Henry L. and Susan Whitman

Henry Whitman December 12, 1815 – December 20, 1866

Susan Whitman abt 1818 – November 18, 1878

Henry Lord Whitman was born December 12, 1815 in Connecticut. His wife, Susan Tisdale, was born in New York ca. 1818. Henry and Susan married while they were teenagers when she was only 15 and he was 18 years old. Their two sons Richard Lord Whitman and Henry Tisdale Whitman were born in 1837 and 1838 respectively. According to both the 1850 and 1860 census Henry’s occupation was as a farmer. Henry and Susan lived on Detroit Road past the boundaries of Ohio City. Susan has been described as “a resolute character, and sincere in her friendships”.

Whitman monument
Whitman monument

Like many residents of the Ohio City area at the time, Henry’s interests and involvements went well beyond the simple occupation of farmer. By 1860 Henry had been a Justice of the Peace, a founder and treasurer of Bigelow Masonic Lodge #243 along with Gaston Allen, and in 1848, Henry, along with Richard Lord, Hiram Stone, and others, formed the Rockport Plank Road Company. Henry served as treasurer. The company built a plank road that started at the intersection of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street (Pearl Street) and extended west to the Rocky River where a bridge was built across the river. Henry and Needham Standart formed the banking house of Whitman and Standart. The bank was short-lived and closed in 1859.

Perhaps Henry’s most memorable endeavor was as a participant in the infamous Bridge War that occurred in 1836, in which he participated as a young man in his twenty-first year of age. Ohio City, which was an incorporated city at that time, vied with the City of Cleveland for many things including residents and business. The Ohio canal had been completed and Cleveland had been chosen as the site for the northern terminus of that public work much to the chagrin of Ohio City. The Cuyahoga River separated the two cities and both communities were desirous of attracting business to their communities.

The following is taken from court records found in the Annals of Cleveland History. This is an abstract of a court case from April 24, 1837:

The City of Cleveland vs. Edgar Slaght, Richardson J. Appleby, Henry L. Whitman, E.S Taylor and H.N Barstow; Trespass. The City of Cleveland vs. George L. Chapman, Charles Hoyt, and Ezekiel Folsom; Trespass. The City of Cleveland vs. Norman C. Baldwin, and Isaac Burton; Trespass.

The United States Congress in 1787 provided that the navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence rivers were to be common highways free to all citizens of states and territories, including those states and territories which might later come into the union. Among the latter was Ohio, which came into the union on 1803.

In the course of time the City of Cleveland constructed the Columbus Street bridge at the foot of Columbus Street across the Cuyahoga River. This bridge joined Cleveland with Ohio City. (ed. note – Another bridge, a pontoon-type floating bridge that connected Cleveland and Ohio City, existed further north along the Cuyahoga near where the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge is today and use of this bridge by farmers and merchants traveling north on Pearl Street – West 25th Street - required traversing the business area of Ohio City thus bringing more wealth to that community. When the Columbus Street bridge was constructed the City of Cleveland demolished the half of the floating bridge that was on the Cleveland side of the river. The new Columbus Street bridge diverted business away from Ohio City.) The City Council of Ohio City later found that faulty construction rendered the bridge an obstruction and a menace to vessels plying the river. Large quantities of earth were carried onto the bridge on the wheels of carts and the earth was swept into the river, causing the channel to fill.

Deeming the bridge a public nuisance the council of Ohio City passed an ordinance on May 26, 1836, authorizing the marshal and others to demolish it at the Ohio City end. The ordinance was signed by Ezekiel Folsom, president of the council, and by Josiah Barber, mayor of Ohio City. Notice was published in newspapers and a week later the bridge was torn down. George L. Chapman, marshal of Ohio City, and Charles Hoyt and Folsom were responsible for the wrecking.

Apparently, the bridge was later repaired for on October 28 of that year Isaac Burton and Norman C. Baldwin partly wrecked the bridge again. A week later Edgar Slaght, Richardson J. Appleby, Henry L. Whitman, Ezra S. Taylor and Horatio N. Barstow and others completed the task. The City of Cleveland claimed that the wreckers used sledges, crow bars, saws, hammers, axes and other tools. All flooring, roofing, railings, braces and draws were demolished and carried away and the stone abutments wrecked. The City of Cleveland suffered a loss of business from the other side of the river during the four week period the bridge was down.

The wreckers contended that they or any other citizen of the state had the right to remove a public nuisance. Notwithstanding the alleged rights to tear down bridges at will, the City of Cleveland filed three separate suits in the Court of Common Pleas on April 24, 1837 for $5,000 damages against the groups headed by Chapman, Slaght, and Baldwin. The cases were dismissed without record in the 1838 term, each party paying his own costs.

The story of the Bridge War has been told time and time again and the accounts vary considerably as to the amount of destruction that was done, the number of people involved (One account claims there were a 1000 people there to wreck the bridge.), the use of force and weapons, and the number of people injured, hospitalized or jailed. One account even goes so far as to claim there was a song written about the event!

