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.
By R.L. HEMINGER
Many people have heard of and are acquainted with the Neil House or Hotel in Columbus. The also know of Neil Avenue in the capital city.
But what they don’t know, in all probability, is that the individual whose name the hotel and the Columbus thoroughfare bears was one of the founders of the city of Findlay. He was William Neil, who was to become one of the leading citizens of Columbus.
On July 3, 1821, three men — Joseph Vance, William Neil and Elnathan Cory — filed the first land entries for territory now forming the area of Hancock County that was to become the city of Findlay. Vance and Cory later bought out the interest of Neil.
“Among the names that stand preeminently forth on the pages of history in connection with the pioneer settlement and later development of Columbus is that of William Neil,” says the Clarke history of Franklin County, of which Columbus is the county seat.
Mr. Neil arrived in Columbus in 1818. For three years ahead of that he had been a resident of Urbana, having gone to that city from Kentucky in 1815. It was at Urbana, as we shall later see, that he became acquainted with the Vance family. Mr. Neil was a native of Virginia where he was born in 1788. The Neil family move to Kentucky when young William was but four.
Mr. Neil was a stonemason by trade, but following his removal to Columbus became interested in other undertakings.
His first business venture failed. He entered into a partnership with another individual to deal in flour. They constructed a keel boat from lumber and floated their cargo down the Scioto River into the Ohio and then into the Mississippi to New Orleans. The business, however, turned out unsuccessfully and Mr. Neil and his partner found themselves $6,000 in debt.
He became cashier of a bank in Columbus and then bought the first stage line to operate between Columbus and Granville, in Licking County, the seat later of Denison University. This was the beginning of later extensive holdings in stage lines. He was to become known as the “stage king” of southern Ohio.
He bought other stage lines including one to Wheeling, one to Cleveland and one from Cleveland to Buffalo. He also owned a line to Sandusky from Columbus through Delaware and Marion, one to Marietta, one to Cincinnati and one leading towards Indianapolis.
At one time, Mr. Neil was reputed to own all the stage lines from Cumberland, Md., to St. Louis, Mo. He became associated with David W. Deshler, a prominent Columbus leader, whose name also was associated with a famous hotel in the capital city later on.
“When railroad building became a factor in Ohio’s development,” says the Clarke history, “the company owned by Neil, Mr. Deshler and others built the first railroad to Xenia, Ohio, completing the line in 1845.”
The company also built and operated railroads between Columbus and Cleveland, Columbus and Indiana points and others. The Pennsylvania Railroad later took over most of these rail lines, which are still operating today, largely as freight systems.
“It is a well-known fact that no other agency,” says the Clarke historical account, “had contributed in so large and prominent a measure to the development of the country as the railroad construction of these early days and in this connection, Mr. Neil deserves much credit, giving large financial support to so many railroad lines which have been an important factor in opening up different sections of the state.”
Mr. Neil at one time was associated with practically every line leading out of the city of Columbus. He was an energetic character, who commanded large resources and who proved a leader who laid much of the foundation upon which the Columbus of today is built.
Next week, we will look at some other interests of Mr. Neil.