Focus on Fostoria - Feb_1_04

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Fostoria Focus - February 1, 2004

How Martin Kingseed
Helped Build Fostoria

By Leonard Skonecki

It's a long way from Bavaria, Germany, to Fostoria. But a fellow named Martin Kingseed made the journey and helped build Fostoria in its early days.

Martin was born in 1817. He came to America in 1832 with his parents, Anton, a cabinetmaker, and Margaret.

The Kingseeds lived in Pennsylvania for two years and came to Seneca County by wagon in 1834. Martin worked on the family farm in Seneca Township until he was 25 and went to work at a lumber mill.

The mill proved quite an adventure. On Jan. 2, 1847, Martin's feet were caught under a rolling log. The log rolled up on his chest.

Martin's co-workers thought he was dead, but one, John Kerr, knew something of medicine and revived him, saving his life. Then on May 6 he was working in the mill after midnight and the same thing happened. This time he was bed-ridden for several weeks.

That cured Martin of lumber milling. He became a railroad surveyor.

In 1850, he married Elmira Noel. They lived on Clay Street in Tiffin and had eight children.

At that time, he went to work in John Gross' hardware store. In 1855, he decided he knew the business well enough to strike out on his own.

Gross had a stock of hardware in the newly formed village of Fostoria. Martin traded his Tiffin home for the goods.

He opened his own hardware store on Main Street where Bill's Men's & Boys' Wear was located. When William Lang wrote his history of Seneca County in 1880, he said that Kingseed's was the "oldest unchanged mercantile establishment in Fostoria."

Kingseed Hardware sold nails, glass, anvils, hoes, scythes, crosscut and handsaws, saddlery and harnesses, as well as tools for smiths, coopers and carpenters. The ad he ran weekly in the Fostoria News throughout 1860 said, "You will be convinced of the fact that we are prepared to give you as good bargains as any other establishment in North-Western Ohio."

Fostorians must have agreed because Kingseed Hardware thrived. Martin became wealthy enough to be able to build one of the first brick homes in Fostoria. It was on Tiffin Street and today houses Lehmann Chiropractic.

In the 1870s, the Kingseed property had a barn on it. Martin didn't use it much, but his friend John Woessner had ideas.

John thought hardware stores were nice, a great public good. He also thought beer was nice.

He prevailed on Martin to let him set up a brewery. Martin, a native German, agreed. That made two great public goods.

Martin became a person of influence. His political views were important enough that the Fostoria News published them. Local Republicans circulated a rumor that Martin, a Democrat, supported Kentuckian John Breckinridge for president in 1860.

In fact, Martin supported another Democrat, Stephen Douglas of Illinois.

His letter to the editor in the News' Aug. 10, 1860 edition said Republicans had "better talk about old Abe's splitting rails that to use Douglas men's names to make capital for the Republican candidate." He signed it: "True to the people's rights. M. Kingseed."

It was the first political letter to the editor ever to appear in a Fostoria newspaper.

Martin took a swing at politics himself. In 1862, during the Civil War, he was elected to the city council.

When Martin retired in 1884, two of his sons, Charles and Frank, took over the hardware store. In 1905, they moved it to West Tiffin Street where the VFW is today.

When Frank died on July 17, 1921, it was the Fostoria Daily Review's front-page lead story. His obituary said, "No task was too hard and no personal sacrifice too great when a friend was in need."

Frank served on the boards of the S.C. Regulator Co., the Chamber of Commerce, the Union National Bank, and the Ohio State Building & Loan Assn. The day before he died, Mayor Fred Hopkins appointed him to the Fostoria City Hospital Commission.

He was nationally known for his service to the American Red Cross during World War I.

Kingseed Hardware was a pillar of Fostoria's business community for 65 years. In 1920, Frank, 65, and Charles, 67, decided to close the store. In April, they sold their stock to Hoyt-Brooks Hardware on North Main.

They leased their building to the Post Office which needed new quarters when its lease on the Ash Building on South Main expired. The Post Office remained in the old Kingseed store until the current Post Office opened in 1932.

On Dec. 16, 1903, Martin was downtown tending to some business. In spite of his 86 years, he was still active.

He was in the hardware store when someone asked him how he felt.

"Not as young as I did 50 years ago," he joked.

Martin went home had dinner, read for a bit and talked with his family. He lived in his Tiffin Street home with son Charles and daughter Ella Wonderly and her husband, Theodore. He went to bed at 8:30.

At 10:45, he pulled the bell by his bed. Charles had it installed 15 years earlier so Martin could let the family know if he needed something in the night. It as the only time he ever used it.

Charles hurried to his father's room. Martin was sitting upright, his nightshirt stained with blood he'd coughed up.

Dr. Robert Hale, an old friend, was summoned, but Martin died before he arrived. Hale diagnosed a stomach hemorrhage.

There are several Kingseed descendants still living in the area, including retired farmers, Albert and Dorothy Kingseed of rural Tiffin and three daughters, Cindy, Pat and Jean. A fourth daughter, Terri, lives in Cambridge.

Martin Kingseed came to Fostoria just one year after it became a city. He helped it grow and prosper in its first years.

When Lang wrote his 1880 history, he said, "No citizen in Fostoria is more generally esteemed than Martin Kingseed."