Edward W. Wilkinson

Edward W. Wilkinson’s life centered around his love of natural history, which began at an early age and culminated in his opening of the Mansfield Memorial Museum.  Edward supplied thousands of specimens, artifacts, relics and other exhibits to the museum, and built it into one of the finest in the state.  A history of the museum, and Edward’s many contributions to it, follows later in this biography.

Edward was born February 3, 1846, in Mansfield, Ohio, the middle child of Elizabeth B. (Mason) and James W. Wilkinson.  Edward had two older brothers, Samuel and William, one older sister, Isabella, and three younger sisters, Cecelia, Annie and Clara.  During their adult lives Ed and his siblings appeared to be quite close.  As young men Ed and William were in business together for a few years.  Later, William was the editor of the newspaper that Samuel owned for 10 years.  When Samuel’s wife died, leaving him with three young children, Isabella took over the role of mother to her nieces and nephew.  Samuel, William and Isabella lived together in Oberlin, Ohio, from about 1890 until Samuel’s death in 1900.  A few years after Samuel’s death, William moved back to Mansfield and lived out the rest of his life with Edward.  Edward outlived all of his siblings except his youngest sister, Clara.

Edward’s father was in the jewelry business, partner in the firm Patterson & Wilkinson.  Edward was 16 years old and attending the Mansfield public schools when his father died in 1862.  Upon the death of his father, Edward dropped out of school and would receive no further formal education.  He taught himself the many sciences associated with natural history:  botany, biology, entomology and many other -ologies.  He also taught himself taxidermy, at which he became very skilled.  Most of the specimens that survive in the museum, many over 100 years old, were preserved by Edward.

After Edward left school he learned the trade of tinsmithing, apprenticing with Levi Zimmerman, the uncle of his future wife, Mary.  Whether Mary introduced Edward to Levi, or Levi introduced Edward to Mary, it’s the chicken and the egg.  Edward worked for Levi Zimmerman for about two years before he went off to war.

In May 1864 Edward enlisted for 3 months service in the Union Army during the Civil War.  He was a private in Company A, 163rd Regiment, of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  The regiment mustered in at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, May 12, 1864.  The first assignment of the regiment was to garrison the forts northwest of Washington D. C., where they stayed until June 8th, when they were sent to support Gen. Butler during his siege of Petersburg, Virginia.  They remained near Petersburg until the end of their enlistment, providing reconnaissance, picket line duty, and assisting in the construction of a signal tower and the works known as Fort Pocahantas.  Edward’s regiment took part in only one minor skirmish during their service, and lost no members to hostile fire.  Of the approximately 800 men in the 163rd, 33 are known to have died during their service, the vast majority of deaths were due to diseases contracted as a result of the unsanitary conditions of camp life.  Edward came down with malaria near the end of his enlistment, and later in life would be granted a disability pension due to complications from the disease.  The following excerpt from his pension file gives some idea of the conditions experienced by the troops during their service:

I am personally acquainted with Edward Wilkinson and was a comrad in the same Co & Regt and in July & August we were camped at Wilson’s Landing Va. where the water used for drinking was very bad, as there was no water only such as we got from the James River.  A great many of the comrads, contracted Malaria fever, and among them was comrad Wilkinson who was very sick, and unable to do duty.  I believe he would have died had we not left there when we did.  I make this statement from personal knowledge and in my own hand writing.  Elliott A. Smith, Bucyrus. O.

Presumably, Edward wrote home during his time at the front, unfortunately, any such letters have not survived, however, some of his comrades wrote letters that were published in the local papers.  One such letter follows, it describes some of the events experienced by Edward’s regiment during their first two weeks at the front.

Mansfield Herald — July 6, 1864

Army Correspondence.

WILSON’S LANDING, June 23d, 1864.

