Prosper Montgomery Wetmore was born on April 25, 1821, in a place called Locust Grove to Dr. Charles Wetmore and his wife, Eliza Rathbone Wetmore.

Prosper Montgomery Wetmore was born on April 25, 1821, in a place called Locust Grove to Dr. Charles Wetmore and his wife, Eliza Rathbone Wetmore.

Locust Grove is gone now, but at one time it was one of the more fashionable rural estates located along the Columbus and Worthington Plank Road. The plank road -- made literally by paving a roadbed with thick wooden planks -- soon became part of the Columbus and Sandusky Turnpike and then North High Street. What once was Locust Grove is now part of Clintonville.

But in the 1820s, it was far out in the country. It was from this country estate that Dr. Charles Wetmore conducted his far-flung practice. It was a time when doctors not only made house calls, they made them for weeks at a time and were often away from home. It was in the house at Locust Grove that Prosper Montgomery Wetmore, named for a relative who had a modest reputation as a poet, grew up.

Charles Wetmore was one of the great doctors of his time in central Ohio. But his wife was rather impressive in her own right. Eliza Rathbone Wetmore was a woman who could manage a large estate in the frequent absence of her husband, involve herself in many civic and charitable activities, and raise a family as well. The Wetmores lived some of the time at Locust Grove and at other times in their town home in Worthington.

Prosper Wetmore grew up in what was then rural Ohio, attended country schools and spent much of his youth working on the family farm. Perhaps tiring of that life, he left home in 1844 at the age of 23 and moved to Columbus.

Without any social or political connections in the capital city, he started at what one might say was the bottom of the economic pecking order. Wetmore took a job as a clerk in the dry goods store of a man named D.H. Taft. In the course of time Taft would become a quite successful department store owner. But at this point, his dry goods store was just beginning. Prosper Wetmore later recalled that he took his meals with his employer and spent most of his nights sleeping in the store.

Tiring of Columbus, Wetmore went to Delaware in 1846 and employed himself in the store of Lamb "at $12.00 per month including board and washing." Delaware lost its appeal and Wetmore returned to Columbus and worked with A.P. Stone and Company for a year. In 1848, he formed a partnership with L.P. Preston and others under the name of Preston and Wetmore. Their store was at No. 3 Goodale Row at Town and High streets. That enterprise lasted for only a year as well.

In 1849, Wetmore was in a new dry goods business called Remick and Wetmore. Suffice to say that retail businesses -- then as now -- came and went with some frequency.

After taking some time off to tour eastern America, Wetmore returned to business. Deciding that partners may cause more problems than they cured, he operated for a time "under the firm name of P.M. Wetmore." It was also at this time that he began to lose his hearing.

By 1852, his deafness was worse and Wetmore traveled to New York for treatment. It did no good and Wetmore returned to Columbus and the dry goods business. In 1861, he went into business with several men and opened a sutler's store at the Camp Chase Union Army training camp on the far west side of the city. He later traveled into West Virginia, following Union armies and selling goods from his sutler's wagon.

In 1862, he returned to Columbus, as he later said, with "no profits and no losses." But his hearing was continuing to decline and he needed work that didn't require a lot of talking. So he became a professional bookkeeper. Beginning with the Carpenter Brothers, his partners in the sutler's store, Wetmore soon was keeping the books of the Deshler Savings Bank and the W.A. Gill railroad car manufacturing company.

By 1886, his hearing had almost totally failed him and his last bookkeeping client, the S.C. Bailey Company, went out of business. Without an occupation, Wetmore was nevertheless untroubled. Over the years, shrewd investment of his own earnings and his inheritance from his deceased parents had led him to the point where he "had acquired a competency and no longer felt the necessity of active occupation."

A lifelong bachelor, Wetmore finally ended up living in what had once been the Hinman mansion on South High Street in Columbus. And what exactly, one might ask, does an aging man with a hearing disorder do in his declining years?

In the case of "Uncle Prop" Wetmore, he tended to his books. Throughout his life Wetmore had collected books. His collection covered many topics but specialized in the history of America in general and central Ohio in particular. It was said of him that "He made very little distinction between the products of the wisest savant and the simple narrative of the most illiterate backwoodsman only so it was the Truth. Indeed he seemed inclined to favor the simpler man as the one who would naturally get nearest to nature and in his library are some books notable for their very simplicity of diction and lack of art."

After his death in early 1912, the great library went to his favorite niece and then later was donated to a local public library, where many of its best books are still used today.

He simply was, as one of his friends said at the time, "a good neighbor, a good citizen and a good friend."

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

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