Otis Avery Browning
Otis Avery Browning, a prominent Toledo businesman for over 55 years, was reputed to be, at the turn of the century, one of the city's richest men. A native of Norwich, Connecticut, Browning moved to Toledo at age 28 and established a publishing firm at Huron Street and Jefferson Avenue. [Toledo Biography Scrapbook (Browni-Burg) Local History Collection, Toledo/Lucas County Public Library and Toledo Blade, 3 August 1923.]
He entered the crude oil business in 1889 and there he built his fortune. He became well known throughout the state of Ohio for his activities in real estate and the oil land business. Browning's brother Clark joined him in a firm called Otis A. Browning and Company which set up over 150 wells in Wood County on tracts of oil land they had purchased there." Clark A. Brown, Former Banker, is Taken by Death," (Toledo Blade, 22 June 1931.)
Otis Browning's professional life spread beyond the oil business as he also became a prominent figure in Toledo financial circles. He served as director of the Second National Bank and Trust Company and vice-president of Security Savings Bank and Trust Company.
A sincere interest in city politics but a general dislike and distrust of politicians prompted Browning--when he wished to know how the wind was blowing--to circulate among working class voters. On the interurban lines, or over lunch in factories, Browing questioned working men about what they considered to be admirable qualities in politicians and why they did or did not vote for a particular candidate. Browning took these concerns seriously and made the opinions of his informants the foundation of his own civic and business policies and actions.
Browning's interests extended as well to literature, thus his early career as a subscription book publisher. His published works included a family Bible, New Testament, and a Bible commentary.
The citizens of Toledo, especially those of the south end, respected Browning as a city leader and as a successful businessman. His charismatic charm and commitment to the local area left a legacy after his death. Browning died in his home at 313 Broadway on July 28, 1923 at the age of 83. His will reflected his devotion to Toledo. The proceeds from a significant portion of his estate were provided for the establishment of a Home for aged Masons. [Extra info from Roger Klee, Eastman Smith, attys] Klee stipulates that the Browning will called for a home to be located on a suitable site of not less than 10 acres within 75 miles of the City of Toledo. The home was constructed, dedicated and is now located in Waterville, Ohio. Construction began in 1979. A large portion of his estate allowed for construction and maintenance of the home and for the purchase of paintings, furniture, and other personal items. Browning requested that the establishment resemble the Old Ladies Home in Toledo. The qualifications for admittance were related to master masons, and their wives or widows, they had to be sixty years or older, citizen of the U.S., member of a legal Masonic lodge in Ohio for at least six years, and good moral character. If not there were not enough masons to fill home, the will allowed for the admittance of super-annuated clergy from various denominations.
Brownings will, a voluminous sixty-three pages filed in Lucas County, outlined the history of his rise to wealth and made reference to his personal philosophies on life and religion, including quotations from various hymns. In addition to the Masons, many other organizations received donations including the Palestine Chapter No. 5 of Eastern Star, Baptist Church Association of Preston City, Connecticut, and many family members. The directors of the Second National Bank, in a resolution to Browing, remembered him as "a man of strong character, of rugged personality, of keen perception and of most excellent business judgment. These traits and qualifications combined to make him one of the most successful of the business men of the city. Otis Avery Browning is buried in a lakeside mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery. (Toledo Blade, 3 August 1923.)
Clark A. Browning, Otis' brother, also became a successful businessman and banker. A native of Preston, Connecticut where he had farmed and taught school, Clark Browning moved to Toledo in 1875 to join his brother in the publishing business. Later, he established a successful oil business with Otis Browning. ("Savings Bank Founder, Oil Operator Dies," Toledo Times, 22 June 1931.)
The Brownings' accomplishments led them to control more oil interests in Oklahoma and Texas. ("Expanding Years Have Been Kind to Trust Fund Willed for Masonic Home," Toledo Blade, 20 June 1959.)
Clark Browning entered banking with the Dollar Savings Bank in September 1901 as its first president. The institution shortly became the second largest bank in Toledo. After eight years it merged with the Ohio Savings Bank for which Browning served as vice-president, director, and member of the finance committee."Savings Bank Founder."
In addition to banking and oil, Browning speculated in real estate . With his purchase of many pieces of downtown property, he displayed a confidence in the growth of Toledo. His holdings included the Ashley Building on Jefferson Avenue. During Browning's lifetime his investments grew several times in value." Clark A. Browning," (Toledo Times, 23 June 1931. "Savings Bank Founder.")
In his leisure, Clark Browning was a member of the Toledo and Inverness Clubs, a 32nd Degree Mason, and a member of the Zenobia Shrine.
Failing health forced his retirement from banking in 1917. Three years later he reentered private life completely."Savings Bank Founder." As his health improved, Browning took time to travel and only became seriously ill a month before his death on June 21, 1931. He was survived by his wife Harriet.