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Wilson-Purdy Family once prominent citizens in Newcomerstown

By WILLIAM CASTEEL Correspondent, NCTnews Published: January 25, 2017 12:00 AM
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It was August 1912, and Frank Wilson and his family had just arrived in Newcomerstown from Providence, Rhode Island. Wilson had been hired by the Rex File Company (later known as Heller Tool Company) as the superintendent of the factory. Rex, having been established in 1906, had been in operation only six years. The file business was booming at that point, and Wilson already had the expertise of working in the file business. Wilson started with the Nicholson File Company at a young age, working with them from about 1898 to 1912. Wilson was transferred to several of the Nicholson factories throughout his career with them. He started in Anderson, Indiana where he met and married his first wife, Anna Tevis in July 1899. He was then later transferred to the Nicholson factory in Kent, Ohio, then onto the factory located in Port Hope, Canada. Wilson remained in Port Hope until about 1906. Shortly afterward, he briefly co-owned, operated a small file company, the Lewis File Company located in Beach City, Ohio. The business was not as successful as Wilson had planned, and he returned to Nicholson where they transferred him to their Rhode Island factory. Nicholson File Company had factories in multiple locations at that time.

Once arriving in Newcomerstown, Wilson, his wife Anna, and daughters, Gladys, Mildred, and Pauline first moved to a house on River Street. Wilson's sister, Mabel and her husband, Earl Purdy, and children Russell, Kenneth, Loraine, and Harold had moved to Newcomerstown the year before. The two families remained close as many families did in those days. Wilson and Purdy both had worked for Nicholson, and when one or the other moved, or was ordered to relocate by the company, the other family was not far behind them. Purdy had been hired at the Rex File Company shortly after moving to Newcomerstown.

Wilson's career was going strong, and life was good in Newcomerstown. In March 1913 the infamous flood struck Newcomerstown and vicinity. It was shortly afterward that the family moved to a house on North College Street, and lived there until January 1916. A house located on the east side of the Opera House, and City Jail (Newcomerstown Municipal Building) later became available and the family moved there. Both families had become involved in prominent organizations in the community. The Wilson family had membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church, while the Purdy family was members of the First Baptist Church. Both women, Anna Wilson and Mabel Purdy were very popular among each church's women's groups and several community organizations in Newcomerstown. After moving more than several times, it appeared that the Wilson and Purdy families had at last found long-term residence in Newcomerstown. Wilson and Purdy were doing very well in their positions. Purdy had later moved up the company ladder to an assistant manager position. Wilson remaining in the superintendent position had gained the respect of the employees at the file plant as well as with the community of Newcomerstown.

On May 21, 1916, both the Wilson and Purdy family lives were forever changed, the content and security within their families completely disrupted.

