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Hon. John Peter Robison
THE STATE OF OHIO was especially fortunate in the character of her pioneers, who, save in rare instances,
possessed the pluck, fortitude and genius of the true Anglo-Saxon — that race which appears to delight in
difficulties, because thereby an opportunity is afforded to conquer them. The founders of this locality, and the early business and public men were brave, strong-armed, far-seeing, God-fearing, law-abiding citizens, patriotic and true to their native land, and conscientious in the discharge of their every duty toward their fellow-men. Of this class was Hon. John Peter Robison, who has long been "sleeping the sleep of the just," but whose influence for the general good of humanity is still potent. His name will ever be inseparably linked with that of the community so long honored by his citizenship, whose interests could have had no more zealous and indefatigable promoter, and his efforts were ever exerted to the end that the world might be made better by his presence.
Dr. Robison was born in Lyons, Ontario County, New York, January 23, 1811. He was of Scotch-English extraction, and de- scended from an influential and honored ancestry on both sides. His grandfather, John Decker Robison, who figures in our Colonial history, took part in the famous Braddock campaign against Fort Duquesne, and also served as an officer in the Revolutionary War.
Hon. John P. Robison was reared amid a pioneer environment, growing to manhood on his father's farm, assisting with the general work, and receiving such educational advantages as the times afforded, first in the district schools, and later in an academy at Vienna, New York, subsequently entering the Vermont College of Medicine as a private pupil of President Woodward, and was graduated from that institution in November, 1831, with the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Believing that the West held greater opportunities for a young physician, he located for the practice of his profession at Bedford, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where he remained ten years, during which he built up a large practice, meeting with splendid success. However, he finally decided that a business career was more to his liking, and accordingly, in the year 1842, formed a partnership with W. B. Hillman at Bedford, embarking in merchandising and numerous other trade projects throughout the surrounding country. About two years later he began in the provision packing business in a modest way at Bedford, gradually enlarging his operations. Under his able management and wise foresight the business grew to large proportions with advancing years, Dr. Robison becoming widely known as one of the most enterprising men in that particular field of endeavor. Branching out to larger fields, he engaged extensively in the packing business at Lafayette, Indiana, from 1854 to 1857, and in 1858 he established another plant at Cleveland, Ohio, in partnership with Gen. 0. M. Oviatt. This last venture proved more successful than he had expected, the business growing by leaps and bounds
until it assumed vast proportions, the celebrated "Buckeye" brand of this concern finding a very ready market over an extensive territory, invading all parts of the Eastern States and some foreign countries. After an association of about nine years, Dr. Robison and General Oviatt dissolved partnership, the former continuing operations in Cleveland in conjunction with the firm of Archibald Baxter &,Company, of New York City. In addition he founded one of the largest packing houses of that period in Chicago, and became one of the leading packers of America. But in 1875 his partners in New York failed and Dr. Robison lost heavily, which caused a temporary embarrassment in his operations, but with characteristic energy and ability he forged ahead, the interruption to his vast activities being only temporary. He subsequently established another packing firm in Cleveland, the J. P. Robison & Company, in partnership with his son, H. D. Robison, S. R. Streator, and Dr. W. S. Streator. The firm soon took rank with the leading packing houses of the West, which continued business until the dissolution of the firm by limitation five years later. Dr. Robison then reorganized under the firm name of the National Packing House, in partnership with his sons, H. D. and James T. Robison. No expense was spared in erecting and equiping the new plant, which at that time was the model of the country. This concern flourished from the start. Dr. Robison continued at the head of this and other important financial enterprises until his death. He was a director of the Second National Bank of Cleveland and its successor, the National Bank of Commerce, and also was a director of the People's Savings & Loan Association. He ranked among the leading business men and financiers of Ohio for many years.
