History of St. Marys, Auglaize County, Ohio
From: History of Auglaize County, Ohio
Edited By: William J. McMurray
Histotical Publishing Company
Indianapolis - 1923
OLD CHARLEY MURRAY.
The name of Charles Murray ("old Charley") has been mentioned often in this chronicle. "Old Charley,"
who must be regarded as "the father of St. Marys" and who despite his Scottish name is sometimes referred
to as a French trader and by one reviewer as an Irishman was on the scene there at St. Marys when the historic
treaty at that point in 1818 opened lands thereabout and over to the west in Indiana to settlement and had been
there for years carrying on a trading business with the Indians, he having been the successor to the infamous James
Girty, brother of the equally infamous Simon Girty, whose earlier trading post there had given the place its original
name of Girty's Town. When the treaty was concluded and the troops were removed from old Ft. St. Marys, Murray
continued on the scene, carrying on his trade with such settlers as slowly came in or with hunters and adventurers
passing through, so that by the time the place came to be recognized as the nucleus of a town he had become well
established and was known throughout all northwestern Ohio and eastern Indiana. As has been mentioned above, he
created an informal town site there in 1820, but it was not until three years later in the summer of 1823, that
he and his associates got for St. Marys an official place on the map.
THE PIONEER MILL OF CHRISTIAN BENNER.
The Christian Benner above noted as one of the owners of lots in the town in 1824 was the miller, who had come in about that time and had set up a small grist mill, run by horse power, perhaps finding this more economical and convenient than the erection of a water mill with its attendent dam. In the Linzee collection referred to elsewhere in this work there is a pencil drawing by A. J. Linzee of the old Benner horse mill which was standing there when the Linzee family came up here in 1831. This drawing shows a square structure a story and a half in height, with a wide door and three windows at the front, one of these windows lighting the half story. At the rear there is a small "lean to" which is indicated as the "power house," evidently the shelter for the patient animals that operated the treadmill. The main part of the building is indicated as the "grist room," and a notation on the sketch locates the structure as having stood on Spring street. A fence corner shown at the opposite side of the street would indicate that the pioneer mill probably (and reasonably) occupied a position at the intersection of two of the highways of that period. Benner was listed for taxation on lots 7, 8 and 17, which cover the east side of the block facing Front street south of High street to the alley and the north half of the block facing High street between Front street and Main street, hence it might be assumed that this mill occupied that site, a square west of the High street bridge across the river, though this does not agree with the Linzee reference to Spring street, nor with the well defined local tradition amounting almost to positive assurance that the Benner mill occupied the site now occupied by the First National Bank of St. Marys at the southeast corner of Spring and Front streets, which would be a likely site for a mill, there on what then was the brow of the river bank leading down to the wharf. Christian Benner lived to be an old, old man and his last days were spent in his pleasant home on South Main street, south of Market street, opposite the present handsome home of Albert Herzing. His mill probably served well the pioneer needs of the community, but in good time it was succeeded by mills of ample capacity to take care of the growing trade, one of the best of these having been the Reservoir mill established by Scott, Linzee & Co. in 1847, the year before the erection of Auglaize county, and presently taken over by Robert B. Gordon, which mill (with modern extensions and improvements) is still in operation, and St. Marys thus early became widely known as a milling point.
ORGANIZATION OF MERCER COUNTY.
It was in June, 1824, the year following the platting of St. Marys, that the county seat was established there,
Mercer county then deciding to have a nearer point for the transaction of its civil business than at Greenville,
the county seat of Darke county, to which Mercer had been attached for civil purposes. John P. Hedges was appointed
by the commissioners of the new county to act as treasurer and he appointed Samuel Hanson to be collector of taxes,
it being noted on the record of the commissioners for Mercer county that "the said Hanson agreed to collect
for $5 all the taxes of Mercer and VanWert counties." W. B. Hedges was the auditor of the new county and his
notation on the record has it that "the above business was done before David Hays and Solomon Carr, commissioners
of said county; which I do certify is a correct proceedings of all business ordered by said commissioners to enter
on said day's proceedings." The records of the auditor's office as of that same day (June 7) show that to
John Dougerty, Asa Coleman and Samuel Newell were issued orders for $42, $36 and $33 respectively "for locating
seat of justice," and thus St. Marys became the county seat, an eminence maintained until deprived of its
position by Celina in 1840.
THE OLD COUNTY SEAT "WAR."
