I don’t think that, of course; that would be ridiculously arrogant.

Then again, depending on the “stuff” you have and whether anyone else has ever seen it – you just might be the “only” one who knows that information, if it came from the collection. And odds are, you looked in some secondary sources, and if you didn’t find it there – well, who knows why it wasn’t included, but the point is, it wasn’t, so it may not be widely known.

But anyway, getting back to an explanation of the title of this post: “Coming Soon: Finding Aid Bio Sketches.”

Part of the reason that I started this blog was so that when I find something super-cool at the library/archives where I work, I could share something about it here — on a lovely web site that is adequately crawled by Google and, given a researcher using the right combination of search terms, might actually find something I wrote here, and, by extension, find the relevant library materials that I mentioned. (After all, what good is all this super-cool stuff that we arrange, describe, and preserve, if nobody can find it and use it?)

So, to that end, I will be sharing the biographical sketches that I have written for finding aids. I’ll only be sharing Bio Sketches that I personally wrote. And I shoudl also note that this plan has the support of my supervisor, who has been very supportive of this blog in general. At the bottom of each sketch, I’ll include a note as to the relevant manuscript collection (and a link to the complete finding aid on the library’s web site, where applicable) and where/how to get more information. I plan to add images to the Bio Sketches, too, which should make them even more interesting than the original paper versions (most of which have zero or maybe 1 photo).

Quite frankly, I spent a lot of time working on some of these biographical sketches — most of which, by the way, have footnotes (yippee!) — and I just want to make sure that they can be of as much use as possible. I’ve already done all this work; why not make things easier for the next person researching Howard Forrer Peirce, W. D. Bickham, Thomas O. Lowe, or Horton Howard? And of course, there’s always the hope that somone will find the Bio Sketch and want to come in to the library and learn more about the individual by using the original manuscripts.

So, stay tuned for my finding aid Bio Sketches, which I plan to schedule for periodic “releases,” so that I don’t completely bomb anyone who may be subscribed to this blog. First up: Howard Forrer Peirce.

MVAR Recap 5/17/2012

Today was the most recent meeting of the Miami Valley Archivists Roundtable (or, MVAR), an informal gathering of archivists in and around Dayton, Ohio. This time, we met at the Greene County Records Center & Archives in Xenia, Ohio, with Gillian Marsham Hill, the records and information manager/ archivist, as our hostess.

Gillian and her assistant, Joan Donovan, were eager to tell us all the details of their recent move from their previous building on Main Street to their current location on Ledbetter Road (near several other county offices).

New location of Greene County Archives

New location of Greene County Archives

But first, the institutional reports!


The institutional reports consist of each person in attendance taking a turn, stating their name, position, and institution, and sharing a little bit about what they have been up to lately, archives-wise. (The label “institutional reports” may make it sound formal, but it’s really not!) Here are some snippets from the reports that I hope my peers won’t mind my sharing:

Rachel Bilokonsky, the MVAR chairwoman and University of Dayton archivist, shared that the University Archives has recently implemented the Archivists’ Toolkit as well as a new records classification scheme (with help of intern and WSU PH grad student Maggie Zakri). She also told us about a University Archives open house coming up on June 9 (from 10-12 a.m.), in conjunction with a memorial tree dedication for former Dayton area Congressman Charles W. Whalen, Jr. Whalen was a UD grad (class of 1942), and the UD Archives has his congressional papers, which, incidentally, Rachel told us they recently received an OHRAB grant to rehouse — over 500 boxes. More information about the June 9th Whalen memorial activities can be found on the UD Events page for 6/9/2012. Rachel also asked if anyone else would like to take over as chair of MVAR in the near future, to let her know; she has been chairperson for a few years now.

James Zimmerlin of the Records Center & Archives of Warren County said he has his first archives volunteer starting next week, and he will also be hiring a summer intern soon ($8 per hour, 20 hours/week for 12 weeks).

Three archivists from Wright State University Special Collections & Archives were in attendance.

Lynda Kachurek is now the Digital Initiatives Coordinator at WSU SCA, which has increased her focus on metadata, web coding, digitization (such as with the Campus Online Repository or CORE), and social media elements of archives. Lynda was also pleased to announce that all of SCA’s 700+ collections now have at least minimal descriptions on th web site.

Chris Wydman, Wright State’s University Archivist, is working on a new electronic records policy for WSU, as well as an oral history project with university retirees, which will have video and audio available on CORE.

Gino Pasi recently acquired new duties at WSU SCA in the area of collections management. Also, he and fellow archivist Toni Vanden Bos recently applied for — and received — a grant to create a traveling exhibit about Dayton’s 1913 Flood, which they are now creating.

