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Ward-Thomas Museum

Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums

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Joseph Butler

Ward — Thomas Museum
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Joseph G. Butler Jr. at the age of 11 from a daguerreotype taken in Warren in 1851.

Joseph G. Butler Jr. at the age of 11 from a daguerreotype taken in Warren in 1851. PO1.1090

Joseph G. Butler, Jr. 1841-1927 PO1.1091

Joseph Butler

When recalling the most prominent citizens of Niles, Joseph Green Butler Jr. would have to be near the top of the list. Wikipedia describes him as an industrialist, philanthropist and popular historian.

Many are familiar with his Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown which he established in 1919 with his personal art collection. It was the first art museum dedicated to American Art and is known worldwide today.

He is also known for spearheading the construction of the McKinley National Birthplace Memorial in downtown Niles honoring his boyhood friend William McKinley Jr.

Butler was integrally involved in the transition of the iron industry as it turned into steel production in the Mahoning Valley. He was a founder of the Ohio Steel Company which eventually evolved into a part of U.S. Steel. He served on the board and was a director of many businesses and industries. All these activities led him to being personally acquainted with every president from Abraham Lincoln to Calvin Coolidge.

Joseph Green Butler Jr. was born December 21, 1840 in Mercer County, PA where his father, Joseph Green Butler Sr. had constructed a blast furnace. The furnace had been named “Temperance” for his wife, Temperance Orwig Green.

Within a few months of Joseph Jr.’s birth the Butler family moved to Niles so the father could manage the company store for James Ward and use his expertise in iron making. Such a close relationship formed between the two families that Joseph Jr. always referred to the Wards as “Uncle James” and “Aunt Eliza”.

The younger Butler’s only formal education consisted of a few months each winter at the old “White School House”. However it was here that he formed a life-long friendship with his younger classmate, William McKinley who would later become the 25th President of the United States.

Butler related the story that the two friends would often go swimming and one day McKinley got behind his depth. Joseph tried to save William and had it not been for a mill worker, Jacob Shelar, they both may have lost their lives.

The last time the two friends talked, McKinley was on his way to Buffalo and Butler urged him to be more careful about his safety. After the assassination of McKinley, Butler felt the need to pay tribute to his friend. Using his own money and soliciting donations from many others, the McKinley Memorial was erected on the very site of their boyhood school.

Niles Village school

Niles Village school - copied from Butler's "Men & events." The little white schoolhouse is the only school shown on the map of 1844 and was located where the McKinley Memorial now stands. This is the school William McKinley attended until the age of nine and where he was a pupil of Maria Bolin Kyle and Abbe Sanford. The girls were seated on one side of the room and the boys on the other side. PO1.1169

Residence of Jacob Shelar

Residence of Jacob Shelar, a contemporary and personal friend of both William McKinley and Joseph Butler. Shelar was credited with saving the lives of both men in a drowning incident. The home was located in south Niles.

President McKinley's first grade teacher in carriage.

President McKinley's first grade teacher in carriage. This was taken at a parade in Niles (unknown date) taken by May Unger John, mother of George John. PO1.351

Joseph Butler began working for his father in the rolling mill store of James Ward and Company at the age of thirteen. He would clerk from early morning until 9:00 in the evening. Here he taught himself Welsh to better help his many immigrant customers from Wales. Part of Butler’s duties included the care of the company’s buggy which he could borrow when not in use. This enabled him to visit the local girls in style. Needless to say the rig was well taken care of.

One day in 1856 Mr. Ward came to the rolling mill store looking for a boy to replace a drunk shipping clerk. He picked Joseph over several older boys. Butler successfully completed the task of loading the canal boat and suggested several cost-cutting measures. This led to his eventually becoming manager of the rolling mill and thus sparking the desire to become an iron master.

On the occasion of Joseph Butler’s 21st birthday, Colonel Josiah Robbins and his wife hosted a reception in their home, the first built on Robbins Avenue. It was attended by many friends and associates. Butler stated that, “he would strive in his life to be worthy of the many fine things said to him that night.” He would make good on that promise.

