I once again decided to try to tell a story from the history of a house depicted in the Tuscarawas County Atlas of 1875, hoping to be able to find something interesting worth telling. I was not disappointed by the story that can be told about a house recorded in the Atlas as the “Res. of Mrs. Mary M. Kilgore.”
You really never know what you are going to discover when you start researching the history of any historic building. Oftentimes, families and businesses come and go with little to note about their time as residents of a structure. Others however, like the Kilgore House in Port Washington, Ohio, offer a tragic story that deserves telling. The first image depicting the Kilgore House comes from the 1875 Tuscarawas County Atlas and is labeled “Res. of Mrs. Mary M. Kilgore”. Mary M. Reynolds Kilgore (1821-aft. 1900) was the wife of Gershom Hull Kilgore (1818-1867).
Gershom and his brother, John Kilgore (1814-1903), were born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, moving to Stark County with their parents in the 1820s. John and Gershom pursued the mercantile trade, dealing in dry goods, grain, tanning, and livestock. The two brothers established their business in the town of Port Washington in the 1840s, taking advantage of the ease of transportation provided by the canal and railroad. Gershom married fellow Pennsylvanian Mary M. Reynolds just before moving to Port Washington and, once there, determined to build a home in which to raise a family.
The successful mercantile business of the Kilgore brothers enabled the couple to acquire Lots 59 & 60 in Port Washington, on the main road and close to the center of town, in the 1850s. There they built a home, nearly 4000 square feet, in the popular Italianate style of architecture and surrounded by a cast-iron fence. The house featured a main center section, with a wing on either side, hipped roofs, tall narrow windows, an offset entrance door, and a deep roof overhang protecting a decorative corbeled cornice. All typical features of an Italianate home. The 1875 image of the home also shows a “widow’s walk” at the peak of the main section of the house, a unique feature that was removed by later occupants of the home. After its construction, the 1860 census recorded the value of the property at $7500, or a modern equivalent of around $250,000.
The house was much needed, as Mary and Gershom welcomed six children into their family between 1838 and 1861. The Kilgore family included five daughters and one son, with the son being the youngest. The Kilgore families, including that of his brother John, became prominent members of the local community and the children all attended school there. One daughter, Romaine (1850-1912), went on to be a school teacher in the village. The Kilgore family business required that John and Gershom occasionally travel to larger cities in the region to arrange for the acquisition of goods for, and the sale of products from, their mercantile interests. One of these trips on the evening of March 15, 1867 proved fatal for Gershom H. Kilgore.
Gershom Kilgore was returning home on the westbound passenger train of the Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad. Heading west through Pennsylvania the train passed another westbound train, called the Accommodation Train, stopped in Bulger, Pennsylvania. Gershom was sitting in the rear car of the train, watching the mountains and farms pass by as the train slowed down to take on water at Hanlin Station in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Somehow, while taking on water, the train’s locomotive became uncoupled from the rest of the train. As the crew worked frantically to recouple the locomotive, Gershom and the other passengers heard the ominous sound of the oncoming Accommodation Train.
The passengers in the rear car, including Gershom Kilgore, started to get nervous as the sound of the oncoming train grew louder and louder. Unable to see out of the rear of the train from his seat, Gershom stood up and went to the other side of the car and stuck his head out of the window to see how close the oncoming train was. Just as he did, the Accommodation Train slammed into the back of the passenger train, pancaking the rear car and decapitating Gershom Kilgore instantly. According to the press report of the accident, Gershom’s head rolled down a hill and into the lap of another passenger who had leapt from the train just before the collision. Despite the violence of the impact, Gershom Kilgore was the only fatality.
Mrs. Mary M. Kilgore, now a widow, served as her late husband’s executrix and continued to live in the Kilgore House in Port Washington. Her children, all but one under the age of 17 at the time of her husband’s death, were raised in the home until the last of them were married in the 1880s. Gershom and Mary Kilgore had also acquired a small farm north of Port Washington and, when Mary sold the Port Washington home to her daughter for $1 in 1900, Mary lived her remaining years there.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.