Columbus Street Bridge A.D. 1835
Columbus Street Bridge A.D. 1835

But the Bridge Wars was not the end of Henry’s troubles. Henry had become involved with the Rockport Plank Road Company around 1859. In the early 19th century roads, both in cities and rural areas, were mainly dirt byways. Experiments with stone and brick paving had been tried but to no avail. The use of wood planking for roads was tried, with greater success, and those roads were generally toll roads which gave a return on the company’s investment.

The following is taken from court records found in the Annals of Cleveland History. This is an abstract of a court case from October 13, 1866:

Henry L. Whitman was elected treasurer of the Rockport Plank Road Company of Cleveland at the annual stockholders meeting on January 2, 1859. In July of that year Whitman arranged to deposit toll receipts and other money received by the company with the Cleveland bank of C.A. Read and Company. All other Cleveland banks had refused to accept the receipts without discounting them because they consisted of coin, bank notes, bank bills, postal currency, fractional currency and scrip, some of which was depreciated and some counterfeit.

In 1865 Whitman’s surety bond of $4,000 was countersigned by Daniel P. Rhodes and John Beverlin. The bond, which was surety for Whitman for one year as treasurer, was accepted by the directors of the road company.

The company claimed that Whitman took in receipts of over $6,000 in 1865, out of which he paid out about $5,000. Whitman declared he received only $2,464.25. Rhodes and Beverlin said about $5,000 had been received and paid by Whitman. The company had $1,358.46 on deposit in the Read Bank on November 6, 1865. On that date the Read Bank failed, and Perry Prentiss was appointed assignee. Whitman asserted that he had deposited only $658.46 of the amount, the rest of it having been deposited by the president and secretary of the company. Prentiss announced a 10% payment on all deposits, offering the road company $135.84.

When Whitman turned in his annual report on January 2, 1866 the road company claimed a shortage of $1,437.30. It applied to the signers of the surety bond for this shortage. Whitman, Rhodes and Beverlin said the bond was not delivered to the road company and was not its property. They also contended that Whitman’s account was short only $658.46 and this amount was still in the hands of the Read Bank. On October 13, 1866 the road company filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas for $1,437.30. The road company was given a judgment for $1,429.43. A retrial was granted the bond signers, but the case was settled out of court before it came to trial.

For Henry Whitman the judgment was a moot point since he died on December 20, 1866, aged 51 at his residence in Brooklyn. The cause of death was Erysipelas. The funeral and services were held at his late residence on Detroit Street. The friends of the family were invited. “Persons wishing to attend, if they left their names at Chittenden’s Livery Stable rear of American House or at Briggs Stable on Detroit Street, would be called for”.

Erysipelas is a skin infection that often follows strep throat. It is also called St. Anthony’s fire. The symptoms are a bright-red, butterfly-shaped rash appearing across the bridge of the nose and the cheeks. It is hot to the touch, painful, shiny, and swollen, with clearly defined margins. The edges of the rash are a raised ridge, hard to the touch. There may be fluid-filled bumps scattered along the area. The rash spreads rapidly. Some patients have swelling of the eyelids, sometimes so severe that their eyes swell shut. The patient may have fever, chills, loss of energy, nausea and vomiting, and swollen, tender lymph nodes. In severe cases, walled-off areas of pus may develop beneath the skin. If left untreated, the streptococcal bacteria may begin circulating in the bloodstream. A patient may then develop an overwhelming, systemic infection called sepsis, with a high risk of death. The treatment of choice is penicillin, which, unfortunately for poor Henry, had not been discovered in 1866.

But sometimes our actions live after us and Henry Whitman apparently had left this world with a considerable amount of debt to be repaid. On August 21, 1841, the Ohio Railroad Company deeded 50 acres of land to Whitman. On August 5, 1858 Whitman and his wife, Susan, had mortgaged the property to guarantee the payment of four promissory notes totaling $3,900. Seven weeks later the mortgage holder wrote his cancellation on it but Whitman did not have the cancellation recorded and retained possession of the mortgage deed.

By 1859 Henry’s fortunes were such that he assigned all of his personal property and real estate to be held in trust until his creditors could be paid. However, he didn’t tell anyone about the 50 acre tract. Ultimately Henry’s ownership of the property was discovered. By that time there were as many as 40 court orders requiring Whitman’s holdings to be sold to satisfy the debts. When Henry died he left the property to his wife, Susan, and when Susan died on November 26, 1878 she left the property to Miller Spangler, her agent. Eventually, the property was sold and the debts paid.

Despite Henry’s troubles, he must have made friends, influenced people and left his mark on Ohio City since, even today, we are reminded of Henry as we drive down a street that still bears his name, Whitman Avenue. Henry and Susan Whitman’s stone obelisk monument is the largest monument at Monroe Street Cemetery and is the hallmark at the cemetery entrance rising skyward above a raised earthen mound. Their sons Richard L. and Henry T. who died one year apart in 1860 and 1861 respectively, both at the age of 23 years, are buried with their parents.