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Edwin Converse Higbee
pages 58-66


WHEN Edwin C. Higbee passed away one more name was added to the list of honored dead whose earthly records closed with the words, "well done, thou good and faithful servant"; but so long as memory remains to those who knew him the influence of his nobel life will remain as a source of encouragement and inspiration. "To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die," for the good we do lives after us through the centuries. Who, then, can measure the results of such a life work as was that of Mr. Higbee? His energies were devoted to the uplifting of humanity, doing what he could faithfully and cheerfully. He recognized the "spark of divinity" in each individual with unerring judgment and endevored to fan it into the flame of righteousness. Not to condemn, but to aid, he made the practice of his life, and the and the world is better and brighter for his having lived. But thought the voice, gentle and kindly, is stilled "in the tongueless silence of the dreamless sleep," the spirit of his worth remains as the deep undercurrent of a might stream, noiseless but irresistible. His influence was as the delicate fragrance of a flower to those who had the pleasure of his friendship. His sympathies were broad, and quietly, yet strongly, he called forth the best in one, ennobling all by his own Christian character. his life was beautiful in its purity, goodness, and Christian virtues, and his memory will long remain as a blessed benediction to all who knew him. Invulnerable integrity and high purpose characterized his life, and he left an indelible impress upon the annals of the community honored by his residence. His strength was as the number of his days, and he accomplished much in connection with the practical affairs of life, his long and active career being one of close and fruitful indentification with business interests of great magnitude, in which he gained marked prestige. Measured by its accomplishment, its beneficence and its helpful optimism, the life of Mr. higbee had wide and emphatic significance. Edwin C. Higbee came of a long line of English and Colonial ancestry, the Puritan stock of New England coming to him in two lines. On the paternal line, the ancestral record is as follows: (1)Edward Higbee (then spelled Higbie), probably born in England, was at new London, Connecticut in 1647, being granted a house lot, and in 1674 was at jamaica, Long Island, where he died. His will, recorded at Jamaica, was dated October 17, 1694. It mentions his wife, Lydia (probably a second wife), two daughters and four sons. (2) John Higbee, born probably about 1658, for on April 18, 1683, he swore as a witness that he was twenty-five years old. On May 1, 1679, he married Rebecca Treadwell, of Fairfield, Connecticut, the marriage being recorded at Middletown, Connecticut, where they settled. They were baptized in middletown, April 18, 1680. Inventory of his estate was dated December 28, 1688, and amounted to one hundred and seven pounds and nine shillings. (3)Edward Higbee, born at Middletown, Connecticut, in 1684, was baptized there on August 26, the same year. On November 29, 1706, he married Rebecca Wheeler, of Stratford (now Bridgeport), the marriage being recorded at Middletown. On December 17, 1773, he removed to Westfield, Connecticut, where his death occurred on November 21, 1775, at the age of ninety-two years. (4) John Higbee was born at Middletown, Connecticut, July 16, 1707, and on March 9, 1731, he married Sarah Candee, who was born may 3, 1710, at Middletown. He moved to Westfield in 1773. His will, dated October 8, 1790, mentions wife, Sarah, and several children. His estate inventoried three hundred and six pounds and thirteen shillings. (5) Zacheus Higbee was born at Middletown, Connecticut, January 5, 1735, and on October 16, 1760, at Middletown he married Rebecca Wilcox. (6) Jeremiah Higbee, who was a Baptist minister, was born at Middletown, Connecticut, March 20, 1766, and he died at Turin, New York, in 1842. To him and his wife, whose given name was Lydia, were born three children, Jeremiah, born 1791-2; Harvey, born October, 1795; and Lydia, born June 6, 1798. (7) Jeremiah Higbee, born at Middletown, Connecticut, in 1791 or 1792, subsequently removed to Lodi, Medina County, Ohio, where he became the leading merchant of the town. He was a man of deep religious convictions and exemplary life and was a deacon in the Congregational Church at Lodi. He died January 22, 1878, in Cleveland, Ohio, at about the age of eighty-five years. He was three times married, first, on June 12, 1835, at Lodi, to Sarah Converse, to which union were born Edwin Converse Higbee, September 7, 1837, and five years later, on September 6, 1842, Joseph Converse Higbee. Six days after the birth of this last child, both were left motherless, and before the close of October the infant Joseph was laid beside his mother in the village cemetery at Lodi. Jeremiah Higbee married for his second wife Cornelia Brainard, and for his third, Virginia Foote.
