Samuel A. Kinnear, born and bred in Columbus from one of the earliest pioneer families in the city, became a legend in his own time.
Kinnear's father, also named Samuel, came out of Pennsylvania and settled with his family in Pickaway County in 1806. In the words of a later account, he "carved out a home through grit and perseverance."
Apparently tiring of life on the edge of the frontier, he moved to Columbus in 1833, just as the Ohio Canal and National Road were coming to town. The Kinnears moved to the crossroads hamlet of North Columbus and built a house on the east side of North High Street near what came to be called the Glen Echo Ravine. There he "kept tavern" for a number of years and served as the first and only postmaster of North Columbus until his death in 1867.
Josiah Kinnear was born in the High Street house in 1834. Trained as an engineer, he served as county surveyor for 30 years and was the sheriff of Franklin County in the 1870s. He married Josephine Shattuck in 1857 and brought her to live in the family house on High Street. By the time Josiah Kinnear died in 1905, the view from the front of his house had changed considerably. Instead of farm fields stretching west to the Olentangy River, the land across the street had become Olentangy Park, the largest amusement park in central Ohio.
Samuel A. Kinnear had a much more varied career. He was born in the family house in 1858. Educated in local schools, he took some courses at a local commercial college before learning surveying and civil engineering with his father. His first major project came with his supervision of improvements to North High Street in 1876. Then he worked for six years as deputy county surveyor under his father.
In 1882, he began to branch out on his own and his resume broadened. He went into the construction business and won a contract to build a new sewer for northwest Columbus. He then spent some time operating the old Piatt Mill north of Olentangy Park.
Eventually, he left private business and became clerk of the probate court for six years and tax inspector for two years. In 1893, he was elected county treasurer.
After his stint as treasurer, he decided to return to construction -- only now, his work extended far beyond central Ohio. The firm of Hoover and Kinnear took the contract to build five bridges for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, then went on to build 25 miles of the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad. This was followed by more railroad construction work in Ohio and neighboring states.
Forming a new construction company with his brother, Edward, called Kinnear Brothers, Samuel Kinnear decided to seek out even larger contracts. They contracted with the state of Ohio to complete masonry work in Akron and St. Mary's and to build eight locks in Toledo on the Miami and Erie Canal. They also took a contract to drain 81,000 acres in Harris County, Texas. The Texas contract took five years and was successfully completed.
In January 1912, Columbus Mayor George Karb persuaded Kinnear to become his service director. In March 1913, Columbus experienced the worst flood in its history and Kinnear rose to the challenge of providing help for the people in the devastated west side of the city.
A later account described his work: "While the flood was receding, he hired all of the dump wagons in a radius of thirty miles and had the cellars and streets of the inundated district cleared of the debris before other cities affected by the flood got started."
In 1914, Kinnear left the office of service director to become Columbus postmaster and was reappointed to the position for a four-year term in 1919. As postmaster, Kinnear supervised and oversaw the War Saving and Thrift stamp programs first for Franklin County and later for Ohio.
Over the course of his long career, Kinnear also was active in the Masonic order and was a member of the Odd Fellows, the Elks, the Knights of Pythias and the Athletic Club. When he was not involved with all these activities, he spent time at home with his wife and daughter.
A later tribute to him said, "No man in Columbus takes a more active interest in the affairs of the city in general than Mr. Kinnear, for he has the best interests of his home city very much at heart."
Kinnear died in 1926; he is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.
Kinnear Road in northwest Columbus is named for this remarkable family.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it Were column for ThisWeek Community News.