The Curse of Bairdstown….truth or trifle?

curse newsbee

My kinfolk, the Santmires, were from Bairdstown, Ohio.  Grandma Ethel grew up there and that’s how I know about the town.  But if you have never heard of it or been there, you’re  not alone.  Bairdstown is not much more than a fly speck on the map,  a tiny forgotten cluster of humanity, about six miles due east of North Baltimore that has seen its better days.  But at one time, a hundred years ago or so, back in the oil-field era, Bairdstown was a boom town.  A much bigger burg, once brimming with promise and prosperity.  Two hotels, plenty of saloons, stores, a barrel factory, and a reputation as a wild brawling village in the center of a prosperous oil patch.  As a result there were plenty of oil and refinery workers who made the small southern Wood County hamlet their home, along with the many farmers who also toiled in the fields of “corn and crude” in this oil-rich region of Southern Wood County.  So rich it was, during that era, it was considered the oil capital of America. Hard to believe, but true.

But it also turns out that many of these once thriving villages in this rural countryside  were also rich in legend and lore. One of those legends is the “Curse of Bairdstown”.  As the legend has it, Bairdstown’s fortunes, or lack thereof, may have been determined by one old resident who lived there long before the advent of oil. His name was Jim Slater, and he and his wife, had settled in the area sometime in the 1840’s.  Slater bought a quarter section of land(a quarter square mile) to farm and worked hard, to make it go, but the hardships were too much to overcome. He seemed cursed.  His corn died, his cattle wouldn’t give milk, and fortune was fickle.  Slater not only struggled and remained poor, but his wife died in childbirth from the cruel realities of a primitive pioneer environment.  Adding to Slater’s bad luck, were the rumors that not only was he a nervous and irritable man, but that he was mentally unstable and given to a quick and violent temper. As a result, he was not well liked among his neighbors and had few or no friends.

One farming season, according to an article from a 1937 Toledo News Bee, Slater persuaded his farm neighbor, William McMurray, to plant wheat in his field on shares. At harvest time, however, the friendly agreement as to how to to dispose of the wheat and split the profits became a point of argument between the men as Slater objected to McMurray taking the wheat off the land to be threshed. The argument sharpened and became a war of wills and McMurray decided to take it to the courts to decide. The courts agreed with McMurray and he won the legal case against Slater who became livid with anger and declared after the verdict,  that the “wheat would do McMurray no good”.   A few weeks later, the stacks of wheat in field were set ablaze and destroyed. There were also harnesses and other equipment stolen from McMurray’s barn. Slater quickly became the chief and convenient suspect in the arson and robbery as he was promptly arrested and taken to Perrysburg and thrown in jail. The evidence was weak at best and when his case finally did come to trial, Slater was acquitted.  But what should have been reason to rejoice was not, for Slater had spent all of his money defending himself in court, and while he was in jail, he couldn’t tend to his farm and pay his creditors who wanted their loans paid off. Despite attempts to keep them at bay, a foreclosure was filed and the land that had been his farm was sold at a Sheriff’s sale to a prosperous farmer in the area by the name of Josiah(John) Baird. It was Baird who when took the land to plat out the plans for a small town.  In 1874, he built a hotel, a flour mill, a saw mill, and when the B&O railroad tracks were laid through this new village called Bairdstown, Baird’s future looked bright.  Jim Slater, however, now penniless and embittered, angrily declared of the new town,  If there is a just God, he will curse this place till the end of eternity. The curse of the place goes with the wronged man and all who have had a hand in robbing me.”

It is not written as to how the townspeople reacted upon hearing Slater’s curse, but it wasn’t long until the bright promise of the little community began to dim. Josiah Baird, who built the town was also facing problems with his creditors. They were relentless in pursuing his debts and took him to court. Then his sons, it was said, began to develop bad habits and did not tend well to their father’s business.  Baird’s flour mill was burned down, by persons unknown and his cattle in the fields became ill and died.  Baird saw his hopes dwindle and his good fortune whither, and wondered in Slater’s curse was something to take seriously.  Believing that he might be jinxed, he left the town that bore his name and moved his family to Arkansas. He took up hotel keeping, but within a short while,  both his wife and daughter took ill and died. Baird returned to Ohio, but far away from Bairdstown and lived out his years in the southern part of the state.