On the maternal side, the subject's ancestral line is well authenticated for nearly nine centuries, finding its earliest known origin among the Norman knights who, a half century before the conquest of England, tilted lance upon the fields of sunny France. The line of descent is as follows: (1) Roger de Coigneries, Coigneries, France, and Durham, England; born about 1010. (2) Roger de Coigneries, Durham, England. (3) Roger de Coniers, Durham and Sockburn, England. (4) Galfrid Conyers, Sockburn, England. (5) John Conyers, Sockburn, England. (6) Sir Humphrey Conyers, Sockburn, England. (7) Sir John Conyers, Sockburn, England. (8) Roger Conyers, Sockburn, England. (9) Sir John Conyers, Sockburn, England, died 1395. (10) Robert Conyers, Sockburn, England, born 1671, died 1433. (11) John Conyers, Hornby, England. (12) Sir Christopher Conyers, hornby, England. (13) Sir John Conyers, Hornby, England. (14) Sir John Conyers, Hornby, England. (15) Reginald Conyers, Wakerly, England; died 1514. (16) Richard Conyers, Wakerly, England. (17) Christopher Conyers, Wakerly, England; baptized 1552. (18) Edward Convers, born at Wakerly, England, January 30, 1590, and died August 10, 1663, at Woburn, Massachusetts. He came with Governor Winthrop to Boston in 1630, settling first in Charlestown, and afterwards as one of the seven men appointed by the church at Charlestown to found the church and town of Woburn, Massachusetts. He became selectman of that town and lived there for the rest of his life. Many of the descendants of Edward Convers have filled conspicuous positions in the learned professions, the commercial world and in public life. Among the well-known names are found those of Commodore Morris, U.S.N.; William Dean Howells, the author and publicist; Larken G. Mead, the sculptor, and John H. Converse, manufacturer and capitalist, of Philadelphia. (19) Lieut. James Converse was born at Wakerly, England, in 1620; married Anna Long, of Charlestown, Massachusetts, October 24, 1643; died May 10, 1715, at Woburn, Massachusetts. (20) Major James Converse, born November 16, 1645, at Woborn [Sic.], Massachusetts; married, January 1, 1698, Hannah Carter; died July 8, 1706. (21) John Converse, born March 22, 1673, at Woburn, Massachusetts; married Abigail Sawyer, May 22, 1699; died January 6, 1708, at Woburn. (22) Joshua Convers, born January 3, 1704; at Woburn, Massachusetts; married July 31, 1729, to Rachael Blanchard, died (drowned), 1774. (23) Sergeant Joseph Converse, born November 13, 1739, at Litchfield, New Hampshire; married, May 27, 1762, Elizabeth Davis; died February 16, 1828, at Chesterfield, New Hampshire. Sergeant in Captain Moore's company, Colonel Baldwin's regiment, Massachusetts troops; marched on Lexington Alarm of April 19, 1775, from Bedford, Massachusetts; War of the Revolution. (24) William Converse, born October 12, 1774, at Bedford, Massachusetts; married November 13, 1800, Sarah Hunt; died December 31, 1831, at Westerland, New Hampshire. Sarah Hunt was a native of Concord, Massachusetts, and shortly after their marriage she and her husband established their home at Weathersfield, Vermont, where five children were born to them, three sons and two daughters, the second child, a daughter, born April 12, 1804, being named for her mother. (25) Sarah Converse. She and her three younger brothers removed to Ohio, and at Lodi, that State, on June 12, 1835, she became the wife of Jeremiah Higbee. Her death occurred at Lodi on September 12, 1842. (26) Edwin Converse Higbee, the immediate subject of this sketch.
