Written by Ted Heineman, Poland Township Historian
THOMAS STRUTHERS (1803-1892)
Hanging on the wall of President William McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles, Ohio is a large bronze plaque of Thomas Struthers. Everyone who climbs the stairs to the upper level of the museum sees this historical marker, some may stop and read what is written, but most will not know of his great accomplishments.
Back in October 2003 the Riverside Review mentioned a few facts about the life of Thomas Struthers as they related to his father, Captain John Struthers, the first settler in Poland Township. These few facts are worth repeating for Thomas Struthers needs to be remembered as one of this area’s great benefactors.
Nine year old Thomas watched as his father and 24 year old bother left the homestead and marched off to fight the British in the War of 1812. Brother Alexander never came back, having lost his life at Fort Mackinaw. When his father returned the mills and blast furnace on Yellow Creek were in ruin.
In 1814 Thomas’s mother died and his 55 year old father was left with 5 daughters and three sons. The homestead was sold to pay off the loans on the mills and the family moved across the Mahoning River and purchased a farm. At the age of 17 young Thomas went off to Jefferson College, in Canonsburg, Pa. which was later renamed Washington and Jefferson. After graduation from college he studied law in Greensborough, Pa., and in 1828 Thomas Struthers was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar.
Bronze plaque commemorating Thomas Struthers
Displayed at the William McKinley Memorial
in Niles, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Ted Heineman
It was in the winter of 1827 that his two younger sisters, Drusilla and Emma were drowned while rowing across the Mahoning River. Their bodies were later recovered downstream and buried next to their mother, Mary Foster Struthers, in the cemetery next to the Poland Presbyterian Church. This tragedy was particularly emotional for Thomas as these two sisters were closer to his age and he was not able to be home at the time to help in the recovery operations.
After Thomas became a lawyer he moved to Warren, Pa., and set up his practice there. At that time Warren boasted of having a population of 500, including 50 houses, some shops and five other lawyers. As time proved, this move was the major factor in Mr. Struthers’s successful career.
By 1831 Mr. Struthers felt that he could support a wife so he married Eunice Eddy, built a house and started buying and selling land on speculation. Over the next 20 years he handled over 500,000 acres. By 1840 Mr. Struthers gave up his law practice and devoted full time to real estate. It was then that he began promoting the building of a railroad, with a branch line through Warren, connecting Erie on the Lake with Sunbury, Pa. where it would connect to another railroad leading to Philadelphia.
After giving up his law practice, Mr. Thomas Struthers spent much of his time in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston searching for investors for his railroad. It took until 1851 to get the Sunbury & Erie Railroad project under way. It was 1859 before the first railcars rolled into Warren from Erie. By this time Mr. Struthers was its president and building the first railroad in California, the Sacramento Valley, financing a street railway system in Cincinnati, and helping develop the DesMoines River in Iowa for stream navigation. It is interesting to note that William Tecumseh Sherman was vice president of the Sacramento Valley R.R. at the time. This all took place before the start of the Civil War and before Sherman became the most prominent general in the Union Army.
In August 1859 Mr. Edwin Drake discovered oil in Titusville, Pa., a small community 35 miles southwest of Warren. Titusville was miles from the nearest railroad and connected with the outside world only by the most primitive wagon trails. Thomas Struthers immediately jumped in to build the Oil Creek Railroad connecting the new oil fields with the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad some 20 miles to the north in Cory, Pa. This venture made Thomas Struthers a multi-millionaire as he had a five-year transportation monopoly as owner of the Oil Creek line. He continued building railroads. Another venture was connecting Cory with the New York Central Railroad to the north near Lake Erie. As the money from the railroad enterprises began pouring in, he started establishing banks in Warren and Cory.
It has been reported that Thomas Struthers was well-educated for his day. He possessed both literary and speaking skills, was straight-laced, and a teetotaler. He served in the Pennsylvania Legislature 1857-58 and ran for State Treasurer and lost. Mr. Struthers also served as a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1872-73. In all, he was a very busy man.
On April 12, 1861 the Confederates in South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter touching off the Civil War. Thomas was now 58, too old to begin a military career, but he hired and provided two substitutes. In 1863 he sold 48 acres of land to the city of Warren, Pennsylvania, which became Oakland Cemetery where he later built a Struthers family mausoleum. Also that year he began buying land on the Mahoning River in Poland Township, Ohio, which included the Struthers’s old home site on Yellow Creek that his father had built and lost during the War of 1812.
At the end of the Civil War Mr. Struthers laid out and developed a town site at the juncture of Yellow Creek and the Mahoning River. This he named Struthers, no doubt in honor of his father, or his family in general. He donated parcels of land for several business enterprises, three churches, the first school, and the Yellow Creek Park. In 1869 Mr. Struthers and other investors formed the “Struthers Iron Company” and built a new blast furnace and foundry which he named the “Anna Furnace” after his only daughter.
In 1871, Mr. Struthers’s only son died of typhoid fever leaving a young wife, but no children. Then in 1880 his only daughter, Anna Struthers Wetmore took ill and died on a shopping trip to Philadelphia, leaving one child, Thomas Struthers Wetmore. In June 1887, Eunice, his wife of 56 years died leaving 84 year old Thomas in the care of Sarah Stewart, his cousin and secretary since 1882. He lived another 5 years and was totally blind when he died on 1892.
It was 1880 when Thomas Struthers purchased Lot 315 in the Riverside Cemetery and had the remains of his father, mother, and two sisters exhumed from the Church Cemetery and buried in Riverside. He was buried in the mausoleum he had prepared many years before in Warren’s Oakland Cemetery. At last count there are still nine of the 27 vaults still empty and reserved for any blood relatives.