Thomas Wells Cover

Thomas Wells Cover

Last year on the “In Search of Tom Cover” tour, my dad, brother and I stopped at the library in Virginia City, Montana to see if we could learn any new information about Tom Cover. The librarian was very nice—she located several articles about Tom Cover and provided me with copies of those articles. One of those articles was a manuscript prepared in 2002 by Gary R. Forney, a retired college administrator,  for the  Fourteenth Conference of the Gallatin Valley Historical Society/Pioneer Museum in Bozeman, Montana. I thought you might enjoy reading his article entitled “Thomas W. Cover–Gallatin Valley Pioneer.”

Like many of the early arrivals in the Montana Territory, Tom Cover appears to have been born under a wandering star. Born on March 31, 1831, Cover was only four years old when his family moved from his birthplace in Westminister, Maryland, to Richland, Ohio. Cover was educated at Sloan’s Academy before leaving Ohio, at the age of twenty to explore some of the western territories for nearly two years. Following a brief reunion of a few months with family back in Ohio, Cover left again  in 1854 to search  for adventure and fortune in the wild and untamed American west.

During the next eight years, Cover briefly spent time as a lumberman in Minnesota before catching a case of “gold fever,” which led him to the goldfields of the Colorado territory and, reportedly, into Mexico. In the early spring of 1862, Cover led a group of twenty-six men (including Samuel McLean, another man destined to become prominent in Montana’s history) from Colorado to the gold discovery sites of central Idaho. Quickly disappointed by the lack of opportunity in this area, Cover followed the rumors of new gold strikes across the Bitterroot mountains to a site known as Gold Cree, where he made the acquaintance of men who would change the course of his life–and help in that elusive quest for fortune. Among those Cover met were brothers James and Granville Stuart, who convinced him to join those traveling to the new diggings along Grasshopper Creek (Montana Territory). Once again, Cover was on the move, joining others in a rush south to another boomtown. “The settlers of Bannack in 1862-63, included those who arrived with Woodminister’s train, September 8, 1862, were…..Thomas W. Cover…Barney Hughes…..”)

Although Cover did not find enough gold at Bannack to make his fortune, he soon found a group of men who shared his dream. By the winter of 1862-63, Cover was part of a “company” with William Fairweather, Henry  Edgar, Barney Hughes, George Orr, Michael Sweeney and Harry Rodgers—Cover being the only American citizen of the group. This little band was invited by James Stuart to join a prospecting expedition he was organizing to travel into the Yellowstone region in the early spring of 1863. Without going into the extraordinary details of the group’s adventures, the men (sans Orr) discovered what was to become one of the richest deposits of gold in America on May 26, 1863, along the banks of Alder Creek. Several communities soon appeared along the Alder Gulch and, although Cover maintained his original claim and filed several additional new claims, he quickly recognized the potential for wealth was not restricted to what could be washed from the stream banks.

Cover formed a partnership with Perry (“Bud”) McAdow to establish a sawmill along Granite Creek and was also operating a lumber yard in Virginia City by the summer of 1864. The demand created by the exploding population growth along the Alder Gulch for lumber to build new shops, saloons, homes, sluice boxes, and coffins made Cover a wealthy and prominent businessman of the territory. The well-sharpened instincts of a traveler served Cover very well, and he sold most of his mining claims and commercial interests with the intention of relocating to the Gallatin Valley. One report that may have come from Cover himself, said that he was paid $75,000 for his claims.  During the winter of 1864-65, while Virginia City experienced “Flour Riots,” Cover returned to Ohio to visit his family, purchase grist mill equipment and begin the courtship of Mary Hess.

Tom Cover, with brother Jason, returned to Montana in mid-May of 1865 and. still in partnership with Bud McAdow, soon began building a grist mill near the new settlement of Bozeman. Located on the east side of town and a few blocks north of the principal thoroughfare, the mill was an imposing 3 and 1/2 story building bordered by a grain field of 150 acres that Cover had planted. By the time the mill opened for operation in September, Cover had been elected clerk of Gallatin County in the county’s first election, but he resigned that post by late November in order to accept a new title–husband.

