Norwalk Reflector: Thomas Edison called the 'most utilitarian benefactor in the world'

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Thomas Edison called the 'most utilitarian benefactor in the world'

By Heny Timman • Aug 3, 2018 at 12:00 PM

There has always been concern in our country that military veterans don’t receive sufficient care during and after their tour of duty.

If you think this is new, you’re mistaken. Participants in past wars suffered greatly at times for lack of supplies, shelter and medical care. A good example are the stories of Gen. Washington’s army spending the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge.

One of the hundred or so veterans of the American Revolution who lived and died in Huron and Erie countries left behind a story too typical of service in our war for independence. I’m speaking of Thomas Page who died in Milan Township (then in Huron County) on Oct. 27, 1836. His grave can be seen in the Milan Cemetery.

Thomas had enlisted when about 14 years of age as a drummer in the 10th Massachusetts Regiment and served three years until being discharged in 1783. His older brother Parker enlisted along with Thomas to look out for him. In their three years of service, they never received but one suit of clothes and one blanket each. At one point, Parker made Thomas a replacement suit of clothes from one of the blankets. Then, during the winter months, they had to sleep in each other’s arms to keep warm as they had just the one blanket remaining.

The Page brothers had been born in Haverhill, Mass., and both moved to Vermont for several years before Thomas came to Ohio. His first wife was Abigail Dustin and one of their sons was Ansel,  who became a well-known farmer in the Milan area. Homer Page was a son of Ansel and his home and farm (Rose Hall) still are owned and occupied by his descendants on Mason Road just east of Ohio 13. For well over a century, the intersection there has been called Page’s Corners. The Ansel Page homestead was a mile or so west at the northwest corner of Mason and Hoover roads. For several years, Ansel Page operated a hotel in this house.

Homer Page was married in 1849 at Milan to Marion Edison, the oldest sister of the inventor Thomas Alva Edison. The wedding took place in the Edison family home on Edison Drive (then called Choate Avenue or Seminary Street). Marion’s brother Thomas had been born in that house in 1847.

Not long ago I came upon another story of Thomas Edison’s scientific curiosity. About 1868, the first surveys were made for what became the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad from Huron south through Milan and the east edge of Norwalk and on southeast to New London. Jay F. Laning, of New London, was then about 15 and was hired to carry the surveyors’ chains and drive their stakes. They reached Milan near the weekend and stayed at the hotel.

On Sunday afternoon, a young man came in asking for the surveyors and was directed to Laning. The young man asked permission to examine the surveying and engineering equipment of the company and was allowed to do so. He told Laning that he’d been born in Milan but was working as a telegrapher in Cincinnati and had come back to visit relatives.

Years later when Edison had become well-known, Mr. Laning put two and two together and decided that Edison was the young man who called at the hotel. The Edisons occasionally visited his niece Nellie, who was married to William Poyer. Their home was the house still standing at 61 Norwood Ave. in Norwalk. Usually Mrs. Poyer would hold a reception for her uncle and invite some Norwalk friends.

The Lanings were on the list at Poyers at least once, and Jay was able to confirm with Mr. Edison that indeed they had met years before and the inventor recalled Mr. Laning’s kindness in letting him examine the surveying and engineering instruments.

When this story was published in 1929, Jay Laning (who himself was later a U.S. Congressman) described Edison as not only the greatest inventor ever, but the most utilitarian benefactor to the world.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.




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