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.