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James H. Van Dorn
ALL people of true sensibility, who have a just regard for the memory of those who have departed this life, cherish the details of the history of men whose careers have been marked by uprightness and truth and whose
lives have been filled up with acts of usefulness. It is, therefore, with gratification that we present to our readers a sketch of the late James H. Van Dorn, whose long life of nearly seventy-three years, the major portion of which were spent in the Forest City of which he was one of the sterling pioneers, was such as to make his memory justly respected. His life record might be studied with much profit by the youth, standing at the parting of the ways, for therein lies many lessons of rare value. It is not often that the biographer finds character so interesting and so worthy.
Mr. Van Dorn was born in York, Medina County, Ohio, December 4, 1841. He was a son of Peter Van Dorn, whose birth occurred in Onondaga County, New York, May 28, 1812, and who spent his boyhood in his native community and received a meager education in the common schools. When only fifteen years of age, Peter Van Dorn apprenticed himself to a barn-builder and, having an inquiring mind, he soon learned the ins and outs of the business, and when twenty years old he began taking building contracts on his own account, in the northern part of the State of New York, but soon thereafter he removed to the town of York, Ohio, and later to Columbia township, that State, where he continued the same business; and during the years between 1830 and 1850 he enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most skillful and successful barn-builders in the country. He was an exceptionally powerful man physically, often demonstrating his Herculean strength by lifting a railroad rail unaided. He was noted for his scrupulous honesty and hospitality. His death occurred very suddenly in Columbia Township, Ohio, May 13, 1881. His wife was known in her maidenhood as Keziah Gardner and through whom Mr. Van Dorn, of this sketch, was related to Moses Cleveland, the founder of the city of Cleveland. Mrs. Keziah Van Dorn was born in Connecticut, December 8, 1812. She received exceptional educational advantages for her day. Her death occurred July 12, 1864, in Columbia Township, Ohio, on the old home farm. The union of Peter Van Dorn and wife resulted in the birth of ten children, the subject of this sketch being the fifth. Diedlof Van Dorn, from Holland, was the first Van Dorn to come to this country. He was married in New York, January 12, 1681, to Elsj e Jenriacus. Among the children were three sons, Jacob, Cornelius, and Nicholas, and the subject of this sketch is descendant from Cornelius. In the early day the name was spelled Van Doorn.
James H. Van Dorn was educated in the country schools of Lorain County, Ohio. He was a man of fine mind and, by home study, became an expert mathematician, being able in later years to make very successful bids on large contracts. At the age of
eighteen years he was apprenticed to John A. Topliff, of Elmira, Ohio, to learn the blacksmith trade, serving two years. He then worked one year in Middlebury, Summit County, Ohio, and for a period of nine years was employed by Aultman, Miller & Company, of Akron, Ohio, builders of farm machinery. He became an expert in that line and gave his firm satisfactory service in every respect. In 1871, he established himself as a manufacturer of iron fencing and ornamental iron work at Akron, Ohio. He continued in this business for two years, when he moved to Cleveland, after having investigated very carefully offers made by Cincinnati, Chicago, and other cities. The city of Cleveland do- nated for Mr. Van Dorn's plant one acre of ground near the junction of the Nickle Plate and Pennsylvania railroads at East 79th Street. In 1898, The Van Dorn Iron Works Company began the manufacture of structural iron work on a very large scale; one of the earliest of the contracts was for the iron frame work for the Williamson Building, one of Cleveland's sixteen-story structures, this entire work having been accomplished in one hundred and sixty working days. Among the other large contracts taken by this company may be mentioned the following: The jail at Washington, D. C., Connecticut State prison, Tombs prison, New York, Nebraska State prison, West Virginia State prison, Maryland State penitentiary, and the Larkin Building at Buffalo. Another large contract undertaken and completed by this company was the construction of the steel intake crib which supplies water for the city of Cleveland. It is one hundred and fifty feet in diameter. The well hole in the center is fifty feet. The exterior rim was divided into twenty-four compartments. The crib contained fifteen hundred tons of steel, eight thousand tons of rip rap, fifteen thousand tons of filling stone, twelve hundred yards of concrete, over half a million feet of timber for the sub sill bottom; the height from the bottom of the sub sill to the top of the parapet was eighty feet. This firm has also let large contracts for supplying metal furniture to King's Hall, Brooklyn, New York; Cook County court-house, Chicago, Illinois; the State capitol building at St. Paul, Minnesota; the Larkin Company at Buffalo, New York, and others.
Mr. Van Dorn organized this great company in his own family, all the stockholders and officers being members of his family, including two sons-in-law. He was the principal motive force in the same; and by the exercise of sound judgment, wise foresight, honesty and close application, he made the company a prosperous, successful and widely known concern, in which he remained until his death. The company is still being operated along the same praiseworthy lines, in its four large departments--structural iron, art metal, jail, and light, ornamental iron departments.
The domestic life of Mr. Van Dorn began September 10, 1865, when he was united in marriage with Sarah Ann Getridge, daughter of David and Elizabeth Getridge, an excellent old Pitts- burgh family. She was given good educational advantages and
proved to be a most valuable helpmate in every respect. This family removed to Canton, Ohio, before the Civil War, and Mr. and Mrs. Van Dorn were married in that city. Mrs. Van Dorn's oldest brother became right-hand color bearer at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, he having enlisted from the State of Pennsylvania. After serving one term he was honorably discharged, later re-enlisting and serving until the close of the war. Another brother also served in the Union army during the war between the States.
Mr. Van Dorn always gave his wife great credit for his splendid success in business, frequently speaking to intimate friends of her wise counsel, sympathy and wonderful insight into affairs in general.
To Mr. and Mrs. Van Dorn the following children were born: Margaret A. Baer, of Cleveland; Thomas Burton Van Dorn, now president of The Van Dorn Iron Works. He has four children, Winnifred Early, Isabell, Martha Early, and James Thomas; Amanda A. Rock, who has one son, Peter Van Dorn Rock; J. Peter Van Dorn, who is second vice president of The Van Dorn Iron Works; and Sarah L. Van Dorn, who lives with her mother at the beautiful homestead at 2697 Woodhill Road, Cleveland. Mr. Van Dorn was very proud of his large family of children and grand-children, and was never happier than when all were assembled in the large dining-room and he at the head of the table, ready to supply the wants of those about the board. He was an ideal father, husband and friend. Although he was compelled to travel much in the interest of his business, he regretted this enforced absence from his own fireside, and he never wrote a letter home that he did not enclose some token of regard—a flower or perchance a shell picked up from shore of lake or ocean.
Originally he was a Democrat, but at the time of William McKinley's election to the Presidency, he became a Republican and continued to support this party until the end of his life. He was never an office-holder, although often importuned to run for public office. In his earlier years he joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, but later lost interest and dropped out in order to devote all his time to his family, outside business hours. He belonged to no clubs except the Cleveland Athletic Club. He had no hobby except hard work. He was of the opinion that no one was ever hurt by it, and delighted in seeing everybody about him busy at some good employment. He had no use for vacations. He owned a fine country home at Rocky River where he spent much of his leisure time. It was a pleasure to him to take his children and grandchildren into his launch and guide it with his own hands about the lake. He was very fond of nature and was often known to spend hours studying the habits of birds, wild animals, and studying flowers. For many years he attended the Second Presbyterian Church, of Cleveland, and later the Calvary Presbyterian Church; although hough he was very regular in his attendance, lie was not a member of either. He lived his religion in his daily life.
Mr. Van Dorn was summoned to his eternal reward on August 1914, after a life of unusual success in a business way and a long career of usefulness and honor.
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