Left to right:
Drawings of father – John;
son – W. H.; and mother – Hester (Limes) Irwin
Appearing on page 422 of the book, “History of Ross & Highland Counties, Ohio 1796 – 1880”
“Remembering Greenfield’s William Harvey Irwin
Prominent Attorney and Popular Mayor”
By Linda Jean Limes Ellis
His name appears in at least eight Greenfield and Highland County, Ohio historical books and in countless newspaper columns published over a span of one hundred twenty years.
He co-authored, with Rev. S. D. Crothers, “Centennial Historical Sketches of Greenfield and Vicinity, July 4, 1876,”[i] a 16-page account of the life and times of many early settlers who shaped the beginnings of his hometown of Greenfield, Ohio published in honor of the celebration of America’s Centennial.
Now, you are cordially invited to ‘sit a spell and stay awhile’! Please allow me to introduce you to this man who was most often known to his friends simply as “W. H.” Irwin. His full name was William Harvey Robbins Irwin.[ii] He was born October 12, 1832 as the second son[iii] in the family of John and Hester (Limes) Irwin. John’s parents were William and Margaret (McCormack) Irwin.[iv] Hester’s parents were William and Athaliah (Doster) Limes.[v] These families had roots in the Perry Township, Fayette County and Madison Township, Highland County area from the early 1800’s into the early twentieth century before new generations began moving away.[vi]
On page 57 of the “1871 Atlas of Highland County, Ohio,” in the Greenfield Business Directory, under the heading of “Attorneys, Justices of the Peace, and Insurance Agents”: “W. H. Irwin, Attorney-at-Law and Notary Public. Office, First National Bank.” Also, under the title of “Miscellaneous”: “John Irwin has been Assessor of Madison Township twenty one years this 1871.” John and W. H. Irwin, father and son, jointly owned 47 acres of land along the Greenfield Centerfield Pike.[x]
In the 1880 U. S. Census, the William H. Irwin family was listed living in Greenfield, Highland County, Ohio with the following children named: Carrie – age 11; Estel – age 6, and Mary – age 4. William is listed as age 47 with his occupation as Lawyer. Mary E. is listed as his wife with her age being 42.[xi] From Carrie’s obituary, we learn that she was born on March 23, 1869. She graduated from Greenfield High School in 1887. In August of the same year, she married H. Milton Fullerton who was engaged in the retail shoe business in Greenfield for many years. She died on March 30, 1936. The couple had one son, Howard Fullerton, who was living in Columbus, Ohio at the time of her death. From her sister Estelle’s obituary, we find that she had moved to Cincinnati after her marriage to Alfred M. Davies on June 15, 1893. No children from this marriage were mentioned. At this time, nothing further is known about Mary, the youngest daughter of W. H. and Mary Emily Irwin. Carrie and Estelle, along with their husbands, are buried at the Greenfield Cemetery.[xii]
The book, “History of Ross & Highland Counties Ohio”,[xiii] offers comprehensive historical accounts of Highland County, Madison Township and Greenfield. The Irwin family of this focus, and specifically W. H. Irwin, are featured at length in various sections and chapters. One devotes a spotlight paragraph about William Harvey Irwin stating his date of birth as October 12, 1832 in Madison Township where he remained until the time of the book’s publication.[xiv] It highlights his life beginning as a boy working on his father’s farm until he became a student at the “Greenfield Academy.” Afterward, he spent two years at the college in South Hanover, Indiana (and Salem Academy is mentioned on page 463 of “Highland Pioneer Sketches and Family Genealogies” by Elsie Johnson Ayres).
When he returned to Greenfield from college, W. H. Irwin embarked upon his life long occupation of law under the guidance of James H. Rothrock who later became a judge. By the beginning of the 1855 school term, following his two years studying under J. Rothrock, W. H. Irwin entered the Cincinnati Law School where he graduated the next Spring. In 1856, he was admitted to the Bar in Washington Court House, Ohio. By the Fall of 1860, he was elected to the office of Prosecuting Attorney for Highland County, Ohio where he served in that capacity for six years. The paragraph ends with the sentence: “He is now in the enjoyment of an extensive and lucrative practice.”[xv] Undoubtedly, his high public profile helped launch his entry into the political arena as a mayoral candidate when in 1860 he emerged as the winner of what would be his first term in Greenfield’s top elected office.
