William Alexander Duff, a professional newspaper man and short-story writer, became Ashland County’s resident local historian. Throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s Will Duff wrote a daily column for the Times-Gazette entitled “Today’s Observations”. His life in Ashland and his acquaintance with many of its citizens gave him a first-hand knowledge of the history of the city, the local families, and the businesses.
He was born in Ashland, Ashland Co, Ohio on 16 Oct 1872 to Captain John Duff and his wife Lavina Markely. His mother died when he was 3 and he was taken in and raised by Mr. & Mrs. Jonas Freer. His home at the corner of Center and Walnut street, was built by Freer.
Duff attended Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, Ohio. After college, he returned to the Ashland-Mansfield area and went into the newspaper field. He worked for the Mansfield News Journal for 12 years, worked for the Sandusky Register before becoming editor throughout the years, for the different Ashland newspapers, including the Times-Gazette. He also worked in Cleveland, doing police and courthouse reporting for the Cleveland News.
His farm home (located just east of Ashland, on the land now occupied by the Luray Shopping Center, a school playing field, and a residence) was called ASESIBA, an acronym from the motto, “At sunrise every soul is born anew”. Here he stored his treasured local clippings that he had amassed. He referred to himself as a “clippiac”, which came from the fact that he had stacks and boxes piled almost to the ceiling of local clippings. He claimed that he had over two million clippings filed away in those boxes. And, he said he could walk through the labyrinth of boxes, reach into one, and pick out the clipping he needed for his column for that day.
He married Carrie C. Cowan in 12 Jun 1894 and had two children. Helen Elizabeth was born 3 Jun 1903 and John William was born 26 September 1905. Helen married, James Calfant, a professional writer, and she was a librarian at Shaker Heights Junior High School. John W was a newspaper advertising man in Uniontown, PA. Will Duff continued his passion until death took him on 8 Oct 1950, at the age of 77, in his beloved Ashland, Ohio. His wife had died the previous year.
The Duff Room in the Ashland College Historical Education Center is a tribute to his memory. Ashland has honored him with Duff Drive and Duff Field named for him. The Will Duff columns in the microfilm of the Ashland Times-Gazette for the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, and into the 50’s are a gold mine of information for the Ashland county historical researcher. The Ashland County Historical Society has all of Mr. Duff’s scrapbooks of “Today’s Observations”, his three-volume History of North Central Ohio, his “Little Stories of Old Sandusky”, and the “Ashland Centennial Booklet”, which he edited.