Remember in the beforetimes when you could just go somewhere and walk around and look at stuff? Well, waaaaaaay back when (in 2019) I followed my research trail to the Delaware County Historical Society’s Cryder Historical Center and Reseach Library. It has the wonderful smell of books and some of the most enthusiastic and helpful volunteers you could ask for. I had a general idea of what I wanted to look for and although that quest continues, I was able to page through unscanned collections that I otherwise would never have seen. If you could ever imagine yourself soulfully caressing the pages of history, this is your place. I dream of returning once things are safer!
I’ve been fortunate to find the original buyer of our lot. EL Main purchased it from Henrie E. Buck in 1906. Buck was the son of one of Delaware’s most prominent families. His father had already sold one plot of land to the city for development. Buck’s Second Addition, as the new area was called, included lots that backed to the Buck orchard. The lot that would host our current home was one of them.
Ernest Leroy Main (or Leroy Ernest, as he’s named in some sources, or “Dutch” as his FIJI brothers called him) was born February 10, 1885 to Wesley and Emma. His dad was an insurance agent with an office at 49 ½ N Sandusky Street (now above The Sydney Collection). Ernest was a special student in college and preparatory classes at Ohio Wesleyan University, which is some kind of mix of high school and college prep, from around 1900 to 1907. He was a member of the Theta Deuteron chapter of Phi Gamma Delta (1908), in which he appeared to be very involved. He is credited as the “architect and contractor” of the house’s remodeling in 1922 (p. 136), which gives me every confidence that he is likely the one who actually built our home (among others). The house, once known as Fairbanks Lodge, still stands in Delaware at 135 N Franklin Street as the Women’s City Club. Of note, another Phi Gamma Delta publication lists him as a real-estate operator (and a member of the class of 1909), and a later OWU publication has him listed as a first year music student in 1916.
Main would buy and sell multiple plots of land in the area. On May 18, 1906, he both bought the lot that would become our home and married a woman named Mary Jo(e). It appears that he rented out the house before moving in with his family for a short time. His connection to OWU’s music program is likely how he met our home’s first occupant, John Bendinger, who lived here in 1908-1909. Main then sold our house in 1913 (shortly after the birth of his 3rd child, and about 4 months after the Great Flood of 1913). Of note, he owned at least two additional lots in the area, so our house is not an only child! Ernest and Mary Jo Main would go on to have 3 daughters, Antoinette, Ernestine, and Mary Jo, the youngest of whom was less than a year and a half old when her mother died in 1914 (a condolence message from his fraternity is published in their national periodical). Ernest moved back in with his parents with his daughters. A 1918 WWI draft card lists him as being a self-employed horticulturalist, and he designed an attachment for a tractor to help farmers avoid damaging the limbs of trees in their orchards in about 1922 (link to bulletin, see pic on p431). In the 1930 census he stated he was an insurance agent at Main Insurance Agency (still living with Wesley and Emma at 126 W Winter St, now the Kappa Kappa Gamma house). But another source has him managing an apple orchard in 1930, assumed to be Buck’s (as he was working in “Buck’s Garden” in 1910). Later he would co-own Main-Cook Garage at 80 E Winter Street, which specialized in both sales and auto repairs. It was located on or near what is now the Delaware County Library.
By 1934 he had moved to Neil Avenue in Columbus and was working in insurance, remarried to former telephone operator and divorcee Rowena Au (nee Loomis). In 1942 he was filling out his WWII draft card (at 57 years old) and was working for and living with his father-in-law and boss Wilbur O. Loomis (awkward?!) at Scattergood’s in Mansfield. Eventually he and Rowena traveled the country. Their last stop was in New Mexico before Ernest got sick; he passed away in 1957.
Digging up the history of EL Main presented unique surprises and challenges. With a last name like “Main,” I ran into a lot of false-positives. Did you know there was an EL Main train line? There were also two other Ernest Mains running around Delaware at the same time! At any rate, despite his family having a business that could have probably kept him comfortable for his life, he seemed to bounce around between jobs, and I kept getting this feeling that he never felt really settled. Regardless, I’m very glad he built such a beautiful home for so many families to enjoy.