LIMA — After four years in the United States Congress, Samuel S. Yoder was home and — at least according to the Lima Daily Times — his hometown couldn’t have been happier.
“His home coming was made the occasion on the part of the people of a grand ovation and reception — an occasion to express to their faithful representative something of the appreciation felt, and due him for his energetic labor, particularly in securing the public building for Lima,” the Daily Times wrote April 1, 1891.
While Yoder, who had arrived in Lima the previous day, dined at the French House a “crowd of about a thousand gathered in the rain and darkness, or surged about in the lobby of the hotel.” And when Yoder and a handful of local dignitaries boarded a caravan of carriages for the ride to a formal ceremony at the Music Hall, a parade followed them.
“The City Band led the sidewalk procession,” the Times reported. “Just behind them came the Lima City Guards marching two abreast. They in turn were followed by the full membership of the Union Veteran’s Union, and the long string of spectators brought up the rear.”
Yoder had come a long way from an impoverished childhood among the Amish in Holmes County, where he was born Aug. 16, 1841, one of the 11 children of Yost Yoder and Ann Hochstetler Miller. When Yoder’s father died in 1850, his mother married a widower who also had 11 children.
“Since this was too many youngsters to handle, the older ones (Samuel included) were put out with other families,” according to a story in a 1986 newsletter devoted to the many Yoders in the United States.
In the 2007 book “Mennonites, Amish and the American Civil War” authors James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt noted that Samuel and three of his brothers — Noah, Moses and Jacob — all abandoned the Amish lifestyle and enlisted in the Union Army. “Apparently the Yoders had grown up in a desperately poor and cruel environment — perhaps one reason the Amish community held little appeal for them.”
Of the four brothers, only Samuel, who rose to the rank of second lieutenant, survived the war unscathed. “Noah was shot through the left shoulder and had his left leg shattered and amputated at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on Jan. 2, 1863, after being left for dead for a day on the battlefield,” Lehman and Nolt wrote. Jacob drowned at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, in 1864, while Moses received a mortal wound in battle at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, several weeks later.
After the war, Samuel worked in a pharmacy owned by Noah. In 1867-68 he studied medicine at the University of Michigan. In 1870, he married Minerva Maxwell in Holmes County and the couple had five children, only three of whom survived infancy.
In 1868, Samuel Yoder and his family settled in Bluffton where he continued his study of medicine with a local doctor. Besides his practice of medicine, which included work as a dentist and druggist, Yoder also served as a Bluffton councilman and, in 1874, was elected mayor.
“Although Samuel did practice medicine,” the Yoder newsletter noted, “he became increasingly interested in politics and decided to study for law. In 1878 he moved his family to Lima to do so, and was admitted to the bar in 1880, when he was close to 40 years old.”
A staunch Democrat, in 1881, Yoder, the doctor turned lawyer won election as a probate court judge. “The big fight was made on Dr. Yoder for Probate Judge, and everything that money and lies could accomplish was done against him, but it availed them not, for Yoder has a 707 (vote) majority,” the Allen County Democrat gloated on Oct. 13, 1881.
Yoder served as probate judge from 1882 to 1886, when he set his sights on the U.S. Congress. In November 1886 (1886 was the first year the Ohio general election was held in November), Yoder was elected to Congress. On Dec. 5, 1887, Lima’s Democratic Times reported that “Judge Yoder will sit in Congress as a member for the first time today.”
Yoder soon received his first committee appointment — and notice for his lavish mustache. The Cincinnati Times-Star wrote that “Yoder, of Lima, who looks like a picturesque Italian brigand, is a member of the committee on Military Affairs.”
Back home, interests were more parochial. Lima, in the midst of a growth spurt fueled by the discovery of oil in 1885, wanted the trappings of a city, particularly a government building to house the post office. “Here is a chance for Judge Yoder to distinguish himself by drawing this bill from its long retirement and putting it through,” the Lima Democratic Times wrote Jan. 18, 1888. “A government building would just fit in Lima at this time.” Yoder obliged, introducing a bill for the “erection of a government building” on Jan. 31, 1888.
It wasn’t until the Christmas season of 1890, during Yoder’s second term in Congress, that he was able to write home with the good news. “President (Benjamin) Harrison put approved in my stocking, and I now have the pleasure of presenting the good people of Lima with a public building as my Christmas gift,” Yoder wrote in a letter to the Lima Daily News published Dec. 26, 1890.
After some haggling over its location, the post office went up on the southeast corner of High and Elizabeth streets. It was replaced by Lima’s current post office in 1931.
Yoder also earned a reputation as an advocate for Civil War Veterans and is credited with spearheading an effort to increase pensions for veterans. On April 5, 1888, just after he was nominated for a second term in Congress, Yoder was a guest at a meeting of the Ex-Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Union of Allen County. “The Union will have for its honored guest our fellow comrade, the Hon. S.S. Yoder, Congressman from this district, will be present with his register to hear all complaints about pension claims and pensions generally. He is on the Pension Committee of Congress, and just the man you want to see,” the Democratic Times wrote.
Yoder decided not to seek a third term, but would remain in Washington. On Oct. 25, 1891, the Times-Democrat reported, “Judge Yoder, to whom the people of this city are indebted for the public building, has no opposition for the position of Sergeant-at-Arms of the House. Everybody rejoices in all his good luck, and wish that more may come to him.”
Yoder served one term as sergeant-at-arms, charged with maintaining security on the floor of the House. Following his congressional career, Yoder became involved in private business ventures. He founded an electric railway and constructed tracks 25 miles from Washington to Berwyn, Maryland. The venture failed and Yoder lost much of his fortune.
Yoder also maintained his affiliation with a variety of voluntary organizations. He served as commander in chief of the Union Veterans Union from 1891 to 1893 and was a longtime member of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans.
His last years, according to the Berwyn Heights Historical Committee, were marked “by ill health and the death of his wife in 1919. He died from cancer on May 9, 1921, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery …”
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