EDS. HERALD: Presuming that the citizens of Richland would like to hear from their friends in the “Front,” I have detailed myself for the express purpose of informing them.  We left Washington on the 8th of June, about 3 o’clock, P. M., and glided down the Potomac into the Chesapeake Bay and anchored on the 2d eve, at Yorktown, Va. from Yorktown we started for the White House, where we arrived at 11 o’clock on the 10th, and found that the White House consisted of two chimneys.  I think that houses in this country are built differently from what they are in the west, for along these rivers they build the chimneys first, and I have seen a great many rebel mansions which consist of two chimneys and a cellar.  Colonel Miller and Major Campbell went ashore and reported to the commanding officer, who ordered them to Bermuda Hundred, saying that General Grant had ordered that no hundred days men should go to the front.  We arrived at Bermuda on the eve of the 11th, and anchored for the night.  The next morning at day-light, we started for Point of Rocks, a distance of six miles, and arrived at 5 A. M., and started for the front, which was a quarter of a mile distant, on the top of the hill.  We were all pretty weary and many of us sick, and confusion reigned generally, which was augmented by a rebel shell that was thrown directly over us from a Rebel Battery, about a mile distant.  It was a new kind of music to us, which we did not like at first, but upon better acquaintance we quit “dodging” and only laughed at them.  There was a large number of troops at this point, a majority of which were colored.  We were the happy recipients of a call from “Beast” Butler and staff.  The General and Colonel Miller soon became acquainted, as both of them voted in the last campaign for Breckenridge.  At the battle of Petersburg, the General reminded his [      ] of Fort Pillow, and they came in with no prisoners.

The bombarding of Fort Darling by our monitors, was distinctly heard, it being but six miles distant.  Petersburg lay to our left about four miles on an air line, and church steeples are visible to the naked eye.  The shelling of Petersburg was a terrific affair, and the smoke of the rebel battery, (which was between us and the city) could be plainly seen.  We were about eleven miles from Richmond, which was full as near the rebel capital as your correspondent wished to be at that time. - On the 16th, the 163d was called out, but got no chance to “go in.”  Lieutenant Peter Stirritt, commanded about two-hundred regulars.  Some of our command captured a knapsack with a Major’s new uniform and sash in it, which will be brought home.  The commander of the brigade complimented the 163d regiment in a special note, for discipline and bravery.  On the evening of the 16th, seventy-five men were detailed out of the 163d regiment for picket duty, and on the next morning the pickets had a severe skirmish with the rebels, and, from the sharp shooting of company B, there were two rebels short at roll call. - Co. B’s officers were highly commended by the regulars who relieved them.  Lieutenant Cracraft was like General Taylor, he didn’t know when he was whipped.  Captains Leedy, Cockly and Osborne’s men deserve their share of glory on that occasion.  On the aftermath of the 17th, the 163d and 143d were ordered without delay to report to Wilson’s Landing, twenty miles below Point of Rocks, where we arrived about midnight having had three shots fired at us by the rebels on shore, who had one small cannon.  Our gunboat soon drove them to the woods, or to more congenial quarters.

We have a very strong position, with the best kind of natural fortifications with all the art that could be commanded to strengthen them.  About four weeks ago, the rebels several thousand strong, endeavored to take this place, but were handsomely repulsed by the nine hundred negroes and one gunboat.  We now have —— thousand men, six extra siege guns, greatly improved fortifications and three gunboats.  We would laugh to see anything less than 20,000 greybacks attempt to take this place.—Colonel Miller is commandant.  On the 21st, about forty men on the “Wilson Small” made a successful raid, and brought in quite a lot of rebel cattle and sheep.  On the 22d, Captain Logan and Lieut. Cracraft selected thirty armed men out of company B. and started down the river to relieve an old planter of his chattles.  Your humble servant accompanied the squad, by special detail.  We landed at Captain Dillon’s, a noted rebel, and proceeded at once to confiscate what he had left.  We took eighty-five sheep, twenty head of cattle, three horses and seven mules.  About that time thirty negroes, (all that he had) came, and like christians, we took them in.  Other contrabands came to the boat, so that when we got ready to start we had seventy-nine Americans of “African descent” on board.  They looked back at their old homes as we sailed up the river, but wept not.  Their song was “we belong to de Union band.”  Our chaplain preached to them this afternoon, and told them to sing their own hymns, which they did.  The services were more amusing than instructive.  The oldest one is one hundred and three years old and the youngest three weeks.  It is somewhat dangerous to be in the army, but after all I think it pays very well.  One house that the boys “went for,” was in a few minutes the worst looking house that I ever saw.  The floor was covered with rubbish, and everything that could be used was taken away.  Some of the boys had forty or fifty pounds of old trash, and I saw one fellow disembowel the clock and hang the works on his bayonet and start off.  Nearly every tent has some pot, or skillet, plate or tea pot, or some ornament or useful implement taken in our raid.  We have large rose wood tables and silver-ware which was captured, and we are using Ex-President Tyler’s chairs in our office.  They are solid rose wood with silk plush bottoms and backs.  His residence is four miles from here.  He is dead and had no more use for them so the boys “went for them” and got them.  His large looking glasses all got broke, and the piano is terribly out of tune, the keys are all broken, and as broken keys are of no use, the boys made rings out of them.  If I don’t get killed with a shell I shall write again.