Edwin Converse Higbee was born at Lodi, Ohio, on September 7, 1837, and, as stated in a preceding paragraph, was bereft of a mother's care at the age of five years. His father married twice again and to the loving guidance and influence of the third wife and mother, Mr. Higbee acknowledged his indebtedness in later years. She was a gentlewoman indeed and devoted herself to the development in her step-son of the highest and best qualities. Edwin Higbee's boyhood days were spent much as were those of the ordinary boy in a country village, where he secured his education in the common schools. He was a studious and thoughtful boy, though of cheerful and sunny disposition, characteristics that marked him throughout his life. The serious side of his character was evidenced by his thoughtful consideration of spiritual matters, for his mind was peculiarly receptive to religious truth. At the age of sixteen years he united with the Congregational Church at Lodi, and form that time on to the end of his earthly career there was no more important factor in his life than his Christianity. After leaving the common schools, he entered upon a college course, but his plans were interrupted by an opportunity for a business career, and he became associated with J. G. Hower, a merchant of Burbank, Ohio (then called Bridgeport), under the firm name of Hower & Higbee. On September 10, 1860, actuated by a desire for a larger field for business, they removed to Cleveland, where their house became one of the leading retail firms in the city. This reputation. was never lost and the business of the firm continued to expand with the growth of the city. In 1897, Mr. Hower died, the old firm style being retained until 1902; when the concern was incorporated as "The Higbee Company." Mr. Higbee became president of the new corporation, in which position he continued until his death. Thus for forty-five years Mr. higbee was indentified with the commercial life of Cleveland and such were his relations with his business associates and acquaintances throughout the city that his death was universally mourned by them as a personal loss. From a memorial sketch of Mr. Higbee, we quote the following words in relation to his business career and personal life during the period referred to: "Mr. Higbee's life in Cleveland dates from September 10, 1860. His ability and personal worth were soon recognized in the smaller business community of that time. His earnest religious temperament and his readiness to spare others rather than himself, brought upon him many responsibilities of church work, while his genial cordiality, mental equipment and breadth of thought won for him an enviable social position in the most refined circles. Amid the engrossing labors of an active business life, pursued with tireless energy and rare fidelity, it is not unusual to find men who make business the main thing in life. This was not true of Mr. Higbee. His interest in the higher things of life, his sympathy with every cause having for its object the relief of human suffering and the uplifting of humanity, broadened his horizon, and made life in its best sense his business."  "Among the men who have helped in the making of the city of Cleveland in the last half century, Edwin C. Higbee stood as an example of successful, conscientious devotion to the best interests of the community in which for forty-five years he lived and labored. his was a successful business life in a larger and broader sense than is commonly expressed in the figured totals of accumulated wealth. He was rich in having made his name a synonym for unquestioned integrity among his compeers in the business life of Cleveland, and richer still in that wealth of confidence and loyal devotion which he had earned from his business associates and employees. There can be no higher tribute to his memory than the fact that among the sincerest mourners at his death were those with whom he had being in his life in closest contact as an employer. No man long conceals his true character from his employees.
"As a citizen, Mr. Higbee shirked no duty, sought no reward save the consciousness of having thrown the weight of his influence where it counted most for civic righteousness and the moral and material benefit of the people. He was wisely conservative, prudent and safe in his estimate of men and of measures affecting the public weal; while frankly tolerant of honest opinion, however divergent from his own convictions; independent, without self assertion; patriotic, without boasting.
"No faithful portrayal of the personality of Edwin C. Higbee can be made unless one seeks for the hidden springs of character whence flowed a life influence so gentle and beneficent as was his. There have been merchant prices whose golden harvests from the fields of trade were greater than were his; there have been more aggressively forceful men in civic life, whose influence transcended his; but few men of his generation have left behind them the record of a truer or more symmetrical Christian life. In his strength of purpose, his faith in God, his blameless walk and conversation, not less than in his modest humility and self-effacement, he was great.
. . . ."Personally, he was dignified, without haughtiness; kindly, without patronizing; helpful, without ostentation. President Charles F. Thwing, of the Western Reserve University, caught a true likeness of the man when he wrote of Mr. Higbee as 'one of the gentlest of all gentlemen and one of the noblest of me.' "
The death of Edwin C. Higbee occurred, after a short illness, on January 18, 1906, his death being directly due to pneumonia. The funeral services were conducted at Calvary presbyterian Church on january 20, and interment was in the family lot in beautiful Lakeview cemetery. The funeral of Mr. Higbee was conducted by his pastor, the Rev. Thomas S. McWilliams, from whose discourse the following words are quoted: "I have not known a man whose life was freer from flaws than that of E. C. Higbee. Absolutely without bad habits, he wore to the very end 'the white flower of a blameless life.' " One intimately associated with him said that his character was pure gold, without a particle of dross that he had ever discovered. One of his own family said that if he had one fault it was his unwillingness to spare himself. Surely this is a rare distinction . . .
"His level-headedness and absolute fairness were qualities that all will admit. His rare judgment made him a most valuable counselor in the session of his church, and upon a great number of boards and committees. His judgment was clear and correct, because his eyes were not clouded with prejudice, not blinded with gold dust, nor closed with selfishness. He was not only a man that did justly, but a man that loved mercy. With his clearness of head there was always a kindliness of heart. No one was more ready to help the needy and lift up the fallen than he. To his multitude of employees he not only gave that which was just an equitable, but he gave a truly paternal interest and kindness. In these days of great enterprises, such interest in individual employees is unusual, but Mr. Higbee felt it and showed it, and scores of those employees to-day mourn for him as for a father.