- H. Irwin was prominently involved in a couple of high profile court cases that are well chronicled in the Highland County history books and area newspapers. The details of the following true story are amazing for their time! The local Greenfield women’s ire became aroused from an incident that had happened in September of 1864 when an innocent man was accidentally shot and killed by a drunkard who was in the midst of a brawl with others inside of a saloon. Several Greenfield ladies, young and old alike, banded together to try and shut down the liquor trade in Greenfield with a raid conducted on July 10, 1865. They verbally issued their ultimatums to each Greenfield liquor establishment that it had 15 minutes to comply with their demands or “abide the consequences” which meant that the owner’s kegs of liquor would be emptied into the streets. Surely, the male proprietors did not consider these females a serious threat – but steadfastly serious the defiant women were, and their plan ultimately succeeded.[xvi]
The hatchet carrying women (hatchets were in some way hidden until needed – beneath their skirts perhaps?) proceeded to destroy and empty liquor barrels, jugs, kegs, and bottles from three saloons and three drug stores. Page 431[xvii] lists the name of the plaintiff, William S. Linn (eleven others backed Linn but were not named) and the defendants who included Mary J. Irwin. I am not certain if this Mary Irwin was Attorney W. H. Irwin’s wife as her name was Mary Emily Irwin. The jury trial was held in Hillsboro in January of 1867, and after the deliberation, it was determined the fair sex crusaders had caused $625.00 in damages. The ladies moved to have a new trial; however, the case was eventually settled by acceptance of a nominal amount (undisclosed in the book) by the plaintiffs for their damages.
The Frank Raymond Harris book “A Greene Countrie Towne”[xviii] offers the reader a dazzling in-depth description of every stage of this legendary case as it unfolded in Greenfield, and later Hillsboro. Page 170 tells us that “The prosecuting attorney for Highland County was William Harvey Irwin of Greenfield, an acquaintance of all the accused and doubtless sympathetic to their cause.”
We’ll turn our attention now to another dramatic and well-documented court case where W. H. Irwin, Esq. stood front and center for the cause of justice. Let’s examine the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of Miss Mary Ann Lovell of Leesburg, Ohio. This young lady in her middle 20’s, and Mr. John S. Blackburn her much older lover who, as it was written, requested their rendezvous, rode by horseback together unaccompanied on the night of March 20, 1871. Their destination was the intersection of Cliff Run and Paint Creek off of Rocky Forge Road. It was at that location sometime during the dark of night she met her untimely demise. Was she murdered by him? Or, as John Blackburn consistently contended, she died as a victim of her own actions? This sensational court case is presented in several publications including the “History of Ross & Highland Counties Ohio,”[xix] and in the book “Hometown Chronicles” by Frank Raymond Harris.[xx] We find within the pages of the Elsie Johnson Ayres book, “Hills of Highland,”[xxi] a secret in Mary Ann Lovell’s personal life which could explain the underlying reason she did not live to return from the duo’s encounter.
The Lovell-Blackburn Trial was held in November of 1871 in Chillicothe. The brother of the accused, C. H. Blackburn, was his defense lawyer. The State’s team of lawyers included W. H. Irwin from Greenfield. The three-week trial ended when the jury’s verdict was announced as murder in the second degree. This decision was appealed and landed in the lap of the Supreme Court of Ohio. However, during this time the state passed legislation granting the right of the Court of Common Pleas to appoint, in a case such as this one, a “commission of lunacy.” From all accounts, the accused was deemed insane and removed to live in an asylum. The story does not end there because later John S. Blackburn was released and disappeared; leaving lingering questions as to exactly how Miss Mary Ann Lovell met her death that dreary March night in 1871.
We fast forward in time to the year 2000 when the book “Greenfield Ohio 1799 – 1999” was published by the Greenfield Historical Society. William H. Irwin’s name and photograph were rightly included in this historical publication. Page 28 lists those people who served as Mayors of Greenfield from 1840 to 1996. The chronological list shows William H. Irwin served from 1860 – 1861, 1872 – 1877, and 1884 – 1887. The story alludes to the fact that there may have been more than three mayoral terms for William H. Irwin, but due to missing records that cannot be proven.
The Saturday, April 19, 1886, “Hillsborough Gazette” column, “In the Townships” for the Township of Madison states: “The election here last Monday was a spirited and lively one, and a larger vote was polled than ever before at a corporation election by 20 votes. The main fight was on Mayor and Marshal, which was hotly contested to the last moment. W. H. Irwin was re-elected Mayor by a majority of 82 votes over W. H. Eckman.”
