The Saturday Club of Dayton

The Saturday Club of Dayton

A Reminiscence

 

By A. D. Wilt

 

Dayton, Ohio

Press of The Groneweg Printing Company

1918

 

 

It is not a notable thing that a city should have clubs, as for a long time they have been regarded as indispensable to most cities of any size. But that a literary club started nearly 50 years ago in a small inland city should for all time have maintained an active existence in such a community is well worth chronicle and warrants a brief history of its long life. This, of course, is more as a matter of interest and gratification to its surviving members and to their posterity, and possibly as a record in which the city may take some pride.

In the early seventies McLain and Samuel Smith and Alfred A. Thomas were in the practice of law together, and their office in the Clegg building, on Third street near Jefferson, was often visited in the evening by a small and very congenial coterie of their friends. All were interested in good literature and in the important questions of the day.

This coterie consisted of the three first mentioned and Eugene Parrott, Samuel Davies, Dr. William Judkins Conklin, William Smith, B. C. Noyes, E. Morgan Wood, Jno. H. Thomas, Dr. J. C. Reeve, Jno. H. Patterson, Elihu Thompson, R. I. Cummin, Dr. Henry Jewett, Captain C. B. Stivers and myself, lawyers, doctors, business men and teachers. Patterson was canal collector. Wood and Parrott were manufacturers. Stivers was Principal of Central High School, and Smith and Noyes were associated with him; John Thomas, Davies and Cummin were merchants; Thompson was a lawyer, and I was at the head of the Miami Commercial College. Our first meeting as an established club was on January 8, 1870.

With but one exception, this original group continued unchanged for nearly thirty years, when a few other congenial spirits were added who proved to be most welcome and satisfactory. These were Rabbi Lefkowitz, William Werthner of the Steele high school, Sigmund Metzler, at the time principal of the Hickory Street school, and Judge Charles W. Dustin, Judge Clement R. Gilmore and Judge D. B. Van Pelt.

There was no formal organization, and at the meetings, usually held twice a month, a chairman for the evening was selected. For many years I discharged the few duties of secretary, limited almost entirely to notification of meetings. Mr. Parrott in later years succeeded me.

Each member entertained the club several times during the winter at his home, and either voluntary written or spoken presentations of literary or other topics occupied us. As there was much diversity of religious, political and other opinions among members, these topics took a wide range, and while no thought of exhaustive treatment of them was entertained, they were as thought-fully and carefully prepared as would be expected of such a coterie of intelligent men. At times, quite animated and even heated discussions followed the paper or talk.

 

J. MCLAIN SMITH was the philosopher of the club. As an intelligent and interested student of the great leaders in philosophic thought, and a contributor to The National and other reviews, he was able to present his studies in a fine manner. Mac was for a time editor of the Dayton Empire, and was also associated with Mr. Bickham Lair in editing The Farmers' Home. At the same time, he had a national reputation as one of the best authorities in the United States on cattle breeding, and was selected by the Wisconsin state authorities as one of the lecturers of the state's very efficient and valuable system of county farmers' institutes.

 

CAPTAIN STIVERS gave highly interesting accounts of his early army experiences in the campaigns of Utah and the west. His fine West Point training made him always an intelligent student of philosophy, chemistry and the natural sciences. It is an interesting sidelight on his versatility that he was at one time in his later years the maker of a number of really excellent violins. He had a sweet nature but was not credited with latent ability in any musical way, and the revelation of him as a successful maker of so important a musical instrument as the violin was regarded even by his intimates as somewhat paradoxical.

 

SAMUEL B. SMITH came out of his brilliant services in the Civil war as a major in the gallant 93d Ohio, and later in life was a most efficient adjutant general of the state. He highly entertained us with his modestly related army reminiscences and was always a lively participant in the club's discussions. He made the famous ascent of Missionary Ridge under General Thos. J. Wood.

 

CAPTAIN SAMUEL W. DAVIES was another of our highly regarded Civil war veterans, but with his invincible modesty was most reluctant to tell of his experiences. He entered the army in 1861 and served with great credit until 1864. In 1863 he was made acting adjutant general to Colonel Edward Parrott then provost marshal general of the state of Ohio. He participated in the battles of Shiloh and Stone River, ranked among the bloodiest engagements of the war.