"Children are often the best judges of character. They see through pretenses and shams, and know us pretty much as we are. No man in Calvary Church was so well loved by the boys and young people as Mr. Higbee. Well advanced in years himself, he never got out of touch with the young, never forgot that he was once a boy. His was 'the merry heart that doeth good like a medicine.' His was the transparent sincerity that commanded their respect. His was the warm-heartedness that called forth their love. He goes to his grave, not only with the affection and esteem of the aged, but with the love and admiration of the young."
On removing to Cleveland, in 1860, Mr. Higbee united, first, with the Plymouth Congregational Church, with which he remained identified until April, 1874, when he was transferred by letter to the First presbyterian Church, "The Old Stone Church," of which, in February, 1875, he was chosen to the eldership. He continued uninterruptedly in that office until his dismission to Calvary Presbyterian Church, On March 5, 1897. As a ruling elder, he was elected to that session of that church on March 19, 1897, being installed on March 28.
From the church records, under date of April 6, 1897, the following is copied: "The following minute was offered by Elder Richardson to be spread upon the records, to wit: 'Elder E. C. Higbee having been chosen a member of this session, and meeting with us for the first time, we, as a session, testify to our sincere pleasure at this circumstance, and extend to him our most cordial Christian greeting and fellowship.' The minute was accepted by a unanimous rising vote." Mr. Higbee was chosen elder for three consecutive terms of three years each, and served faithfully until his death, thus giving thirty-five consecutive years of faithful service as a ruling elder.
The high esteem in which Mr. Higbee was held by those with whom he was associated during his life time is evidenced by many memorial resolutions and personal testimonies, from some of which the following quotations are made:
Presbyterian Union, of Cleveland: "Of Mr. Higbee, it may with propriety be said: 'Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile.' Let the older men among us cherish his memory as a precious heritage, and let the younger men emulate his example. 'The memory of the just id blest.' 'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.' "
From Memorial of the Congregation of the First Presbyterian Church, Cleveland: "Or departed brother was a man to be loved, a word not to be spoken of every man. Gentle and kindly in all his ways, none knew him but to love him; and yet he was strong and steadfast in uprightness and in integrity of purpose. 'Grace and truth' were in fine equipoise in his character, 'doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with his God.' Of him may with propriety be written, as it is written of his Master by the Spirit,–'Faithful and True.' "
From Resolutions of the Session of Calvary Presbyterian Church: "Mr. Higbee had for many years served as an elder of this church, and his purity of life, his business integrity, his clearness of judgment, his regular attention to the duties of his office, and his loyal devotion to all the interests of Christ's cause, won for him the esteem of our entire congregation and the loving appreciation of those associated with him in the session. It is no disparagement to others to say that in the death of Mr. Higbee, our church has lost one of our most honored and useful members.' "
The Directors of the Higbee Company: "Our president and most valued friend and advisor, who reverenced his conscience as his king, who spake no slander, no, nor listened to it, and whose steadfast Christian character was a model for all who came in touch with him, and whose loss will be the more keenly felt as the days go by,–we, the directors of The Higbee Company, hereby extend to his widow and to his entire family, our deep and lasting sympathy in their and our great loss."
From Memorial adopted by the board of directors of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce: "His service in the directorate, beginning in April, 1904, and continuing until his death, was characterized by a spirit of sincerity, earnestness and conscientiousness; a deep desire to learn the wise and right course to pursue in relation to public questions; he preserved an open mind until he reached a conviction as to such a course, and then he had always the courage to act on his convictions. His earnestness of purpose earned for him the esteem of the members of the board; the sweetness, sincerity and high-mindedness of his character won their affectionate regard. As a member of the Chamber, as a member of its committee, as president of its Retail Merchants Board, and as one of the board of directors, he served the organization, and the public it endeavors to represent, with faithfulness, discretion and good judgment."
From Memorial by the Retail Merchants Board of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce: "In his death we have sustained the loss of a true friend, and ever-ready and unselfish fellow worker, a kindly companion, whose place in our hearts and esteem none can fill. We are the richer for our close association with him, and our knowledge of his many enviable qualities of heart and mind, which commanded our respect and won our love; and while we mourn our loss, we rejoice in the continued influence of his noble example of simple, upright, faithful manhood; of kindliness, charity, and warmth of heart."
Rev. Hiram C. Hayd[e]n, D.D., LL.D., San Diego, California: "We feel ourselves called to a personal loss of the fellowship of a very dear and faithful friend. But every memory of this pure-minded and generous man is both pleasant and precious."
