What led John Reed Hilliard to found the city that bears his name?
Whether it was a crystal ball, divine providence or something more clandestine, the city's namesake and architect was privy to information that prompted him to buy up local land at a very reasonable price almost 170 years ago.
Hilliard, who was born June 18, 1817, in Piqua and was a civil engineer by trade, platted the acreage into the makings of a village and resold his investment for a profit. From 1852 to 1901, he netted $4,600 from his original investment – well over $100,000 in today's terms.
But what did Hilliard know, and when did he know it?
In 1849, Hilliard and eight other Ohioans served on the first board of directors for the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad.
The CP&I track was the primary rail link from Columbus west to the Indiana border. It later became part of the dominant Pennsylvania Railroad system, which from the outset was a primary goal of the CP&I directors.
In 1852, before any tracks were laid, Hilliard, who still lived in Piqua, began buying up land in Norwich Township, 10 miles west of Columbus.
Hilliard's newly purchased acreage was in the path of the coming railroad. In 1853, at the opening of the CP&I line, he platted 200 lots parallel to the tract and called the place Hilliard's Station.
Hilliard served as the first superintendent of the CP&I and was in a key position to promote his investment.
Under his leadership, CP&I managers pushed to make Hilliard's Station a major stopping point along the newly laid track, and they put together three boxcars beside the tracks and called it a station.
The boxcar station was replaced four years later with a permanent structure that continued operation until 1962.
In 1969, the structure was moved to Weaver Park and became the first structure in what is now known as the Historical Village.
Meanwhile, Hilliard was a lifelong prohibitionist. He stipulated in each Hilliard's Station deed that no liquor was to be sold on any of his lots, and if it was, the buyer had to forfeit ownership.
Not surprisingly, the village had no saloons, at least until 1901, when its founder died.
During his life, Hilliard moved from Piqua to Columbus, where he lived for a time. He then moved to Delaware and, finally, to Peoria, Illinois.
This little bit of trivia might seem odd, but Hilliard actually never lived in the community that bore his name.
Tim Woodruff is president of the Hilliard Ohio Historical Society. The historical society's new Hilliard History Lives guest column will be a periodic feature in the ThisWeek Hilliard Northwest News.