The March 6, 1886 Greenfield “Local Correspondence” of the same newspaper reveals that Mayor Irwin was a Republican after it reported that twenty-nine people had left “this place for Kansas and Nebraska last Tuesday.” “That Mayor Irwin said he would not care if the twenty-nine persons who left for the West last Tuesday had been Democrats instead of Republicans and would have been glad to have seen them go.”
On page 188 of the book, “Greenfield Ohio 1799 – 1999,” is an almost half-page photograph of members of Gibson Post No. 180 of the Grand Army of the Republic attending an 1884 Memorial Day service at Greenfield Cemetery. All of the names of the veterans in the photograph are shown below it. “W. H.” Irwin is listed ninth from the left among those in the first row who were sitting on the ground. He is holding his hat in his lap and is sporting a thick long beard. Like all the others, he was wearing his best dark suit for the occasion.[xxii]
Sara Watts of the First Greenfield Presbyterian Church, stated in an email sent to this writer on August 22, 2008, that W. H. Irwin, Esq. was not listed as an actual church member; however, he was listed in their death records. This means that the minister at that time, who would have been Rev. Samuel Dickey Crothers, would have officiated the service. Rev. Samuel Dickey Crothers pastored at First Greenfield Presbyterian Church from 1863 to 1900 and his father, Rev. Samuel Crothers, pastored there from 1820-1856.
Because Greenfield, Ohio newspapers do not exist today on microfilm for the years W. H. Irwin lived, as mentioned earlier, research was directed to the Hillsboro, Ohio newspapers. The Greenfield “Local Correspondence” columns published in the “The Hillsborough Gazette” during the 1880s were filled with newsy tidbits galore about its citizens; and Mayor W. H. Irwin could often find his name among them. These Greenfield columns, like those written about other smaller villages in Highland County, provide a window for us today to reflect on the culture of those times and gain a clearer understanding of the views held about such subjects as the treatment of women, attitudes about the different degrees of crime, and the overall nature of the values considered important to those who lived through the late nineteenth century.
The October 23, 1884 Greenfield “Local Correspondence” column mentions: “Mayor Irwin and J. P. Low left early Monday morning for Sandusky for two or three weeks fishing excursion along the lake.” One week later, on October 30th, the column ran an update with: “J. P. Low, Fay Baldwin and W. H. Irwin, Esq. who went to the lake on a fishing and hunting tour a week ago, sent home one hundred pounds of fresh fish a few days ago. They will learn the natives how to catch fish, while they are out there.” These two news items tell us that “W. H. Irwin, Esq.” was, indeed, the same man as “Mayor Irwin”; he enjoyed a two or three week vacation; and his Lake Erie fishing expedition was a successful noteworthy event!
Mayor Irwin was mentioned a second time in the October 23, 1884 column: “Mayor Irwin held a “prayer meeting” last Sunday morning for the fifth Sunday in succession, and David Yeates, who was caught the night before beating his wife, was fined $5.00 and sentenced to serve six days in the cooler for his fun.”
Another criminal case shows up in the December 4, 1884 column: “A young man by the name of Creamer was arrested last week for disorderly conduct. He was fined by Mayor Irwin ten dollars and sentenced to twenty-five days on the chain gang. It is thought that the Mayor has taken too much on himself, and there is no provision for enforcing this ordinance.”
Without knowledge of all the details connected to each of the above-mentioned two cases in 1884, it is difficult to pass judgment on Mayor Irwin’s rulings regarding the severity of the punishments he deemed appropriate for each. News reporters today, however, would not even consider writing “beating his wife” and “fun” in the same sentence.
“Mayor Irwin is afflicted like Job – with a boil.”[xxiii] This “revelation” kicks off the list for yet another newsy Greenfield column.
