Thomas Clemons’ lengthy career included timber, newspapers, a bank and civic service
Clemons Park is located on the empty corner lot on the southeast corner of the intersection of Hickory St. and Fourth Ave.
Today, it’s considered a passive park without any development in the over 50 years its been in the city’s park portfolio.
Many of us know the origin of some park names – Beaty and Betts first come to mind. But the story of Clemons is less known.
It’s named after Thomas Clemons.
And he goes back to Warren’s very early days.
Clemons was born in 1802 in Franklin, according to information from the Warren County Historical Society. When he was 16, he moved to Meadville and was “bound” to learning the tanner’s trade as an apprentice. For that period, he was in essence an indentured servant – he offered his work (in this case, two and a half years) in exchange for the training he would receive.
He appears to have completed the apprenticeship but he didn’t stay in the field.
Clemons moved to Warren and was primarily involved in lumber and printing.
I didn’t know until I was significantly down the road of figuring out who this guy was that he was heavily involved in several early newspaper ventures – the Warren Gazette (1829-1831), The Voice of the People (1829-1836), Democratic Advocate (1839-1847) and then the Warren Ledger.
The Ledger had the most significant staying power as it was in operation from 1894 until 1888.
Clemons, per the Historical Society, was a staunch Democrat (the more conservative party of the day). He was sympathetic to the plight of the southern states but supported the Union war effort during the Civil War.
He married in 1830 and had nine children and built the family home where Clemons Park is now located.
While it’s fair to call Clemons politically-minded, he was also civic-minded.
He served on the town council in the 1830s, 1840s and again in the 1860s and was also county treasurer and prothonotary for a time.
“During the panic and depression of 1857 the local school system had no money to purchase books,” according to the Historical Society. “Mr. Clemons sold some of his property, bought a set of books and had his children copy them to provide more books for the schools.”
Schenck’s History of Warren County details some of Clemons’ other initiatives.
Here’s an odd one – in 1835, the town must have had a dog problem. Clemons was one of over 30 (other familiar names include Struthers, Morrison, Tanner and Hackney) to sign on to the following statement:
“We whose names are undersigned do hereby agree to indemnify and keep free from all damages that may or shall legally accrue, to any person or persons, who shall kill any dog or dogs that shall be found running at large in the streets of the borough of Warren, the property of any citizen or other person residing in said borough for the space of three months from the date hereof, or any dog or dogs found as aforesaid without any owner or person along with them, claiming the ownership of them, for the space of time above mentioned. Warren, February 2, 1835.”
Back to the realm of the more normal, Clemons was one of the original directors of the Warren County Bank that was chartered by the General Assembly in the 1852-1853 session.
The Warren Mail in the Nov. 24, 1854 edition outlined the significance of that effort for the development of the community.
“Today our bank is in the flood tide of operation. Certainly there never was more need of a Bank here, or a more favorable time for one to commence operations, and we hope it may have a long career of usefulness and prosperity.”
Schenck concludes that the bank was handled well here but finance troubles in New York City “where its finances were really controlled” challenged the effort as those investors “put into circulation more of the bank’s issue than could be taken care of at home.”
Clemons lived in the home on the corner of Fourth Ave. and Hickory St. until he died at the age of 69 in March 1872. He is buried at Oakland Cemetery.
Information from the Historical Society indicates that the home was razed in 1966.
According to the City of Warren, what we now know as Clemons park was donated to the city that same year by the DeFrees family.