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Published: Sunday, 11/29/2009

Stickney dwelled in author's mind nearly 40 years

Bonnie and Ken Dickson traveled to cities including Boston in researching his book about Stickney. Bonnie and Ken Dickson traveled to cities including Boston in researching his book about Stickney.

Ken Dickson has been living with Benjamin Franklin Stickney for a long time.

The retired Bowsher High School math teacher said Stickney has occupied a large part of his intellectual life for almost 40 years.

He knew that Stickney (1774-1852) had been a weighty figure in Toledo's early history, with a street and a school named for him. But something clicked in Mr. Dickson's mind in 1970 when he read that Stickney had named his sons One and Two. He wanted to know more, and the more he learned, "the more I saw that he was a fascinating, eccentric character," Mr. Dickson explained.

Thus was born Benjamin Franklin Stickney and the Maumee Valley.

Mr. Dickson's self-published book, his sixth, was a labor of love that took him and his wife, Bonnie, to libraries and archives in Toledo, Detroit, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Mich., and Boston in the course of their research.

Stickney was a natural fit, for Mr. Dickson, 63, is a serious history buff who has also written books about Toledo's gambling and bootlegging pasts. He specializes in the intertwined histories of Ohio and the Maumee Valley, Michigan and the Great Lakes. The Dickson home in Point Place overlooks Lake Erie and is filled with nautical motifs and thousands of neatly shelved books.

For Mr. Dickson, Stickney was a visionary figure who made one fortune, lost it, and made another, bigger one. He was a founder of the Wabash and Erie Canal, which connected what became Toledo to Fort Wayne, Ind., and the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad, which ran from what today is downtown Toledo to Adrian, Mich. "He was probably Toledo's first millionaire," Mr. Dickson said.

No portraits of Stickney are known to exist, but he was a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin, and a contemporaneous description has him looking much like his famous forebear. He was very well connected and knew Founding Father Thomas Paine, the radical pamphleteer and voice of the common man, and Presidents John Adams, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren.

Mr. Dickson mostly used primary source materials such as letters and diaries. He found one manuscript in Boston, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, that was nothing less than thrilling: Stickney's own, handwritten, 26-page cultural history of the Ottaway Indians written when he was an Indian agent. Its title was Traditions of the Ottaway Indians. Mr. Dickson published the manuscript in the Northwest Ohio Quarterly.

"It had never before been published anywhere," Mrs. Dickson said. "His handwriting was horrible and took us forever to decipher."

Benjamin Franklin Stickney and the Maumee Valley can be bought at Borders Books, Barnes and Noble, Frogtown Books, A Novel Idea, Leo's Book Shop, Smoke and Fire Co., Fort Meigs, and the Wolcott House Museum Complex.

Contact Carl Ryan at:


or 419-724-6050.

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