Henry Bierce's Heritage
Henry Bierce, 1874-1955
Simple and unassuming, diligent,
friendly and reliable.
Source: unknown writer, circa 1956.
For the last ten months, Tallmadge has not felt to many of us as homelike as formerly. Something has been missing - a familiar presence on which we had come to depend for courage, help and counsel. For eighty years, man and boy, Henry Bierce has walked these streets. His growing influence has so permeated every part of our communal life that he has come to be regarded as almost an institution. His sudden departure leaves us feeling confused and defenseless. We do well tonight to review briefly his life, to pay our tribute of respect to his sterling worth, to try to catch the spirit that has made his character so memorable. Such citizens as Henry do not just happen. It will be instructive to look for a few moments at the background from which he came.
His paternal ancestors came from the highlands of Scotland and settled first in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They moved to Plymouth, Massachusetts about 1728, and from there to Cornwall, Connecticut. Henry's great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary War for seven years. His company suffered heavily from disease and battle casualties, especially among the officers, so that the young soldier of 22 succeeded to the command of the company at Valley Forge. A treasured possession of the Bierce family is a deed conveying one hundred acres of land in Muskingum County to the Revolutionary hero in payment for his military services. This deed bears the signatures of Thomas Jefferson, President, and James Madison, Secretary of State, of the United States. When this land was sold, sixty-two years later, the price received was $2.00 per acre. This is quite a contrast to the payment received by our veterans today.
The old soldier moved to Portage County, which then included the present Summit County, in 1816. In 1841, his grandson (Lucius Bierce, Henry's Father) came to Tallmadge as a boy of 16, to serve as an apprentice at the Oviatt and Sperry Carriage Works. Apprentices worked for their keep while learning their trades. At the conclusion of his apprentice-ship, Mr. Bierce was to receive a suite of clothes, a Bible and $30.00 in money. Later, Mr. Bierce set up his own carriage trimming business in the Methodist Church building, which had been moved from its original site, where Lewis Keller's house now stands, to a lot on East Avenue, opposite the Stoneware building.
Henry's maternal grandfather, Martin Camp, came to Tallmadge in 1814 and purchased the land now comprising the Richard Atwood and Emmitt Orr farms and the Bierce home place. Miss Sally Coe was then teaching school in Tallmadge and she found favor in Mr. Camp's eyes. She was the daughter of Captain and Mrs. Daniel Coe, of Charleston, Ohio. The Coe's were prominent citizens of that town for many years and pillars of the church. Charlestown people still relate that when prayer was offered for much-needed rain, Deacon Coe felt familiar enough with the Almighty to direct the Lord, "Not a deluge, Lord, just a gentle drizzle-drazzle".
In 1816 Mr. Camp went to Charlestown, and his wedding to Miss Coe was the first marriage performed in Charlestown. Sally rode back to Tallmadge on horseback on a pillion behind her husband. They settled in a log cabin near a spring in the Richard Atwood driveway. The couple prospered, and in 1820 built the present Richard Atwood house, and in 1855, the present Bierce home was built, where Henry was born July 30, 1874 and where he lived all his life.
He was the baby of a family of five children. Theirs was a beautiful home - the spirit of peace and loving cooperation reigned there. I can recall no instance of the strife and rivalries that often mar home life. There was no apparent effort to secure discipline. Each member of the family seemed just to be doing what came naturally, but the result was a home that conferred a blessing on all who entered it. Henry was the youngest, but he was never spoiled by coddling, nor warped by over-severity. He showed his enterprise early for when investigating this surroundings when quite small, he fell and broke his right arm, which caused him to become left-handed. Such was his background. He was the worthy son of worthy forbears. The Old Book, taken more seriously then than now, states that if we train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it. Henry was an example of the truth of that statement.
In reviewing Henry's life, I would have you mark one thing especially, He was one hundred percent a Tallmadge product. Almost all of his contemporaries drifted away to other places for education or business opportunities right here in Tallmadge. A case in point was when he took over the Morgan Thomas coal business. We talked it over beforehand and I advised against the deal, saying that farms were going and with them the feed business, and that progress would soon find a better fuel than coal. These predictions have come to pass, but I left out one factor, Henry himself. He went ahead, changed with the changing conditions, and built up a business that is a credit to our city.
I recall no special incidents of his early years. He attended the wooden Central School that stood about where the old brick grade building is now located. In early life, he united with the old church in the park and has been a faithful member and officer of that church for some sixty-three years.
He grew on people and as his dependability and sound sense came to be more and more appreciated, he was given more and more offices of trust and responsibility. The community felt his whole-hearted loyalty and devotion. Educated in Tallmadge, married to a Tallmadge girl, conducting his business in Tallmadge, and leaving two sturdy sons to continue that business, his life was woven into the very warp and woof of the community. He seems to me to have had much in common with the late Senator Taft, who was loved of his blunt honesty and integrity. Taft was no political tricksters. He spoke out for what he believed, whether people liked it or not. His nickname of "Mr. Republican" was a token of public respect. As we think of Henry's devotion to this community, his sturdy defense of what he believed to be right, we feel that he deserves to be called "Mr. Tallmadge."
Besides his long service as Deacon of the church, Henry served as Township Trustee, Clerk of the Township, Clerk of the Board of Education for twenty years, and member of the County Board of Education. He was long a member of the Kiwanis Club at the Falls, but resigned to join the Lions Club when that was organized, in order to help the Tallmadge group. He was President of this society for many years, long a member of the Knights of Pythias, and one of the oldest members of the Grange, in which order he filled all of the offices open to men and could repeat the entire Grange ritual from memory. Besides these public services, he performed a multitude of neighborly good deeds. He was an arbiter in disputes, a helper in time of trouble, an appraiser in settling estates and a bearer at many, many funerals. In any time of need, people turned instinctively to him, as a sure help in time of trouble. No one will ever know the number of those in hard circumstances who were helped out by Henry Bierce. The love and respect in which he was held by this and other neighboring communities is shown by the beautiful memorial service held in his honor by the Kiwanis Club of the Falls, and by the fact that more than one thousand people visited his home to express their sympathy at the time of his passing.
Finally, Henry's reliability and sound sense are shown by the way he passed through the social revolution of the past thirty-five years, which has fundamentally changed the old idea that the government is supported by the people to the new theory that the people are supported by the government. Someone has said that the older, independent and self-reliant citizens first objected to this change, then accepted government bounty, and finally demanded it. Henry was true to the old doctrine. He paid his way, with no subsidy or government handout to aid him, and yet he was no sour misanthrope. He went along with every good constructive change and supported every good cause. Simple and unassuming, diligent, friendly and reliable, he made a name for himself that Tallmadge delights to honor. He left us an example that every one of us would do well to follow.