He has for many years led a very active business and civic life; has been president of the Dayton National bank, a director of the Dayton Savings and Trust company, the Dayton Malleable Iron Works and the National Cash Register company.

He was also for some years an efficient member of the board of education and later and for a number of years, has been one of the board of managers of the public library and was on the city tax commission.

A man of deep convictions and perfect frankness, "but most kindly outspoken in his judgments he gave a vigor and intensity to our discussions which was much appreciated.

 

ALFRED A. THOMAS had a somewhat shorter army experience than Smith, Stivers and Davies. He was an ardent lover of fine literature and highly enjoyable in his contributions of literary papers. One, a most discriminating review of Thoreau, given one beautiful May day on the porch of Parrott's charming home in the splendidly wooded hills of Oakwood included a highly interesting episode which occurred in his experience as legal solicitor and general counsel to the Bell Telephone company at Chicago. The company had a very important matter before the city authorities in one of the central western states, in which Al was to appear. The evening before the day set, while sitting on the veranda of his hotel, he unavoidably overheard two gentlemen discuss his favorite Thoreau. Finally when the talk ended and one of the two left, Al took the liberty of an equally enthusiastic lover of Thoreau to introduce himself, and a long and sympathetic talk followed. When later he asked the hotel clerk who the gentlemen was, he was naturally delighted and reassured to learn that he was the judge to whom the appeal was to be made. He felt that it was won, and it was, whatever kindred tastes may have had to do with it. Mr. Thomas distinguished himself in the numerous civic and private positions he held as legal adviser, notably as general counsel of the National Cash Register company. One of his hobbies was a study of dogs, and his wide knowledge of them and his many canine attachments made him a high authority with fanciers in all parts of the country. A paper on dogs, with which he once favored us, was one of the best received among the many given.

 

JUDGE ELIHU THOMPSON also had an excellent record as a soldier of the Civil war. All through his subsequent life as attorney and judge, he found time for an intelligent and absorbing interest in general literature, philosophy and the evolution of religions. A paper on Poe, which he gave us, was regarded as an able and discriminating study, while several of his speculations on philosophy and religion were radical enough to challenge no little debate. He gave a well considered paper on Clement L. Vallandigham of whom he was an admirer. Others were on "Marriage and Divorce," "Napoleon," "Andrew Jackson's Political Career," "Agnosticism" and the "Archetypes of Christianity."

 

DR. WILLIAM JUDKINS CONKLIN always came with such kindly spirit and genial humor and was so keen and thorough in all he offered for our entertainment that he was a most highly regarded associate. One of his last papers was on Heredity. His experiences as an alienist and his long professional career particularly fitted him for an unusually good review of the most recent and authoritative presentations of the subject. His literary judgment was, in the range of his tastes, broad and incisive. His friends who knew of the many fine addresses he made to State and other medical societies and his contributions to leading medical encyclopedias and journals, and who enjoyed as we did, the attractive work of his pen, all agreed that had he given more time to literary work he would have enriched medical and general literature. To Dr. Reeve, Dr. Conklin's early medical tutor, a life-long lover of the fine things in literature, Dr. Conklin's literary tastes were no doubt due in part. He for many years rendered valuable service to the city as an active member of the board of education; and as a member of the library board from its creation until his death. He was also largely instrumental in establishing the public museum, to which he devoted much time and thought resulting in making it an important part of our educational equipment. The branch public libraries also had his fostering care, in conjunction with Miss Electra Doren, the very efficient Public Librarian, and Miss Linda Clatwothy, former Librarian.

 

DR. J. C. REEVE was always held in the highest esteem by the club for his broad, amiable spirit, and particularly for his many able papers on literary, medical and general scientific subjects. He invested whatever he prepared not only with an impressiveness because of his thorough understanding of his subject, but also with a literary grace that made his work unusually attractive. He enjoyed an international reputation and was for many years a contributor to some of the most important medical encyclopedias and journals, and was a most welcome and honored speaker before state and national bodies. One of the most notable and attractive of his efforts was a contribution to the Ohio State Historical and Antiquarian Quarterly—representing the gallant career and the valuable service rendered to our country by the Swiss Indian fighter, Henry Bouquet, so important to the welfare of the west. The doctor's intimacy with the French language and literature enabled him thus to rescue the eminent explorer's memory from not generally known French sources. Written by a man at the ripe age of ninety-one, this article is most excellent testimony to his vigorous mental ability and is a most rare accomplishment under the circumstances. Others of his papers were "The Cross and Crucifixion," "The Birth of a King," "Phallic Worship," "The Conquest of Yellow Fever," "Maeterlinck's Mona Vanna" and another on "The Discovery of Surgical Anesthesia." There is now appearing in a New York medical journal a series of articles entitled "Excursions in My Library" from his pen.