Miss Mary E. Spencer, Tunis, Algiers: If to pass from earthly scenes were not the universal lot, it would be impossible not to murmur that one so noble and useful should have been taken when he seemed yet to have the right to many more years; but God knows why. So instead of his visible presence of kindness, generosity,–high principle in every relation of life,–there is yet the great inheritance of his deeds and words. Cleveland has seldom lost such a citizen and I am sure the expression of his loss was spontaneous and full."
Rev. Irving W. Metcalf, Oberlin, Ohio: "It was an inspiration to talk with one who, through so many years of active life, had always kept first things in the first place."
"The Interior," Chicago: "For forty-five years Mr. Higbee was prominently identified with the business interests of Cleveland. He was universally respected in commercial circles, while in relation to his employees he was loved and revered. Large business cares, however, never prevented the bestowal of a goodly measure of time and of consecrated wisdom to the welfare of the religious organizations with which he was identified."
"Cleveland News," editorially: "Mr. Higbee was a man of high character, and won success because he earned it."
"Dry Goods," New York City: "Mr. Higbee was a prominent man in the mercantile life of his city and was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and other business and civic organizations. He was intimately connected with the church work of the denomination with which he was affiliated, though his characteristically wide and large views were utterly foreign to any narrow sectionalism. He was a man of much personal charm and was of impressive appearance."
Mrs. Percy W. Rice, Cleveland: "I never met a man with a higher sense of probity–even to his own hurt, should there be a shadow of doubt. He was so kind, so generous. He will be deeply missed."
Mrs. M. E. Rawson, Cleveland: "His has been a life to make us still have faith in manhood–Christian manhood. Kind, forbearing, wise and upright, fearing God more than man and caring for the soul of those about him as well as for his own interest. . . I have been impressed with his clear conception of the love of the Father, which can only come from personal experience."
Prof. Albert W. Smith, Cleveland: "He was respected by all with whom he came in contact, for his splendid character and kindly ways. The world need more of such character and example."
Rev. John Sheridan Zelie, Plainfield, New Jersey: "I shall always esteem him for his character, his kindness and his faithfulness, and shall never forget my good fortune in knowing him."
Rev. Wilton Merle Smith, New York City: "All my long association with your husband gave me a deep respect for his substantial goodness and the reality of his Christian life. I have always felt, too, that the place where he must have shone most was his own home, and that as a husband and father he must have been all that one could desire."
Rev. W. C. DeWitt, Western Theological Seminary, Chicago: "I think that you know my regard for Mr. Higbee was, and is, the product of his character, which was of such a type that no intelligent man could fail to admire him."
From Resolutions adopted by the Society for Savings of Cleveland: "Mr. Higbee was elected a corporate member of this society in June 1886. In June, 1890, he was elected a trustee, and in June 1891, was made a member of the examining committee, upon which he served continuously until his death. His extreme conscientiousness, temperament, and faithfulness, especially fitted him for the duties devolving upon members of that committee, and his associates in that work cheerfully add their testimony to his unusual worth and ability. . . A good citizen, an honorable Christian gentleman has gone to his reward, and his works do follow him."
On the twenty-third of August, 1860, just prior to his removal to Cleveland, Edwin C. Higbee was united in marriage to Mary Elizabeth Haines, the daughter of Austin David and Hannah (Tryon) Haines, of Lodi. They became the parents of five children, four of whom, with the mother, survive. One, Anna Converse Higbee, died in 1877 in her seventh year. Howard Haines Higbee, Ph.D., the eldest child, prepared for college at the Brooks Military Academy, and was graduated from Yale in 1884. He further pursued his studies at Johns Hopkins University, where he took a special course in chemistry, and he also studied chemistry in Germany. He is now a professor in chemistry and physics. He married Florence Johnston. The second, William Tryon, after attending the public schools and Brooks Military Academy, entered the employ of Hower & Higbee in 1885, became secretary of The Higbee Company in 1902, and upon the death of his father he succeeded to the presidency of that corporation, in which position he has continued to the present time. He has occupied a leading place in Cleveland business circles and, in addition to his mercantile interests, is a director in the Cleveland National Bank, and is an influential and active member of the Chamber of Commerce. Socially, he is a member of the Union, Hermit, Euclid and Rowfant Clubs, and also belongs to Calvary Presbyterian Church. His wife, Ella, is a daughter of Eugene H. Perdue, of Cleveland, and they are the parents of two children, Edwin C., second, and Eugene P. Mary E. Higbee became the wife of William H. Clemnishaw, of Cleveland, and they have four children, Russell, Holbrook, Clarence, and Charles. Edith A. Higbee became the wife of William T. Pullman, of New York City, and they have four children, John, Edwin, William, and Samuel.


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