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
William Neil, one of Findlay’s founders, together with Joseph Vance and Elnathan Cory, lived in Urbana from 1815 to 1818. He had gone to Urbana from Kentucky after having been born in Virginia in 1788. He was thus 30 years old when at Urbana he met Joseph Vance, whose family had become prominent in the Champaign County area at that time.
Mr. Neil moved on to Columbus, but when Mr. Vance decided it would be wise to purchase some land in northwestern Ohio, which was yet to be opened up, he solicited the interest of Mr. Neil in Columbus and also of Elnathan Cory at nearby New Carlisle. The trio bought the Fort Findlay site and some adjoining land from the United States government in July, 1821.
His expanding interests in Columbus led Mr. Neil to sell his part of the Hancock Country property to his partners before long. Mr. Vance and Mr. Cory continued their interest over a much longer period, however, and helped establish the present city of Findlay.
Mr. Neil also made a purchase from Mr. Vance. The latter owned what is now the Ohio State University farm in Columbus and Mr. Neil bought the property consisting of 300 acres. This was his second investment in land. While in Urbana he bought a 40-acre farm and farmed the property himself before going to Columbus.
Mr. Neil acquired much other property in Columbus and was the owner of much of the land on which the Columbus of today stands. He bought all the land west of High Street to the waterworks except a 25-acre tract and the area that is now Goodale Park, as well as another tract.
“Nearly all this land,” says the Clarke history of Franklin County, “was a forest of finest walnut and oak from which the first timber used in the old Neil House was cut.”
Mr. Neil married Hannah Schwing, of Louisville, Ky., and six children were born, of whom one died in infancy.
Their second child, Anna Eliza, married William Dennison, who was to become governor of the state of Ohio and who occupied the executive chair at the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
It is interesting that the story of Findlay’s founders involves two governors of the state. Joseph Vance, one of the trio with Mr. Neil and Mr. Cory became governor of the Buckeye State in the 1830s, and Mr. Neil’s son-in-law as we have just seen was governor later on.
“The home of Mr. and Mrs. Neil in Columbus,” says the Clarke history, “was always a most hospitable one, standing with wide open doors in true Kentucky style. While Mr. Neil was proving so important a factor in the development of the state and the promotion of its prominent industries, Mrs. Neil was giving of her time and means toward the moral progress of the community. Her gifts included a lot on High Street to the Methodist Church. The edifice later burned and in its place was built another Methodist church, known as Wesley Chapel, at the corner of Broad and Fourth where a bas-relief of her was put in the church wall.
“The Hannah Neil Mission, named in her honor, is home for friendless women and children, to whom her heart ever went out most warmly and helpfully. She was one of the founders of the Female Benevolent Society while her private charities were almost numberless.”
The Clarke history pays this tribute to the memory of Mr. Neil:
“Maintaining his residence in this city and county from 1818 until his death, he was not only a factor in its business development through his railroad operations and real estate dealings but also contributed to public progress in his support of the various measures which advanced the material, intellectual, social and moral development of the community.”
Mr. Neil died May 18, 1870, at the home of his son-in-law, former Gov. Dennison, while Mrs. Neil passed away in February, 1868. He was 88 years old at the time of his death, while his wife was 74 at her death. Both are buried in Columbus.