Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 25, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Meet two John Hodges

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Author’s note: This is the second installment in “The Name is the Same But The History Is Different” series looking at local notables in Niagara County’s past. This week, meet two contemporaries named John Hodge, one from Lockport and the other from Niagara Falls.

The first John Hodge to be considered is the one who made Lockport his home for most of his life. This John Hodge was born in Jefferson County, N.Y., in 1839. He arrived in Lockport as a teenager in the early 1850s and worked a variety of odd jobs. Intent on becoming a lawyer, he entered the law office of Edward I. Chase in 1857, studying under him for the next four years. 

Not finding the law to his satisfaction, young Hodge left the Chase office and began working as a clerk in the office of the Merchant’s Gargling Oil Company under a man named Morris Tucker. Hodge married Tucker’s daughter, who died not long after giving birth to a child who also died. Upon his daughter’s death, Tucker named Hodge as his sole heir.

When Tucker died in 1866, Hodge inherited not only his fortune but also his position in the company. Hodge was something of a genius when it came to advertising and soon made Merchant’s Gargling Oil a household name all over the country. With his earnings he was able to build the towered, mansard roofed Hodge Opera House at Main and Market Streets in 1871. When that burned down 10 years later, he built a slightly less elaborate version at the same location. 

Hodge served on the boards of directors of many companies and organizations in Lockport and Niagara Falls. One of these was the Home of the Friendless, a home for widows and orphaned children of the Civil War. He purchased the former Washington Hunt mansion in Lowertown and donated it to the organization as their permanent residence. This establishment eventually became the Wyndham Lawn Home for Children.

Hodge also belonged to many civic and fraternal organizations and was one of the highest ranking Masons in New York State. When only in his 50s, Hodge began to experience heart problems and passed away in 1895 at the age of 56. He was buried with full Masonic honors in Glenwood Cemetery. In 1902, his second wife Ella Daniels Hodge, had the “John Hodge Memorial Hospital” added to the Home for the Friendless. The name still appears over one of the entrances to the current facility. 

The Niagara Falls John Hodge was born in Cambria in 1851 and attended the Lockport Union School. He then graduated from the University of the City of New York and completed his medical studies at the New York Homeopathic Medical College in 1881. He practiced in Lockport for one year before moving to Niagara Falls in 1883.

He also held some beliefs that were considered unorthodox for the time. Dr. Hodge was an anti-vaccinationist who was outspoken against what he called “authoritative efforts” to immunize residents during a smallpox epidemic in Niagara Falls. In addition to being a critic of vaccinations, Dr. Hodge was a great supporter of animal rights. He was “for many years a relentless prosecutor of all those guilty of mistreating animals and was ever seeking to improve the lot of creatures which could not help themselves.” 

He was also considered something of an eccentric by some because of his decided opinions, which were in direct contrast to accepted beliefs of the day. One of these was his non-belief in a supreme being. He was an affirmed agnostic at a time when religious belief was paramount to everything else in one’s life.

Of one Dr. Hodge’s claims to fame occurred on the evening of Jan. 9, 1889. He was returning from visiting a patient on the Canadian side of the river and was crossing the Falls View Bridge during a horrific gale. He was the last person to cross the bridge before it collapsed into the river below at 3:20 a.m. Jan. 10, 1889.

Dr. Hodge continued to practice medicine well into his 80s. He died Feb. 18, 1937, of heart complications at the age of 86. His body was cremated according to his wishes. There is no record of where his ashes were interred.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.