Lonna McKinley of the National Museum of the United States Air Force asked if there were any archives topics that people would be interested in hearing a presentation about, as the Midwest Archives Conference is trying to find speakers on various topics.

Natalie Fritz of the Clark County Historical Society announced that they received another OHRAB grant to continue processing probate records, have implemented a slightly different fee schedule for using their research room ($5 per day), and and are in the process of seeking AASLH accreditation. (Also, Natalie will be presenting tomorrow at the Society of Ohio Archivists annual meeting about the probate records they have already processed using a previous OHRAB grant.)

Another one of the Historical Society’s employees, Mel Glover, comically described his duties as often falling under the category of “other duties as assigned.” But he added that it’s a great museum at which to work, small enough that he gets to do neat things all the time, but big enough to have some really cool collections. (I tried to get his words down verbatim, but I’m afraid I failed, so the previous statement lives somewhere in the world between direct quote and paraphrase!) I just thought that was a nice way of looking at things at a smaller institution — not that you “have to” have a hand in everything, but you get to have a hand in everything!

Several Wright State University Public History grad students reported on their recent activities, including Noel Rihm, who has been working (along with 4 other students) on an exhibit about Wilbur Wright at Carillon Park (but produced by Wright State U.). The “Wilbur Wright: A Life of Consequence” exhibit will be open to park visitors on May 27.

May 30th, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of Wilbur Wright’s death from typhoid fever, so activities have been planned in Dayton this year to remember him. (Here’s an online list of some of the Wilbur Wright events in 2012.) As a matter of fact, we have a case exhibit about Wilbur Wright currently on display in the Local History Room at the Dayton Metro Library. So come on down to the basement of Main and see it, any time during normal open hours!

When it was my turn, the most significant thing I could think to share was that I had finally – finally – finished arranging and describing the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) at the Dayton Metro Library. (A much-abbreviated version of the Forrer-Peirce-Wood finding aid is available on the OhioLINK EAD Repository.) After 10 months, 40 legal size Hollinger document cases, and about 230 pages of finding aid….it’s finally done. Excuse me while I “WOOHOO!” Seriously, I had a blast learning about that family (some of which I shared here – at length – as you probably noticed), but I’m glad to move onto something else now. (FYI, that something else will be a collection of materials pertaining to Ebenezer Thresher and his daughters Mary and Laura.)


After the institutional reports, we went over the list of relevant upcoming conferences:


Next, Gillian Hill told us the back story of this past “year of turmoil” and the events that ultimately resulted in moving the GC Records Center & Archives from its previous location on Main Street to the current location on Ledbetter Road. To make a long story short, the previous building, which was built in the early 1800s and included a lot of sandstone, was deteriorating. Although the sandstone deterioration had probably been happening for a while, it did not became obvious until about last May — and at that time it became very obvious and pretty serious, very quickly.

The previous Greene County Archives building (Feb. 2012)

The previous Greene County Archives building (Feb. 2012)

For a brief period of time, archives staff were not allowed into a part of the building that contained records, because it was unsafe and needed to be stabilized. As archivists, we spend our lives preserving and protecting these records, and then to be told that the records have to stay in a certain place where you are prohibited to go because it’s not safe… But what about the records?! Yes, yes, we all get that human life is more important, but still. To have to stand powerlessly by while 200+ years of history (history that you are designated to protect) is in danger… The word for it is “horrifying.” I remember thinking it as Gillian described the situation, and then Gillian herself said it: “It was just horrifying.”

But that’s in the past now! And the records survived! (And so did the staff!) And the building was stabilized enough that they could be safely removed, without endangering the humanmovers. So steps were set in motion to move the shelving and the materials to the new location, which has now all been completed, and GC RC&A is back in business!

We got a tour of the new GC RC&A location. It looked like a nice space and a good size – 4,000 square feet.

Greene County Archives1

Greene County Archives

Greene County Archives2

Greene County Archives

Marriage records at the Greene County Archives

Marriage records at the Greene County Archives

After lunch, I got a demonstration of the archives’ relatively new ScanPro 1000 microfilm scanner…and, WOW. That thing is amazing.

Joan Donovan demonstrating the ScanPro 1000

Joan Donovan demonstrating the ScanPro 1000

Let’s just say I am used to microfilm reader/scanners that require quite a lot of fussing with the focus and the brightness to get even halfway usable images. But that ScanPro 1000 was just a dream. So clear and crisp and so many image adjustment options right there on the screen. Pretty awesome. Maybe someday…

All in all, another great MVAR meeting!

