The two people who made the greatest contribution to Bellevue’s early growth period were Daniel M. Harkness and H.C. Stahl.
The Bellevue Gazette files reveal that Dan Harkness and H.C. Stahl had contributed significantly to Bellevue’s growth and prosperity. Harkness’ influence in the spring of 1881 persuaded the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Railroad) officials to locate their line through Bellevue creating hundreds of jobs.
H.C. Stahl began manufacturing riding cultivators in the early 1870s in Fremont. In 1882, his company capitalized with $10,000. It was then called the Fremont Cultivator Works or simply,”the Cultivator Company.”
The riding cultivator with its hammock seat was so successful, the company was unable to fill orders in their small quarters. Stahl’s need for expansion and shipping facilities led him to Bellevue in August 1885.
The local Power House building had been vacant for several years. Its owners were anxious to sell or lease what was then termed “the folly, a great white elephant” of the times. Stahl negotiated with the owners for two months.
In the meantime, Stahl had purchased one acre of ground to build a factory building while Fremont businessmen raised $5,000 to give to Stahl providing he build the factory and stay in Fremont. Stahl told them he was awaiting word from Bellevue and he had made an offer to the Power House officers.
The agreement with the Power House owners was made in October for the sum of $3,600.
Stahl and a force of 15 men worked 12-14 hours a day for more than two months and, on Dec. 21, 1885, the Fremont Cultivator began production of the Famous Ohio sulky riding cultivator in Bellevue.
Stahl vowed each year he would build a building or purchase new machinery to improve production.
His first full year in 1886 saw the plant shut down in May and resume production in October. The following year, Stahl built a foundry and in 1888, the company began shipping several box car loads of sulky cultivators over the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad.
In 1890, the Fremont Cultivator Company changed its name to the Ohio Cultivator Company. The reason was obvious, shipments of material and mail were routed to Fremont, then forwarded to Bellevue.
At about this time, Stahl was invited to the Harkness home for coffee following a Sunday service at the Congregational Church, which both attended. Harkness urged Stahl to purchase stock in the Standard Oil Company. Harkness had accumulated millions of dollars investing in the company founded by John D. Rockefeller and Henry M. Flagler, Harkness’ half brother. Legend has it that Stahl told Harkness “all the money I make will be invested in my company.”
During the depression years, 1892-1896, Stahl continued production. Money was tight and his requests to borrow money from local banking institutions were turned down. The Upson Nut Co. and Ball Steel extended his credit for their materials. Other companies soon followed. During those years, Stahl traveled throughout the west advertising and demonstrating the sulky cultivator. He trained salesmen and set up branch houses to handle his products in nearly every state.
In 1925, Stahl recalled the events of those years in a speech he gave members of the Kiwanis Club.
“I shall never forget the panic of 1892-1893. A man I owed a great deal of money to for nuts and bolts came to see me and he said, ‘I hear you are about to make an assignment.’ I convinced him I was not and he went away. Then later, Mr. Upson, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Smith of the Ball Steel Co. and many others all came to see me. These men all represented big companies, firms from which I bought my materials. Well, I needed credit and I knew I couldn’t get any from the banks, money was too tight, so I convinced these men that everything would be all right if I could just get the material I needed and before they left, all told me to go ahead and order whatever I needed and make all the cultivators I could make and sell, and pay when I pleased. This is when I made money and it turned out I really made more money during the panic of 1892 and 1893 than any other time. I bought the material I needed and did not pay for the 15 months or until I sold the goods.”