One House’s Story: The Bombing of the Bowers’ House

Modern image of the front façade of the Bowers home on Tuscarawas Avenue in New Philadelphia.

I stumbled across one of this house’s stories while researching one of the home’s inhabitants for another project. I could not resist sharing this very surprising, and violent, piece of New Philadelphia history.


A note about addresses: House numbers and street names often change over time.

Well known attorney Henry Bowers (1858-1934) and his family had, for many years, resided on West Ray Street in New Philadelphia. Henry and his wife Sarah “Elizabeth” Bair (1856-1936) had raised their six children in that house. However, around 1914, Henry and Sarah built a large, solid home on Tuscarawas Avenue and there they moved, along with their youngest son Russell Bowers (1891-1983) and his family.

Russell, also an attorney, was in 1921 serving as Tuscarawas County’s Prosecuting Attorney. Russell led the county’s efforts enforcing the recently passed 18th Amendment prohibiting alcohol. Not surprisingly, Tuscarawas County was not immune from bootlegging, speakeasies, and illicit alcohol sales and consumption. This kept the Prosecuting Attorney and law enforcement very busy. While all this was going on Russell lived in his father’s house on Tuscarawas Avenue with his wife Clelia Getz (1892-1971) and young son.

  • Picture of attorney Henry Bowers
  • Image of the Bowers house in New Philadelphia from a 1921 newspaper article.
  • Image of the headline for an article detailing the large raid conducted by Prosecuting Attorney Bowers and local law enforcement, April 1921. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)

Prosecuting Attorney Bowers, in April 1921, ordered a large-scale, countywide raid of establishments and homes believed to be violating prohibition law. Law enforcement swept through the cities of Dover, New Philadelphia, Dennison and Uhrichsville and arrested over 45 individuals. Twenty-two of them were charged with crimes relating to either alcohol or operating houses of “ill repute.” Among them was a Dover man named Ralph Herzig (1892-1975), son of a Swiss immigrant, who operated a saloon-turned-soda shop in the 300 block of Third Street.

One of Ralph’s neighbors on the same block was an Italian immigrant restaurant owner whose son, Vincent “Chauncey” Nigro (1896-1922), was close to the same age as Herzig. Chauncey had served briefly during the latter months of World War One, though he never left the United States. Chauncey was, at the time of the April 1921 raids, operating his parents’ restaurant and living with them on the 300 block of Third Street in Dover. Both men had been in trouble with the law, even before the April 1921 raid, for violating prohibition by furnishing alcohol at their establishments.

  • The locations of the saloons owned by Ralph Herzig (blue) and Nick Nigro (green) on West Third Street in Dover as found on the Sanborne Insurance Maps, 1914. (Source: loc.gov)
  • Image of newspaper headline for the article detailing the arrests and charging of Ralph Herzig and Chauncey Nigro for violating prohibition laws, November 1920. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • Headline for newspaper article detailing the arrest of the men involved in bombing the Bowers' house on Tuscarawas Avenue, June 1921. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)

Later witness testimony reported that, after the April raids, Herzig had made a number of threats against Prosecutor Bowers. One witness reported that they had seen Herzig and Nigro together and that, at that time, Herzig indicated to the witness that Nigro was going to be the one to “get that [expletive].” Early in the morning of Friday, June 10, 1921, an explosive device placed on the Bowers’ front porch detonated. The bomb tore a large hole in the wall next to the front door, ripped the front porch ceiling apart, blew out the windows in the front of the house and sent pieces of concrete and glass into the home, damaging furniture and doors inside. Luckily for the Bowers, no one was injured in the explosion as the family had recently vacated the downstairs bedroom.

Prosecutor Bowers, and local law enforcement, were aware of the threats made by Herzig and Nigro and immediately suspected them, and Chauncey’s father Nick Nigro. It did not help Chauncey Nigro’s case that, in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, he drove passed the Bowers’ home multiple times and, each time, slowed and glared at the Bowers family on the front porch. Within a few days the police believed they had gathered enough evidence to charge the men, and they were all taken into custody. All three men were, however, able to post bond and were released as they awaited trial. Prosecutor Bowers, fearing reprisal, had law enforcement officers stationed at his home armed with riot shotguns and pistols.

  • Newspaper headlines from the start of Chauncey Nigro's trial, 30 June 1921. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • Newspaper headline announcing the verdict in Chauncey Nigro's trial, 7 July 1921. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • Newspaper headlines from the start of Ralph Herzig's trial, 28 July 1921. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • Newspaper headline announcing the sentence in Ralph Herzig's trial, 4 Auhust 1921. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)

During the trials of the two men Prosecutor Bowers was assisted by his father Henry Bowers. Interestingly, Henry Bowers was best known as a defense attorney who was able to save numerous defendants from the death penalty over the course of his career. The trials of Chauncey Nigro and Ralph Herzig lasted through the summer of 1921, with both men being convicted in the bombing case. They continued to be out on bond though as their two cases made their way through the appeals processes. The prosecutors office had yet to bring Nick Nigro’s case to trial, perhaps indicating a lack of evidence of his role in the bombing.

Before Chauncey Nigro learned of the fate of his final appeal in September 1922, he allegedly killed himself in a room in Riverside Inn in Dover, Ohio. According to his girlfriend at the time, he claimed he would never go to jail and then drank an undetermined poison. Chauncey’s family though suspected some form of foul play, and Chauncey’s death certificate did list poisoning as the cause of death without mentioning suicide. Ralph Herzig was convicted and spent three years in jail before being paroled in the summer of 1924. He returned to Dover but, in 1931, was deemed insane and sent to the Massillon State Hospital where he stayed until after 1940. Ralph Herzig died in Massillon in 1975. After the death of his son Chauncey and the conviction of Ralph Herzig, the charges against Nick Nigro were dropped and the case of the bombing of the Bowers’ home drifted out of the newspapers entirely. Nick Nigro and his family continued to live in Dover where they operated their tavern until going into the sand and coal business. Nick Nigro passed away in October 1965.

Henry Bowers continued to work as a practicing attorney, defending a number of clients including murderers, until his death in the spring of 1934. Prosecuting Attorney Russell Bowers eventually moved his family into a large home on West Fair Avenue and continued to practice law privately with the firm of Bowers, Bowers, and Mastin until his death in April 1983. The bombing of the Bowers’ home on Tuscarawas Avenue was one of the most violent chapters in the county’s history during Prohibition and illustrated that the area was not immune to the dangers of that time.

  • Newspaper headline announcing the death of Chauncey Nigro, 9 September 1922. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • Newspaper headline about Ralph Herzig's insanity determination, 31 December 1931. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • The Bowers Home on Tuscarawas Avenue, New Philadelphia as it appeared in 2012. (Source: google.com)
  • The Bowers Home on Tuscarawas Avenue, New Philadelphia as it appeared in 2012. (Source: google.com)
  • The Bowers Home on Tuscarawas Avenue, New Philadelphia as it appeared in 2012. (Source: google.com)

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: