The Story of Leo Abt…


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Thanks to a recent donation of photographs, the stories of prominent Canton businessman Leo Abt and his store have been rediscovered. Included in the donation were photographs of Abt’s store, the clerks, portraits of the family, and more pictures whose backstories remain a mystery. The captions on the back of the photos were minimal, often providing only basic information. More research had to be done to uncover their stories. An article found by volunteer Sue Henry gave a valuable start to uncovering Abt’s story. This Canton Repository article, written by Gretchen Putnam in 1937, included a photograph of Abt’s clerks, matching a photo that came to the library in the donation. In her article, a part of the series Canton’s Family Album in the Canton Repository, Putnam identifies the clerks and gives an overview of Abt’s millinery. Using the clerk’s names and this new information, I began researching. Throughout my investigation, I discovered Abt’s personal life story, his professional accomplishments, and overall developed a picture of life in Canton in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The group of Abt’s young trimmers, as identified in the Canton’s Family Album article.

Leo Abt was born on December 31, 1850 in Melzungen, Hesse Castle, Germany as the youngest of twelve children. At the age of sixteen, Abt immigrated to the United States. Abt later married fellow German immigrant Flora Ury in New York City on November 8, 1873. On November 22, 1875, the couple had their first son, Arthur Loeser Abt, in the town of Aurora, Indiana on the western border of Ohio. Later, the family moved to Circleville, Ohio, a city just south of Columbus. Here, Leo and Flora had two more sons. Edwin I. was born on March 19, 1878. Two years later on July 9, 1880, Oscar Moses Abt was born. The Abt family arrived in the city of Canton on April 1, 1888.

Leo and Flora had three sons, Arthur, Edwin, and Oscar. Pictured here is Edwin Abt.

In his personal life, Abt was a deeply religious man who fostered Canton’s Jewish community from the ground up. In 1915, Abt, with committee of other devoted Jews, began working passionately to create a synagogue for their religious community. Today, this structure is the Canton Pentecostal Temple, located at 950 McKinley Ave Northwest. After Abt’s passing, he was described by Charles I. Cooper as the “father of Jewish communal life in Canton.” Further, he was the beloved president of the Canton Hebrew Congregation at the time of his death. The congregation recalled Abt’s memory as being the “most efficient and faithful member and worker” who “was especially fitted in every way for the position of president.” His congregation also described him as being a “friend to all, and really a father to many.” It is clear that Abt was greatly respected and treasured by his community in faith.

Mr. Leo Abt, “The Father of Jewish Communal Life in Canton.”

In addition to being a leading figure of the Jewish community, Abt was a prominent Canton businessman. For over thirty years from the time of his arrival in Canton until his passing, Abt was an industrious and hardworking merchant. In early May of 1888, Leo Abt’s New York Bazaar was announced to be opened in the Evening Repository, as the Canton Repository was known then. At the time of its opening, the bazaar was advertised as being located at 21 South Market Street. Today, this would be the lot at the corner of Market Avenue South and 2nd Street Southwest. Days after the opening was announced, on May 14and 16, the bazaar’s grand opening was declared a “great success” in the Evening Repository. The advertisement describes “throngs” of customers in attendance, and apologizes for not being able to help every patron due to the mass of shoppers. The millinery department was particularly popular. In 1937 in the Canton Repository, historian Gretchen Putnam described the busy workroom filled with young female employees, referred to as “trimmers.” These girls included Katie Mintzenburger, who was the head trimmer, Inez E. Allensworth, who later owned and operated her own millinery, sisters Olivia Fierstos and Rosia Victoria Halter, and many more.

The Leo Abt & Sons storefront. Son Edwin is seen standing on the far left. It is possible that the young boy in the center is Edwin’s younger brother, Oscar.

Abt continued his business under several different names over the years, including Leo Abt & Sons, and the Leo Abt Company at the time of his passing. In several newspaper advertisements and the photographs of his storefront, the cursive logo from the Abt & Sons era can be seen. Abt’s resiliency as a businessman is demonstrated through his handling of various challenges. For example, in October of 1915, Leo Abt & Sons was declared bankrupt by the United States Bankruptcy Court and was immediately sold. Not even six months later, Abt announced the opening of his new store, the Leo Abt Company in March of 1916.

