“Time changes us all, and happy that change where justice, truth, and love which can know no change grow in beauty with the passing years.”
There has been no greater influence on this website than Henry Howe (1816 – 1893). Henry had a relatively normal upbringing in the early 1800s. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut and his father was a publisher and printer who also owned a book store. In that store, Henry ran across a copy of John Warner Barber’s (1798 – 1885) Connecticut Historical Collections, which was published in 1836. Henry contacted John and began working with him to compile similar works. John also taught Henry the art of wood engraving, one of few ways to add pictures to books at the time.
Together, they completed Historical Collections of New York in 1841, with both Howe and Barber traveling around the state to gather information from locals and do the engravings. Historical Collections of New Jersey was published in the same style the following year. After that, Mr. Barber just did engravings while Howe produced the history, although Henry also continued to engrave when he felt the desire to do so. They published Historical Collections of Virginia in 1845 and Ohio was next on the list.
Henry began walking on foot in Marietta, Washington County in January of 1846 at the age of 29. It’s unclear if John was also on foot at the beginning. Whatever that case may have been, Henry bought a large white coated horse named Pomp after about 100 miles or so from a physician in Delaware. The family was visibly distraught about the purchase, as described in Howe’s updated work, but they bade farewell nonetheless and later moved to California seeking the opportunities which that state had to offer at the time.
As with the previous works which he honed his writing and engraving skills on, a complete history of Ohio was written as Henry interviewed local pioneers and John depicted most of the sights they encountered along the way. Henry returned to New Haven, Connecticut in February of 1847. Historical Collections of Ohio was published later that year, including 177 engravings, a hand drawn map of the state, and chapters on every county in Ohio. It sold over 18,000 copies for $3 a piece, about an average of a weeks worth of wages back then, and became the most widely read historical book in the state in the 1800s. It by far exceeded the sales of the memoirs of 18th U.S. President and commander of the Union army during the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant (1822 – 1885).
Henry married Frances (Tuttle) Howe (1821 – 1907) in 1848 and subsequently moved to Cincinnati. He continued to produce other works over the next few decades, including what Henry thought would be his most celebrated work, Our Whole County or The Past and Present of the United States, with John Warner Barber in 1861. As good of a book as it was, it would never surpass Historical Collections of Ohio. The 19th President of the U.S., Rutherford B. Hayes (1822 – 1893), was one of Henry Howe’s biggest fans. Along with many other prominent and influential members of society, President Hayes convinced Henry to do a second tour of the state to update his 1847 work. Henry was pretty well broke by then, having accrued more travel expenses than profits from the books he had published.
As a way to attain the funds to do the second tour, Henry was the first person in the country to sell subscriptions of an uncompleted book. The asking price was $10 per copy 4 years in advance of publication. He started out at the home of President Hayes in Fremont, Sandusky County on November 21, 1885 at the age of 69, nearly 40 years after his first journey through Ohio. Henry completed his second tour, visiting every county in the state, in March of 1887. The updated work included everything from the 1847 book, with additional notes of the changes Henry experienced on the later journey.
The first edition of the updated work was published with 2 volumes in 1889 and received high appraise, but it didn’t sell well as residents expected the state to purchase copies to distribute to schools and libraries. The state eventually bought 1,200 copies for $12,000, allowing Henry to print an expanded 3 volume edition of the new work in 1891. These days, original first edition copies of the 1847 book are the most sought after, but the 3 volume 1891 updated version is almost just as rare. Henry had a lot of unpaid debts when he died in 1893. The state purchased the copyright and printing plates of Historical Collections of Ohio from Frances Howe for $20,000 in 1894, which paid off Henry’s debts and granted Frances the means to live out the remaining years of her life in a comfortable manner.
John W. Barber was buried with relatives in Grove Street (Westminster of Yale) Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut. Henry and Frances Howe had 4 children and were laid to rest with relatives in Green Lawn Cemetery on Greenlawn Ave in Columbus, Franklin County. The stone placed in their honor at the cemetery was dedicated on October 11, 1851 by the Monument Builders Of Ohio. Henry was indeed the “godfather” of Ohio history literature and promoting tourism of that nature around the state. Some of the towns he visited are no longer around and disappeared between his first and second tour of the state. A few of the accounts Henry wrote about those ghost towns are the only information that exists of them.