 

DR. HENRY S. JEWETT shared with our other medical members in the high regard we had for scientific subjects presented in clear terms which we laymen could understand, clothed, as they were, in highly appropriate and most attractive language. All will recall with much satisfaction an evening he gave us in the early days of the club describing—at that time—recently discovered spectrum analysis, illustrating it with some interesting experiments. He subsequently furnished other papers of much interest, among these on "The Mosquito in its Relation to Yellow Fever and Malaria," and was always an active participant in the critical aftermath of the regular papers. He served for many years on the staff of St. Elizabeth's hospital as also did Drs. Reeve and Conklin, all of whose services were important and valuable.

 

CAPTAIN E. MORGAN WOOD showed fine and attractive literary faculty in the papers he offered. A gentleman of broad culture and extensive travel, his contributions showed a maturity of judgment and a soundness and grace that always made them most welcome. A delightful paper on "Old Sienna," a reminiscence of one of his European trips will be recalled by those who heard it with much pleasure, as was another on his visit to Oberammergau. While the club offered no opportunity for the display of oratorical ability. Captain Wood had a wide reputation as a speaker of convincing eloquence. He served with much credit in the Fifteenth U. S. Infantry in the Civil war. As president of the school board, president of the city council, police commissioner and in other public capacities he rendered fine public service.

 

H. EUGENE PARROTT, the most distantly related member of the club in miles, came regularly from his beautiful home on the hills of charming Oakwood through storm and snow and took the general bantering that al-ways greeted him when stress of weather prevented him from being the first of us to come, with the most imperturbable graciousness imaginable. His responsive and jolly chuckle lingers in the memory of us all. A man of fine cultivation and of wide reading, and particularly a great lover of poetry and the finer literature, he brought to us many of the fruits of his studies in highly regarded essays, and his keen criticisms of the paper of the evening. The meetings at his home, which usually ended our club season, were most enjoyable, not only because of the beautiful environment and the literary feasts offered us, but also because of the very kind and liberal hospitality of our charming hostess. In common with several other hostess offenders, she persisted in breaking the rule, we—Spartan and Hoover like—vainly imagined we could impose upon our hostesses. The club never would have entertained a motion from the most ascetic of us to "strafe" the fair rebels. As a rule the collation that followed our "feasts of reason" was in solids and liquids quite modest. In fact it was the antipodes in simplicity to that of the famed Lucullus Eugene, self sacrificing, assumed the heavy (?) burdens of the secretaryship when I dropped them. In addition to a faithful and efficient army service, he has always been an active participant in the many movements for civic betterment, and was at one time elevated to the dignity of the mayoralty of Oakwood. This was a general and, I am sure, wholly unsolicited appreciation of his neighbors who knew him as we did, to be an absolutely unselfish altruistic citizen, who would shrink from any act of self preferment. Among his interesting contributions were papers on "Daniel Boone and the Wilderness Road" and another noticeable one on "Montaigne."

 

WILLIAM SMITH, or "Bill" as he was lovingly called, not only by us but by hundreds of the old Central high school pupils, which he for some years most ably directed, was a man of wide literary cultivation and thoroughly imbued with a lofty sense of the elevation and importance of his profession. He had unusual tact in stimulating his young people to do their best and was always so kindly and considerate in his relationships that he was greatly beloved and his memory most tenderly cherished. He had a fine library, and we all profited greatly by his keen judgments and discriminating criticisms. His end came in a heroic way, befitting the high ideals of his life, in that his attempt to save the lives of two of his pupils who were drowning off the rocks of Newport, Rhode Island, his last place of residence, he unfortunately lost his own life.

