History of Trumbull & Mahoning Counties, Ohio
with Illustrations & Biographical Sketches -
Cleveland - H. Z. Williams & Bro.
Also See Individual Townships for
more short biographies.
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JAMES VAN GORDER.
Few men, if any, have ever lived in Warren of greater energy of
character or more effective activity of life than James L.
VanGorder. Some idea of the man is gained from a mere
statement of the predominant fact of his life - the fact that
notwithstanding heavy and embarrassing losses and with no other
capital to start with than a strong, healthy body, indomitable
perseverance and industry, united with a sound judgment, he
accumulated an estate amounting to $125,000.
James L. VanGorder, was the son of Abram and
Elizabeth VanGorder, and was born in Sussex county, New Jersey,
Apr. 1, 1785. He came to Warren at the age of about twenty
years, and having a ready hand for almost any kind of work, had no
difficulty in finding employment. But he was not the kind of
metal that hirelings are made of After a short time of service under
Henry Lane in his mill and clearing, he began boldly
and with perseverance an independent career.
In 1809 Mr. VanGorder married
Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Spear, who was born
at Washington, Pennsylvania, Feb. 13, 1789. Her parents having
died she became a resident in the family of her grandparents, and
came to Trumbull county with her uncle, John Prior, in
the year 1805. As was very common at that time the trip was
made on horseback. One hundred miles' journey would seem like
a great task for a girl of sixteen, but it was lightened by exercise
in that method of travel. Mr. Prior settled a
mile and a half s southwest of Warren.
About two years after his marriage Mr.
VanGorder removed to Suffield, Portage county, and engaged in
milling on an extensive scale. He ran a train of flour wagons
to Cleveland harbor, and soon built up a business surpassing any of
the kind on the Reserve, at that time. In 1821 Mr.
VanGorder returned with his family to Warren, having become
interested in the mills of this place. The upper dam and mill
had been built by Henry Lane, and the lower mill by
George Lovelace, the latter being just below the
Market-street bridge. (The present lower dam was built by
Mr. VanGorder in 1838–39. He built at the same time
four of the locks in the canal adjoining, and made a mile of
excavation.) The control of both of these mills, in addition
to two saw-mills, did not occupy his whole attention for any great
length of time. He purchased in 1828 the old Cotgreave
house, more familiarly known as Castle William, and by get
ting the stage office and stage patronage he soon made it the
leading hotel in the place. “Old Pavilion” was a familiar name among
travelers, and especially among coachmen. Seven stages passed
through Warren daily, giving the “regulation tavern” a good
patronage outside of irregular custom. On the ground floor was
a stage office, a bar-room, and a store; the second floor was used
for bed-chambers, and the third for a dancing hall. This was
the same building in which John S. Edwards speaks in his
letters of having attended balls. The house had undergone
Mr. VanGorder was an extensive contractor
on the Ohio and Pennsylvania canal, employing at one time as many as
one hundred hands, fifty of whom were boarded at the “Pavilion.”
The completeness and thoroughness of his operations are shown by the
fact that he had his own wagon maker shop, his own blacksmith shop,
his own tavern to board his men, and his own mills to grind the
flour for their bread; and further than this, raised some of the
wheat which was ground into flour. Mrs. VanGorder
superintended all the cooking and baking, which was no light task,
for dinners for the laborers had to be sent to their place of work.
Anyone who has had any experience, even in a small way, of preparing
food to be eaten in that way will readily appreciate the task of
thus making dinners for fifty masons and shovelers.
One of the upper mills burned in October, 1845, but was
rebuilt as quickly as was possible. In the great conflagation
in June, 1846, the old Pavilion tavern was reduced to ashes.
Before a year had elapsed, a block containing six stores stood in
its place. This block was in turn consumed in 1854, but before
the living flames had exhausted their food, a contract had been
signed for rebuilding the entire block. The second block was
again partially destroyed in 1860. During the five years
preceding the five of 1854, and including that conflagration, Mr.
VanGorder's losses by fire, and his losses as surety, for
which he had obligated himself to a large amount, aggregated over
$34,000, yet he never permitted himself to be embarrassed, depending
upon industry to regain what he lost through misfortune.
He was characteristically successful in the management
of hired labor. His own strength being inexhaustible he was
always able to lead. He seldom said “go,” but “come" was a
familiar command. Week after week for as long as six weeks in
succession, he has stood in water covering his knees, repairing some
of the mill appendages. Never did he require of a hireling
what he was unwilling to do himself. In addition to other
operations, he carried on merchandising for about forty years.
Mr. VanGorder was a member of the Presbyterian church.
Mrs. VanGorder's connection with that society
antedates that of her husband. She still retains her
membership. During his older years he was a partial cripple,
having met with an accident at his saw-mill. He was not
incapacitated, however, for any kind of work. He was actively
employed until the sickness which resulted in his death, Sept. 14,
Mrs. VanGorder, now past her ninety-fourth year,
is the oldest resident of Warren; with two exceptions she is the
oldest person living in the city. Her long preservation
through a toilsome life is
indeed remarkable. She is clear in mind and cheerful in
disposition. She has borne a family of thirteen children, and
nurtured from childhood two grandchildren. Eleven of her
children lived to mature age. The following is a copy of a
page from the family record: Albert, born in Warren July 18,
1810; Emeline, born in Suffield Nov. 5, 1811; Olive,
born in Suffield Apr. 26, 1813; Cyrus J., born in Suffield
Apr. 1, 1815; Martha J. (Newell), born in Suffield Jan. 7,
1817; Ann Mary (Marvin), born in Suffield Aug.
30, 1819; Phebe, born in Warren June 11, 1821; Betsy (Scott),
born in Warren Apr. 22, 1823; James R., born in Warren Mar.
30, 1825; George, born in Warren May 8, 1827; Isaac F.,
born in Warren Feb. 18, 1829; Charles, born in Warren Mar. 8,
1831; Charles, (second) Apr. 15, 1836. Albert,
Cyrus J., Martha J. (Newell), Ann Mary (Marvin),
James R., George, anbd Isaac F., are still living.
of Trumbull & Mahoning Counties, Ohio - Published:
Cleveland: H. Z. Williams & Bros. - VOLUME I - 1882 - Page 307