Meanwhile, George Strain, the man who was the prosecuting attorney in the criminal case against Jim Slater developed a serious mental disorder and was put in an insane asylum where he died.  And David Hayes, Slater’s defense attorney, also met with the ill winds of misfortune as he too went broke and his wife and daughter died.  Slater, himself, not long after, died in the infirmary, the poor house, at Bowling Green where he is buried in a Potter’s field.

From those years forward, Bairdstown has never been able to get past the curse of Jim Slater. Misfortunes and fires have bedeviled the community over the years. In 1890, a train derailed on the B&O tracks in Bairdstown in February, resulting in several deaths. Then in July of that year, a series of mysterious fires, over a three-week period destroyed much of the Bairdstown business district. In 1894, a hold up occurred on the B&O Railroad between Deshler and Bairdstown, ending with the murders of two men aboard the train.  Even during the boom years of the oil-field wealth, Bairdstown never quite blossomed, as did other towns nearby, but always found itself doomed by some tragedy.  Today, it  is not much more than an aging curiosity along Route 18 between North Baltimore and Bloomdale.   A collection of older homes, a cemetery, a set of railroad tracks and a public park named for my great uncle, Merle Santmire.  Who I might add, never believed in Jim Slater’s curse.  Said he didn’t have the time to ponder what he regarded as a trifle.  But some people around Bairstown at least consider the notion that Slater’s angry oath may have in fact been more than just the crabby words of a  ranting old man.  And I confess that I too have given it a thought or too, for despite Uncle Merle’s cynicism, his father, my great-grandfather,  Amos Santmire, in 1898, at the age of 46, the father of ten children, including my grandmother, was struck and killed by a freight train on the edge of  this little troubled town…..Bairdstown.

Advertisements

25 Comments

Filed under Strange Happenings

25 responses to “The Curse of Bairdstown….truth or trifle?

  1. While taking classes at BGSU I talked about the curse in a speech I gave in Speech class.

  2. I’ve lived there for my entire life, and never growing up did I hear about the town “curse” but I had to do a paper for my senior year, English, and found some stuff on the town. I typed in everything I could think of for the town but nothing came up. Just that the town was possibly founded around the 1800’s, founder was “Josh” Baird, and a curse by some man named Slater, that was it. It even showed the local gossip that, at the time, was sweeping all over the news, but nothing historical wise. But this shed some light, now if only I could find some stuff out on my own haha

  3. Dave Hummel

    My name is Dave Hummel. I was born in 1953. I grew up in Bairdstown till I was 18. I never new anything about a curse. I did have the best time of my life in that town. It was like Andy of Bayberry. My Uncles and Aunt lived there too. Back then you new everyone in town first name and last. I have done very well for my self and feel very lucky. I live on Maui Hawaii in Kihei. Bairdstown will always be a part of me.

    Life is what you make it.

    • Thanks Dave. Sounds like it was a very special town as so many people have related.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Cathy (Hummel) Long

      I too lived and grew up in Bairdstown. Dave Hummel is my brother. I too have fond memories experiencing life there . Never heard of a curse. Remember the tale of an Indian Trail that ran through the town. U could see where the trail actually ran through it. Supposedly that’s why tornados went around the town.Dave have u seen the articles about Bloomdale history on FB? Do u remember the book Bertha E. had on BT history? Wonder where it went I heard the Solarick’s.. tried to call u in Dec. Couldn’t find phone #. Love Cathy

  4. Terry Sharninghouse

    I have an original copy of the Toledo Gazette that is a bit crumbly now. I ve know of the”Curse” since the mid seventies when I found the paper. Interesting.

  5. David Moore

    I lived in Bloomdale, from where Bairdstown now gets its water, but never heard this story. My father, Edward Moore, was born in Bairdstown in 1913.

  6. Bill Cook

    I began my law enforcement career in Bairdstown 27 years ago where I served as the Village Marshall for two years. The town has long since closed down its police department as many other small Villages in southern Wood County have taken the same course. I have never heard of this curse, but I can say the community was a magical and special place for me when I began my career there. Everyone knew everyone and the village was a very close knit community, even among those who had disputes with neighbors or were of different backgrounds. As a young police officer, I learned a lot about the golden rule, treating people the way you would like to be treated. I will forever hold fondly my memories of working in this small town.

    • Bill, are you still in the area or in law enforcment? Did you know Merle Santmire, my Great Uncle. I met him a few times when I was a kid. I’m told he was quite a character and still riding his motorcyles well into his late 70’s.

