Innovation is currently one of the most celebrated and valued characteristics of individuals and companies. To innovate, to bring new ideas to the world that expands options and improves life in a community, brings praise and benefits.
I can’t think of a family that fits this definition more than the Buster family of Wilmington. One might mention industries such as Irwin Auger Bit, Farquhar Furnace Company and Champion Bridge Company, but they are of a different ilk. The Buster innovations were closely related to the daily lives of the citizens of the city of Wilmington – restaurants and greenhouses with a variety of functions directed toward locals and those passing through our community on the 3C Highway (West Main Street).
But if you look at the local phone book today, you would not find a Buster family listed!
When I came to Wilmington 50 years ago I met Charles Buster. He lived on West Main Street in a house built by his father in the 1920s. It is the last physical imprint that this family left on our community, but Buster family members who left Wilmington still have strong memories – some positive and some negative. I have had the privilege of talking to several family members, and their memories are very clear and their contributions to Wilmington are also very clear (and to me very surprising).
Garrett Buster was born in 1804 in Wayne County, Kentucky. He was a slave under General Buster for 42 years. In 1846 he purchased his freedom for $700 and later purchased the freedom of his wife and five children for $4,000. (The details of this family history are recorded in the historical novel Brighter Sun.) They moved to the Xenia area where the family successfully farmed a large acreage.
In 1881 they moved to Clinton County and settled on a farm a mile from the village of Cuba. Later, in 1906 the family moved to West Main Street in Wilmington, where they purchased a large parcel of land across from the county fairgrounds which extended to Wayne Avenue.
At that location there were several black families aside from the Busters – Turneys, Minors, Robinsons and Taylors plus Ivy Edwards, who taught the lower grades with Elnetta Gibbons at the segregated Midland School. The principal at Midland and teacher of the upper grades was Squire Buster. The location of this family was approximately one-and-a-half miles from Midland School, which was located at the corner of Douglas and Grant streets. During the school year they walked this distance five days a week.
Across Main Street from the courthouse was the Buster Restaurant, approximately where the now-vacant former News Journal building stands. The photo for this article is of the interior of this restaurant.
Another Buster restaurant was on West Main Street. In a July 24, 1931 article in the News-Journal is a report of an attempted burglary – “Buster Barbecue Burglary Nipped: Thieves Flee When Burglar Alarm Clangs.”
This restaurant was later subleased and at least for a while called the Lucky Horseshoe. Also on that acreage across from the County Fair Grounds was located a green house which supplied flowers to the community and travelers on the 3C Highway. It also served as an outlet for foods including fresh fish shipped from the Great Lakes. I also found two ads in The Florist Review in 1919 which referred to bulbs available for sale from the Buster Brothers Florist in Wilmington, Ohio.
I received several accounts of prejudicial treatment while members of the Buster family lived in Wilmington, including the following: “My younger brother fought in the Korean War, received a Purple Heart, put on his service uniform, walked uptown to eat at (a) restaurant and was told that they could not serve him!” Still, the writer of this note could say, “Though always conscious of the race-psychology in America, they never allowed themselves to become embittered, or to cease to believe that the mainstream of American thinking is moving in the direction of fair play for all.”