UTICA -- A reader recently asked me, “How do you find this stuff?”
My answer? Dig, dig, dig. It's a bit like prospecting for gold. You do a lot of digging, but only rarely come up with a gold nugget.
This week's exploration may not have come up with a nugget, but perhaps we have a few gold flakes of long-forgotten stories of the wild days of an industrial boom town.
It begins with another recent vintage postcard acquisition. The card, undated and unmailed, shows a hand-colored photo of the Licking Glass Factory in Utica, the village which straddles the border between Knox and Licking counties on State Route 13. It turns out that there was quite a boom of glass factories in Utica starting in 1903, when natural gas was discovered in the area.
Natural gas was necessary for the new technologies that had been developed in the late 1800s, and Utica had plenty.
These new plants used tank furnaces that could keep running indefinitely, unlike older pot furnaces that had to stop operations to be refilled, according to an article by Edwin M. Noyes in The Bulletin of The Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio in 1954. The discovery of natural gas supplies near Utica and throughout the region led to several companies and skilled workers from Indiana relocating here.
The Utica Glass Company was the first to open in 1903, but the Licking Window Glass Company (the actual name of the pictured plant) came soon after in 1906, located at the end of Stanley Street, on the west side of the railroad tracks.
At their height of production around 1910, these plants were hand-making window glass 24 hours a day, putting out more product than any other plants in the United States. The boom was on!
This far removed in time, we have little idea what the day to day life of the workers was like. It's safe to bet that they were just as humanly flawed as workers anywhere. What we can glean from sparse surviving newspaper articles is that some kind of dispute broke out between William Randall and three men named Elton Smith, Grover Hayes, and Earl Newberry (given as Dewberry in one article and Nuberry in another) on Saturday afternoon, May 1, 1911. What the dispute was about is unknown.
What is known is that the three men either led Randall or cornered him in a little-used corner of the factory and begin beating him with the metal blow pipes the workers used to make glass. After knocking him to the ground, the men began stomping on him with their hob-nailed boots. Hob nails are similar to cleats, metal points attached to the bottom of boots to give traction on difficult surfaces and prolong the life of the shoe. To be stomped with said footwear is ferociously violent.
According to the article in the Democratic Banner, Randall suffered five broken ribs and internal injuries. Dr. W. F. Smith opined that the man would not survive the wounds.
The perpetrators immediately fled the scene along the railroad tracks and fled south along the Newark Road, today Ohio 13.
Company president Willard Palmer was walking through the factory just moments later when he happened upon Randall bleeding profusely on the floor. He telephoned the police and Marshal Peet formed an armed posse of 20 men who set out on the trio's trail. The posse tracked the men to Smoots farm, three miles south of Utica, but lost the trail in a thicket.
The posse, aided by police from Newark, caught Newberry and Haynes four miles further southwest, at Highwater. Elton Smith apparently escaped the dragnet, and eventually resurfaced a few months later in Mount Vernon. Word got back to the Licking County authorities that Smith had been seen, and they requested the Mount Vernon police to arrest him. Patrolman Albert Alsdorf picked Smith up at a residence on South Jefferson Street.
The three men were brought up on charges of assault with intent to kill. But the case oddly loses steam late in 1911 for unknown reasons. Elton Smith was put on trial, but found not guilty. This apparently caused the other two men to agree to plead guilty to a reduced charge of assault and battery.
Further word regarding Randall is absent, though he apparently did not die from the assault, for the charges were never upgraded to manslaughter nor murder.
One odd detail that does emerge, in a trade publication called the Paint, Oil and Chemical Review published in 1912, is that Utica suffers two major fires at glass plants in late 1911 and early 1912. The publication claims that a worker by the name of Randall was overcome by gas fumes in one of the fires, resulting in him falling down the stairs in the plant, which caused his death.
If such an event happened, the companies managed to keep it out of the media, for no such news report survives. But the coincidence of the name is interesting. I was unable to find any William Randall in the area on later census reports.
Grover Haynes proved elusive as well, with no one by that name living anywhere near Utica during this entire period. If he or Earl Newberry served any prison time for the assault, it wasn't for very long. Newberry next shows up working at the Pittsburgh Plate Glass plant in Mount Vernon in April 1913.
But his presence is once again associated with violence.
According to a report in the Democratic Banner, an Italian worker by the name of Patsy Velore accidentally side-swiped Newberry with a cart carrying some glass cylinders with jagged ends. The glass cut Newberry, who angrily punched the Italian in the face. Velore, however, was packing a revolver, and threatened Newberry with it. Their standoff had to be defused. Police were called and Velore was arrested for brandishing the gun, fined, and released.
Soon after this, Newberry left the area, moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he died in 1918 after being hit by an electric car.
Elton Smith, the one found not guilty of the original assault, keeps a low profile for a number of years, but re-emerges in 1918 when he enters the army during World War I. Honorably discharged in 1919, he returns to Ohio. He next appears in 1921 in Lancaster, Ohio, where he is again working in a glass factory.
In December of that year, he applies for a license to marry 16-year old Olivia Le June, the daughter of French-Belgian parents who worked in the glass companies in Indiana before moving to central Ohio to work in the booming factories. Her father Aimé, though, was in failing health, not listed as working any more on the 1920 census.
Did Smith meet Olivia by working alongside her father before his health forced him to retire? We don't know.
Smith could even have potentially boarded with the family, as Aimé's wife Marie is listed as running a boarding house to support the family. Whatever the case, the marriage happened, and the couple soon had a daughter, lacking the birth date of the daughter, we can't be sure just how soon after the wedding she came.
Unfortunately, Elton Smith's involvement in that assault years before may be a sign of a volatile, unstable personality, because after five years of marriage, Olivia sued for divorce in October of 1926, alleging gross neglect of duty and extreme cruelty. The court ruled on November 19 that Elton should pay temporary alimony of $6.00 per week, and Olivia's legal fees, until the divorce case was settled.
Exactly one month later, events turned monstrous. On Sunday, December 19, Elton went to the house on Shuman Avenue where Olivia had been living with her mother and daughter. Elton lurked in the back yard, waiting for his estranged wife to return. After she arrived and got out of her Ford car, Olivia left the garage to walk into the house. Smith charged at her from the shadows and unloaded buckshot into her side point blank with his shotgun.
Olivia's mother Marie ran from inside the house to see what was happening. Smith pointed the shotgun at her. She fled into the shadows of the yard, where Smith briefly chased her. Losing her in the shadows, then looking back at his collapsed, bleeding wife, he took the shotgun and used it to blow off the side of his head, instantly killing himself. The man was buried for many years in an unmarked grave.
In 1960, the personnel of Forest Grove Cemetery in Lancaster took it upon themselves to contact the U. S. Army and request a simple veteran's gravestone for Smith. As he served in a field artillery unit during the war, it is certainly possible that post-traumatic stress disorder further destabilized whatever volatility he already demonstrated earlier in life. The Army provided a plain granite stone.
While Olivia's wound was life-threatening, puncturing her lung, she did survive the horrific assault, and went on to live many more years, remarrying twice, and passing away at the advanced age of 91 in 1995.
Olivia far outlived the glass industry in Utica. The companies were forced to ration their use of natural gas during the war, cutting their production back considerably, leading to labor difficulties. By the time the war was over, the latest technology had arrived, with machines making the window glass, removing the need for skilled artisans. The glass companies saw steadily decreasing revenues, and the onset of the Great Depression in the late 1920s finished them off for good.
All that remains are a handful of echoes of the wild life of a one-time boom town.