It is easy to understand why the author summed up the purpose of the “Local Correspondence” columns this way: “Neighborhood News and Village Gossip, Births, Death and Marriages, Puns, Personals, and Pungent Paragraphs.”[xxiv]
- H. Irwin was sometimes referred to as “Squire Irwin,” and his appearance described as being short, and “rotund.”[xxv]
William Harvey Irwin lived 61 years, 8 months and 22 days; dying on July 4, 1894, in Greenfield, Ohio.[xxvi] His was not a particularly long lifespan, but one that produced an enduring legacy chronicled in the writings of his time. His decisions as both prosecuting attorney and Greenfield mayor impacted the lives of many of those around him. We can search for his name in the index of a Greenfield or Highland County history book, or read a Hillsboro newspaper microfilm roll from those years and these events jump to life in front of our eyes in print form. His name is interwoven in stories that have become the most memorable historical accounts of the town of Greenfield. Now, it is our turn to remember Mayor W. H. Irwin, Esq., and his remarkable role as a central figure who contributed to the uniquely colorful and celebrated history of this “Greene Countrie Towne.”[xxvii]
Flat grave stone for W. H. Irwin
Born: October 12, 1832 in Greenfield, Ohio
Died: July 4, 1894 in Greenfield, Ohio
Section 1, Lot #19 – Greenfield Cemetery
Greenfield, Ohio – (facing Washington Avenue.)
[i] “Centennial historical sketches of Greenfield and vicinity: July 4th, 1876”…
Reference for book on Library of Congress website:
LC Control No.: 03023012
LCCN Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/03023012
Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
Personal Name: Irwin, William Harvey, 1832-
“Centennial historical sketches of Greenfield and vicinity”:
July 4th, 1876
by W.H. Irwin and S.D. Crothers.
Published/Created: Greenfield, [Ohio] : Printed at the office of the Highland Chief, [1876?]
Related Names: Crothers, S. D.
Description: 16 p.; 22 cm.
Notes: Cover title.
Subjects: Greenfield (Ohio) –History.
LC Classification: F499.G82 I7
Other System No.: (OCoLC)6693984
Quality Code: premarc
CALL NUMBER: F499.G82 I7
[ii] There are references to W. H. R. Irwin, or William H. R. Irwin in various records including the following: Page 432 of the book, “History of Ross & Highland Counties, Ohio.” Under the caption of “Greenfield District Fair Association”, in July of 1858, “W. H. R. Irwin of Highland County” was elected a manager. However, on page 433 of this same book, by the time of the book’s publication in 1880, the following is stated: “The present officers of the association are the following: W. H. Irwin, of Highland County, President.”
Also, in the 1850 U. S. Census, Series M432, Roll # 694, page 152, line 16 in the household of John and Hester b.ancestry.com/~ohross/Military%20Files/charter_members_of_the_national.htm, Charter Members of the National Society of the DAR Vol. I-CLII (152) Ross County, OH
Volume 107, page 191: Mrs. Carrie Irwin Fullerton., DAR ID Number: 106623, Born in Greenfield, Ohio, Wife of H. M. Fullerton. Descendant of William Taylor, as follows: (partial)
- William Harvey Robbins Irwin (1832-94) m. 1863 Mary Embly [sic] Dwyer (1837-1911).
[iii] Source: Page 463, “The Irwins” – Book entitled: “Highland Pioneer Sketches & Family Genealogies” by Elsie Johnson Ayres, copyright 1971. His name was erroneously shown as “William Henry.” Additional family sources such as John Irwin’s Will, list him as William Harvey.
Birth date taken from tombstone at Greenfield Cemetery, Greenfield, Ohio, Section 1, Lot #19. The Will of John Irwin, Book 8, pages 349 – 352. John Irwin’s Will shows widow of Hester and son William Harvey as his only living next of kin. No mention is made of any other living children.
[iv] Page 463, “The Irwins” – Book entitled: “Highland Pioneer Sketches & Family Genealogies” by Elsie Johnson Ayres, copyright 1971.
And page 813 of the book “History of Fayette County” (Ohio), by R.S. Dills. Also, page 819 of “History of Fayette County” (Ohio), by R.S. Dills states that William and Athalia [sic] Doster Limes, “… were settlers east of New Martinsburg as early as 1811.”
[vii] Source: page 123 – “Marriage Records of Highland County, Ohio (1805-1880)” – Compiled by David N. McBride Attorney at Law and Jane N. McBride
[viii] Source: Death certificate for Mary Emily Irwin – File No. 48931- Greenfield, Highland County, Ohio – Ohio Deaths – 1908 – 1953 – familysearch.org web site.
[x] 1871 Atlas of Highland County, Ohio – Page 11 of this atlas shows “J. and W. H. Irwin jointly owning 47 acres of land along the Greenfield Centerfield Pike.
[xi] Series T, Roll # 1033, page 412, line 11 of U. S. Census for 1880 – Greenfield, Highland County, Ohio.
