Locating Joe E. Brown’s Birthplace

 

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OH-IO !

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Laughter is a Wonderful Thing

The pictures I attached to the above sticky post of this blog are from my scrapbook of 1964 and 1965, when I worked for the Northwest-Signal newspaper in Napoleon, Ohio — the first time. I also worked at that paper, and several other local ones, during the 1980s and 1990s.

As a nineteen-year-old, I did my first stint with the Signal and had my personal meeting with Joe E. Brown. Yes, that’s his genuine autograph up there, along with a snapshot of the article I wrote from my interview with him in 1965 as he visited his hometown for what became the last time. He died in 1973.

Joe E. had his autobiography (as told to Ralph Hancock), “Laughter is a Wonderful Thing”, published in 1956 when he was 64. He gives his birthdate as July 28, 1892. You may find different facts and dates at Wikipedia, but we’ll stick with the facts and dates from Joe E.’s own words.

As a library worm in elementary school, I read the autobio of Holgate’s most famous son with great interest. I was 10 in 1956 and already knew that I would be interested in writing the rest of my life. By the time Joe E. was 10, he had decided he wanted to be an acrobat, and he was already employed as such with The Five Marvelous Ashtons, a troupe housed at the Valentine Athletic Club of Toledo, Ohio.

I also remember very well as a school kid watching “Elmer the Great”, one of Joe E.’s black and white baseball flicks, on our old console television that sat at the far north end of our spacious living room. The picture was shown on a matinee movie feature program that came on at 4 p.m., an after school treat. Did Joe E. really have a wider than wide, elastically-lipped mouth? Oh, my, yes; and it embarrassed him when he was a youngster, but he grew “accustomed to living with it” he said in his autobio, even to the point of it “bringing me over $300,ooo a year, and the greater reward of millions of laughs”.

That’s quite a payroll for learning to turn lemons into lemonade!