EDITOR’S NOTE: The following 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
A large brick building on the east edge of the grounds of the Ashland Petroleum Co.’s refinery once housed a large Findlay industry whose origin had no connection with the oil refining business. It was the location of the factory of the Findlay Church Furniture Co., a major industrial enterprise for some years in the community’s boom days in the late 1880s and the 1890s.
There was no oil refinery in the area at the time the church furniture factory went up in late 1887. A movement was afoot at the time, however, for the establishment of a refinery and it began to take form just as the church furniture factory was being completed. The two concerns thus became early neighbors.
In later years, after the church furniture factory closed up, the refinery interests took over the neighboring brick structure which had been the scene of the church furniture manufacturing business and absorbed it into the refining complex. A consequence has been that many, unfamiliar with the history of the two concerns, have generally believed that the brick building of the furniture company was always in the refinery ownership.
In September 1887, announcement was made that the Findlay Church Furniture Co. had been incorporated with the capitalization of $20,000. The firm of Dietsch Brothers had earlier gone into the manufacture of furniture for church purposes in Findlay. Ed Dietsch in October 1887 sold his interest in the Dietsch firm and joined a group of other Findlay men who were forming the new company and was named its manager.
Construction work on the new factory started in October 1887. The plans called for four stories, of brick exterior. Later there were only two stories, however. It was described as located at the corner of West Lima Street and Ninth Street, alongside the Western Railroad, now the Norfolk and Western. The new refinery was to be built later just west of the church furniture plant, “straddling” the railroad tracks.
The plant got into full operation early in 1888. Dr. F.W. Firmin was the company president, John W. Zeller, Findlay’s superintendent of schools, was the vice president and Charles E. Niles, cashier of the First National Bank, was treasurer. Later on, S.J. Sherk became secretary-treasurer.
The factory prospered, and when it closed for a period of four days in December 1890 for urgent repairs, it was the first shutdown since its start some three years earlier.
In February 1896, the Findlay Church Furniture Co. was succeeded by the Ohio Furniture Co., with new stockholders and officers. The firm was one of only 13 church furniture manufacturing concerns in the entire United States.
The new owners gave up the business after a while and the plant was leased to C.B. Denies, of Sandusky, and I.B. Dennis, of Norwalk, for the manufacture of wooden novelties, with a limited amount of church furniture planned.
The plant in December 1899 changed its nature and moved into the petroleum picture, when the American Petroleum Product Co. became the owner of the property, paying $5,000 for it and $400 for adjoining vacant lots. The new company planned the manufacture of all forms of greases, including Vaseline, candles, axle grease and the like. James A. Miliff was the superintendent. The concern planned to use refuse oil, gathered by wagons from wells throughout the field. The railroad put in a siding for the new plant. Woodworking machinery in the plant was sold to Clevelanders who shipped it to that city.
The American firm changed its name to the Canfield Oil Co. in February 1901. The head of the new company was George R. Canfield, of Cleveland. In December 1904, the National Refining Co., of Cleveland, purchased the Canfield Refinery. The National, in 1896, had bought the Peerless refinery, which had its origin just after the church furniture company was formed and which adjourned the latter concern for some time. The Peerless was one of several oil refineries which sprang up in northwestern Ohio with the discovery of oil in the area. The Peerless had its own wells which were connected with the refinery by pipelines.
The record of the building’s past was unearthed by (the late) Donald Smith, 326 Osborn Ave., recognized authority on Findlay history.