 

B. C. NOYES, for some years associated with Smith in the high school, was esteemed as one of the most valuable and capable of Dayton teachers. His training in history and economics, as well as his general training, and his contagious enthusiasm in his work, and most engaging personality, resulted in forming high and lasting aims of useful citizenship in the hearts of his students. Many Daytonians gratefully acknowledge their great indebtedness to him and praise the value of his influence to the city generally. He immensely enjoyed the Saturday club and was never more enthusiastic and delighted than when entertaining us in his "home" in the Beckel house. Coming from New England stock, he preserved the urbanity and dignity of his forebears. At the same time he enjoyed the freedom of intercourse which most New Englanders coming to the west are encouraged to enjoy. Few men have left a finer record of fruitful service.

 

JOHN H. PATTERSON was with us but a short time, as his outside interests in the early days of the club absorbed his time elsewhere. A graduate of Dartmouth, as were Al Thomas and Noyes, he early had a keen interest in literary and social matters, and the remarkable intensity and energy which, with his broad scope of vision, have made him one of the great business leaders of the world, were plainly evinced in those early days of association with us. Dayton owes much to him for his splendid leadership and co-operation on important civic movements' and for his support of them, notably in financing for several years the very fruitful Municipal Research Bureau. His leadership in the calamitous days of our city's great flood won nationwide attention. His latest contribution to his beloved city is the donation to it of Hills and Dales park, a most beautiful tract of 294 acres of rolling, wooded land, valued at a million dollars.

 

JOHN H. THOMAS, in those days our leading book seller, was in that capacity a most valuable citizen. As a well trained college man, and coming with his brother "Al" from a home of such cultivation as that of Rev. Dr. Thomas, the influential and well known pastor of the First Presbyterian church, he had for his business an unusually wide knowledge of books, and was always able and eager to guide his patrons to the best. He was a man of decided and positive convictions, in religious as well as literary ways always ready to state his position, but always with perfect urbanity. He was felt to be a decided force in the club. He was thoroughly convinced that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare, whether Bacon did—as he was inclined to believe—or did not, and gave us several interesting lectures upon this topic. He was a member of the board of trade and of the Directory of the Miami Valley hospital.

 

MAJOR C. F. BARGER joined us when he settled in Day-ton. Probably in the late seventies. A man of literary cultivation and taste, all his life a collector of books, he had an extensive and valuable library, especially in the line of Americana, including some rare pamphlets. Naturally a reserved man, and always suffering from a severe wound received in the Civil War, his brief comments upon the papers read were always interesting and listened to with attention.

 

WILLIAM WERTHNER was one of the group of our later accessions. We never could call him Bill, not because he is not one of the most modest men and of a most kindly spirit, with an utter absence of hauteur, but just because he was one of those most companionable of men whom "Bill," "Sam" and "Gene" by common consent did not fit. He has for many years been an active teacher in our high school. As principal of the high school at one time he found ample scope for his fine ability, and fully lived up to the high standards of his predecessors above mentioned in that important position. A devoted student of nature and unusually well informed concerning the fauna and flora and geology of our region, he gave us many illuminating and attractive papers relating to the three subjects. Another in a charming vein was "A Week in a Parlor Car," an account of a trip to the south.

 

JUDGE C.W. DUSTIN was another one of our later group who brought to us a well trained mind, which made his participation in our activities always well considered and worthy of careful attention. As an enthusiastic and indefatigable traveler, he had many interesting experiences in many parts of the world, and on his returns from his journeyings, highly entertained us with accounts of what he saw and what he did, at times illustrating them with maps and pictures. We all well remember his graphic story of his experiences with Dr. Humphreys in Hawaii, Japan and Samoa, and his reminiscences of his Iceland and South American tours. One of his notable papers was on "Divorce." He quite distinguished himself as an able jurist and upright administrator in his long term of service on the bench of our county. He is young enough yet to render further valuable public service.

 

JUDGE D. B. VAN PELT, for some years on the bench in Clinton county, found time and took pleasure in a wide range of reading and general study. In addition to some excellent papers based on his professional experiences, he gave us two biographical studies in which we all took much pleasure, one on Wm. Ellery Channing and the other entitled "A Greater Than Napoleon," a fine study of the life and services of the Earl of Shaftsbury. Others of his contributions were "The Trial of Jesus" and one on "Ancestor Worship." The latter was most carefully prepared and was highly appreciated.