Be Nice to Archivists

Be Nice to Archivists

A Tale of Two Howards, Part 13 – Howard Forrer (Part E) – Final Installment

“Who will survive is known only to Him who ruleth all things well.”[1]


I began this “tale” with the story of Howard Affleck, a bright and promising young man from Bridgeport, Ohio, who, exactly one hundred and fifty years ago today (May 15, 1862), died from wounds he received at the Battle of Shiloh (Parts 1, 2, and 3). He was the first of the “Two Howards.”

We have traced the stories of Howard’s relatives in Dayton—William Howard (Part 5), Luther Bruen (Part 9), Howard Forrer (Parts 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11)—and his younger brother Edward Affleck (Part 12). Two—William and Edward—survived the war, living to old age. Three died as a result of the war: Howard Affleck died of his wounds after returning to his parents’ home (Part 3) and was subsequently buried in his hometown. Luther Bruen, also wounded in battle, died in a hospital at Washington, D.C., and his body was shipped home promptly for burial (Part 9).

But Howard Forrer…was killed instantly, July 22, 1864, on the battlefield atDecatur,Georgia. His regiment, which was retreating at the time, was unable to retrieve his body immediately, and by the next day, the townsfolk had already buried him.

Because of the ongoing war, even his family was unable to go and retrieve his remains. His mother later wrote in her diary: “We were obliged to leave him a year in Georgia…”[2]

Time marched on. The war continued. The Forrers’ new house in HarrisonTownship(near their daughter and son-in-law Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Peirce at Five Oaks) was almost complete.[3]

Howard Forrer’s remains would not come home toDaytonuntil November 1865, nearly 16 months after his death.

In the meantime, the Forrer family commemorated Howard by having his portrait painted from a photograph, at cost of about $125 (about $1,700 in today’s money). Several letters from Sarah Forrer to her daughter Mary in September 1864 dwell upon which photograph should be used, the precise shade of blue of Howard’s army coat, and the color of his hair and eyes.[4]

Based on Sarah’s descriptions and her mention of retrieving the photo negative from Cridland’s photography studio[5], I believe this may the photograph from which the portrait was painted:

Howard Forrer

Howard Forrer

In these letters about the portrait, Sarah frequently refers to her son as “dear Howie,” rather than “Howard,” which was what she nearly always called him in all of her writings prior to his death (all that I have seen and read, anyway).[6] Having read so many of Sarah’s letters, I noticed the change immediately. I’m no psychologist, but I couldn’t help forming a theory about the change in how she referred to her son:

I suppose a nearly 23-year-old army officer might have insisted that his mother treat him like a man and refrain from calling him by a childhood nickname. Sarah had often written of putting on a brave face for her son, playing the patriotic mother and pretending to be fine when truly she wasn’t. I imagine she still saw him as a child, as many mothers see their children even after the children are adults. When he died, he could no longer defend his adulthood; so in Sarah’s mind, he reverted ever more back to being her baby, her beloved little boy, “dear Howie,” whom she would never see again.

The Forrers of course continued to seek information about how they could retrieve their son’s body.

Samuel Forrer apparently wrote to A. C. Fenner, the Acting Assistant Adjutant General of Howard Forrer’s brigade, asking for his assistance with the matter. It seems that the state of the roads and railroads near Atlanta—not to mention Sherman’s March to the Sea and general “total war” on the South—greatly contributed to do with the inability to retrieve poor Howard’s remains.

A. C. Fenner wrote to Samuel Forrer on January 11, 1865:

…The R. R. was also broken up so that trains could not pass to Atlanta… Nov 15 the Army started on the recent campaign so that no opportunity has been afforded me of visiting Decatur Ga. Or getting any information from there since I was in Dayton. The troops who occupied it last[,] the 23d Corps[,] are as you have observed in Tenn. The R. R. south of [Chatt.?] Is all destroyed South of Kingston.

Of course all prospects of visiting the place is now out of the question until the Road is rebuilt which will not be probably till after the war.