Dr. Robison was deeply interested in public affairs all his mature life, and his influence for the general public welfare was potent and salutary. Politically he was in his earlier years a Whig and an ardent admirer of Henry Clay, but in later years affiliated with the Democratic party until the Civil War period when, being violently opposed to secession he turned Republican and continued a loyal supporter of that party until his death. He was never an office seeker, preferring to devote his attention to his business affairs and to his home, merely desiring to exercise the duties of what he deemed good citizenship. However, he was prevailed upon to accept the office of State senator in 1861, which he did, making an excellent record, but declined renomination at the expiration of his term. He was one of the most active and ardent workers for the Federal government in Cleveland during the entire war between the States. He assisted in raising much money for the, Union cause as well as many recruits for her armies. He was particularly interested in caring for the families of the soldiers at the front. He was regarded as a man of exemplary character in both social and business circles and always enjoyed the confidence and esteem of all with whom he came in contact. Perhaps no man in his day and generation did more toward the general upbuilding of the city of Cleveland. Charitably inclined he gave liberally to
all worthy causes, but always in an unostentatious manner. He was a strong friend of educational and religious movements, and devoted no small amount of attention to the personal care of the distressed and needy. He took great pride in Lakeview Cemetery, of which he was one of the principal founders, promoters, and directors. He was for many years president of the Northern Ohio Fair Association and made it a great success. He assisted in founding the Union Club, and was a trustee of Hiram College, also Bethany College, of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively.
Dr. Robison numbered among his personal friends many of the leading men of the nation in every walk of life, President James A. Garfield having been for many years one of his closest friends. The former did much to encourage and strengthen the ambitions of the future general and statesman when he was a young man; in fact, the brilliant career of Mr. Garfield was due In no small measure to our subject, for it was Dr. Robison's liberality that enabled him to procure a collegiate education, and in later years he was greatly indebted to Dr. Robison, who was his constant associate and adviser,-and who took the deepest personal interest in promoting his fortunes in every way possible. It was through the doctor's influence that the future great man was appointed to the command of the Forty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the commencement of the Civil War. The young colonel soon proved his mettle on the field of battle and rose to the rank of general. After the war General Garfield represented the Ashtabula District of Ohio in Congress for a number of years. Finally a sentiment developed favoring another man, and the general's best friends became apprehensive of his defeat if he made another race from that district for Congress. It was Dr. Robison's opinion that Garfield's future political aspirations as a statesman would be blighted if he did not once more succeed himself in Congress, so he was persuaded by Dr. Robison to remove to another district and make the race from Mentor, and not only negotiated the purchase of the Garfield farm there, adjoining his own of six hundred and forty acres, but superintended the construction of the resi- dence on the new farmstead. He also took a prominent part in supporting the candidacy of Mr. Garfield in that district, which, no doubt, contributed greatly to his election by a large majority, and led directly to his more eminent national career which was destined soon to follow. No man in the nation was more severely shocked or profoundly grieved at the tragical death of President Garfield at the hands of the assassin than was Dr. Robison, who had charge of the funeral ceremonies and presided at the great demonstration held in the public square of Cleveland, September 25, 1881. Many other men successful in public life during that period owed their rise to Dr. Robison's influence.
An active and ardent supporter of the Disciples Church, Dr. Robison did much in a religious way wherever he resided. He was a liberal supporter of the church, and a man who believed in carrying his religion into his daily life. He was one of the earliest and staunchest friends of Alexander Campbell, the founder of the
above named church, originally known as the Campbellite Church. He often accompanied and assisted that noted divine in his religious work over the country, and it was Dr. Robison who founded the church of this denomination at Mentor, Ohio, and he served the congregation as lay preacher for a period of sixteen years, performing his duties in a highly commendable manner. When a young man, Mr. Garfield heard him preach and became one of his converts. He was an eloquent, forceful, earnest and entertaining speaker, whether in the pulpit or on the political platform. He was an orator by nature.
Dr. Robison was married to Betsey Dunham, November 3, 1832. She was a daughter of Hezekiah Dunham, founder of the town of Bedford, Ohio, and long a prominent citizen there. Six children were born of this union, namely: Mrs. Warren Comstock, of Cleveland; Samuel Robison, of Lexington, Kentucky; Hezekiah Dunham Robison, of Euclid Avenue, Cleveland; the youngest, James T. Robison, whose sketch is printed elsewhere in this publication, and two children who died in infancy.
The death of Dr. Robison occurred June 29, 1889, and he was buried in Lakeview Cemetery, where a handsome and appropriate granite monument marks his tomb. He went down before the "Reaper whose name is Death" like a sheaf fully ripened, full of years and rich in honors. The memory of his deeds and the influence of his strong personality, however, will continue to live in the hearts of those he left behind, a monument far more enduring than stately obelisk.
Barbara's Bordered Backgrounds