The interior of Leo Abt’s millinery.

During my research, I found various newspaper articles that gave insight to what life was truly like for Abt and his employees, both the good times and bad. In June of 1897, Abt’s employees gathered for a pleasant evening of entertainment at the home of W. S. McClelland, just north of Canton. The Evening Repository gives a vivid image of the night: “The spacious lawn was elaborately decorated with Chinese lanterns, and admitted of many outdoor games and pastimes.” The contemporary article mentions the delicious dinner the guests enjoyed, and how the party continued until a late hour.

Captioned, “Abt’s Clerks,” this image shows the women enjoying each other’s company outside of work.

The newspaper also provides an image of hard times the employees endured. On November 20, 1899, the Repository reported the death of young trimmer Rosia Victoria Halter. This employee was only twenty-five years old when she developed appendicitis. She later passed due to the operation for her illness. The article describes Rosia as being popular with the other girls she worked with. She worked at Abt’s with her younger sister, Olivia, nicknamed Ollie, Fierstos.

Finally, the Evening Repository illustrates how the Abt family celebrated special occasions. On March 26, 1895, the Abt home hosted the wedding of Leo’s sister-in-law Clara Ury and Reverend David Klein. This article describes the beautiful event as “one of the most delightful weddings of the season.” The Abt family’s faith is also shown in the “impressive rituals of the Hebrew ceremony.” These photos and articles offer a brief peek at daily life for Abt and those close to him. They hold the hints left by those who came before us. Following the clues in these documents, you can uncover the most forgotten details to piece back together lost stories.

Pointing In The Sky…


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Thank you to Shawn Wood of Studio7 for this spectacular image of the McKinley National Memorial receiving the love it deserves. You thought your work was a challenge…. Mr. Wood’s photograph gives us an amazingly rare look at the festoons of ivy that ring the top of the monument. To the artist the ivy symbolizes McKinley’s character-constancy according to a September 29, 1907 Repository article that appears one day before the dedication of the McKinley National Memorial. In Architect Magonigle’s plans it calls for the festoons of ivy. Each ivy leaf has a bronze post to lift it up and away from the granite surface to create an added dimension.

4 – Main frame

Bicentennial Celebration, Groovy Director…


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Thank you to Gary Brown for his very interesting Monday After article: Remembering 1976 and the Bicentennial in Stark County! The article that appears in today’s Repository features longtime volunteer at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, Tom Haas when he was the Director of the Canton American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. He went on to take the position of Education Director at the Stark County History Center before later going on to a longtime career at WHBC Studios. Tom is in his 7th year of being a volunteer researcher in the Ramsayer Research Library. Thank you Tom for your hard work and dedication to our community.

Wedded to the Sea…


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Wedded to the Sea… (The Christening of the Battleship Ohio)

12:20 pm Pacific Time Mary Barber of Canton, Ohio daughter of Mary Saxton Barber stood by the apparatus that gave the signal to release the Battleship Ohio down the ways and into San Francisco Bay. Uncle William known to the world as President McKinley was nearby silently overseeing the entire celebration.

The trip of a lifetime for many began in Washington D.C. President McKinley was embarking on a Tour to the Pacific Coast. The train of the Southern Railway pulled away from the Washington station at 10:30 am Eastern time on Monday April 29th, carrying the President and First Lady, most of the President’s Cabinet, and their spouses or relatives. The original plan was to cover over ten thousand miles out to California and back to Washington, during the greater part of fifty days. The official trip roster contained forty people. The trip would have to alter and history would turn out different than planned because of the health of Mrs. Ida Saxton McKinley. The most important objective was to witness the christening of the Battleship Ohio, named in honor of William McKinley’s home state. 

On Saturday May 18th the President would rise in the home of Mr. Irving Scott, President of the Union Iron Works. He left his beloved wife the First Lady, Ida McKinley at the Scott residence where she was recovering from her, most accounts say “near to death” episode. Mrs. McKinley had a felon on her finger caused by an infection to a severe point. Now she was recovering and well enough for the President to leave her to attend the christening ceremonies.