I am extremely sorry it never was in my power to render such services in this case as know would greatly gratify you. My personal relations alone with Howard prompted me if it had been possible to have done all you had desired but the stern circumstances of war interfered…[7]

The Civil War finally ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

Although certainly relieved that the war was over, many on both sides still mourned what the war had cost. Among them were the sisters Mary Affleck and Sarah Forrer, both of whom had lost sons—the “two Howards” of this tale’s title: Howard Affleck and Howard Forrer—in the war. Mary’s letter to her sister Sarah on June 18, 1865, and the accompany poem, “The Hour of Northern Victory” by Fanny Kemble, illustrate the what a bittersweet victory it was:

…it almost seems as though the ‘Old bright days had all come back again.’ Will they ever come again? Not to thee, or to me, yet we may do much to brighten the pathway of the dear ones that are still left to us, and thus in some measure, relieve the ‘blackness of darkness’ that overshadows our own…

Has thee ever read “The Hour of Northern Victory” by Fanny Kemble? I think it one of the grandest things I ever read, and will bear reading again, so I have copied it for thee…[8]

The poem was as follows:

“The Hour of Northern Victory”[9]
By Fanny Kemble

Roll not a drum, sound not a clarion-note
Of haughty triumph to the silent sky;
Hush’d be the shout of joy in ev’ry throat,
And veil’d the flash of pride in ev’ry eye.

Not with the Te Deums loud and high Hosannas,
Greet we the awful victory we have won,
But with our arms revers’d and lower’d banners
We stand—our work is done! 

Thy work is done, God, terrible and just,
Who lay’dst upon our hearts and hands this task,
And kneeling, with our foreheads in the dust,
We venture Peace to ask. 

Bleeding and writhing underneath our sword,
Prostrate our brethren lie, Thy fallen foe,
Struck down by Thee through us, avenging Lord,—
By Thy dread hand laid low. 

For our own guilt have we been doomed to smite
These our own kindred Thy great laws defying,
These, our own flesh and blood, who now unite
In one thing only with us—bravely dying. 

Dying how bravely, yet how bitterly!
Not for the better side, but for the worse,
Blindly and madly striving against Thee
For the bad cause where thou hast set Thy curse. 

At whose defeat we may not raise our voice,
Save in the deep thanksgiving of our prayers,
‘Lord! We have fought the fight!’ But to rejoice
Is ours no more than theirs. 

Call back Thy dreadful ministers of wrath
Who have led on our hosts to this great day;
Let our feet halt now in the avenger’s path,
And bid our weapons stay. 

Upon our land, Freedom’s inheritance,
Turn Thou once more the splendor of Thy face,
Where nations serving Thee to light advance,
Give us again our place. 

Not our bewildering past prosperity,
Not all thy former ill-requited grace,
But this one boon—Oh! Grant us still to be
The home of Hope to the whole human race. 

Mary’s letter continued:

I have been looking over on the island [Wheeling Island], which is almost covered with tents of returning soldiers who are waiting to be discharged. A long train of army wagons passed through town a week or two ago, and another this morning. I feel thankful that so many of the poor fellows are permitted to return to their homes in peace but my heart aches to think of the thousands that never will return and of the one who was more to me than the whole army.[10]

By the time Mary Affleck wrote that letter, her son Howard had been dead for three years (Part 3). Her son Edward had been spent many months in a POW camp but had finally returned to her (Part 12).

In the summer of 1865, the anniversary of Howard Forrer’s death came and went, and the Forrers still had not been able to retrieve his remains, despite the war finally being over.

On September 25, 1865, over 14 months after Howard had been killed, Maj. Genl. Thomas granted the necessary permissions to Samuel Forrer:

Permission to disinter Howard Forrer's body, 1865

Permission to disinter Howard Forrer’s body, 1865

Permission is hereby granted to Mr. Saml. Forrer to disinter the body of Lieut. Howard Forrer now buried at Decatur Georgia & to remove the same by Express or otherwise to Dayton Ohio, provided the disinterring is made at once after Oct. 15, 1865, & the body is shipped in a metallic coffin.[11]

Samuel Forrer inquired immediately about the cost of train fares and metallic coffins, apparently writing to Genl. Gates Phillips Thruston, a Daytonian stationed at Nashville, on October 1. Thruston wrote back on October 13, stating that the fare from Daytonto Atlantawould be about $30 (about $425 today), and sending a price list for coffins.[12]

While Samuel Forrer was making his arrangements to finally retrieve his son from Atlanta, the U.S. Treasury Department forwarded the balance of Howard’s back pay to his father: $797.89. The pay was for the time period of December 31, 1863, through Howard’s death on July 22, 1864.[13] Apparently, he had not received any pay for several months, which was not uncommon.

Final pay of Howard Forrer, 1865

Final pay of Howard Forrer, 1865

That $797 in back pay amounted to about $11,000 in today’s dollars.[14] However, it most certainly did not amount to much of anything to the Forrers, compared with the loss of their only son Howard.