R. B. M.

A few relics from Edward’s brief stint as a soldier have survived and are on display in the museum:  a pass dated June 8th, 1864, from Fort Reno, and two knapsacks that he carried during his service.  The regiment mustered out on September 10, 1864 at Camp Chase.  There was a large reception for the regiment when it returned to Mansfield.  A band played as the men marched from the train depot to Sturges’ Hall, where dinner was followed by an impromptu speech given by the Honorable John Sherman.  The evening was capped off by a fireworks display.

When Edward returned to civilian life he continued practicing his trade.  He was granted a patent in 1866 for a device to assist in soldering eavetroughs (known as gutters today).




Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 57,237, dated August 14, 1866.

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that I, E. WILKINSON, Jr., of Mansfield, in the county of Richland and State of Ohio, have invented new and useful Improvements in Soldering Eave-Troughs; and I do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description thereof, which will enable those skilled in the art to make and use the same, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, forming part of this specification.

The present invention relates to a new and improved holder for eave-troughs while being soldered, whereby the work can be accomplished with much greater facility and much more evenly and better than by the old method heretofore practiced, as will be obvious from the following detail description thereof, reference being had to the accompanying plate of drawings, of which—

Figure 1 is a plan or top view; Fig. 2, a transverse vertical section taken in the plane of the line x x, Fig. 1; and Fig. 3, a detail view, to be hereinafter referred to.

A in the drawings represents the holder for the eave-trough while being soldered, which consists of a hollow concave bed, B, corresponding in transverse section to the shape of the trough in which it is placed, with the two ends of its sections which are to be soldered together overlapping each other, in which position they are firmly held by clamps C C, hinged to one side of the bed B, and of suitable shape that when swung down to and upon the eave-trough they will firmly bind the

same around and in the concave bed B, these clamps being secured by interlocking their hooks D in the fixed staples E of the concave bed B, or in any other suitable manner.  The concave bed is supported at each end upon end pieces, F, suitably cut out therefor, and each having a circular-shaped groove cut in the same, in which fits a corresponding shaped rib or flange, b, upon the under side of the concave bed, whereby the trough-holder can be turned sufficiently to enable the solder to flow freely and level itself upon the joint of the trough.

From the above description it is plain to be seen that the soldering of the eave-trough can be accomplished with the utmost facility and in a much better manner than the ordinary mode heretofore practiced, and, furthermore, rendered much stronger and more durable, the importance of all of which is obvious.

The clamps C may be connected together, if desired, in such manner as to be all opened and closed together and at one and the same time.

I claim as new and desire to secure by Letters Patent—

The frame F and flanges b, in combination with the concave bed B, having clamps C C, all constructed and arranged together substantially as and for the purpose specified.





Edward spent about one year in Kendallville, Indiana, apparently following his future wife, whose family had moved there in July, 1865.  He returned to Mansfield in 1867 and opened a stove and tinware business with his brother William.  In the following business advertisements notice that they made spouting a specialty.

The Mansfield Herald

May 6, 1868





W. H. WILKINSON & BROTHER having moved into their new room in the GEDDES BLOCK, respectfully call the attention of the public to their fine assortment of






House Furnishing Goods.

They will keep constantly on hand all the leading CookStoves, such as the






Also the celebrated


The best stove in the market.

SPOUTING put up on the shortest notice

and at the lowest prices.

Repairing Promptly Attended to.

The highest cash price paid for old copper and brass. Remember the place, the room formerly occupied by Peck & Bradford in the Geddes Block.


The Mansfield Herald

May 13, 1869



Geddes’ Block,



Clothes Wringers,

Meat Broilers,



Japaned and Pressed Ware,



SHEET IRON, &c., &c.

Sole Agents for the


One of the best in the market.

Special Attention paid to Spouting.

Repairing promptly attended to.





