Walking between light and shadow a group of strangers went on tour deep into Montpelier’s past.
The tour, “Voices of the Past,” led by Sandy Gordon, touched on stories from three real figures from the town’s past and two tales that dealt with the supernatural. The Oct. 29 event was the first time such a tour was held in town and organizers are hoping it become an annual tradition.
There were two tours with four people on the early show and 15 on the second.
Gordon, dressed in period costume from the Civil War era, complete with a black dress and bonnet led the group using a lantern for light.
The 45-minute walk featured stops at Main Street and North Monroe and a couple of places on Main Street.
At each stop, Gordon shared a story about a person, some heroic, others notorious. ¬The ghost stories were not so scary, but she hoped they gave people food for thought.
There was the story of the Empire House which used to stand where the Valero gas station is now. It was built in 1850 and developed a great reputation. It served as a tavern and a home for the owner’s family.
Amid several ownership changes from 1860-1880, the business thrived and the reputation remained strong. That all changed when Delilah Owens became involved.
Owens, a widow since 1869, and the mother of three children, was a wild-at-heart woman who ran around town and once possessed of an idea, would not shake it, Gordon said.
In 1880, she was asked to run the Empire House. Mind you this was an uneducated woman with no business experience. This occurred at the same time as the railroad coming to town.
What could go wrong?
The house with a good reputation became a house of notoriety. Owens, with the new clientele from the railroad, promptly ran the Empire House into the ground.
Owens eventually took ownership and further damaged the reputation and bottom line of the Empire House by placing a large barrel of beer in the front lobby. The barrel had a ladle and she charged people a nickel to drink as much as they wanted.
“It might have been a reason she had to keep a gun under the counter in the lobby,” Gordon said.
After years of trying to sell the building as a tavern, finally found a buyer in 1901. That person took the 50-year-old building and turn into a store and a greenhouse. He also moved it to the next site on Monroe.
The building was moved again before being razed in 1981 and replaced by the village garage.
The lone story of notoriety was the tale of the missing traveler. When the building was moved in 1901 a skeleton was found, but its identity is lost to history.
Then there was the sad tale of Dr. Isaiah (I.M.) Snyder. Born in Putnam County in 1836, he moved with his family to West Unity in 1850.
His father was a wealth farmer which allowed Snyder to go to school and eventually took some medical classes at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
He then went to Buffalo to attend a medical school there where the doctors were studying physiology, a new science at the time. At 22, he graduated from medical school.
He joined the Montpelier practice of A.L. Snyder (no relation). He married the daughter of Leonard Merry (a prominent citizen and original owner of the Empire House), Eleanor, in 1861.
Dr. Snyder became well known in the county and developed a good reputation. Over the next 20 years they had nine children, but only two made it past childhood. Disease would run rampant in the spring and summer and the poor doctor likely brought the pestilence home with him and passed it on to his children.
When the railroad came to town, he saw a business opportunity when the town’s population quadrupled by 1889. He created subdivisions that still bear his name and built homes to house the throngs of newcomers.
But being a successful doctor and real estate mogul meant long hours and the pressure to meet expectations. Burning the candle at both ends, he needed help.
He lost a patient who was a prominent citizen. He turned to different chemicals and opium. Powerless to beat the addiction, Snyder died in 1890.
An autopsy performed by 10 physicians concluded he died of pneumonia, as sheer exhaustion took its toll. His wife gave him a lavish funeral and for a while he buried in Louden Cemetery south of town.
It was a swampy 1-acre parcel that was a horrible place to bury anyone, Gordon said.
Later his father-in-law raised money to build Riverside Cemetery and reburied his seven grandchildren and Snyder there. Their graves remain to this day.
There was the story of Moses Louden, a man who worked as far away as Baltimore, Maryland, before returning home to Ohio and finding a wife. He was a staunch abolitionist and was part of the Underground Railroad in northwestern Ohio.
He donated the land for the swampy cemetery, Gordon said.
When the Civil War began, his oldest son, Hiram, was one of the first 100 Ohio citizens to volunteer. He later died of disease, and was memorialized with the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic bearing his name.
Moses’ other son Harrison survived the war and owned several businesses in town. Moses continued to farm but later began losing his eyesight. He went to Ann Arbor for experimental cataract surgery.
His eyesight continued to fail and eventually he had to give up farming and moved to town.
The creepy stories were about a woman who lived in a shanty near the railroad tracks and who died on a cold, windy night when the fire in her home blew onto her dress. She ran outside for help, but became a ball of fire and was hit by a train.
Because she had no family, she was buried in a pauper’s grave.
That same ball of fire appears on the anniversary of her birthday and streaks across the tracks as she tries in vain to find someone to help her.
Another tale involved a man who created daguerreotypes (an early form of photography) and was asked by her husband to take a photo of her shortly after she died. The photographer did as he was asked and the tale took a twist when he noticed that the woman had been holding flowers and then the flowers had moved.
Attendees were unanimous in their appreciation and enjoyment of the tour and Gordon’ performance.
In the future, Gordon said she is considering moving the date away from the time for trick-or-treating and if there was a conflict with an Ohio State football game. There might be some expansion of the tour itself.
For more about Montpelier history, visit the Williams County Historical Society at http://williamscountyhistory.org/
James Pruitt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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