Henry Probasco was born July 4, 1820 at Newtown, Connecticut to Peter Probasco and Anna C. Lott. He was educated in public schools in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the family resided until around 1830 when they appear in the 1830 Federal Census for Warren County, Ohio. By 1834, his family had moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where his father, Peter, worked for E. F. Seybold and Company, a wholesale hardware merchant and manufacturer. In 1835 he secured a position as a clerk in a hardware store owned by Tyler Davidson, and in 1840 became a partner with him. He appeared in Shaffer's Advertising Directory for 1839-40 in Cincinnati, Ohio with his father, Peter Probasco:
- Probasco, Peter (NJ) Plane-mkr at Seybold's
- Probasco, Henry (Conn) Clerk at T. Davidson's, 118 Main
Also in 1840 Henry married Julia Carrington, the daughter of Abijah Carrington who was then State Controller of Connecticut. Julia was also the half-sister of Tyler Davidson, thus making Tyler his brother-in-law.
With Henry's partnership with Tyler Davidson, and under his active personal superintendence the business grew rapidly. In six years from his becoming partner, the firm of Tyler Davidson & Company became the largest hardware business in Cincinnati. In 1851, Mr. Probasco conceived the idea of erecting a handsome store far superior to any then in existence in Cincinnati. It was the first store in Cincinnati built of freestone, and was a great commercial success, for in 1854, three years after erection of the building, their sales quadrupled those of 1851.
In 1856, Henry spent eight months in Europe, and observing that many of the leading merchants and manufacturers of the large cities of England had removed to their suburban residences, he began, on his return to Cincinnati, to consider plans for building a country house, selecting Clifton as the locality. In 1860 his mansion, known as Clifton, was begun and was completed in 1865. It was built on 20 acres of land at a cost of $500,000. His was the first attempt to unite limestone and sandstone in the construction of suburban residences. It was eminently successful, and since that time many of the large suburban residences of Cincinnati were built of these materials.
In December 1865 Tyler Davidson, his brother-in-law, died and in March 1866, Henry sold the business to Lowry, Perin & Company. Mr. Lowry had been a partner in the firm of Tyler Davidson & Company for many years. That year he again departed for Europe, visiting all its main cities, and returning in late 1867. In October 1866, while in Munich at the Royal Bronze Factory, he was shown some designs for a fountain. The idea of a public fountain for Cincinnati had been a topic of discussion between Henry and Tyler Davidson. He resolved to erect a fountain that, while it should be a practical benefit to the people, would be more beautiful than any previously erected in the United States. He begain negotiations with the foundry, as well as the noted sculptor, Kaulback, and his son-in-law, August Von Kreling, a gifted designer, and the result was the magnificent fountain so widely known as well for its artistic beauty as its useful purposes, which he presented to the people of Cincinnati on October 6, 1871 and dedicated to his brother-in-law, Tyler Davidson. However, in Cincinnati it is still know as the Probasco Fountain. The fountain itself cost $105,000. He also gave a fountain to the village of Clifton, made of granite and bronze.
During his various travels in Europe, he devoted much of his time to the study of public and private galleries and museums of science and art. His natural taste, cultivated by that education which association with the works of great masters gives, enabled him to assemble one of the finest collections of pictures in the country. His passion for curiousities in literature induced him to collect a spendid library of books and rare manuscripts. He also developed an interest in horticulture embellishing his estate with choice trees and shrubs imported from all over the world.
He held many civic posts as well, such as being one of the managers of the Public Library, president of Spring Grove Cemetery and Cincinnati Orphan Asylum, and served on the council for the village of Clifton as well as being its mayor. He was an original member of the Cincinnati Society of Natural History which was organized in 1870; a trustee for St. Luke's Hospital when it was incorporated in 1866; life member of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce; and member of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society.
His wife, Julia, died in January of 1886 and in 1887, he married his second wife, Grace Sherlock, the oldest daugher of Thomas Sherlock, Esq. He and Julia never had children, however there were two children born to his second marriage, Grace S. Probasco born in 1888 and Henry Probasco Jr. born in 1890. Henry Jr. died in 1901 at the age of 10. Grace, the only surviving child, married John Jay Rowe, banker, whose family had been identified with the history of banking in Cincinnati.
Sadly, in 1887 Henry Probasco suffered financial losses and until his death in 1902, he lived in a smaller house and earned a modest salary as superintendent of Spring Grove Cemetery which he helped found. He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.
However, he will always be known by his unique gift of the Tyler Davidson Fountain or "Probasco Fountain" he donated to the city of Cincinnati which remains a focal point there to this day, as well as his home, Oakwood, in Clifton, Ohio and his vast collections of art and literature. Henry Probasco's collection of rare books, obtained by the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois, remains as one of the foundations of the library's exquisite collections. They also have a list of his collections in "The Catalogue of the Collection of Books, Manuscripts and Works of Art, Belonging to Mr. Henry Probasco, Cincinnati, Ohio," Oakwood, Clifton, 1st May, 1873.
History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio Their Past and Present. S. B. Nelson & Co., Publishers, Cincinnati, OH 1894.
The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati, A Portrait of Two Hundred Years by G. J. Giglierano & D. A. Overmeyer, 1988.
The City of Cincinnati. Geo. S. Blanchard & Co., Cincinnati, OH, 1869.
Eugene H. Roseboom, The Civil War Era, 1850-1873. Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, Columbus, OH, 1944, Vol. IV.
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