Edward and William sold their business in 1870.  Edward then worked for the Aultman-Taylor Company, a farm machinery manufacturer.  Except for two periods of time spent in Mexico, Edward remained in the employ of that company until he became curator of the Mansfield Memorial Museum in 1891.

Edward married Mary Zimmerman, October 8, 1867, in Mansfield, Ohio.  Soon after their marriage, the couple moved into the house that would be their home for the rest of their lives, 219 West Fifth St.  The couple had four children:  Minnie, was born May 1, 1868; Mae Belle, March 19, 1872; Harry J., October 18, 1873; and Nellie January 5, 1878.

Minnie died at age two, August 28, 1870.  Mae Belle graduated from the Mansfield public schools in 1890.  She became a teacher, and taught for 43 years at the West Fifth St. elementary school, 41 years teaching first-graders in the same classroom.  The school building she taught in was the same that she attended as a child.  Mae Belle never married, and lived her entire life at the family home.  After her retirement she ran a pre-school out of her home.  She died at age 77, October 17, 1949.  As a young man Harry was a carpenter for the S. N. Ford Co.  He married Teresa Wervey June 11, 1902, in Mansfield.  They had three children.  He was employed as a draftsman for the Ohio Brass Co. for 33 years.  He died at age 71, June 17, 1945.  Nellie married Gaylord Bahl, December 25, 1901.  They had three children.  She died at age 78, September 2, 1956.

Mary Zimmerman, the older of the two daughters of Ezekiel Zimmerman (brother of Levi) and Eliza McCaully, was born April 18, 1842.  Mary was about 2 years older than her sister Martha.  Their mother, Eliza, died when Mary was 10 years old.  Ezekiel then married Francina Donaldson and had four more children.  The family moved several times over the next few years.  First to Iowa, where they stayed for about two years before returning to Mansfield.  After a few more years the family moved again, settling in Indiana, where Edward spent a year before bringing Mary back to Mansfield to be married.

Martha lived with Ed and Mary all of her adult life, until her untimely death by suicide in October, 1877.  Martha had never married and was quite depressed over being a 33 year old spinster.  On a Sunday afternoon when the rest of the family was visiting friends she ingested a lethal dose of arsenic, which Edward kept in the house for use in his taxidermy.  When the family returned, Martha complained of stomach pains and went upstairs to bed.  Later, Mary called up to her sister, and there was no response, a doctor was called for, but nothing could be done, and Martha died that evening.  An autopsy confirmed the cause of death as arsenic poisoning and it was ruled a suicide after a coroner’s inquest.

Edward spent two extended periods of time in Mexico where he collected many specimens that eventually would become exhibits in the Mansfield museum and other prestigious museums around the country.  He had this opportunity because his uncle, John Riley Robinson, owned silver mines in Mexico, and employed Edward and his brother Samuel at the mines.  Samuel was superintendent of the mines for 30 years.  He left behind a record of what life was like at the silver mines, as well as descriptions of what travel between Ohio and Mexico was like in the 1860’s by the many “Life in Mexico” articles that were published in the Mansfield and Monroeville newspapers (see “Damon”).

The first time Edward went to Mexico was in December, 1873, just a few months after the birth of his son Harry.  Edward took his wife, 18 month-old daughter, and 2 month-old son with him on this trip, which seems extraordinary when one considers the arduous journey involved in reaching the mines, the meager existence they could expect to live in remote Mexico, and the dangers of rebels raiding the mines.  Also, two of J. R. Robinson’s sons had died there of typhoid fever.  By today’s standards it doesn’t sound like an inviting place to take your family, but Edward did.  The family stayed in Mexico for about 2½ years, upon the family’s return to Mansfield, a brief description of their travels was published in the local newspaper:

Mansfield Herald — March 23, 1876

The many friends of Mr. Edward Wilkinson, Jr., will be glad to learn that he, his wife, and children arrived home, on Wednesday evening of last week, from the silver mines of Batopilas, in the state of Chihuahua (Chi-wa-wa), Mexico - a distance of 3500 miles from here.  They left there on the sixth of January, coming by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and were consequently sixty-nine days on the route.  Mr. Wilkinson and his family left Mansfield in the winter of 1873, being absent two years and three months.  He brought with him many rare and curious specimens of the animal, vegetable, and mineral resources of Mexico; birds, beasts, and creeping things innumerable.  He purposes, we believe, remaining here for the present - at least he will not return to Mexico.

