Smile! Colgate Once Called Lancaster Home

The mansion at 145 East Main Street, now known as the Decorative Arts Center, has housed some of Lancaster’s most well-known residents. Names such as Reese, Sherman, Tallmadge, and Rising were lucky enough to call this beautiful structure home. There was also another owner that you might not be aware of and his name might be found in your bathroom right now: Colgate.

Charles Colgate (yes, that “Colgate”) was the son of Bowles Colgate and his uncle was William Colgate. William started his business in New York City in 1806 and began selling starch, soap, and candles. In 1812, Bowles became a partner and the brothers ran William Colgate & Company until 1844 when Bowles passed away. After William died in 1857 the company was passed to William’s son, Samuel Colgate who changed the name to just Colgate & Company. Samuel, along with his siblings and cousin, Charles, had already been involved in the day-to-day operations as employees so the transition was a smooth one. The cousins, Samuel and Charles, already had plans to expand Colgate’s reach and chose Lancaster as an outpost for their operations.

The Colgate Starch Factory at Canal and Locust Streets circa 1856 in Lancaster, Ohio.

The Colgate Starch Factory at Canal and Locust Streets circa 1856 in Lancaster, Ohio.

Around 1856, Charles Colgate arrived in Lancaster ready to build a new starch factory. He chose an area of land between what is now known as Canal Street and Locust Street for this endeavor. Colgate constructed a massive three-story brick building that was 300 feet long and 85 feet wide at a cost of $72,000. It was the largest establishment of its kind in the state. The factory began shipping out starch and Colgate & Company was now operating in Lancaster, Ohio.

Charles Colgate, maker of candles, starch and soap in the 1850s.

Charles Colgate, maker of candles, starch and soap, settled in Lancaster, Ohio in the 1850s to create a manufacturing outpost for his family business.

As construction of the factory was taking place, Charles and his wife, Frances, looked to settle into their new home city. Like many people, even to this day, they were struck by the gorgeous mansion on Main Street and chose it for their residence. Unfortunately, their stay was not very long. They occupied the home for about four to five years and then returned to New York after the starch factory failed in the early 1860s. The outbreak of the Civil War, among other reasons, caused the downfall of the new venture.

The factory was taken over by the Hocking Valley Agricultural Works following the war but they would experience quite a tragedy in August of 1882. A large fire that began around 4:00 am engulfed the massive structure and completely obliterated it. The cause of the fire was never determined. The company president and foreman had removed all combustible materials and an engineer that was present until 10:00 pm that night claimed he saw nothing amiss. The fire began on the third floor which was, thankfully, enclosed by an iron roof. This prevented it from spreading to buildings in the vicinity. The structure that Colgate built was in ruins. Later, it was rebuilt and became part of the Alten Foundry.

By all accounts, Charles and Frances enjoyed their time in Lancaster and were quite generous. It is written that Frances welcomed over 1,000 Union soldiers into their home at the beginning of the Civil War. They fed upwards of 100 of them at a time in the large rooms of the mansion on Main Street. They also donated clothing and other items to soldiers on the battlefield.

One has to wonder: what would have happened if the Colgate starch factory had been successful? What impact would the Colgates had on the city of Lancaster? It’s always interesting to think about how events cause such ripple effects. For us, we can only ponder what could have been. Just remember to smile as you do it…it is Colgate after all!

If you enjoyed this story, read more from Michael Johnson by becoming a supporting member of the Fairfield County Heritage Association. He authors the Association’s quarterly publication which includes stories like this one.

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Filed under: Featured, Histories & Mysteries, Homepage Showcase, Life, News, People, Uncategorized
Michael R. Johnson, marketing director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association based in Lancaster, Ohio.

By Michael Johnson

Lancaster native Michael Johnson is the Marketing Director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association and serves as editor of the Heritage Quarterly – a magazine highlighting local history. Michael is a member of the Sherman Rotary and the Lancaster Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. His bachelor’s degree in history education was earned at Ohio University. Michael is married to Tara Johnson and has two children, Isaac and Mia.