Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Franklin Sylvester

Franklin Sylvester as a younger man.
From the Medina Library Collection

Franklin Sylvester


Franklin Sylvester was born on March 28, 1831 in Bristol, Ontario County, New York. His parents were Francis Sylvester (1798-1878) and Cynthia Hatch Sylvester (1812-1881). They left New York in 1833 and settled in Granger Township in Medina County.

The Sylvesters had seven children. The elder Sylvester was a wagon maker. They family scraped by, but the times were tough and there was little opportunity for much in the way of education for Franklin.

But at a very early age he learned the value of hard work. At 9, he started working for the neighboring farmers. He saved up his wages and started trading in livestock. He started with sheep and cattle and moved on to horses. At 16, he bought a team of horses and a wagon and hired  himself out as a hauling contractor. His twentieth birthday found him the owner of a farm and "one of the best judges of stock anywhere in the country." By the age of 25, he had saved up $3,000. He went into the mercantile business with R.N. Hickox at Grangerburg. He also ran an ashery* and continued to deal in livestock.

On Oct. 4, 1857, he married Eunice Reid, also of Granger Township.

He continued trading in livestock and also started dealing in real estate transactions. In 1878 he is listed as the executor of the estates of several of his neighbors. This was a real mark of respect and trust, both from his neighbors and by the magistrates that oversaw the transactions.

Sketch of the Sylvester homestead from the 1874 Combination Atlas Map
of Medina County

Map of Granger Township with Franklin Sylvester's holdings outlined in red.
From the 1874 Combination Atlas Map of Medina County

In the 1881 History of Medina County and Ohio, he is described as "a self-made man...(of) excellent judgment, a remarkable business tact, and indomitable energy and perseverance, a strict integrity in dealing and a power (which few men possess) of keeping his own counsels." It continues, "Through all his pecuniary prosperity, it is but simple justice to say he has been notably magnanimous in the use of a wealth that a propitious Providence has thrown into his hands. His donations for educational, religious and other charitable purposes have been very considerable..."

Picture from a 2001 Medina Gazette article,
showing Franklin, a dog,  his wife Eunice, an
 unidentified girl and a servant

Franklin and Eunice never had any children, but the couple enjoyed and assisted their many nieces and nephews. (16 are listed as beneficiaries in his will.) They cared for and helped several other struggling youngsters, including Etuna Heyl (also a beneficiary).

Franklin Sylvester Portrait
From Medina Library Collection
Eunice (Reid) Sylvester From
Medina Library Collection

Franklin continued to deal in cattle and real estate. He became know as a successful breeder of fine cattle, specializing in short-horns. He accumulated land until he owned 1,500 acres, of what was considered the best land in northern Ohio.

A.R. Webber claims that he inspired Franklin to make his biggest charitable donation. A la Andrew Carnegie, Franklin's name could live on when placed on the side of a library. Personally, I cannot imagine that a man with so many siblings and niblings** would be worried about the perpetuity of his name. But Franklin did believe in a good cause and had a desire to better the world.

Toward that end, he donated  the money for a dedicated library building in the county seat- The Franklin Sylvester Library. He donated $10,000 towards the building and not satisfied with the look of the roof, donated another $1,000 to have it remedied. He also provided $4,000 for the library in his will.

The Original 1907 Franklin Sylvester Library
Franklin died May 1907.

The Board of Directors of the Old Phoenix Bank were his pall bearers. Part of his obituary read: "Showing a mark of final respect to the man who had been so highly representative of all that is best in our county and who had so generously given to the welfare of Medina Village."

The Franklin Sylvester Library opened up for business on 29 September 1907. Franklin never got to see his dream realized.

Franklin Sylvester Local History & Genealogy Room

In a Medina Gazette editorial, a call went out for a life-size portrait of Franklin to be gifted from the citizens of Medina, and to hang in the library that bore his name. Perhaps the citizens stepped up to the challenge, for Franklin Sylvester's portrait in charcoal still hangs in the room that bears his name - The Franklin Sylvester Room.  

*Ashery - is a factory that converts hardwood ashes into lye, potash, or pearlash.
** Nibling - The child of one's sibling (in other words, one's niece or nephew), especially in the plural or as a gender-neutral term. 

The History of Medina County and Ohio, pub. Baskin & Battey, 1881.
The Medina County Gazette,  7 June 1907, p. 1.
The Medina County Gazette, 20 March 2001, p. C-1
1945 Letter written by A.R. Webber to Earl & Elbridge Gibbs urging the citizens of Medina to enlarge the library. (in the Medina Library's collection)
1874 Combination Atlas Map of Medina County
Franklin Sylvester's will. (copy in the Medina Library collection.)
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Anonymous said...

As always, this was a very interesting blog post. I especially enjoyed your use and definition of "nibling." I have never heard that term, but plan to use it liberally in the future!

RD said...

This should be submitted to the Gazette and timed for our upcoming levy.