April 14, 2024

Tolan: Architects, Mayor, Publisher, Veterans

Tolan, it’s not a typical Delphos name and there are no Tolans living in the city any more but the name shares some interesting history with our town.

James and Elizabeth Tolan lived in Carrolton, Ohio, about 20 miles southeast of Canton, in the early 1800’s.  They had eight children including Thomas Jefferson Tolan and David Henry Tolan.  The family moved across the state to Delphos some time after 1860 where James became a marble cutter.  Thomas J. followed his father as a marble cutter but some time before 1870 became a self-taught architect.  In the mean time Thomas J. married Harriet Skinner and had eight children, six of them born in Delphos.  In 1874 he relocated his practice to Fort Wayne, Indiana where he began a celebrated architect career.  In 1872 his oldest son Brentwood Tolan began to apprentice under his father and the business soon became T. J. Tolan and Son, Architects.  

After the move to Fort Wayne the Tolans won their first major commission, to design the Van Wert County, Ohio courthouse.  It would be the first of many public buildings across the Midwest designed by the firm.  Prior to the Van Wert County courthouse commission the firm specialized in designing sheriff residences and jails including the old Allen County, Ohio jail and Mercer County, Ohio jail.  T.J. Tolan received a patent in 1877 for designing improved jails and prisons.

The second courthouse designed by the Tolans was the Davis County Courthouse in Iowa in 1877.  During this time the firm designed numerous courthouses, jails, churches and fraternal organizations including the First United Methodist Church in Van Wert and the Masonic Temple Opera House in Fort Wayne.  T.J. Tolan and Sons designed no fewer than eleven buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1883, while in Chicago on business, Thomas J. Tolan died suddenly from gallstones.  He is buried in Westside Cemetery in Delphos with his wife Harriet.

The business continued as Brentwood Tolan designed more courthouses and buildings that ended up on the National Register of Historic Places including the massive Allen County, Indiana courthouse.  He eventually returned to Ohio and became a partner at Decurtin, Rawson and Tolan in Lima.  While in Lima he designed the Argonne Hotel, another National Register listing.  Brentwood died in 1923 and is buried in Westside Cemetery in Delphos.

While Thomas J. was excelling as an architect, his brother David Henry Tolan, known as D.H., was building his own career in Delphos.  In 1869 he founded the Delphos Herald as owner/editor.   A few years later, in 1872, D.H. was elected mayor of Delphos, serving one two-year term.  He was also elected as Secretary of the Democratic 5th Congressional District in 1874.  In 1888 he ran for Allen County Clerk of Courts and won.  He served in that position from 1888-1894.  D.H. also had an unsuccessful run for Senate in 1897.  D.H. Tolan retired from the Delphos Herald in 1894 and his son Clair took over the paper and changed it to the Delphos Daily Herald in 1910.  D. H. died in 1925 and is buried in Westside Cemetery in Delphos.

Thomas J. Tolan and his brother Isaac J. Tolan were both veterans of the Civil War.  Thomas was in Co. D, 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and Isaac was a member of Co. E, 66th  Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Isaac is buried in Westside Cemetery along with Thomas J.’s wife Harriet and D.H.’s wife Artemisia and son Thomas G. who died in 1876 at age 11.   A number of relatives of the Delphos Tolans are buried in Woodland Union Cemetery in Van Wert County.        

Thomas J. Tolan
Brentwood Tolan


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