Assessors Took A ‘Vote’

EDITOR’S NOTE–This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.






Now, when a public improvement is contemplated, such as a new hospital, a new school building or a school for the retarded, a bond tax issue is submitted to the voters for their decision.

But in other days, quite a long time ago, a different method was employed, it seems.

In the 1840s there was a feeling that there should be a bridge across the Blanchard River on Main Street in Findlay. But before proceeding to make such an investment, the county commissioners thought they ought to find out what the people thought about it. So they took action by adopting the following resolution:

“Ordered that the county auditor to instruct the assessors to take a vote of the people as to the propriety of laying a tax of $800 for the building of a bridge across the Blanchard River in Findlay.”

There is no official record as to the sampling of the opinion of the settlers by the assessors, but there does appear a resolution on the March 1, 1842, journal of the county commissioners to the effect that the county auditor was instructed to ask for bids for the improvement. So the “vote” must have been favorable.

The assessors filled a public office that no longer exists in the state of Ohio today. They were elected every two years — one for each township and one for each ward within the city. Their task was to make a canvass of the respective areas each year and ascertain whether there had been any new buildings erected or improvement made to old structures. They had the responsibility of assessing the value thereof and reporting same to the county auditor for inclusion in the new tax lists.

The fact that they were required to make the rounds of their territories each year undoubtedly lead county commissioners to decide to have them ask each voter how he felt about the new river bridge when these calls were made. It was cheaper than an election, commissioners probably felt. Such a decision would hardly stand the test of legality in these more modern days.

The post of assessor was done away with in 1913 by the Ohio General Assembly, when the present system of taxation was adopted, with the county auditor empowered to have the tax valuations made each year under his guidance. The abandonment of the assessorships were not accomplished without political fuss. In fact, Gov. James M. Cox, who spearheaded the new system after his election in 1912, was defeated for re-election in Ohio on this issue alone. But the General Assembly stuck by its guns and never returned to the old plan.

The assessors had other responsibilities. They had to find out how many new babies had been born since their last calls and obtain their names and birth dates and report same to the probate court. This practice continued until around 1910 when the present system was instituted, requiring physicians to submit birth reports to a department of vital statistics in each county. The old system accounts for the fact that many old birth records within the county are in error. The assessors usually were elderly men and their ability to gather this important data accurately was not too good.

But to return to the bridge. It seems that the commissioners had the assessors find out too what the voters thought about a bridge also over the river three miles east of Findlay on the New Haven Road, now Ohio 568. They evidently approved because the request for bids included this improvement also. The advertisement gave a name to this New Haven Road bridge. It was “Marvin Bridge.”

The commissioners had difficulty getting the new bridges done. The contract was awarded on Jan. 7, 1843. It was not done in June and the commissioners took action ordering a legal suit started in common pleas court if the work was not finished by July. But there is no record of a suit being started, so the bridges must have been finished to the commissioners’ satisfaction.

The Findlay bridge was a wooden structure, known as a trestle span, with its support coming from piling 20 feet apart.

“The finish was of the plainest kind, only ordinary railing and no cover to paint,” says the R.C. Brown history of Hancock County.

The next bridge, built in 1850, was a covered one. Three other ones were to come later, including the present bridge.


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