We often have an image of the people who lived in central Ohio in the last 100 years or so as being a relatively stable sort of folk. While in many cases they had left their old homes behind in this country or in a variety of foreign countries and started new lives in a new place, once these folks got to central Ohio, they did tend to stay here for a while.
These people worked long hours, either in the cities or in the countryside, and they were apt to stay in one place for considerable periods of time -- or at least some of them did.
Today, we have the story of one of those people who preferred to be on the move. But no matter how many moves he made, James Myers Montgomery always seemed to return to central Ohio.
He was born in Greene County, Pennsylvania, in 1825 and moved with his parents to Ohio in 1830. Shortly after arriving in Knox County, Montgomery's father died, leaving his mother to care for him, along with his young brother and sister. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Delaware County, where young James grew up attending district schools. At the age of 13, his mother hired him out at $5 per month.
His mother remarried when James was 14. A later history noted that "not liking the treatment he was receiving from his stepfather, he left home to struggle for himself, and worked for Mr. Nathan Paul, a neighbor, for about six months on a farm."
The following spring, he returned briefly to Knox County, then came back to Delaware County where he learned carpentry and went into business with his brother.
The later history picks up the story from there:
"By the will of his grandfather, Mr. Montgomery and his brother John became the owners of one hundred and sixty acres of land in Crawford County, two miles north of Bucyrus. Every year for a number of years, the two young legatees walked sixty miles to Bucyrus to pay the taxes on this property, usually making the trip in a day and a half. In the year 1847, Mr. Montgomery bought his brother's interest in the farm for $400. In the fall of the same year he sold the farm to a German for $1000 in cash, over $700 of which was in silver coin."
"In the spring of 1849, he came to Columbus afoot and was obliged to wade Big Walnut Creek to reach the city. He began buying Mexican land warrants and after purchasing six of these, calling for 160 acres each, he started for Bellevue, Iowa, to locate the land."
Apparently, this turned into something of an epic journey.
"Mr. Montgomery took the old stagecoach to Springfield, Ohio, whence he traveled on the old Mad River Railway to Cincinnati, and thence proceeded by steamers ... to St. Louis and his destination. On his return, he walked in the short space of five days the entire distance of two hundred miles to Chicago, whence he proceeded by rail and water to Delaware County. He had encountered many hardships but was comforted by the assurance of having secured 1000 acres of rich Iowa farmland and paid all of his expenses out of his small fund of $1000."
Returning to Ohio, Montgomery continued with a hectic and mobile lifestyle. In 1850, he bought a small grocery and dry-goods store in Centre Village in Delaware County. The following year, he married Rebecca Campbell of Plain Township in Franklin County. He worked his store for about two years. In 1853, he sold part of his land in Iowa and bought a farm in Union County. After one year, he sold that farm and moved to another farm in Plain Township.
He stayed on the Plain Township farm until 1860, when he came to Columbus and invested in property on North High Street. In fall 1863, he bought land east of Worthington and sold it in 1865 for about double what he had paid for it. He then moved to Truro Township where he bought yet another farm and lived on it for 10 years.
Buying and selling several farms over the next few years, he returned to Columbus and went into the hardware business with two partners.
Leaving the hardware business in the hands of one of his three children, he retired to manage his real-estate interests from his home on Eighteenth Avenue in Columbus. By 1890, his real estate included 280 acres in Truro Township, 500 acres of timberland in Missouri and 1,800 acres in Indiana.
James Myers Montgomery died in 1907 and is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery. It had been a mobile but successful life.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.