Edward’s second trip to Mexico lasted about two years, from 1884 to 1886, this time leaving his wife and family in Ohio.  Edward was involved in a near fatal accident while working at the mines on this trip.  He was riding on the mine’s train when it overturned, one man was kllled, one suffered no injuries, and Edward's legs were badly burned.  The incident is described below:

Monroeville Spectator, Feb. 5, 1885


One Man Killed, another Fearfully Scalded.

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico, Jan. 22—Mr. S. M. Wilkinson writes a private letter to the editor of this paper giving the particulars of a fearful accident that befel his brother, Mr. E. Wilkinson, who is the engineer at the Santa Eulalia silver mines.  We quote:  “Santa Eulalia has a new railroad not yet well ballasted at the end next the mill, and the same company has a new engine named ‘Don Juan.’  Yesterday at five P.M. Ed stepped into the cab of Don Juan to take a short ride.  The engineer E. C. Cook, and fireman, Jesus Gomez (a boy about eighteen), were the remaining occupants of the cab.  The engine started with 120 pounds of steam on, but it didn’t stay on very long—which I mean neither the steam nor the engine.  She had hardly gone twenty feet before the track gently sagged down on one side and up on the other, and quicker than you could say ‘Scat!’ over went Don Juan flat on his or her side, and then the trouble began.  Cook jumped as soon as he felt her going over, but Ed and Gomez clung to the sides of the cab.  They would not have been injured a particle if the fall had not knocked off the escape valve and a couple of other valves, allowing dense clouds of steam and gallons of red-hot water to pour out with immense force, striking against the roof of the cab and flying about in every direction.  You see, the roof and floor of the cab now formed two perpendicular walls six feet high, and the only outlet was a space of about two feet right where Ed happened to light.  He was so blinded by the steam that he didn’t know where he was, but he made a frantic dash on all fours and fortunately escaped; but all the same got his legs horribly scalded.  His salvation was due to his heavy overcoat which was soaked with hot water that didn’t reach the skin.  Gomez had nothing on but a shirt and a pair of thin pants, and aside from that he didn’t know how to get out, so he had to stay in till the steam was exhausted, and then he saw his way out.  He was completely cooked and died at eleven P.M.  The news of Ed’s misfortune was at once telephoned to me, and in a very brief space of time Uncle and I were driving at full speed to the mill, with a supply of oil, lime water, cotton batting, and bandages.  Ed was suffering intense pain, but a hypodermic injection of morphine calmed him down.  His clothes had to be cut off from him with a pair of scissors, the ointment, cotton, and bandages were applied, and in two hours afterward he was free from all pain and resting easy.  At present writing he is out of danger.”

A few notes about the above article.  S. M. Wilkinson is Edward’s brother Samuel.  The “editor of this paper” is Edward’s other brother William.  “Uncle" is John Jobinson, who is also known as “Don Juan.”

The following letter written by Edward while in Mexico to Prof. S. F. Baird of the Smithsonian, descibes some of the work Edward did collecting specimens for other institutions around the country, and also shows some of Edward’s satirical wit.

Chihuahua Nov. 12/85

Prof. S. F. Baird,

Dear Sir,

A letter from Mr. H. Howard Benedict of El Paso, under date of Sept. 9, informed me that he had forwarded the box of Snakes and Lizards to the Smithsonian Inst. of which I wrote you at the time, and since which time I have heard nothing more from them, and naturally enough I am wondering if they ever got to their destination, or were lost by the way, or came to life again, and made good their escape, or possibly have been received, and your acknowledgement lost before reaching me, all of which would be gratifying to know, so that in case they didn’t turn up I could institute a search for them.  I trust you will inform me at your earliest convinience, that I may be after them before they get too much the start of me.  I sent my botanical collection to my home yesterday (in company with Mr. Pringle’s) which number over 9000 specimens, and when I return and get them sorted over I will send you a set.  I am now collecting bird skins since the cold weather has stopped my botanizing, and am meeting with fairly good success. Am in hopes Mr. Pringle will be able to visit the Batopilas district in the Spring, as the superior advantages we can give him here will enable him to work up the Botany of that section to a wonderful extent.  Hoping to hear from you soon I remain

Most Respectfully Yours

E. Wilkinson

Coming “soon” - The rest of Edward’s life.