AS TIME GOES BY
Wood County History
By LOU MALLORY —
Chairperson, Wood County Historical Commission
The Life of Harry W. Meredith – Part I
Editor’s Note: For some time now, we have been seeking detailed and reliable information on the life of Harry Meredith, historically one of Mineola’s and Wood County’s most eminent citizens who became a prominent philanthropist and benefactor.
His various works have greatly benefited the city of Mineola and the county in general. This series, based on the work of Ora Bruner in her book “The Mayors of Mineola”, will likely extend to a total of three, possibly four installments over the next several weeks. The material has been slightly edited for matters of style and clarity.
The Life of Harry W. Meredith – Part I
Harrison (Harry) Wilbert Meredith, usually known as Harry W. or H.W. Meredith, was born in Leitchfield, Grayson County, Kentucky, on August 12th, 1871. His father Eleazer was born in Grayson County Kentucky on July 12th, 1831.
Among Eleazer’s varied interests were farming, real estate, rentals, a livery stable and a hotel. He died on November 21st, 1905 and was buried in the St. Augustine Cemetery at Grayson Springs.
Harry’s mother, Harriet Porter McClure Meredith, was also a native of Grayson County. She died in Leitchfield on April 28th, 1875, and was also buried in the St. Augustine Cemetery.
Harry was the seventh of the eight children born to Eleazer and Harriet. After Harriet’s death, Eleazer was married to Sallie McClure. The second of their three children, Juanita, resided in Mineola for several years with her half brother Harry.
Harry Attended the Leitchfield School, then a business college in Mattoon, Illinois. He became a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at an early age. His favorite sports then were baseball and hunting. He played on a baseball team and was also a member of the Leitchfield band. He was fond of music all his life and was one of the first in Mineola to buy the best radio set available. He did likewise when a television set could be purchased.
For several years he owned and operated a brick plant in Leitchfield. He said the crawfish put him out of business. He meant this literally, as this little crustacean kept breaking the dam which formed the pond from which water was obtained for making the brick. The fact that several buildings made from this brick are still standing in Leitchfield proves the quality of his product.
Meredith and a brother were partners in operating a dry goods store in Leitchfield for a few years. Meredith also served as a deputy sheriff for Grayson County, Kentucky.
On June 29th, 1897, Harry was married to Mary Henri Hunter of Leitchfield. Soon afterward, he became a member of the Methodist Church. An item in The Mineola Monitor of June 20th, 1907, listed Henri as a member of a social club in Mineola. Therefore, we can suppose that the Merediths had moved to Mineola in 1907 or before.
The first record of H.W. Meredith’s name in the minutes of the city of Mineola was in March 1908. His name appeared among about 75 names of men who were petitioning the city government to buy about six acres of land southeast of town for a city park, or for industrial purposes.
About that time, Harry was associated with J.C. Edelen and others in organizing and operating the Mineola State Bank. It was first located at 104 North Johnson Street, but was later moved to a building on the northwest corner at the intersection of Broad and Johnson Streets. A new building was erected there during the 1920s for the bank.
H.W. Meredith served as president of the Mineola State Bank for several years before its consolidation with the Mineola First National Bank in 1932. He remained a director with that institution until his death.
Soon after the Merediths came to Mineola, they moved to 401 North Pacific Street. In the early 1920s, they built a lovely two-story brick home at 306 North Johnson Street which was their last home.
The United States Census of 1920 showed that Mineola had a population of 2,299. It was on April 13th of that year that Harry Meredith was sworn in as mayor of Mineola. Also sworn in were Commissioners Henry Alfred (H.A.) Bowdoin and Elijah Quinton (E.Q.) Hearn.
Gus T. Bogan was reappointed city secretary and Louis A. Browning night watchman and ex officio city marshall. James P. (Jim) Hart was named city attorney and A.N. Harper street commissioner. Dr. Robert H. Coleman was made city health officer. H.A. Bowdoin was appointed mayor pro tem. John Ramey was the scavenger.
One of the first official acts of this board was to annex 11 and 7/10 acres of land to the corporate city of Mineola. This was at the request of W.A. Thomas, the owner of the land which lay just outside the city limit on the west side of North Johnson Street. Similar action had been taken in November 1913 by the city commission for W.M. (Morgan) Smith who owned land in the same vicinity.
Thomas had indicated that he wanted the conveniences offered by the city and expected to pay city taxes. After each new city map was made with changes in the city limits, there were those who were dissatisfied. Some complained when they were taken into the city limits possibly because they did not wish to pay city taxes.
The Board of Equalization of 1920 was composed of William R. Sibley, John B. Woods, and W.H. Wren.
In April 1920, Mayor Meredith appointed a City Health Board with Ethel Reitch Buchanan as chairman. Others on the board were Reba Perkins Gaston, and Charles E. Revelle. Their duties were to make recommendations to the board of commissioners regarding anything which might improve the health of the community.
Perhaps the biggest item to require the time and effort of the city board was the fact that highways were to be built through the town – one north/south and the other east/west. Money would be received from the state and the county to improve the street over which these highways would pass.
A citizen’s committee to offer advice on spending this money was composed of Louis N. Bromberg, Roy J. Gaston, and Dr. Alfred P. Buchanan. The funds were to be used to straighten, widen and grade the streets into suitable road beds so that gravel could be spread on them.
It was fortunate that North Johnson Street had been straightened a few years earlier. At this time South Johnson, which was then called Sabine Street, had to be straightened as the north/south highway would pass over it. The D.W. Crowe home, which at this time belonged to Mrs. Lulu Little, was almost in the middle of Sabine Street about one block south of the railroad track. It was condemned and moved, which added 15 feet to the width of the street.
The Huffmaster home on West Broad Street at Stone Street also had to be moved a few feet. West Broad Street ended at Stone Street and the highway had to be routed north one block to West Kilpatrick to then proceed west.
Elm trees which had been planted down the middle of East Broad Street a few years before were removed. Some of the trees were dead, and by removing all of them, the gravel could be placed down the center instead of on each side of the row of trees. This would be less expensive.
At this time the east/west highway was called the Dixie Overland Highway, and the north/south road was called the Jim Hogg Highway. We would not think of these roads now as highways as they were barely wide enough for two-way travel, straightened somewhat, and covered with red gravel. However, they were a great improvement over the previous roads which were of sand, clay, or whatever native materials were available. Cars often stalled in deep sand, wet clay, or flooded lowlands.
L.D. Callaway, Jr. was given the grading contract inside the city limits, and instructed to make a payroll each week and give it to Secretary Bogan. Callaway threw up the road beds and was especially careful at all intersections to make it easy to drive onto or off the highway. A 42-inch galvanized culvert was placed across West Broad Street two blocks west of the business district.
In January 1920, Henry Willingham was appointed marshal to take the place of Henry Williams, who was appointed street commissioner. Williams was told to collect street taxes on rainy days so he could direct the street work in fair weather.
(Part II of the story of Harry Meredith will appear in the next edition of The Gazette.)