[xii] Obituary for Estelle Irwin Davies appears in the Thursday, December 13, 1934 issue of “The Greenfield Republican” newspaper. Obituary for Carrie Irwin Fullerton appears in the Thursday, April 2, 1936 issue of “The Greenfield Republican.”
[xiii] History of Ross & Highland Counties Ohio” published in 1880 by Williams Brothers, a 533 page volume (reprinted in 1991)
[xiv] Chapter XVI – “The Bar of Highland County” – page 144 – second column; final paragraph on the page.
[xvi] Pages 429 to 431 of “History of Ross & Highland Counties Ohio” provide a detailed account under the heading: “The Women’s Raid upon the Saloons in 1865.”
[xvii] “History of Ross & Highland Counties Ohio”
[xviii] Episode 100 – “The Women’s Crusade” – pages 166 through 171.
[xix] “The Blackburn-Lovell Tragedy” – pages 307-308.
[xx] Under the Episode 3 heading of “A Celebrated Case” – Pages 7 and 8 of this 1954 publication.
[xxi] On pages 628 – 629
[xxii] No pension record has been found thus far for W. H. Irwin, however.
[xxiii] “The Hillsborough Gazette” – Hillsboro, Ohio – Page 8, Saturday, December 5, 1885
[xxiv] “The Hillsborough Gazette” – Hillsboro, Ohio – Front Page, Saturday, December 25, 1886, under column titled: “CHRISTMAS MUSIC” – “An Orchestra Composed of the Best Talent in Highland County, Brought Together at Great Expense to the Management. A Christmas Cantata that Requires No Libretto – It Tells Its Own Story.” Under heading of the Greenfield local correspondence column.
[xxv] Reference pages 146 and 147 of Chapter 85 “The War Begins” in the book “A Greene Countrie Towne” Greenfield Printing and Publishing Company, Greenfield, Ohio – 1954 by Frank Raymond Harris.
Also, “The Hillsborough Gazette” – Hillsboro, Ohio – Front Page, Saturday, December 25, 1886, under column titled “CHRISTMAS MUSIC” – “An Orchestra Composed of the Best Talent in Highland County, Brought Together at Great Expense to the Management. A Christmas Cantata that Requires No Libretto – It Tells Its Own Story.” For the Greenfield local correspondence column. Within this column includes an account where Mayor Irwin is mentioned in conjunction with a fight going on at a local saloon where the son of a man named Will Crockett was involved. As the story goes, a local crowd had gathered when Mayor Irwin arrived on the scene along with a deputy sheriff and marshals. “Mayor Irwin placed both hands over his great abdominal projection and started to skip, but in doing so fell and when being assisted to his feet by Deputy Marshal Tom Jones he exclaimed, “My God, I have broken my back.” But, the story ends on a happier note stating that, “On Tuesday morning Police Court assembled, with Mayor Irwin on the bench and Crockett in the box.” “Crockett was fined $10 and costs and 10 days.”
[xxvi] Death Record: Highland County, Ohio Death Ledger, Volume 2, page 206 shows the following: W. H. Irwin, Age 61 born Greenfield, died Greenfield, Lawyer, died of paralysis, Residence Greenfield — 4 July 1894
[xxvii] Title of the Frank Raymond Harris book: “A Greene Countrie Towne” published by the Greenfield Printing and Publishing Company, Greenfield, Ohio in 1954.
Additional sources: “Historical Collections of Ohio” by Henry Howe – 1888 – Highland County. Pages 923 through 925, including “The Women’s Raid at Greenfield.”
“State Centennial History of Ohio and Highland County” – by Rev. J. W. Klise, originally published in 1902, reprinted in 1980 and 2002 by the Southern Ohio Genealogical Society. References to W. H. and/or William Harvey Irwin appear on the following pages: 157, 171, 197 and 200.
Research assistance acknowledgements:
Dwight and Betty Crum as well as Becky Creamer of the Southern Ohio Genealogical Society; Sara Watts of the First Greenfield Presbyterian Church; Shirley Shields, volunteer at the Greenfield Historical Society; Jennifer West, librarian at the Highland County District Library in Hillsboro; Margaret Macgee at the Greenfield branch of the Highland County District Library, Earlene Scott of Greenfield, and Mr. Jerry McWilliams of Cheyenne, Wyoming, descendant and researcher of the Irwin family of Highland County, Ohio.
I wish to express my appreciation to Marianna Morgan, past president of the Southern Ohio Genealogical Society, for her steadfast support throughout my research on the life and family of William Harvey Irwin of Greenfield, Ohio.