The story of the claim of St. Marys for a resumption of county seat honors when Auglaize county was erected in 1848 and of her disappointment in that direction has been told elsewhere. It is an old story to which some mystery seems to have attached from the beginning, and even to this day is told with variations. Many at St. Marys insist that ballots that would have shown a public preference to the site at the western edge of the county were stolen. The commissioners' records, set out elsewhere, make no reference to what perhaps at the time was a pretty warm local row, simply dealing with the Wapakonetans' payment of $5,000 for public buildings. The Sutton review of 1880, written about thirty years after the dispute, does not clear up the mystery of the missing or "manipulated" returns, the story there being told as follows: "At the organization of the county a strife arose between St. Marys and Wapakoneta for the location of the seat of justice. The former, as the oldest town, located in the more populous portion of the county, urged these facts as grounds for priority. The latter urged geographical advantages, being more centrally located, and thus entitled to priority. The claims of both were well founded, and with this status the question was submitted to the people. There was little doubt of the ascendancy of St. Marys, as the populous settlements in the south were favorable to her interests, while Wapakoneta was largely' dependent on the more sparsely populated section of the east. When the question was thus submitted to the voters of the county, German township (then indluding also Jackson township), holding the balance of power between the rival factions, was generally conceded to have favored St. Mary's, but by some manipulation of the returns they were never handed in with those of the other townships and Wapakoneta, in the absence of these returned, had a decided majority and thus secured the prize. It is impossible to determine what the result would have been had this self disfranchised township expressed its real sentiment, but it is evident that it lay in its power to dictate between the rival towns. This rivalry, naturally enough, developed into enmity and this, in turn, has retarded the progress of both towns. Perhaps the most prominent illustration of the evil results produced was in the case of the P., F. W. & C. R. R., which was driven from the county by the jealousy of these two towns." The review of this situation made by Professor Williamson is given elsewhere, in connection with the story of county government. As will be recalled, he has it that over night "the returns from German township were taken from the files by some one and could not be found," but that they were restored "some time in the year 1849."
PIONEERS WHO LACKED FORESIGHT.
While the above statement regarding the loss to this community of the Pittsburg, Ft. Wayne & Chicago railway
doubtless is true, the main reason of the county's failure to secure the construction of that road through Auglaize
county was the inability of its more prominent citizens to look into the future and to visualize what the construction
of the new road (now the main line of the great Pennsylvania system) would mean to, the county. Unfortunately they
did not have a vision. They thought only of immediate conditions. To illustrate: John C. Bothe, who had a warehouse
in Wapakoneta and did an extensive business in grain and was quite well off in the matter of worldly goods, refused
to give aid to the building of the road for the reason that he would lose some grain trade, apparently never thinking
that his loss in that direction would more than be made up by the advanced value of his real estate. When asked
to subscribe a reasonable amount of stock to aid in securing the road, he said: "I will not subscribe anything.
If the road is constructed through the county by way of St. Johns, Wapakoneta, Moulton and St. Marys it will be
but a short time until grain warehouses will be erected at St. Johns and Moulton and our grain trade will be cut
off from the east and the west. If they want to build the road let them go ahead, but I will give nothing."
FRIENDLY FEELINGS FOSTERED BY NEWSPAPERS.
Despite the traditions of rivalry that seem to persist between the towns of St. Marys and Wapakoneta, the county
seat newspapers apparently always have sought to speak well of the neighboring town and have ever displayed a friendly
attitude toward that place, as witness the following from the old Wapakoneta Republican of May 14, 1851, George
W. Andrews then having been editor of that paper (now the Democrat). Under the heading "St. Marys," the
editor of the Republican observed that "we made an agreeable visit a few days since to our little sister town,
St. Marys. While there we noticed many substantial evidences of improvement - buildings in process of erection,
plans for street improvements, etc. In the way of accommodations for the wayfaring public there are some two or
three good hotels, with fine, sprightly, gentlemanly and very good looking landlords. They are always provided
with what makes the stomach as well as the heart glad - no disciple of Epicurus can gainsay this The business men
are quite pleasant in all their intercourse - have cultivated habits that cannot fail to please; and last, though
not least, the town in miniature is said to contain as many pretty, bright eyed, rosy lipped ladies as any little
village hereabouts (of course we except Wapakoneta in this and all things else, when compared with other places).
All things considered, St. Marys is considerable of a little town and when it shall be connected with Wapakoneta
by the plank road now in course of construction, the place will be greatly benefited by the influence of the county
seat, just as the smaller satelites are benefited by the controlling influence of the superior planet. We think
the day is not far distant when St. Marys may in some things even compare with our own Wapakoneta. If a good, clever,
upright set of people can obtain that great desideratum, she will stand a good chance of it."
COMMERCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL STATUS OF THE TOWN.
As the terminal point for the Toledo & Ohio Central railroad, St. Marys enjoys such advantages as this terminus
gives and as the seat of the great power house of the Western Ohio electric railway, which supplies electric power
and light throughout a wide territory hereabout, it enjoys an additional advantage, while its situation at a division
point of the Lake Erie & Western railway is a further advantage. Among its present industries, in addition
to the woolen mills and the flour mills above mentioned, are a wheel and spoke works, an extensive machine shop,
a box board factory which is the successor to the old straw board company which began operation there years ago,
a chain works which has been in operation there for more than twenty years, an extensive branch of a nationally
known cigar factory, a carriage factory and a concern for the manufacture of farm tractors, a creamery, a lumber
and finishing mill, besides numerous lesser industries, while the commercial interests of the city are well and
substantially represented, and the grain elevators provide ample grain market facilities. The city has a daily
newspaper, the Leader, John L. Sullivan, editor.
[Return to part 1 of St. Marys, Ohio history.]