It was a typical spring day, Sunday afternoon, the week before the Memorial Day holiday (then known as Decoration Day). Wilson and Purdy both decided to take their family to an area known as Forsythe's Grove which was located near Isleta, along the leafy banks of the Tuscarawas River. They had planned to relax, take some snapshots, and pick wildflowers. Both families, minus Wilson's eldest daughter, fifteen-year-old, Gladys, and Purdy's eldest son, Russell, fourteen years old, left Newcomerstown at 2:00 p.m. The two teenagers had planned to stay in Newcomerstown, spending the day with their friends. The family, all together in Wilson's automobile that he had purchased a year before, headed to their destination via what was then known as the Newcomerstown-Coshocton State Highway (now known as County Road 9). When they arrived at the Edward Hothem farm, Wilson stopped by the residence to seek permission to access the private lane on Hothem's property that led to Forsythe's Grove. With permission granted, the party headed on north. In order to access the river bank, the Pennsylvania Railroad had to first be crossed. When Wilson (driving the auto) reached the railroad crossing, Purdy alighted from the auto to open the set of gates on each side of the railroad that prevented Hothem's livestock from getting onto the railroad tracks. After opening the gate, Wilson proceeded through and stopped to wait for Purdy to close the first gate behind them, and open the second gate. In the process of closing the gate, Purdy suddenly sighted a fast-moving eastbound passenger train, and before he could do no more than attempt to alert Wilson of the swift moving engine, Wilson's automobile was struck. With quick presence of mind, Wilson's eight-year-old daughter, Mildred, and Purdy's nine-year-old son, Kenneth grabbed Purdy's two-year-old son, Harold from the lap of Mrs. Wilson and were able to get clear of the mishap in time. Wilson, his wife, his daughter, his sister, and her daughter were not as fortunate. Wilson was thrown approximately forty feet from the accident site. He was unconscious when found. Mrs. Wilson, aged 39, along with Loraine Purdy, aged 7, met instantaneous death. Wilson's daughter, Pauline aged 6, and his sister, Mabel Purdy, aged 36, were in severe states of injury. Two of the children, uninjured, Wilson's daughter Mildred, and his nephew, Kenneth ran to a nearby farmhouse to summon assistance. The occupants contacted the Newcomerstown Union Depot officials to request medical assistance be secured as soon as possible, as well as the need of an undertaker to transfer the deceased to a funeral parlor. The passenger train stopped and hastened to render what assistance that they could. The injured and dead, and those surviving were taken on board and the engine proceeded to the Newcomerstown Union Depot where officials were waiting. When the engine reached Newcomerstown, several local physicians, one who was also a surgeon waited for the injured. Lydick, the undertaker, immediately took charge of the bodies of Mrs. Wilson, and Loraine Purdy. Several family friends took charge of Wilson, and Mrs. Purdy, transporting them to their homes to receive medical care. Pauline Wilson, in a much more severe state, was taken into the Fountain Hotel that adjoined the depot, where a physician/surgeon attempted to yield what care he could provide, but in spite of all life-saving measures, the child succumbed to her injuries about an hour after arriving at the depot. Mrs. Purdy also later succumbed to her injuries as well and expired at her home. She was also expecting another child at the time and would have given birth in a few months. Wilson eventually recovered from his physical injuries. He, and Purdy, with the help of family members, were now faced with raising their children with no mothers. Wilson's other sister, Winifred Wilson, who resided with the Purdy's was able to step into her sister's role as mother to her nephews. Purdy eventually married Winifred, and she became step-mother to Purdy's three sons. Wilson's in-laws, Henry & Rachel Tevis, arrived from Winchester, Indiana to help out with Wilson's two daughters. A few years after the tragedy, in August 1919, Wilson later married Mae Bean, daughter of the Rex File Company's General Manager, John Bean. Several years after their marriage, Wilson and his second wife became parents of two children, Doris and Myron.

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As if the tragic accident were not enough, both Wilson and Purdy were blind-sighted once again with yet another event, a year later. In June 1917 the Rex File Company was destroyed by fire. Though the fire was a major devastation, the Rex company was so successful that it was re-built, and back in full operation by the fall of that year.

In April 1924 Wilson accepted a superintendent position with the Cleveland File Company where he remained until ill health forced his retirement. Just as in the past, Purdy also relocated about that same time, also accepting a position with the same establishment. In September 1939 Wilson passed away following an illness of three years. Purdy and his wife later returned to Newcomerstown. Purdy passed away in May 1942, and his second wife, Winifred in 1970.

The Wilson and Purdy family spent the majority of their lives together, and are now resting together in a family plot at the East State Street cemetery in Newcomerstown.

The Rex File Company later was sold to Heller Brothers Tool Company, which became a major industry in Newcomerstown for many years, and employed many people, some being family members that had several generations that had been employed there over the years. Simonds later purchased the Heller Tool Company in July 1955. Simonds remained in business at Newcomerstown through five decades until the establishment closed the doors following the sell-out of the company.

--Special thanks to the Wilson-Purdy family descendants, Ann De Fields, Myron & Esther Wilson, and Ben Blake for use of the photos. Some of the last photos taken of the Wilson-Purdy family members that were victims of the tragic accident in May 1916.


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