When “Uncle James” approached him to become business and office manager of the company, Joseph felt he did not have enough education. So he attended Duff’s Commercial College in Pittsburgh, completing a 6 week course in 3 while staying with Jerod Brush, a future mayor of Pittsburgh.

About this time his father was elected Sheriff of Trumbull County. Joseph Jr. did not move with his family to Warren. He chose to stay with his job in Niles and took up residence with “Uncle James” and “Aunt Eliza”. His friendship with James Ward Jr. deepened and was a groomsman when Ward married. Ironically, it was Sheriff Joseph Butler Sr. who went to Canada to retrieve the suspects who murdered James Ward Sr. Joseph Butler Jr. served as a pallbearer at the funeral to his foster father. Butler saw a need to aid in the education of the local youth while managing the company. So he conducted night school for the boys working in the Niles mill at no charge. There was an overflow crowd even on Saturday night.

Although three of the Butler boys fought in the Civil War, Joseph felt he could better serve the Union by increasing iron production. In 1863 Joseph began his notable career outside of Niles. He was offered a job with Hale and Ayer of Chicago as they were looking to invest in steel in the Mahoning Valley. This offer was only considered when it was determined the James Ward Jr. could assume his duties at the company. This led to Butler’s association with Brier Hill Steel, the Ohio Steel Company, Youngstown Sheet and Tube and various other concerns as a successful businessman.

In his book, Recollections of Men and Events, Joseph Butler states that, “There is no doubt in my mind that ’Uncle James’, as we all affectionately called him, although he was not a relative by blood, changed the course of my life and that I owe him the opportunity to succeed, as well as much of whatever is worthwhile in my later life.” In his personal life, Joseph was married to his wife, Harriet Ingersoll, for almost 60 years and enjoyed being a father to two daughters and a son, Blanche, Grace and Henry.

Just as Joseph Butler never forgot Niles, his hometown always remembered him. Saturday October 23, 1920 was declared Butler Day by Mayor Charles Crow. The community celebrated with a mile long four division parade. This culminated in the unveiling of a bust of Butler himself.

Joseph Green Butler Jr. died December 20, 1927 on the eve of his 87th birthday. Niles Mayor Harvey Kistler urged workers to stop work for two minutes at 3:00 p.m. on the day of his funeral, “to reflect and meditate on the life of this great man and his influence both on the nation and this community". Flags were flown at half-mast and it was dedicated as Joseph G. Butler Day. Niles mourned the loss of their ‘Uncle Joe’ as he was lovingly known to his friends, colleagues and the citizens of Niles. Thelma Snyder NHS

A photo made of a picture in the newspaper of the children of the "Little White Schoolhouse" where President McKinley attended.

A photo made of a picture in the newspaper of the children of the "Little White Schoolhouse" where President McKinley attended. Among others, Joseph Butler and Maria Heaton are in the front row. Dated August 27, 1909.

The Dollar Savings Bank Company building is in the background. PO1.1772

A drawing of the Ohio - Pennsylvania canal taken from the Joseph Butler book; "Men & Events"

A drawing of the Ohio - Pennsylvania canal taken from the Joseph Butler book; "Men & Events". PO1.1416

Postcard of the front view of the McKinley Memorial shortly after its completion.

Postcard of the front view of the McKinley Memorial shortly after its completion. PO1.2029

James Ward-pioneer ironmaster of the Mahoning Valley.

James Ward-pioneer ironmaster of the Mahoning Valley. Born November 25, 1813 in Staffordshire, England and came to America in 1817. He came to Niles from Pittsburgh in 1841 and founded James Ward & CO. He was shot to death on July 24, 1864. PO1.1118

The building of the Memorial was made possible by the donations of many people.

The building of the Memorial was made possible by the donations of many people. The donations ranged from pennies from the school children to the $50,000.00 from Henry Clay Frick. PO1.766

A photo of the front page on a day

Niles Daily News - October 23, 1920.

A photo of the front page on a day
when Niles honored Joseph Butler, Jr. PO1.1092

$50,000 check donated by Henry Clay Frick.

$50,000 check donated by Henry Clay Frick.
Mr. Frick's donation was specifically to be used for a library inside the Memorial. PO1.765

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