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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

William Harmon Legacy Lives Throughout Lebanon And Beyond

Dallas Bogan on 27 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 216
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The people of Lebanon and the County of Warren have given so much to the State of Ohio and boundaries beyond, but one name that stands out as having "given" of himself and shared his wealth is none other than William Elmer Harmon.
Our story begins this week many years before the birth of Mr. Harmon. We shall now venture back to a pioneer Warren Countian named Jedediah Tingle. Mr. Tingle was a native of the State of Delaware, born in 1767 and lived for a period in the Redstone country of Pennsylvania. He settled in Columbia at the mouth of the Little Miami River about 1791.
Later, in 1797, he established a home about a mile and a half west of Lebanon; his deed called for a total section (640 acres) of land. Sometime later he sold one-half of his section to David Reeder for $213.33, the price being 66 2/3 cents per acre, the exact amount Judge Symmes paid for the land in his original patent. Mr. Reeder established his home on the southern half while Mr. Tingle settled on the northern segment where he died in 1827, age 61.
Jedediah Tingle married Elizabeth Reeder, a native of Virginia, the relationship producing fifteen children. The last survivor of these children was Mrs. Asenath Wood, widow of William Wood.
Mr. Wood was a successful businessman, his endeavors including a woolen factory (located on Mulberry Street and operated by horses walking on an incline plane), and mercantile business. The Woods were the grandparents of William E. Harmon, which in turn made the pioneer, Jedediah Tingle, the great-grand father of William E. Harmon.
William Elmer Harmon was born in Lebanon, March 25, 1862, on the northwest corner of Mechanic and New Street. He died July 15, 1928, at his home in Southport, Connecticut. His parents were Lieutenant William R. and Mary Wood Harmon. He had one brother, Clifford Burke Harmon, who was born July 5, 1868. Their father was stationed at several remote garrisons, which was an unsuitable place to raise children. The boys were subsequently raised mostly in Lebanon.
Young William's early Lebanon memories inspired his motivations, which led to his many generous philanthropic ventures. His memories and experiences of the old reservoir, the swimming, boating, fishing, and skating were deeply etched into the mind of the youth.
He attended Lebanon public schools and graduated in 1881. His stint at the National Normal University was interrupted by his ambition of becoming a physician, later transferring to Jefferson School of Medicine in Louisville, KY.
The financial difficulties of his father interrupted his medical schooling, and so he was forced to take a job as a salesman.
His marriage to Corrine Lado in Louisville in 1883, ended in tragedy; his wife died in childbirth fifteen months after their wedding.
Still another tragedy: Mr. Harmon's mother died in August 1884, and his father succumbed less than a year later. The misfortunes of the family set heavily on him, and with no professional job stability, and a minor brother to care for; great stress was placed upon him.
Sometime later, William and his brother, Clifford, worked together with their uncle, Charles E. Wood, in the real estate business. Their first joint undertaking was the development of a subdivision of Branch Hill in 1887. Expanding to Cincinnati and Dayton in their new business proved to be a successful and prosperous move. Further expansion included twenty-six midwestern cities that encompassed Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, Brooklyn, Midwood and Flatbush on Long Island, their organization developing dramatically.
Mr. Harmon again married, this time to Catherine F. Griffiths on October 1, 1890. They made their home in Lexington, Massachusetts. To this marriage was born one son and two daughters. Catherine Harmon died October 5, 1948, and is buried on Staton Island beside her husband.
The Wood, Harmon Company, in 1900, was acclaimed the largest real estate operation in the world. The Wood, Harmon Company real estate operation was concluded as such in 1907. William Harmon continued in his capacity, maintained the operation and took complete control of the organization.
Mr. Harmon never forgot his birthplace of Lebanon. Through his real estate profession he accumulated a fortune. His generosity and a well-developed philanthropic plan allowed him to distribute his monies for many public needs. If such a financial shortcoming were evident, a mysterious check would find its way to the source. For many years checks would arrive from New York, which were endorsed by a mysterious "Jedediah Tingle." The checks were sent to writers of prose and poetry who were thought to be in need of funds, to the aid of poor children, and many hundreds more. The Children's Aid Society received many donations from this intriguing person. The receiving of these many gifts from a person unknown was often questioned as to whom the benefactor's identity was. This "Jedediah Tingle" at one time announced he was carrying on a mission "to bring smiles and tender thoughts to the great in heart in high and low places, to comfort and cheer those who do exceptional things or suffer."
On July 19, 1928, soon after Mr. Harmon's death, the New York Times announced to the world the mysterious benefactor was none other than William E. Harmon himself, assuming the name of his maternal great-grandfather.
Mr. Harmon retired at the age of sixty from active work in his real estate business in New York and devoted the rest of his life to the solution of social problems. His generosity gave more to his hometown than any other location. One of his gifts went to the Mechanics Institute Library of his hometown, the donation being a large collection of new and valuable books. The books were much read by the young people.
He proposed to set up a free public library in Warren County that was to be centralized in Lebanon. He agreed to give in cash a sum of $3,000 and $100 annually for ten years, with a provision there be added by the citizens of the County $2,000 in cash and $100 annually for ten years. This was the first such proposal in the State of Ohio.
The library located in Lebanon removed much hope of Warren Countians contributions left by Mr. Harmon. Times being what they were almost ruled out countywide donations for providing financial upkeep of the new venture. After a period of time and hashing over the issues by the Lebanon Carnegie Library trustees, the town accepted a gift of $10,000 from the Carnegie Fund, the deal being finalized by a gift of $3,000 from Mr. Harmon. The future site of the library was a part of the public square so the town paid nothing either for the building, furnishings, or the site.
Harmon Park, a tract of 88 acres, was conceived and given to the citizens of Lebanon in 1912. The park was so well received by the residents that a program was set up on a national and worldwide park system that was so named, "Harmon Playgrounds."
The many sites were located in Texas, Michigan, Utah, Oregon, Kentucky, Minnesota, West Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, the Dakotas, Florida and Washington; one hundred and nineteen facilities were established in thirty- two states by 1926. Ohio had its share, too many to mention in this article.
Mr. Harmon had discussed with many residents and friends of Lebanon the feasibility of a building in which athletic and indoor events could be performed. The corner stone of Harmon Hall was laid December 12, 1912. Within this stone was a copper box lined with asbestos, which contained many papers and objects of the time. The hall was dedicated on November 6, 1913.
Harmon Hall is located at 105 S. Broadway, the present home of the Warren County Historical Society. Through his Harmon Foundation, he established the Religious Motion Picture Foundation for producing films especially designed for church services, Sunday schools and young people's Sunday meetings. Four such films had been distributed and received favorably. These films were not intended as a substitute for the formal service, but as an additive. There had been much opposition to the portrayal of Jesus in motion pictures up to this time, but in these films he is depicted as a "living, active being, performing his mission on earth and the portrayal arouses in the spectator feelings of reverence." The Harmon Foundation is still active, some seventy-three years after its creation. Through his many social gifts, William Elmer Harmon simply returned what he had received from life.

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