 

JUDGE CLEMENT R. GILMORE was a careful student of political events and of the statesmen who were prominent in our national history. He contributed a number of studies of Jefferson, John Randolph and others which graphically revived our more or less dim memories of them and added much to our knowledge and the measures they advocated, and an account of a visit to the Panama canal, was full of information very graphically given. He has a charm of diction and a warm sympathy for the lighter literature, and his humor and wit enabled him to give us some admirable papers. He has held important .positions as prosecutor and in other capacities in which his fine qualities as a man and as a student made him highly efficient.

 

SIGMUND METZLER, endowed with a very pleasant personality and manner, established himself among us as a thoughtful student of educational and many other subjects of importance. He gave us a number of much appreciated papers, expressing himself in an attractive style and diction. He was eminently successful at the head of a large and important Hickory street public school. Speaking from the standpoint of a very successful teacher, a paper of his on "corporal punishment was a highly illuminating study of an important question. Another was a paper on "The German Element in the United States," showing a broad Americanism and a proper esteem of the advantages, importance and obligations of his countrymen here. Given in a lighter and quite humorous vein, was a paper on "Fishing.”

 

RABBI DAVID LEFKOWITZ was a decidedly valuable acquisition, as he brought to us views of great subjects, religious and other, that distinguished him in some respects from the rest of us. His fine scholarship and his unusual alertness of mind and very attractive ways quickly gave him a warm place in our regard. He was always listened to with the greatest interest and attention Several of his religious offerings were given with much eloquence and power, and his part in our general discussions won our admiration. Our evenings at his hospitable home were always among our most popular ones He has won general public regard and consideration as one of the most public spirited and efficient movers in the city's philanthropic and other uplift movements. Among the attractive papers he gave us were "The Heir of the Prophets," "The Problem of Evil and another on "Tolstoi."

 

JOHN W. CARR, for several years superintendent of our public schools, was with us but one season, and in that time showed us that he had a broad and cultivated mind His papers were vigorous in spirit, and as a lover of poetry and a friend of James Whitcomb Riley, he attracted us by a sympathetic study of the Hoosier poet. He was among the prominent educators of the country, by whom he was highly regarded.

 

Of myself, as one of the original members of the club, I may venture to say that I found association with such a cultured body of men intensified the taste and interest I had fortunately acquired to some extent, at least, in my earlier life for the best in literature. As a teacher of commercial and economic subjects my reading on these topics necessarily took quite a range.

I once had a pleasant surprise when attending a convention of the National Bank Clerks' association in Detroit several years ago. One of the prominent bankers of the country, in his address to them, quoted from a paper I had read to our club on "Banking and the Currency," introducing his quotation with an announcement of my name and position, to the audience of seven hundred, who, of course, had never heard of me or the Miami Commercial College or the Saturday club. The banker was much surprised when I introduced myself after his address.

It is probably due to my enjoyment and appreciation of the Saturday club that I got my inspiration to found the Present Day club, which had so successful an existence for ten years.

Among my contributions to the club were papers on "A Plea for the Greater Utilization of Our Canals and Particularly the Miami and Erie Canal," one on "The Re-Creation of the German Empire of 1800," another on "Banking and the Currency" and one on "Wit and Humor."

I had the honor of being for some years a member of the board of education and also of the board of city examiners. As Robert W. Steele's successor as chair-man of the Library board and as chairman of the Normal School committee and of the Night School committee, I found congenial service. I also for some years had the honor of being postmaster of the city.

I have taken, I hope, a pardonable liberty in giving in this limited way my impressions of my fellow members, feeling that a bare recital of our doings would not have the personal interest or the permanent value these may have. I have aimed to tell what manner of men we were in this delightful relationship. Few men of our type can have more satisfying or more abiding memories of such association.

Of the seventeen original members, the following are dead: Samuel B. and MacLain Smith, Alfred and John H. Thomas, William Smith, Noyes, Cummin, Stivers and Conklin. Their survivors are Davies, Wood, Parrott, Thompson, Jewett, Patterson, Reeve and Wilt.

I think we all may take a pardonable and justifiable pride in our having contributed in fair measure in our day and generation to the advancement of our fine city to the proud position she holds in the world's esteem.

 

The End