President McKinley departed the Scott residence at 9:42 am for the transport dock where he would board the Slocum. He was joined by Ohio Governor Nash and a close family friend of the governor’s, Miss Helen Deshler. The Slocum made its way up the San Francisco Bay toward the Union Iron Works where the launching would take place. As the Slocum passed other ships in the bay they saluted President McKinley with cheers, and six inch guns thundering the twenty-one gun salute. Every boat, tug, and ship in the bay area was out to greet the President.

President McKinley boarding the Slocum May 18, 1901

Upon arrival at 11:15 am to the dry dock opposite the ways where the massive haul of the Ohio sat, President McKinley was greeted by the workers of the Union Iron Works. Several ships where either in dry dock or in the bay waiting to be completed including; the cruiser Tacoma, the torpedo destroyer Paul Jones and the Alaska. At precisely 12:22 pm with shouts of joy, countless national flags fluttering in the wind, the Chief Executive and his party, and the Governors of seven states and territories the mighty Battleship Ohio slipped into the waters of the San Francisco Bay “Wedded to the Sea.”

Mary Barber of Canton, Ohio Niece of the President and the First Lady pushes the button

Miss Mary Barber, of Canton, Ohio Niece of the President and First Lady pressed the button that activated the guillotine severing the rope restraining the ship to the ways.  As the ship made its way to the water Miss Helen Deshler of Columbus, Ohio released the ribbons and the net that held the bottle that christened the ship crushing the glass bottle on the iron. With a voice that was lost to the din of the crowd Miss Deshler shouted “I Christen Thee Ohio!” According to the Riverside Daily Press of Riverside, California, no other war ship’s launching has ever been so honored as the Buckeye State’s namesake. One hundred and twenty years ago today at the hour of this writing was launch the mighty Battleship Ohio.

Miss Helen Deshler of Columbus, Ohio “I Christen Thee

May 18, 2021

Mark G. Holland


McKinley Presidential Library & Museum

Freak Accident (The Death of Grace Vicary Pottorf)


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Last month one of our interns, Hannah Beach, met with one of our longtime researchers in the library Judy Pocock. Judy taught Hannah various skills in researching county history. Judy and Hannah spent a lot of time studying a photograph that was taken between 1905 and 1910. The photograph was a portrait of the employees of the C.N. Vicary Company. The C.N. Vicary Company was well noted as a high class men’s clothing and men’s furnishings retail store in Canton, Ohio.

The photograph is 16 ½” x 12” and identifies eight of the eleven people who appear in the portrait. Some of the spellings were wrong but by using the city directories Judy and Hannah were able to clear up the errors in the identification. Through looking on Find-A-Grave Judy found an obituary for a Grace Vicary Pottorf. Which leads me to a Freak Accident.

On April 1, 1891 the Charles Vicary family moved from LeRoy, New York to Canton, Ohio. Grace was born in LeRoy on Sunday August 9, 1885 to Charles and Louise Vicary. The couple would have two more little girls, Margarete and Caroline, and one little boy, Arthur. Charles Newell Vicary along with his business partner L. W.  Steuber also from LeRoy, New York were in the clothing business together.  

In Canton in 1892 the Union Clothing company folded, and the two businessmen were put in charge of administering the liquidation of the company. During the panic of 1893 Steuber left the company and Vicary to deal with the hard times in business. The hard times proved to be a boon for Vicary and he established his growing business first as Union Vicary, and then the C. N. Vicary Company.

Mr. Vicary’s daughter, Grace, attended Canton Central High School in Canton, Ohio and was graduated in 1904, and attended Lasell Seminary of Auburndale, Massachusetts in 1907. During the Great War, World War I she was in charge of the knitting department of the Canton Chapter of the American Red Cross, along with other activities to support the war. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was the Sunday School Superintendent for the primary department for eight years in the First Presbyterian Church.

