Gilkisons Had a Major Role in City’s History
Mansfield News Journal
Sunday, September 30, 1979
To anyone with even a little information about Mansfield history the name Gilkison holds considerable significance.
The 90 year old gentleman from New York State, who was here for a family reunion, is the great-grandson of Mansfield Hedges Gilkison, the first white child born in Mansfield.
The Gilkison child, born February 2, 1811, in a cabin at the present site of the Southern Hotel, was named by General James Hedges, one of the founders of Mansfield. Hedges promised the boys parents he would give them property in Mansfield when the Gilkison child was a little older. Mansfield Hedges Gilkison said many years later that Hedges kept his promise.
Mansfield Hedges Gilkison’s father John C Gilkison was the first newspaper publisher in Mansfield. He started a weekly paper called The Olive in 1818. There were few people in Mansfield and Richland County to read a paper in those days, so the paper did not last long. It was gone in a couple of years.
James Purdy, another Mansfield Pioneer, acquired The Olive’s equipment and started The Gazette in the early 1820s. For a time, Gilkison, the former Olive publisher, was the Editor at The Gazette. Copies of The Olive are very rare, but the Mansfield Public Library has a file of the Gazette.
Publisher Gilkison came her from Eastern Ohio, but he is believed to have been a native of North Carolina. He arrived in Mansfield around 1810, two years after the town was founded, and married the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Coffinberry, also pioneer residents of the Mansfield area. Mansfield Hedges Gilkison said that his Grandfather Coffinberry built the cabin where Gilkison was born.
The Gilkisons figured prominately in the early life of Mansfield. Mansfield Hedges Gilkison was the source of much of the early information about early Mansfield contained in the Grahams history of Richland County.
He told how the first show in town featured a trained lion. The performance was in a barn which stood across South Main Street from where the Southern Hotel Site is.
Gilkison said the first school he could remember was on North Diamond Street near the present site of the Ingram Oldsmobile Agency. He the first teacher was John O’Brien, a good instructor who drank too much.
James Stewart, an able attorney and judge here in the early 1800s, taught school in a building owned and occupied by the John C. Gilkison on Park Avenue West between Walnut and Mulberry Streets.
The school was in upstairs rooms at the Gilkison home, and Mrs. Gilkison soon tired of the noise from the school, so the pupils were moved to a new building next door. One of Stewart’s pupils was a pretty young woman, Margaret Loughridge. He married her in 1826. Their daughter Cecilia became the wife of Senator John Sherman.
Mansfield Hedges Gilkison had vivid memories of the Indians who came to Mansfield to trade with the merchants. He said sometimes they saw as many as 200 or 300 Indians there at the same time. They brought furs, maple sugar, and other products of the woods to trade for clothing and food.
Mansfield Hedges Gilkison remained in Mansfield all his life, serving at various times as policeman, town marshal, deputy sheriff and constable.
He watched Mansfield grow from a tiny wilderness village to a prosperous city. He saw the railroads and streetcars come to Mansfield through a period of about 40 years. He watched the dirt streets become cobblestone thoroughfares and businesses spring up along Main Street and around Central Park. He was in the crowd the helped dedicated the courthouse that many Mansfielders today remember at the east side of Central Park. He also witnessed the dedication of the Vasbinder Fountain in the park.
Gilkison was marred twice. He and his first wife Emeline Dukes were the parents of four sons and three daughters. One son and all three daughters survived him. His second wife was Mattie Stewart.
Gilkison died February 23, 1885, at the age of 74. The Masonic order conducted funeral services at his residence which was at 68 South Diamond Street. Burial was in the Mansfield Cemetery. Gilkison died about three blocks from his birthplace.
Fred Gilkison, the visitor from New York, and his sister Mrs. Ruth Daum, who lives on Baldwin Avenue, grew up in Mansfield. There were eight children in the family. Their parents were Mr. and Mrs. Willard Gilkison. Only three of the children survive. The third survivor is Dr. Conrad Gilkison of Willoughby.
The Willard Gilkison family lived in the North Side of Mansfield. The father was listed in the 1882 city directory as an employee of the Crawford and Zellers Cracker factory at Fifth and Walnut Streets. Fred Gilkison said that his father operated a grocery store at Fifth and Mulberry Streets for many years.
The family lived on Bowman Street for a time and Fred Gilkison said that he ate apples from a small orchard near the Bowman Street School, which was said to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed.
Gilkison said he was the pupil of the late H. Creveling at the former Bowman Street school, which was later renamed for Mr. Creveling.
Coul Street, north of West Fifth, was named for Conrad Coul, who gave land in that are to the city when the north side of town was being developed. Coul was the grandfather of Mrs. Daum and her brothers.
Fred Gilkison said a sawmill was located along Touby’s Run in the vicinity of Coul Street when he was a boy. The mill turned out heavy timbers which were used to build railroads and bridges.
Gilkison recalled that some of the lumber was used by his father to build a house in the north side of town came from a high fence that enclosed Central Park years ago. The fence apparently was built to corral livestock, which sometimes ran loose in the city. Back in Civil War days, the west side of the park was a marketplace where farmers brought there livestock and other products to be sold.
The Gilkison family still owns a property on North Mulberry Street in the Fifth Street area.
One of the Gilkison’s cousins was the late Mrs. Helen Loomis Limham, a Mansfield poet, who died in Florida a few years ago.
Mrs. Daum, who returned to Mansfield after living in Cleveland for about 25 years, says she is saddened when she sees the vacant spots downtown and remembers the fine old homes that were razed. She formally lived a short distance from the old Brinkerhoff residence, which was about where the YMCA is now—on Park Avenue West.
She said not enough people here now seem concerned about the city’s future or are interested enough to get involved in projects to improve Mansfield.
Her brother, Fred, has been away from Mansfield for many years. He formerly was in the manufacturing business, turning out such items as equipment used at the midget golf courses.
Gilkison, who is spry at 90, says he is going to live to be 100. A sister, Mrs. Nellie B Scott, died in Mansfield a few years ago at the age of 92.
Gilkison just might reach the century mark. He seems a very determined fellow.