Charles Foster: Governor From Fostoria

EDITOR’S NOTE–This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

By R.L. HEMINGER

 

 

Northwestern Ohio has not produced many governors of the state of Ohio. In fact, fewer have come from this area than from any other part of the Buckeye State.

For this reason, the city of Fostoria possesses an unique distinction, for one of her citizens was one of these very few who went from northwestern Ohio to occupy the governor’s chair at Columbus.

He was Charles Foster, who served as Ohio’s governor from 1880 to 1884. Mr. Foster was a retail merchant and it would be difficult to find another chief executive of Ohio who followed this line of business before moving to the state capital to become governor.

Mr. Foster’s father, Charles W. Foster, came to Seneca County in 1832, when the area was yet a wilderness for the most part. He built a double cabin, one part for his home and the other part for the store that he opened in partnership with his wife’s father and brother. Besides investing in merchandise for the business, he also bought some 2,000 acres of unimproved land, some of which, we understand, was located in Hancock County.

A town was laid out around the Foster store and it was called Rome. A David Risdon did the surveying and decided if one town was good, two would be better, so he laid out a second right beside it and this one was called Risdon. In 1854, the two towns decided to merge and the resulting community was given the name of Fostoria, in recognition of the importance of the Foster store which had come to be known widely over northwestern Ohio.

When the two towns merged, Charles Foster, the future governor, was in full charge of the family business which now included a bank. His father’s health had failed and the young man’s schooling suffered as a consequence. He attended the academy at Norwalk for a short time. By the time he was 18 years old, he was making all the purchases for the retail store in the eastern market.

He had had some 20 years’ business experience when he decided to run for Congress. It was in this campaign that he was given the name of “Calico Charlie,” by which he was known for the rest of his life. His political foes gave him the name because he stuck to selling calico instead of going into the Civil War. His friends met this criticism by pointing out that he gave unlimited credit to soldiers’ families when they came into his store to by provisions and calico, one of the materials that was popular for garments in those days. He had many friends, and women wore calico dresses and men wore calico ties especially to demonstrate their loyalty to him in the campaign, which he won handily.

 

 

MR. FOSTER SERVED FOUR consecutive terms at Washington. He took a firm stand against radicals who wanted the south humbled during Reconstruction.

Mr. Foster lost a fifth term, due to district boundary changes in 1878. Two years later he ran successfully for the governorship of Ohio on the Republican ticket. He was re-elected in 1882.

His business experience stood him in good stead in the governor’s office. He established bipartisan boards to manage public institutions and he revised the state’s tax system. He favored high taxes on liquor.

Mr. Foster was thorough. He studied politics as he did business and he calculated his chances of success at the polls on the basis of exhaustive research. He was popularly known as “Old Figgers.”

After leaving the governor’s office, he returned to his retail interests in Fostoria. He re-entered public life in 1889, becoming secretary of the treasury of the United States under President Benjamin Harrison. He died in 1904 at the age of 76 years. His wife was the daughter of the pioneer Olmstead family in Fremont. They had two daughters.

Mr. Foster was well-known in Findlay and was here many times. He was a personal friend of the Pattersons, of the Patterson store here.

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