Main Street blocks honor bank presidents

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

 

The Niles block at the southeast corner of South Main and East Sandusky streets was constructed not long after the Adams block was built one block north of Main Street. This was early in the new century.

The recent (1967) death of Roy Ferguson, of the Ferguson firm of building contractors, brings to mind the origin of the Niles building. The Ferguson firm’s offices are located in the Niles building. They were established in the structure when it was built, we are told. In fact, they moved in a little before completion of the five-story building. They have been tenants longer than any other occupants of quarters there. Harold J. Ferguson heads the firm.

Prior to the erection of the Niles block, there were small one-story structures on the site. D. Martini conducted a confectionery store on the corner.

The Niles block was the last of the four buildings to be constructed at this important intersection, the records reveal. The other three buildings are of considerably older construction. Just across Sandusky Street is the block which originally was known as the Frey block. Here S.D. Frey and his son William J. Frey conducted a drug store for many years. The firm name was S.D. Frey and Son. The son became a prominent figure in Findlay’s history, serving as county treasurer and later as mayor. He was one of those instrumental in bringing water into Findlay from Limestone Ridge early in the 1900s. He also was a state leader in Democratic party circles and once was asked by Ohio Democrats to run for governor. He served as chairman of the state party committee at one time.

On the other side of Main Street the present buildings were constructed quite a few years before the Niles block went up. The Patterson store building was erected considerably before the turn of the century while J.S. Patterson, the store’s founder, was living. The large building at the southwest corner which housed the Joy House hostelry and later the Jackson department store had its original 20 or 30 years before 1900.

Directly behind the Niles building is the two-story structure which the Findlay Courier built in the latter part of the 1800s to house the newspaper.

Charles E. Niles, the builder of the Niles block, was president of the First National Bank and its first cashier prior to that, having been one of the institution’s founders in 1863. He was born in 1836 in Boston. He spent some of his early years in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, and gained his first business experience at Cleveland and Ashtabula in banking business. He later moved to Hudson, Mich., engaging in both the banking and mercantile business. He came to Findlay early in the 1860s, joining E.P. Jones in organizing the First National Bank.

He served as the bank’s cashier for 31 years, becoming president in 1894 upon the death of Mr. Jones. In 1895-96, he served as president of the Ohio Bankers Association, being one of the best-known bankers in the state of Ohio.

Mr. Niles’ health began to fail in the mid-1900 decade. He went to Florida in 1908, seeking improved health. He suffered a stroke there, but recovered enough to start home by train. He died on the train, however, before reaching Jacksonville, Fla., March 28, 1908.

Mr. Niles was grand treasurer of the Odd Fellows lodge in Ohio for 11 years and had held every office in the local order.

The Niles family home was at the southwest corner of South Main Street and West Lima Street for many years. The home was eventually razed, the site forming part of the land upon which the First EUB Church (St. Marks United Methodist now) stands today.

He and Mrs. Niles had one son, C.F.M. Niles, who for many years was a Toledo financier. A granddaughter is Mrs. H. Fort Flowers of Findlay and Houston, Texas.

It is interesting that the two men who founded the First National Bank – E. P. Jones and Charles E. Niles in 1863 – both have blocks which have borne their names a square apart on South Main Street in Findlay. The Jones block, at the southwest corner of West Crawford Street, was built in the 1860s by William H. Wheeler. The bank moved into the corner location not long after it was built and remained there a long time. Previously the bank had been located a block further south across from what is now the Niles building.

The Jones family acquired the property subsequently and the Jones name appears on the Crawford Street side. Both the Jones block and the Niles block passed into other hands eventually.

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