There is a street in Central Toledo with the name of Woodruff Avenue that runs between Cherry and Scottwood. Interesting to note that it would be on the westside of the Maumee River, for the street’s namesake was a life-long resident of East Toledo. Perhaps, according to historian Larry Michaels, “the Patriarch of East Toledo.” His name was Elijah J. Woodruff and he died, 107 years ago this week in 1904 at the age of 101 years. At the time of his death, he was said to be the oldest living resident of Toledo. But his longevity was not his only legacy, for Elijah Woodruff was known to Toledoans for many reasons. In fact, some historians believe he may have been just as key to the area’s history as was legendary scout Peter Navarre.
Woodruff, according to the Toledo News Bee of January 7th, 1904, on the day of his death, was a “venerable pioneer of East Toledo”. Born in Watertown, Connecticut in 1802, he moved to Toledo in 1836. His first home was a log cabin on the muddy east banks of the Maumee River, long before there were many streets or homes on the east side of the river. Woodruff would later build an impressive home on the corner of Starr and Euclid. And over his lifetime, he would marry and father seven children. At the time of his passing only one son was still living.
Elijah J. Woodruff was also remembered as East Toledo’s first postman,(when East Toledo was still known as Utah) and frequently had to transport mail across the Maumee River by rowboat before the bridges were in place. According to Wilbur Siebert who wrote “The Mysteries of Ohio’s Underground Railroad”, Woodruff was one of the most active conductors on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The Toledo News Bee wrote in their biography of Woodruff that while he was not an abolitionist he “aided many a poor slave in securing their freedom.” In the fall of 1850, Mr. Siebert related that “Woodruff hid a slave in a thicket west of the Maumee River. Then, while three men, and the sheriff, hunted for the slave on the east side, Mr. Woodruff led him north.”
It was also reported that Woodruff continued to be quite active in area politics throughout his entire life, even weeks before his death. And that when he was well into his 90’s he would walk each day across the Cherry St. Bridge to downtown Toledo. On his 100th birthday, which was a major and rare achievement of longevity in those days, East Toledoans held a special party for the still vigorous centenarian at Navarre Park with many of Toledo oldest resident and famous names present.
The next time you drive through East Toledo or down Woodruff Street in Toledo, think of Elijah, yet another of those unsung heroes of Toledo history.