On December 26th, 1918, Grace and John L. G. Pottorf announced their engagement. The two were married Thursday June 26th, 1919. Mr. Pottorf was the first principal of McKinley High School. He served as principal for Central, North (later Lehman) and McKinley High Schools for thirty-six years. The couple had a little girl on Sunday September 26, 1920 whom they named Louise in honor of her grandmother.

On Monday October 18th John went to a Canton Board of Education meeting in the evening. While preparing baby Louise for bed and a bath for herself Grace received a visit from her mother Louise, and one of her sisters Margarete. The visitors left Grace’s house at 702 13th Street N.W. between 8:15 and 8:30 pm. and around 8:45 pm Mr. Pottorf returned to his house to find his wife dead. Grace had apparently slipped in the tub striking the base of her brain on a faucet that was bent. There was also a heater that was found in the tub which could have caused her to be electrocuted. Thirty-five year old Grace Vicary Pottorf left behind her family, including her husband John and her twenty-two day old daughter Louise Carolyn. Mr. Pottorf never remarried.

The funeral services for Mrs. Pottorf were held at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Vicary, at 1253 Cleveland Avenue, N.W., Thursday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock. The service was conducted by Dr. C.E. Manchester and Reverend Walter B. Purnell. She was originally buried in West Lawn Cemetery then disinterred and reburied beside her husband in North Lawn Cemetery on Cleveland Avenue.

Native American History of Stark County


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Before white settlers moved to Stark County, the area was home to Native American tribes, beginning in the Paleoindian Period, which was between 13,000 B.C. and 7,000 B.C. Paleoindians were small groups that moved often depending on season and climate and relied on hunting, gathering, and foraging. They used tools made of bone, wood, and stone. Paleoindians were hunting in Ohio approximately 11,000 years ago, as evidenced by the Nobles Pond site in Jackson Township. The Paleoindians that used this site were among the first inhabitants of Ohio. Here, campsites have been discovered, as well as artifacts such as spear points and stone scrapers, both of which were characteristic tools of Paleoindians. The unique way in which the spear points were made helps to identify around what time Paleoindians were living at Nobles Pond. There have also been mounds representing later cultures located in different parts of Stark County, including Lawrence, Lake, and Canton.

After the Paleoindian Era, Stark County was sparsely inhabited by other prehistoric groups of different cultures for hunting and gathering. In the historic period, the people inhabiting Stark County were the Delaware Indians. They were pushed west from their original area near the Delaware Bay and Delaware River by the British, Dutch, Germans and other tribes in the mid- 1700s. Other Native American tribes living in Ohio around this time included the Wyandots and the Shawnee. Eventually, white settlers began to move to Stark County from places like Maryland, Virginia, and states throughout New England. Some of the earliest contacts involving Native Americans in Ohio were with French explorers and traders, English traders, scouting parties, and military campaigns.

 The contact between Native Americans and settlers was not without conflict. In 1794, General Anthony Wayne defeated a Native American force at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. This led to the negotiation of the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795. Many Native American tribes of the state, including the Wyandot and Delaware, surrendered much of their land under the treaty and had to move to western parts of Ohio. Eventually, these tribes were forced to move even further west to states such as Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

The topic of Native Americans living in Ohio includes 13,000-15,000 years of prehistory as well as over 300 years of history. The history of Native American tribes is an integral part of understanding the history of Ohio, and therefore the history of Stark County.

Nobles Pond Site
Fluted Point found at Nobles Pond
Trianguloid End Scraper found at Nobles Pond

Underground Railroad in Stark County


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The Underground Railroad was a system of safe houses and hiding places in which white and free African American “conductors” would assist runaway slaves, or freedom seekers, from Southern slave states to freedom in Northern free states as well as Canada.

One of the most prominent Underground Railroad stops in Stark County is the Spring Hill House in Massillon. The Spring Hill house was built in 1821 and owned by Thomas and Charity Rotch, who were Quakers and abolitionists. They used their home as a stop for fugitive slaves escaping slavery to the North. Despite attempts by slave hunters, no fugitive slave was ever caught at Spring Hill. 