Samuel Forrer and his brother-in-law John Howard finally made the journey in November 1865 to bring Howard Forrer home toDaytonat long last. It was a bittersweet relief. The son they remembered was of course not the son they brought home. Sarah wrote of it a few years later:

…And then dear Husband and our dear, kind Brother John went and brought him home… There was nothing left but dry bones and some parts of his clothing, one piece showing his name written in indelible ink by me. They took a case with them and put the dear remains in and packed it with sweet pine boughs that it might carry safely. And so he came who left in health, radiant, enthusiastic… Oh, so lovely!![15]

The Dayton Journal published a notice on November 14, 1865, announcing that Howard Forrer’s remains had finally come home, as well as the funeral arrranagements:

The Lamented Howard Forrer, Dayton Journal, 14 Nov. 1865

The Lamented Howard Forrer, Dayton Journal, 14 Nov. 1865

The remains of the lamented Howard Forrer arrived here yesterday, in charge of the venerable bereaved father, Samuel Forrer, and John Howard, Esq. Lieut. Forrer was killed during a charge upon our lines near Decatur, Ga., on the 22d of July, 1864. He was truly an estimable and talented young man, and a gallant soldier. We cannot too highly honor the memory of the noble young men who offered up their lives for their country. The funeral of Lieut. Forrer will take place at the family residence, near Tate’s Mills, northwest of the city, at 2 o’clock to-day, and his remains will be interred at ‘Woodland.’[16]

On November 14, 1865, Howard Forrer was finally laid to rest inWoodlandCemeteryin his home town ofDayton,Ohio.

Howard Forrer's grave, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton

Howard Forrer’s grave, Woodland Cemetery, Dayton

The tombstone inscription reads:

Howard, son of Saml. & S. H. Forrer. Adjt. 63rd Regt. O.V.I. Fell in Battle at Decatur Ga. July 22, 1864, in his 23rd year.

Young, lovely, brave, and true. He died a pure offering to duty and patriotism.


I think that a story like this one—not my retelling of it (I’m not that vain), but the original story itself—brings history to life, into focus, into appreciation and understanding. It’s not just names, places, and dates. It’s full of people (just like us!) and their choices, actions, emotions, triumphs, and tragedies.

This story began to unfold for me last summer, when I first started arranging and describing the Forrer-Peirce-Wood manuscript collection (frequently cited in the “Tale of Two Howards” series and available to researchers at the Dayton Metro Library). After months or reading and researching this family, I had this story writing itself in my head, as I went along. And I just had to share it.

I have tried my best to write this “Tale” as both a good history and a good story, and I hope I have managed to do so.

[1] A. C. Fenner to Samuel Forrer, 11 Jan. 1865, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 6:12, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton.

[2] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 27 Dec. 1867, quoted in Frances I. Parrott, “Sons and Mothers,” [undated], FPW, 32:4.

[3] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 2 Sept. 1864, FPW, 4:6. A photo of the Forrers’ completed home can be found in Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 96a.

[4] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 31 Aug.-27 Sept. 1864 [several letters], FPW, 4:6; Inflation Calculator,

[5] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 12 Sept. 1864, FPW, 4:6.

[6] Sarah Forrer to Mary Forrer, 31 Aug.-27 Sept. 1864 [several letters], FPW, 4:6.

[7] A. C. Fenner to Samuel Forrer, 11 Jan. 1865, FPW, 6:12.

[8] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 18 June 1865, FPW, 35:3.

[9] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 18 June 1865, FPW, 35:3; Fanny Kemble, “The Hour of Northern Victory,” in The Spectator: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature, Theology, and Art (London: John Campbell), vol. 38 (1865), 6 May 1865, 497. The date of the original publication was May 6; the date of the poem was April 25.

[10] Mary Affleck to Sarah Forrer, 18 June 1865, FPW, 35:3.

[11] Maj. Gen. Thomas to Samuel Forrer, 25 Sept. 1865, FPW, 6:12.

[12] Gates P. Thruston to Samuel Forrer, 13 Oct. 1865, FPW, 6:12; Will T. Hale, A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans (Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913), accessed 15 May 2012,; Inflation Calculator,

[13]U.S. Treasury Department to Samuel Forrer, Certificate # 192284, 23 Oct. 1865, FPW, 6:12.

[14] Inflation Calculator,

[15] Sarah Forrer’s diary, 27 Dec. 1867, quoted in Frances I. Parrott, “Sons and Mothers,” [undated], FPW, 32:4.

[16] “The Lamented Howard Forrer,” Dayton Journal, 14 Nov. 1865, pg. 2.