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James M. Potter
A NAME known to every one who has the slightest acquaintance with the business history of Cincinnati is that of the late James M. Potter. During his active life he filled a large place in the commercial affairs of the city, and as an energetic, enterprising, far-sighted man, whose judgment and opinions were seldom at fault, and whose influence made for the substantial upbuilding of the city honored by its citizenship, he earned a reputation second to none of his contemporaries. He is remembered as a man who possessed a broad, inquiring mind, who was keenly alive to everything that tended to improve general local conditions and benefit those upon whose shoulders fell the bunion of making possible the phenomenal progress resulting from the development and success of the commercial evolution of this section of the country during the past half century. Although modest and unassuming and always easily approached, he had a strong and vigorous personality, and was well fitted to manage important enterprises. He achieved much in an individual way not dependent upon hereditary prestige, but proving himself worthy as a factor in public affairs, as a patriotic soldier and as a citizen and business man of the utmost loyalty and progressiveness, and thus he is eminently entitled to representation in a work of the character of the one at hand.
James M. Potter, who closed his eyes to earthly scenes on May 29, 1907, was born in Clarion County, Pennsylvania, on the eighteenth of December, 1843. His parents were Robert and Sarah (Wier) Potter, who spent the major portion of their lives and died in Pennsylvania. Robert Potter for many years conducted a tannery at Clarion and was numbered among the sterling and substantial citizens of his community. To him and his wife were born seven children, of whom the subject of this sketch was the third in order of birth. The only survivor of these children is Agnes, the wife of Hon. Edward Scofield, ex-governor of Wisconsin.
The subject of this memoir spent his boyhood days in his native county, and secured his education in the public schools. Of a studious nature, he did not confine his researches to his school textbooks, but became accurately informed on a wide range of subjects. Early in life he entered his father's tannery and there learned the trade, but later worked fora time in a printing office. However, his father's death compelled him to take charge of the tanning business, to which he devoted his attention until the breaking out of the war of the rebellion, when he offered his services in defense of his country. While in the army, his mother became very sick and he returned home to care for her. She died and after that event he returned to the field, re-enlisted in the One Hundred and Twenty-seventh Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was a faithful and gallant soldier and was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.
At the close of the war, Mr. Potter came to Cincinnati, Ohio, and, having saved of his army pay and receiving a small inheritance from his father's estate, he formed a partnership with an army comrade and they started a retail shoe store. Mr. Potter was progressive in temperament and soon had acquired the sole ownership of the business, which, under his careful and sagacious management, soon grew to large proportions. His first location was at the lower end of Fifth Street, but, as soon as circumstances justified, he moved further up town, and after several moves located where the Potter store now stands, one of the best known business concerns in Cincinnati. For many years, the motto of this establishment has been "If they come from Potter's, they are right," and that this is literally true is evidenced by the phenomenal prosperity which the business enjoys, growing from an humble beginning to one of the most widely known stores in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. Mr. Potter always gave his personel attention to the business, allowing no detail to pass unnoticed, and it was this quality of personal association which enabled him to so successfully manage the business. For many years the Potter store has catered to the most exclusive class of trade and enjoys a well-deserved prosperity and popularity. A number of years ago Mr. Potter admitted to a partnership in the business, his nephew, James P. Orr, who had made his home with him from the age of fourteen years. Since the death of Mr. Potter, Mr. Orr has continued the business along the same lines so successfully followed by the founder of the business. Mr. Orr married Elizabeth Shields, and they have four children, James P., Adelaide, Edward, and Mari Elizabeth, or Bettie, as she is familiarly called by her friends.
Mr. Potter was an earnest Republican in his political views and took an active interest in the success of his party, though never in any sense a seeker after office himself. Fraternally, he was an appreciative member of the Free and Accepted Masons and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. He was reared in the faith of the Presbyterian Church and always maintained the most sincere respect for the spiritual verities, being a generous giver to aworthy benevolent and charitable objects. He had a large interest in the prosperity of his home city and was financially interested in several enterprises besides that which bore his name, being a director of the Fifth-Third National Bank, a director of the Home Savings Bank and a director or stockholder in a number of other concerns. He had traveled much in his own country and possessed a wide knowledge of our great land, gained by personal observation, as well as reading.
On January 20,1870, James M. Potter was married to Frances Cope [April 1, 2016, Mr. Dean A. Thomson contributed the following: "The information in the biography of James M. Potter but what there is on his wife Frances is wrong, her maiden name was Klinefelter . . . It is recorded in W. Virginia marriages."], of Wellsburg, West Virginia. Mr. Potter possessed marked domestic tastes and derived his greatest enjoyment from his home life. Nothing pleased him more than to have his friends drop in informally of an evening for a friendly game of checkers or other recreation, and being a splendid conversationalist and of a cheerful, optimistic disposition, he was an excellent companion. Although his life was a busy one, his every-day affairs making heavy demands upon his time, he never shrank from his duties as a citizen and his obligations to the community. Always calm and dignified, never demonstrative, his life was, nevertheless, a plea, more by example than by spoken word, for the purity and grandeur of right principles and the beauty and elevation of wholesome character. He ever enjoyed the respect and esteem of those who knew him for his friendly manner, business ability, his interest in public affairs and right living, and he was regarded by all as one of the worthy and substantial citizens of the city of Cincinnati in whose phenomenal growth he had taken so conspicuous a part.
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