Spring Hill had a secret staircase that connected the basement kitchen to the servants’ quarters on the second floor. This allowed fugitive slaves to move between hiding spaces without being exposed to the main floor of the house.  Using the secret staircase, fugitive slaves could hide in the attic crawlspace. Additionally, the attic was at one time used to keep bees and make honey because The Rotch family did not want to buy sugar, which used slave labor in the Caribbean to produce.

Another stop on the Underground Railroad was the Haines House in Alliance. The house was owned by Jonathan Ridgeway Haines, a Quaker and abolitionist, and his wife Sarah. Jonathan Haines and his son John would stand guard while runaway slaves stayed in the upper story of the house.

There were several other citizens of Stark County that were involved with the Underground Railroad. Many of those who were involved used their houses as stations on the Underground Railroad. Some of these people were the lawyer Anson Pease and his family. Their home, nicknamed Roanoke, was a station on the Underground Railroad.

Some of the other people involved in the Underground Railroad were James Bayliss and George Harsh, who both used their houses as stations. There was also Jacob Gaskins, one of the first African American settlers in Stark County, and Robert Folger, the former mayor of Massillon in 1861 and from 1864 to 1866.

Another important figure was Lucretia Mott. For a short time, her parents lived in Kendal, Ohio, which is now Massillon. Lucretia fought for women’s rights and slave emancipation, and in 1847 she delivered a lecture in Massillon on social reform. She would later help organize the First Women’s Rights Convention with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

There were many active members of the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery movement in Ohio. In an article from the Anti-Slavery Bugle of Lisbon, Ohio, citizens of Massillon proposed an anti-slavery convention. Another article from the anti-slavery bugle features plans for anti-slavery conventions in Ohio in which prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison would be in attendance.

Ohio was an important part of the Underground Railroad. In Stark County, there were several routes though cities such as Canton, Alliance, and Massillon and many prominent figures that helped on the Underground Railroad.

Meet the Interns, Hannah Beach…


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My name is Hannah Beach. In the spring, I will be graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in History from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. I grew up in a small town called Sugarcreek in northeast Ohio where I still live with my parents and my three sisters. Since I was in elementary school, history has been a fascination for me. As a kid I participated in the high school’s production of Annie Get Your Gun and after finding out the musical was based on a true story, I knew I had to know more and quickly fell in love with history. That experience paired with a series of remarkable history teachers all through school aided in my realization that history was something that I wished to pursue as a career.

For the last five years, on weekends and over breaks, I have put my love of history to use as I worked at David Warther Carvings, a non-profit museum in Sugarcreek. There I worked as a tour guide where I guided patrons through the various rooms explaining how the antique ivory carvings had been made and more importantly, told the history of the ships whose schematics had been used to make exact, miniature replicas. In those five years I learned so much. The experience inspired a growth in my passion for history and for sharing it with others. Along with serving as a tour guide, I worked in gift shop sales, created and ran the museum’s social media platforms, and served as the grant coordinator, giving me countless skills that will be useful as I head into the work field. I will forever be grateful for the time that I spent at David Warther Carvings and for the incredible tutelage of David Warther himself. As I look towards my future and my life outside of college, I am incredibly thankful for the way my past experiences have shaped me into who I am today and am very excited to be working at the McKinley Presidential Library this spring.

Preserve Your Now: Bury A Time Capsule…


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365 Reasons: Today let me give you a reason to bury a time capsule. When I first met my wife when I was 19 years old, she had a neighbor lady who finally died when she was 103 years old, oh the stories she had to tell. She told me about attending President William McKinley’s funeral in Canton Ohio. I wish she had buried a time-capsule and I could dig it up today. Why not preserve your now, which will become history for a future generation. Choose carefully what you include in your capsule, you want it to accurately represent your snapshot in time. Can you imagine what your great-grandchildren might think about today’s newspaper or CD or current best selling book? Go ahead, think beyond yourself, and invest into the future.

By Art Snow, Canton Native

Treaty of Greenville…


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In 2011 a boy named Zane visited our museum with his class. On his history tour he viewed a mural we have in our Stark County Story called The Treaty of Greenville “The Signing” by Ohioan Howard Chandler Christy. Zane went back to his school and created this one of a kind work based on our copy of this famous piece.