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City's early mayors faced trials, tragedies

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Charles Roehl became mayor in 1880.
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This plaque in City Hall lists all of Connersville’s mayors until 2015.

The most enjoyable thing about writing this column is being able in a small way to bring to life the characters in our history. At times the details are hard to find but if you dig deep there are bits and pieces.

Here are some bits and pieces about people who have led the city as mayor.

In 1869 Connersville elected its first mayor, William Beck. He was born in Pittsburgh in 1818 but relocated here at two years old. His father was a tailor and he opened his own shop in Falmouth in 1841. In 1852, he was elected county treasurer and moved to town. When he became mayor it was a whirlwind, as a new utility and fire department were being formed. He served for three years and John Kerr finished his second term. At this time, the mayors served two-year terms.

The next mayor elected was William Forrey. He was born near Waterloo in 1832. He was a local attorney who passed the bar in 1861. He became mayor in 1872 and presided over upgrades in the fire alarm system and installation of local telephone service. He served seven years until 1880. He also served as city attorney and died in 1892 age 60 years old.

Attorney Charles Roehl became our fifth mayor in 1880. He served at a time when Connersville had a population of 3,200. That number would grow by 50 percent over the next decade. After serving as mayor he was also city attorney. In 1889 at the age of 50, he unfortunately contracted typhoid fever in a local outbreak. He and his son were both lost to this tragedy. It turned out that all those affected were in common to a dinner at the upscale Orr boarding house. After that, for a period of time, all local water was boiled before consumption. Roehl is buried at City Cemetery.

Charles Murray was born in New York in 1851. His family located near Cambridge City and he became a teacher. He came to Connersville as a teacher and principal of the high school, then located at the Fifth Street School, presently home to Wendy’s. While teaching he began studying the law under B.F. Claypool. He was admitted to the bar in 1877 and was elected mayor in 1884 as a Democrat. After serving a term, he moved to Denver, Colorado, where he lived and practiced law until his death in 1926.

James Martindale McIntosh became Connersville’s youngest mayor in 1886 at the age of 29. He was an attorney and practiced law with Reuben Conner and former mayors Murray and Roehl. After serving four years as mayor, he was elected county clerk. He was in charge of the 1890 remodel of the courthouse and helped furnish the courtroom. In 1894 he became state representative. He became involved in the field of banking and worked his way up to president of National City Bank. He took his own life in 1922 shortly after his retirement at age 64. His funeral was held in Connersville at the home of his sister, Mrs. William Newkirk.

William Downs was born in 1854 in Anderson, Indiana. He made a career at a local newspaper and eventually became editor of the Times-News. He was twice city clerk-treasurer and was elected mayor in 1890, serving one four-year term. He presided over the formation of the police department. After leaving the mayor’s position, he became county clerk. He was serving as clerk when he tragically came down with a condition that caused him to lose control of his muscles. While suffering from this condition, he contracted typhoid fever and was dead within two days. The year was 1905 and he was only 50 years old. Again, the local water supply was considered to blame. Connersville had lost its second former mayor to typhoid.

The next mayor was the first local native to hold the office. Hyatt Frost was born in Connersville in 1860. His father Eli and Uncle Hyatt were involved in the circus industry and helped care for the first elephant in America. His uncle Hyatt owned and operated the Van-Amburgh Circus. After practicing law and owning several farms, Hyatt Frost became mayor in 1894. He was a loud advocate for road improvements. He served a four-year term and practiced law until the time of his death in 1938 near Harrisburg.

Our last mayor elected in the 19th century was Thomas J. Clark. He served in the 16th Indiana Regiment in the Civil War. When he returned he was trained as a tailor and worked for William Beck, the first mayor. He served on city council several terms before becoming mayor in 1898. He served six years as mayor and was followed by Finly Gray. Clark died in 1912 at the age of 73.

These early mayors helped grow Connersville into an industrial city. Each one contributed in an important way. Thank you to each of these men for their service to our city.

Brad Colter is superintendent of Connersville Utilities and president of Historic Connersville Inc. He writes Looking Back for the Connersville News-Examiner.

• Caption information under the photos of the two mayors was reversed in the published version of this article. This article has been revised online to fix that errror.