      • William Cook

        Sorry, but I didn’t know your Great Uncle Merle personally. I remember his name, but I did not know him. I do remember when his family donated land for the community park. What a kind and generous act for the community. When I left Bairdstown I went to work for Carey PD for ten years. When I left Carey, I got a position with the Pinckney Police Department where I have worked for fourteen years. When I worked in B-Town, I worked for Mayor Chris Barringer and Alice Burris was the Clerk. I grew up in Bowling Green, my father was a policeman for BGSU. I graduated from BGHS and then later from BGSU with a CJ degree. It was always interesting to me how Wood County was dotted with small towns and their small town police departments: Bairdstown, Bloomdale, Rising Sun, Hoytville, Portage, Luckey, Pemberville, Cygnet, Jerry City, Haskings, Tontogany, Grand Rapids, Bradner, Wayne, Weston, etc. Most of these small departments have closed long ago. In many of these PD’s, the chiefs were larger than life and quite colorful. I always found it interesting how in a small town the police department takes and a unique and leading role in the community. By their very nature, they seem to naturally take on the role of community policing. I hope you and your family are well and that you have a healthy and prosperous new year. Take Care. Bill

      • Cathy (Hummel) Long

        I knew yr uncle and Agnise. He was quite a character and she was a nice person and pretty too. They lived at the West end on the St Rt 18 curve of Bairdstown. I also was good friends of Dora and Jim Santimire.Babysitted their kids.

      • Thanks for the comments Cathy. I don’t think anymore of the Santmire’s remain in that area. Could be wrong, though. Merle’s sister, Ethel was my grandmother and moved away to Bloomville many many years ago and is now deceased. There was quite a large family of them and their ancestors went back to Christopher Santmyer who came to Wood County in the 1850’s from Virginia.

        I’d love to find the book you talked about on the history of Bairdstown. I’ve checked the Wood County Library and did not see it there.

        Lou

      • Terry Sharninghouse

        Jim Santmire still lives in Bairdstown. He is the son of Merle and in my neighbor hood.

  7. Gene Wilson

    My name is Gene Wilson. My dad was a tenant farmer on the land south of Bairdstown. My sister, Evelyn, and I grew up in Bairdstown, and I graduated from Bloomdale High School. Over 60 years ago, I delivered the Toledo Blade house-to-house, but gave up the route when too many of my customers couldn’t (didn’t) pay the weekly $1.30 subscription. We cherish those roots and didn’t know we were poor. When I return to Ohio (from Kansas City), we usually drive back through Bairdstown, just to rekindle fond memories, and to visit mom ‘s and dad’s graves in North Baltimore. Never did I hear of this curse, but we were told that at one time in the late 1800s during the oil boom days, Bairdstown competed with Bowling Green to be the Wood County seat! And while driving tractor for dad, I frequently encountered “salt rings” where oil wells once esisted and no crops would grow there. Great memories. Good people.

    • Thanks for sharing your find memories of Bairdstown. I think most people who grew up in those smaller rural fam communities would agree that it was wonderful experience. I had a similar experience growing up in the small town of Genoa in Ottawa County in the 1950 and 60’s I too had a Blade paper route, back when the Blade only cost seven cents a copy.
      It was also back in the time when the town, like Bairdstown was lined with stores of all types and the people who worked in them knew you by name and knew your parents. It gave us a real sense of worth and belonging.
      Magical times. We were lucky. Thanks for sharing.

      Lou

    • Dave Hummel

      Your Mother and Father were great. I did get to work some with your father weeding beans. He was a very wise man. He could tell every time we played in his barn. He showed us where to drink from the tiles and where not to. We love his woods too. A mile back. Your dad and I picked up the remains of tornado’s that ripped Illinois and Indiana. He sent back all he could and we got to keep the money we found. I too miss my days as a kid there.

      Mahalo
      Dave Hummel

    • Karen Wasson

      Gene, I’m married to Dick. He says there is still evidence in the fields of these ‘salt rings’ but they show up in the fields as shorter crops.He also says the crude oil is bubbling up from the wells that were not plugged properly. Karen W.

  8. jeanne lovejoy

    my father is james santmire, and merle is my grandfather, i lved in bairdstown all my life and i never heard anything about a curse.

    • Well Jeanne,

      I guess we must be cousins. If Merle was your grandfather, his sister Ethel was my grandmother and I met Merle on numerous occasions in Bloomville. We’ll have to talk.

      Lou

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s