All About Holgate Ohio


What Holgate was to Joe E. Brown and to me was a quiet farm town of modest means that was surrounded by flatlands and farm families. I grew up in and around Holgate.

Joe E.’s family moved to North Baltimore (East from Holgate along State Route 18), then to Toledo, Ohio, before he knew what lay in his future.

So, what about Holgate, Ohio?

Well, that first picture (ABOVE) tells the story of Holgate’s early high school history. The old school building (now long gone) stands at the right in the photo. At the left is the baseball field’s “stadium”, wooden bleachers framed by concrete walls with a high fence in front separating cheerleaders and towns-people and students from their ballplayers, for safety.

(BELOW) is the plaque that was dedicated for Joe E. during 1949 ceremonies on Joe E. Brown Day, which included a state-wide amateur baseball tournament. The plaque was cemented into the side of the stadium’s North concrete wall. Later when the old stadium was demolished and a brand new high school and elementary school were built along Joe E. Brown Avenue (State Route 18 at the Northeast side of Holgate), the cornerstone plaque went along and is currently proudly displayed there with other Holgate school memorabilia.

The plaque reads: “Joe E. Brown Stadium Holgate, Ohio Dedicated To A Great Sportsman, May 30, 1949”. Joe E. was a great baseball fan and was often photographed with area baseball teams when he visited his home town.


Here’s a brief database on our home town:
— William Kaufman first established a home in what soon became Kaufmansville, in honor of his family name. Kaufman, however, built only in the western half of an area that expanded eastward with the acquisition of more plats by the W.C. Holgate clan. Holgate’s superior monetary reaches won the battle of names in 1873 and, with western and eastern halves combined, the area was renamed Holgate.

— Northwest Ohio, where Holgate is located, was part of the state’s Black Swamp wilderness. Holgate’s and Henry County’s oldest citizen at the time, Anna Kaufman Bauer, died in 1951. She was 103-years-old and still had been able to recall the days of the Black Swamp landscape.

— Lumber was the original income generator for the Holgate area. When timber became less available as land-clearing reached further and further into the territory and the swamps were drained, farming sprung up in the flat lands. Oats and corn were planted where trees had flourished.

— Pet Milk Company (formerly of the Walgreen Company) operated in Holgate from 1926 to 1965.

— Some family business names besides Brown in Holgate included the likes of Archambeault (blacksmithing), Hornung (millinery), Burgel (lumber), Greenler (chick hatcheries), Zachrich (meat marketing), Voigt (banking), Ritz (cigar manufacturing), Overhulse (rooming house), Groll (hatcheries), Meyer (saloon), and Knapp (grocers and meats). My Grandparents Knapp were grocers in the village and my Grandpa “Ben” was a ballplayer. My parents were farmers who lived just East of the village for most of their 68 years of happily-married life.

— In 1895, the Holgate Electric Light Company took on the responsibility of providing the village with electrical services.

— Oil and gas drilling became part of the landscape by 1888, but the adventure was mostly a bust.

— J.W. Barringer became the village’s first postmaster when the post office opened its doors in 1874. Claude Archambeault later did a long stint as postmaster and was a very dear friend of Joe E. One of my father’s close friends was a Barringer.

— The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was built through Holgate in 1872, providing new income to local men.

— Joe E.’s family was involved with railroad employment, and one grandfather operated the first theatre in Holgate. It featured picture programs and stage plays long before Joe E. became the town’s most famous actor of all.


Holgate always will belong to Joe E., and it always will occupy a large part of my heart, as it did his. It’s home, still.

Photos are from the “Holgate History Book”, published by Holgate History Committee, Holgate, Ohio 43527, 1984, with generous compilations of articles, facts, and pictures contributed by Mrs. Ray Mann, Rayburn Mann, and Clarence Schudel.

— Don’t miss the humorously long attempt on the left hand side of the (ABOVE)  “playbill” to locate the small village of Holgate!

— And, yes, that is a misspelling — daimond — in the caption for the plaque dedication, which appears in the history book; fortunately, the error appears only in the caption, not on the plaque itself!)


Locating Joe E. Brown’s Birthplace




Comedian and Hollywood star Joe E. Brown was born in 1892 in the small town of Holgate, (Henry County), Ohio. And where is Holgate, Ohio? Small towns aren’t well known across the United States, so I thought it would be fun and informative to use some location maps to find Joe E.’s exact birthplace.

At the top left, Defiance County, Ohio, which borders at its left with the state of Indiana, and Henry County, Ohio, where Joe E. Brown was born, are marked in red and blue, respectively. The big city of Toledo, Ohio, is located in Lucas County (red “L”) at Lake Erie in the left corner of the northern, dipping border line with the lake.


Here, you can see Defiance (the city), capital of Defiance County; Napoleon, capital of Henry County; the little burg of New Bavaria, where Joe E.’s Grandpa Brown’s family were farmers; Pleasant Bend, which is essentially a grain elevator and carry out grocer’s village; and Holgate, where, eventually, kids from New Bavaria and Pleasant Bend attended school. Places like Hamler, Malinta, Jewel, and Florida all established their own school districts until consolidation took place in the 1960s.

Independence Dam State Park was part of the old Maumee and Erie Canal system of the 1800s, running from Cincinnati to Toledo along the Maumee River. At the park’s entry way, a portion of an old canal lock still sits as part of Ohio’s historic past.


A larger view of Northwest Ohio, above, shows Toledo (right, top, yellow), the state of Michigan border line (top, green), and Toledo’s corner of Lake Erie (right, top, blue). You can see the Maumee River trailing from Lake Erie through Toledo and angling down to Defiance.

Joe E.’s immediate family moved to Toledo “in the spring before I was seven,” he says. If you locate State Route 18 leaving Holgate and going through Hamler, Deshler, and Hoytville, you’ll see the highway comes to North Baltimore, where Joe E.’s family lived a short time between his birth in Holgate and their move to Toledo. It is Toledo, Joe E. says in his autobiography, which he most remembers as being his boyhood residence.


Holgate, Ohio,  has changed a lot from the main mud thoroughfare it was when Joe E. lived there. It’s grown and modernized, and its loyal citizenry has maintained the town’s school system, razing the old buildings at the corner of Wilhelm Street and Frazier Avenue to construct new facilities at the opposite end of town.

The tracks of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, for whom Joe E.’s Grandpa Evans worked as car inspector and water tank supervisor, pass West-East through town. His Grandpa Evans also worked for the old Clover Leaf (Nickel Plate) railroads, which tracked North-South through Holgate’s Eastern edge, but were pulled out decades ago.

The new school buildings, housing grades K-12, were built, appropriately enough, along the south side of Joe E. Brown Avenue. That avenue is also State Route 18, Holgate’s northern most street that travels out to North Baltimore.

Most of Holgate’s main businesses today are found at the north side of the old B & O tracks, along Wilhelm Street and Railway Avenue. A grain elevator and a lumber business that serve the entire county are located on Lee Avenue, the first street past the tracks.


This Holgate map blowup shows Joe E. Brown Avenue and Randolph Street. Joe E. was born in the Brown family home on Randolph Street. The house stood on the west side of Randolph Street between Pittsburgh Avenue and Chicago Avenue.