Although few landmarks remain to his memory in the 21st Century, Dr. Albert C. Henry was one of North Baltimore’s leading citizens in the last part of the 19th Century. He was a highly respected physician, businessman, proprietor of three opera houses, and agricultural landowner. He founded an electric power company, invested in many local businesses, and built a beautiful house on Tarr Street. Over the course of his lifetime, he saw North Baltimore grow from a rustic settlement of a few hundred people to a bustling village of over 3,000, thanks to the coming of the railroad and the oil boom. For 40 years, his accomplishments and civic spirit contributed greatly to the prosperity and welfare of the town and its citizens.
Early Life and Medical Practice
Dr. Henry was born in Hancock County on November 5, 1849, the eldest of the five children of James and Francis Dodge Henry. His father served as Hancock County Infirmary superintendent and later as county sheriff. From him he acquired a deep sense of public service. Dr. Henry’s parents also taught him the importance of a good education–advice which he followed throughout his life. By age 16, he was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. At 18, he graduated from Ada Normal School, after which he entered the University of Michigan medical school. As was the practice in those days, he simultaneously studied medicine under several local doctors.
After graduating from medical school in 1873 at age 21, Dr. Henry started a practice in the newly developing community of North Baltimore. This was a decision he often said he never regretted. North Baltimore was not much of a settlement in 1873–no more than a dozen wooden houses and a store or two. But that year the B&O Railroad built its main line to Chicago through the town and located a depot there. This brought growth and prosperity, albeit slowly at first.
Not long after moving to North Baltimore, Dr. Henry married Emma F. Eaton of Hancock County who was to be his wife for 42 years. They had two children, a son Carl and a daughter Cleah. Unfortunately, Cleah fell ill and, despite her father’s best efforts, died when she was only 18 years old–an event which Dr. Henry said left a great void in his life. He almost lost his son, when Carl, while working in his father’s electric power plant, was struck in the head by a large chunk of metal from an exploding cylinder. Dr. Henry treated his son’s injury by fashioning a steel plate and attaching it to Carl’s fractured skull, thus saving his life. This was quite a feat for a country doctor who performed the surgery in his office with only a few primitive medical instruments. Amazingly, Carl Henry fully recovered and survived his father, living to be an old man.
Dr. Henry was noted for keeping himself informed of the latest medical advances. He took a post graduate course in 1881 at the Columbus Medical School and was active in both the Ohio and American Medical Associations, where he was a firm supporter of improving physician training and licensing. Because of his reputation as a skilled surgeon, he developed a lucrative practice among the area’s more prosperous citizens. But he also had a reputation of never turning away a patient in need of medical help just because they could not pay for his services. Oil field work was extremely dangerous, and workers were severely injured or killed almost weekly, and Dr. Henry was frequently called upon to use his surgical skills to treat them. His reputation also led to appointments as the local doctor for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railroad. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, hospitals were few and far between outside of major population centers, so it was common practice for railroad companies to contract with local doctors to provide medical services to their employees and passengers. Newspaper accounts of the day contain many articles in which Dr. Henry is mentioned as treating victims of train wrecks or other railroad-related accidents.
Entrepreneur, Businessman, and Investor
In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Henry was a prominent local businessman and town booster, especially with the coming of the Oil Boom in 1886. During the 1880s and early 1890s, the town’s population grew from 703 to approximately 3,500 and provided a growing customer base for a variety of enterprises. Early on, he foresaw the need for a place of entertainment for the town’s citizens, so, in 1884, he constructed the Henry Opera House, which was immediately profitable and soon became the main source of local entertainment. The opera house burned in 1886, but he soon constructed another. When the second one also burned in 1894, he built a third and even grander structure. His local pharmacy was also a success, and he sold it in 1896 for a good profit. There is no record of him investing in any of the town’s 23 saloons, the other major form of entertainment for the often rowdy and drunken oil workers. However, he was kept busy patching them up after innumerable Saturday night drunken brawls.
Being scientifically inclined, Dr. Henry was greatly interested in applying new technology to daily living. In particular, he saw the benefits of using electricity for lighting and power and built The Henry Electric Power Plant, whose brick smoke stack was the tallest structure in town. It took time to convince the town council that electric light bulbs were better than gas lamps for lighting Main Street. Eventually, they agreed, but electric power was not without problems. Records show that the town council was often late in paying its electric bills, claiming that electric service was often erratic with frequent blackouts and power surges.
Oil was another source of income for Dr. Henry. He owned ten wells on an 80-acre farm, and, while prices for crude oil often fluctuated from 15 to 35 cents a barrel, he made a good profit while the wells produced. However, the density of wells on his farm was too great–a problem that was common throughout the oil fields at the time and contributed to an early exhaustion of gas pressure and the pre-mature demise of profitable production. Dr. Henry also invested in two of the glass factories that came to town seeking cheap natural gas to fire their finances. It was common practice for firms considering locating in an area to solicit investment funds from wealthy local citizens before building. While these investments occasionally made a profit for the locals, more often than not they did poorly over the long run. While the records are inconclusive, this may have been the case for Dr. Henry’s glass factory investments. After the gas supplies and pressure began to run low, the glass plants either shut down or moved their operations elsewhere. None of the three glass plants remained in the town after 1895.
Tarr Street Home and Later Life
With the profits from his business ventures and his medical practice, Dr. Henry built one of the town’s finest homes on the brick-paved and elm tree-lined Tarr Street, considered North Baltimore’s most beautiful street in the late 19th Century. Constructed of wood, his home had a tall tower with distinctive curved glass windows that provided him with a panoramic view of the street.
As the 19th Century came to an end, Dr. Henry was a respected and well known man in his community. Like many of his peers, he was a member of several local fraternal and service organizations, including The Knights of Pythias, in which he held several offices. His fraternal organization sword can still be seen at the North Baltimore, Ohio Area Historical Center.
In 1916, Dr. Henry’s wife died, and, shortly thereafter, he retired from the medical profession. From then on, he spent much of his time with his two grandsons who brightened the last years of his life. He died after a short illness on August 27, 1921.
Unfortunately, even before he died many of Dr. Henry’s proudest accomplishments began to disappear. He was still alive when his third opera house burned in 1911, not long after he had sold it. The building was not replaced since the new owners felt its live vaudeville performances could not compete with the two new movie theaters in town. The glass companies had moved away in the late 1890s when the natural gas played out, and his oil wells ran dry long before the Oil Boom ended in 1915. His electric power plant was eventually bought by the Ohio Power Company in the early 1920s, and they demolished most of the building and its tall smoke stack shortly thereafter. What was left of the building burned in 1968. His heirs sold his farm and the once-beautiful Henry mansion on South Tarr Street. Eventually the house was converted to apartments, slowly deteriorated, and finally succumbed to a fire in the 1970s. Tarr Street is still brick, but the elm trees are gone. Today, the only physical evidence to mark Dr. Henry’s existence in North Baltimore is his granite tombstone in Old Maplewood Cemetery.