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George Worthington (September 21, 1813 – November 9, 1871) was a 19th-century merchant and banker in Cleveland, Ohio, who founded the Geo. Worthington Company, a wholesale hardware and industrial distribution firm, in 1829 (until 1991 Cleveland's oldest extant business), as well as numerous banking and mining concerns, and contributed to the early commercial and industrial development of Cleveland.
Early life and family
George Worthington was born in Cooperstown, New York, to Clarissa (née Clarke) and Ralph Worthington, a banker and manufacturer, who had moved to Cooperstown from his birthplace of Colchester, Connecticut, at a young age. Worthington was also second cousins with the American engineer Henry Rossiter Worthington of New York.
The Worthington family had resided in Connecticut ever since Ralph Worthington's great-great-great grandfather, Nicholas Worthington, Esq., a Royalist during the English Civil War. Nicholas had fled England in 1649, when King Charles I had been beheaded and Oliver Cromwell had confiscated his family lands, to settle in Saybrook, Connecticut, as one of the colony's founders.There is only circumstantial evidence that Nicholas held lands in England, as he was not the head of the Worthington family in Lancashire, England.
George, like his father, left home at an early age and commenced his business career in Utica, New York in 1830, by entering the hardware store of James Sayers. There, he remained four years when, having acquired a thorough knowledge of the business, he moved to Cleveland, where he established himself in business in 1835. Cleveland at that time was but a village with a population of about seven hundred.
On November 16, 1840, Worthington married Maria Cushman Blackmar, and soon after, moved into his newly constructed home on Euclid Avenue, the street which would, in the second half of the 19th century, come to be known as Millionaire's Row. Maria C. Worthington had eight children; five girls and three boys, one of each dying in infancy, leaving his two sons, Ralph and his younger brother, George Jr., to inherit their father's business interests upon his death in 1871.
George's first store occupied the ground on which now stands the Bethel Building. Afterwards, he purchased the stock of Cleveland, Sterling & Co., on the corner of Water and Superior streets, where the National Bank buildings now stand, and associated with himself as business partner of Mr. William Bingham. In 1841, Mr. Bingham sold out his interest.
A few years later, Mr. Worthington associated himself with his cousin Mr. James Barnett and Mr. Edward Bingham. In around 1862, Mr. Worthington projected the Cleveland Iron and Nail Works, and, in connection with Mr. William Bingham, matured the plans and, within a year, got the machinery into successful operation. Shortly afterwards, they built works for the manufacturing of a gas pipe. He was also largely interested in blast furnaces.
On the passage of the National Bank Law, Mr. Worthington, with other capitalists, organized the First National Bank of Cleveland. The bank was incorporated in 1863, and at the first meeting of the stockholders, held in June of that year, he was chosen as one of the directors and elected president of the bank. He held this position until his death.
In 1865, Worthington was among the Cleveland businessmen who organized the Hahnemann Life Insurance Company (named for German physician Samuel Hahnemann), the first such firm in the U.S. to offer to insure those whose medical belief and practice were exclusively homeopathic, at lower rates than those subjecting themselves to traditional medical treatment; as some contemporary evidence showed a lower rate of mortality under the former. This was the first western insurance company admitted into the state of New York. Worthington was also a director of the Ohio Savings and Loan Bank, for some years a director of the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway Company, and was president of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company. He was also one of the pioneers in the development of the iron interests of Cleveland, which from a small beginning have since assumed such immense proportions.
Architecture and development
Generating annual revenues in excess of $1 million within a few years of its founding in 1829, the George Worthington Co. constantly required relocation to larger facilities. In 1882, the hardware-wholesale-turned industrial supply company moved into its last building on 820 St. Clair Avenue. Designed by the Cleveland architectural firm of Cuddell and Richardson, The George Worthington Building is noted as a "highly decorative brick structure, notable for its unusually wide window bays grouped in two multi-story arched ranks, a brick cornice, recessed spandrels and finials." Having fallen into disrepair in the later half of the 20th century, the George Worthington Building was rehabilitated as modern loft apartments in 1996 on what is today Worthington Square, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being a Cleveland landmark.
Worthington also did much in the way of building up the city, especially in the business portions, and owned at one point 14 buildings in what is today the Historic Warehouse District. He did much toward converting the village, as he found it, into the city it is today, being a man whose activity always led him to feel great pride in building up the town and setting men to work to improve his property. He strove, in many instances, to improve and advance the interests of the city, rather than his own personal or pecuniary interests.
A man of large comprehension, bold and fearless in going into large operations, and liberal in his ideas in carrying them out—he was peculiarly adapted to enterprises of that character. He would often go in where others quailed, and was always bound to carry them to a successful issue. All in which he was engaged grew to be of great magnitude. The wholesale hardware business, which still bore his name until recent years, had become one of the largest in the country. As a business man he possessed superior qualifications, being a hard worker, shrewd, yet liberal, clear, positive, and of good judgement.
A man well read, thoughtful and intelligent, he could comprehend and go into the details of all matters most thoroughly. As a companion he was agreeable and well versed in politics (in which his sentiments were strongly anti-slavery).
During the Civil War, he was an active worker in everything that could tend to insure success to Union arms. To the cause, he gave freely of his means and sacrificed both time and personal convenience.
In his commercial transactions, he was a man of justice, correctness, equity and high personal virtues. Kindly in his nature, he endeared himself to his business associates and intimate friends.
At the time of his death he was a member of the Third Presbyterian Church of Cleveland, having been one of the thirteen who were set off from the Stone, or First Presbyterian Church, to build up the new church. The west window of the Third Presbyterian Church is a memorial to Mr. Worthington, put there by his widow and children who survived him. He came to the Stone Church by letter from the Presbyterian church of Utica, New York, with which he united during his clerkship in Utica. To the support of the church of his choice he gave liberally, and in her prosperity he took delight.
George Worthington is interred in the Worthington Mausoleum at the Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland.