By Dawn Kessinger
LIMA — In 1897, noted candy and gum manufacturer Frank Banta traded his house at 632 W. Market St. that he’d had built for more than $20,000, with the house of John Wesley Van Dyke and his new bride, Emma Grimes Van Dyke.
The Van Dykes had married in 1889 and settled in Lima. John, born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, worked in a management capacity for Standard Oil, and moved to Lima in 1886 to build and operate a refinery to utilize the newly discovered Lima crude. Emma, born in Venango County, Pennsylvania, quit her job with the U.S. Government Pension Bureau to move with John to Lima.
“The house (that Banta traded with the Van Dykes) was located in a neighborhood known as ‘The Golden Block,’ so named for the elegant homes made possible from a booming Lima economy,” according to the Allen County Historical Society’s “The Allen County Reporter,” Vol. LX, 2005, No.1.
“When the Van Dykes moved in, within three years they remodeled it. They didn’t change the front part of the house at all, but the back they added on to. The house suddenly almost doubled in size. They were middle-aged and had no children. I thought, ‘Why would they want a bigger house?’” said Pat Smith, director of the Allen County Historical Society.
The way the house was designed may have had something to do with the Van Dykes’ decision to remodel the house. This house is known today as the MacDonell House and is part of the Allen County Museum.
“One of the things Frank Banta did was put a billiard room up on the third floor in what later became the ballroom. Maybe the Van Dykes didn’t want to climb to the third floor to play billiards. They put the billiard room on the first floor and then they put the ballroom on the third floor,” Smith said.
“Emma was quite interested in young people and she would have social gatherings for younger people – dances and things like that,” she said.
“John and Emma also enjoyed traveling and collected souvenirs from the Far East. Both had an interest in other cultures and artistic things. They hired artists who came in and painted cherubs on the ceiling of their living room,” Smith said.
In 1903, John was transferred to Standard’s Atlantic Refining Company in Philadelphia, with a promotion that required him to make weekly visits to New York. Shortly after, in 1904, tragedy struck when Emma, 47, died of heart problems. The couple had been married for less than 15 years and had no children. John was 54.
Edna Burton, 24, and residing in New York, would later become John Van Dyke’s second wife. It’s not known exactly how Edna and John met, but the two married in France in August of 1908.
“Emma was probably a very nice lady. Edna was a different kind of creature altogether. Edna was interested in Edna, and she wanted to pursue her career as an opera singer. She is quoted in newspaper stories as having said, ‘My career means something to me and I’m not giving it up just because we’re getting married,’” Smith said.
Edna had moved to Lima with her family when she was a teenager. Edna loved music. She was a member of her church choir and by the time she was 12 she played the organ and was singing solos. Edna studied music at Lima College and prepared for competitive work. She left for New York in 1903, where she continued her vocal studies.
Between financial support from her physician father and money she earned singing in various churches, Edna Burton earned enough money to continue her musical education in Europe. She went to Paris in 1907 and the famous operatic tenor, Jean de Reszke, became one of her teachers. Edna studied for three years with Reszke before making her debut in 1910.
“When she got in Europe, she really realized then that this was something she really wanted badly. She started making a lot of friends – the kind of people who were in her own world, theatrical and musical. She started feeling like she was really hitting the big time,” Smith said.
A telegram from Philadelphia arrived for Edna from John on May 25, 1910. It said: ‘CONGRATULATIONS • PROUD • IS A JUST TRIBUTE TO YOUR GREAT TALENT AND PERSEVERANCE • WHEN DEBUT (?) • LOVE • JOHN”
“Edna didn’t really want to leave. When World War I broke out, it wasn’t safe for Americans to be in Europe. By that point in time, she was performing in Munich and she loved Germany and the German people. It just wasn’t safe, though, and it stopped being fun, what she was doing. She ended up coming back to the States,” she said.
“Things started falling apart for her then. It was around 1915. In newspaper articles, this pattern is starting to emerge that he (John Van Dyke) is not getting mentioned,” Smith said.
John Van Dyke filed for divorce in 1920 on grounds of desertion. After sitting empty many years, the house where John and Emma Van Dyke had lived was sold in 1915 to William F. Hoover. Elizabeth M. MacDonell bought the house in 1932.
MacDonell and Van Dyke became friends. When she told him her plans for the museum, he donated unusual and interesting things for the museum, as well as gave $1,550 as a gift to the Historical Society. Van Dyke had planned to give $10,000 more for the building campaign, but died before he had the chance to do so, on Sept. 13, 1939. He was 89.
Edna Van Dyke, who never remarried, moved to Connecticut in 1962, where she eventually spent her last days living in a nursing home.