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RG 31/5 - The City of Oberlin
Administrative History

Oberlin began as John J. Shipherd's and Philo Penfield Stewart's conception of an ideal community existing "for the express purpose of glorifying God and doing good to men to the extent of our (the colonist's) ability" [the original Covenant]. The Covenant was written in 1833 and signed by all the colonists. Oberlin's ideals were laid out in the 12 points of the Covenant. They involved living in materialistic humbleness and spiritual wealth. The early years were marked by a continual struggle with poverty, debt and outside opposition. Municipal government originally took the form of the Oberlin Society, a religious and secular organization incorporated in 1834. As a society, it was unsure of its civic authority since Ohio laws vested such authority only in villages, towns, or cities. Therefore, in 1846 Oberlin incorporated as a village.

From 1846 to the late 1890's, nominations for village positions were made at a town caucus and the elections were held without party tickets. The town caucus simply involved a gathering of all members of the community to make nominations and cast their ballots one at a time. In 1897, village council member H. J. Clark moved to abandon this system because of its inefficiency. He maintained that the long evening prevented many of the best citizens from attending because they were aged or ill and physically unable to endure the evening. Because of the system's imperfections, citizen could vote more than once and non-citizens and minors would vote. Oberlin then adopted a system of municipal partisan caucuses which nominated candidates. With each nominee listed on a ballot, individuals of voting age cast their votes. Each voter's name was duly recorded to prevent anyone from voting more than one time.

From 1923 to 1956, the village of Oberlin was governed by a village council of five members elected for two year terms. The council, composed primarily of local Republican businessmen, hired a village manager who was responsible for administering the city government. In 1951 Oberlin was proclaimed a city. The charter for the City of Oberlin was drafted in 1954 and passed in 1956. The new charter added two members to City Council, defined procedures for hiring and dismissing the City Manager, strengthened the Civil Service Commission, created a board for the administration of the Allen Memorial Hospital, made elections nonpartisan and concentrated as much authority in the City Council as possible. The nonpartisan primaries led to increased factional competition cutting across party lines, much greater representation of Democrats and increased citizen participation in elections.

The current organization of Oberlin's government begins with citizens electing seven council members. The council appoints a City Manager, a City Clerk, a City Solicitor, and a City Auditor. The City Manager supervises the Executive Secretary, Grounds Director, Chief of Police, the administer of the Equal Employment Opportunity/ Affirmative Action Office, the City Engineer, Electric Systems Director and the Fire Chief. The City Solicitor supervises the City Prosecutor. The City Auditor administers three Finance and Utility Clerks.

Oberlin's village/city government has served the community for over a century and a half by providing, among other services, fire protection, water and sanitation service, and a municipal hospital. The first fire engine, a small hand engine, was procured in 1844. In 1852, the Oberlin Fire Department was organized and equipped with two new hand engines. The Hook and Ladder Company was formed in about 1860. The company won several prizes in tournaments held in Cleveland. About 1872 a hose cart was bought.

In 1886, motivated by previous fire losses and the scarcity of water, a bill was passed for Oberlin to build its first Water Works plant. The Water Works has been periodically improved through building reservoirs and improving the plant itself. Oberlin installed America's first lime-soda municipal water softening plant in 1901. This plant is known among civil engineers as a major advancement in the treatment of water. In 1915 a commission reported to the mayor that the Water Works was inefficient due to a lack of "mutual confidence" between the members of the Board of Public Affairs and employees of the board. This report led the way for continued improvements in the Water Works. The lime-soda plant was abandoned due to inadequate water supply from the Vermillion River. Oberlin's water now comes from the West Branch of the Black River.

In 1907, the Oberlin Hospital Association was formed in response the lack of an adequate place to recuperate from diseases and to perform surgery. 204 members paid a membership fee of five dollars each which created the initial funds for the hospital. The first hospital was a rented house on Cedar Street with 9 beds, an operating room and a sitting room. In its first year of operation the hospital serviced 78 patients who were equally divided between towns people and college students. The hospital fair, bazaar or festival has successfully raised money for the hospital since 1912 when it was originated by the Ladies Auxiliary. Dr. Dudley Peter Allen willed the college 100,000 dollars to build a hospital. In 1925, the Allen Hospital opened with a 25 bed capacity. Since the College owned the hospital, the Oberlin Hospital Association disbanded. In 1954 ownership and management of the hospital was transferred from the College to the City.

Mayors of Oberlin Oberlin City Managers
Lewis Holtslander 1847, 1848 Don Herrick 1925-1928
Isaac Jennings 1849 Leon Sears 1928-1935
O. R. Ryder 1850 H. V. Zahn 1935-1952
J.W. Merrill 1851 Phillip Zahn 1952-1955
Uriah Thompson 1852 Fred Weisbrod 1956-1957
James Dascomb 1853 Richard Dunn 1958-1963
O. R. Ryder 1854 Donald Marquis 1963-1967
J. W. Merrill 1855 Edward Smith 1967-1971
David Brokaw 1856, 1857 Tom Dalton 1971-1978
A. N. Beecher 1858, 1859 Sherry Suttles 1979-1982
Samuel Hendry 1860, 1861 Dale S. Sugerman 1982-1988
J.M. Ellis 1862, 1863 Deborah Kimble 1989-1992
Samuel Plumb 1864, 1865 Ron Twining (acting) 1993
E. J. Goodrich 1866, 1867 Gary Goddard 1993-1996
G. W. Shurtleff 1868 Rob DeSpirito 1996-
W. H. Backus 1869-1873    
Montraville Stone 1874, 1875    
George F Hutchins 1876, 1877    
J. B. T. Marsh 1878-1881    
J. B. Clarke 1881-1884    
Charles Metcalf 1884-1888    
Arden Dale (died in office) 1888-1892    
O. F. Carter (filled vacancy)      
A. G. Comings 1892-1896    
Alfred Fauver (died in office) 1896-1904    
M. G. Dick (filled vacancy)      
O.F. Carter 1904-1908    
Joseph Wolfe (died in office) 1908-1910    
C. P. Doolittle (filled vacancy)      
J. D. Yocom 1912-1918    
W. H. Phillips 1918-1922    
H. F. Smith 1922-1926    
Sources Consulted

"America's First Municipal Lime-Soda Softening Plant is Replaced," Raymond Fuller and Kenneth W. Cosens.

"Charter: City of Oberlin," Adopted 1954, took effect 1956 Conversations with various city officials

"Here is Oberlin, An Intro to the Town," by Paula Silberstein and Tom Ward, 1969

A letter to the Board of Commerce, c.1897 signed by H.J. Clark and committee. (RG 31/3)

"Oberlin City Council: Advisory Committee Relationships," by Kim D. Amponsah, 1981 (see the 31/5 case file)

Oberlin Colony, A Story of a Century, Wilbur Phillips.

Oberlin Community History, by Allan Patterson, State College PA: Josten, 1981

Oberlin News Tribune, April 4, 1972 and December 1, 1983.

A Standard History of Lorain County Ohio, G. Frederick Wright.

 
 
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