Mark Branham was perusing eBay on a late night a few weeks ago when he found an old postcard that piqued his interest.
Branham, a Greenfield resident of about 25 years, said he often browses online for old postcards depicting local landmarks in the Greenfield area, but the one in question was different.
It advertised Camp Upton, a U.S. Army installment in Long Island, N.Y., and was postmarked Sunday, Aug. 11, 1918.
It was addressed to Mrs. C.H. Dowler, 521 North Street, Greenfield, Ohio, and signed only, “Ira.”
The sender was identified after his signature as a member of the 34th Engineers at Camp Upton.
“Sun morning,” the note began. “Getting along fine. Has been raining here but looks like clearing up now. How is Vernone, and the rest of the folks. Suppose you got my letter all O.K. Don’t you think you could write once in a while. Will send you a letter in a few days.”
It wasn’t the peculiar greeting, or Dowler’s seeming frustration at his one-sided correspondence, that sparked Branham’s curiosity. It was the address.
“There is no 500 block of North Street,” Branham said.
And he’s right, at least in regard to houses located there.
The McClain High School athletic field sits between West North Street and East North Street — right where the 500 block would have been. In fact, addresses on North Street to the east of the field drop off in the mid-400s, and on the west side pick up again in the 600s.
According to the local history book “Greenfield Ohio,” penned by members of the Greenfield Historical Society, the athletic field was donated to the local school board in 1923 by Edward Lee McClain, who built the school earlier in the century.
Branham immediately bought the postcard and later posted a photocopy to a Greenfield community Facebook group he moderates. The group is named “Greenfield Daily Times,” after the daily newspaper that served the Greenfield area until 1996 when it merged with Hillsboro Press Gazette to form The Times-Gazette.
Some members of the group commented, saying while some houses in the former 500 block of North Street were demolished prior to the construction of the athletic field, others were actually moved.
Branham said he has since had conversations with several people in Greenfield who said there are still homes in Greenfield that had been moved from North Street, but he hasn’t nailed anything down.
Harold Schmidt, a member of the Greenfield Historical Society, said on Monday that while he, too, has been told that houses on North Street were moved prior to the field being built, the society has no way to prove that was the case.
“You talk to different people in town and they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, this house was moved and this house was moved,’ but we as a society don’t have any definite proof on houses actually being moved,” he said.
Schmidt said the society is certain there were houses on the southern end of Lafayette Street that were moved — one of them is now a parsonage elsewhere in town — but beyond that, he can’t be certain.
“Unless it’s written down somewhere, we can’t say, ‘Yes, this was a moved one,’” Schmidt said. “County records don’t record houses being moved, they only record buying and selling land.”
Wendy Royse, the president of the Greenfield Historical Society, who also belongs to the Facebook group, was able to piece together some information on Dowler from a roster of soldiers and sailors from Highland County from 1917-1919.
According to Royse, Ira S. Dowler was born in 1891, and enlisted from Highland County in the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers in 1918. He was a member of the American Expeditionary Forces and deployed to Europe shortly after his enlistment.
“He was sent over for the last great big push to break the German line,” she said. “He would have had very little training, very little time to prepare. Some of them hadn’t even fired a gun.”
But he survived, and was honorably discharged in late 1919, Royse said.
Online grave records show Dowler passed away in Chillicothe in 1960. He was 69.
On Monday, Branham was able to to visit Dowler’s grave, eight miles south of Greenfield in the Good Hope Cemetery on SR 753.
He said the experience was “like looking back into history.”
During his visit, Branham also found the graves of Charles H. Dowler and Josephine Dowler, who are listed in online records as Ira Dowler’s parents. They are buried side by side.
Nearby gravestones memorialize other members of Ira’s family, including Vernonne Dowler, who is listed online as his daughter. She died in 1931 at the age of 13.
Little more is known about Ira Dowler. On Monday, online records, a soldier’s roster and a collection of tombstones in a quiet cemetery were all that told the veteran’s story.
A number of attempts were made to identify his living descendants on Monday, but all were unsuccessful. Anyone who is related to Ira Dowler or has related information is asked to call The Times-Gazette at 937-393-3456.
Branham said Ira Dowler’s grave is not far from the grave of a Medal of Honor recipient. He said he believes he was standing “in the presence of our nation’s finest.”
“I was reminded of the sacrifice of Ira Dowler from the little village of Greenfield, and all the other veterans that helped to shape our country,” he said. “’Thank you’ didn’t seem sufficient, but somehow it connected us for a moment. I was happy to make his acquaintance.”
Branham is still waiting for the postcard he ordered to arrive.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.