Cover returned to Ohio to wed Mary Hess on December 31, 1865, in Columbus. The ceremony was officiated by Mary’s father (Judge Daniel Hess), and the couple spent their honeymoon traveling to New York City and Washington, D.C. In late March of 1866, the couple—with new equipment for the grist mill–boarded the steamboat Bighorn at St. Louis for the long journey to Fort Benton, then traveled by stagecoach to their home in the growing community of Bozeman. By that autumn, the grist mill was operating at full capacity, and the Covers had established themselves as leading citizens. Mary was cited in the Montana Post as “a cultured, lovable woman, who won the hearts of all who met her, ” and Tom was a charter member of the Gallatin Masonic Lodge founded in October of 1866. The couple also donated funds to help found the first church in Bozeman: “John Bozeman gave twenty-five dollars, the more affluent Tom Cover gave one hundred dollars.” As bright as the future may have seemed, however, a dark cloud was moving over the Gallatin Valley and the life of Tom Cover.

Although some have accused Thomas Francis Meagher (the acting territorial governor) of initiating the so-called Indian War of 1867, it is more accurate to recognize that one of the first links in the chain of events that led to the “war,” and Meagher’s death was forged in the Gallatin Valley. From the earliest arrival of the Anglo-European fur trappers in the land that would become Montana, there had been conflicts between the whites and the Indians. With the Alder Gulch discovery, and the subsequent opening of the Bozeman Trail, the number and intensity of these conflicts had gradually increased as thousands of prospectors and settlers swarmed into the territory. Governor Sidney Edgerton unsuccessfully attempted to form a militia in the spring of 1865 following the incident where ten white men had been killed by Blackfoot warriors near Fort Benton, and acting Governor Meagher had been frequently petitioned by citizens and civic officials , who cited acts of Indian violence and urgently requested protection. From its first issue, the Montana Post had featured a column entitled “Indian Movement” which called, in no uncertain terms for decisive action in esolving the hostilities.

During 1865 and 1866, the military posts of Fort Reno, Fort Kearny and Fort C.F. Smith were established along the Bozeman Trail to help provide protection for the emigrant trains, but they could do little to offer security to those beyond their very limited reach, including their own troops. On December 21, 1866, near Fort Kearney, eighty men under the leadership of impulsive Captain William Fetterman, earned the distinction of being the first significant command of regular army troops to be annihilated in Montana by an overwhelming force of combined Indian tribes.

At a public meeting in Bozeman on March 18, the citizens decided to erect a stockade at the Cover/McAdoo mill for protection from the perceived Indian threat.  The assembly also passed a resolution calling for Acting Governor Meagher to provide arms and ammunition for the local residents and appointed Thomas Cover as a delegate to deliver the resolution.  John Bozeman added his significant influence to the cause in a letter to Meagher dated March 25, 1867, in which he declared: “We have reliable reports here that we are in imminent danger of hostile Indians and if there is not something done  to protect this valley soon, there will be but few men, and no families, left in the Gallatin Valley.”

In early April, despite all the concerns of possible Indian attacks—or perhaps sensing opportunity—Tom Cover determined to visit the military forts along the Bozeman Trail in an effort to secure contracts to provision those posts. Cover was able to enlist John Bozeman as his guide for the trip, although Bozeman reportedly had grave misgivings regarding the likelihood that  he would return safely. The pair departed early on the morning of April 17 and spent that night at a cow  camp on the ranch of Nelson Story (near present-day Livingston) before proceeding on their journey. In the early morning of April 19, Cover rode back into camp—wounded in his left shoulder and without Bozeman. The story, and intrigue, of Bozeman’s death has been recounted by several authors  and will not be further narrated in this article. On April 22, Cover sent to Acting Governor Meagher a report on the death of Bozeman at the hands of a party of five Blackfeet Indians, concluding that” “From what I can glean in the way of information, I am satisfied that there is a large party of Blackfeet on the Yellowstone, whose sole object is plunder and scalps.” The news of Bozeman’s murder created new waves of panic among the residents of the Gallatin Valley, and fear combined with an urge to revenge the death of a popular young man spread throughout the territory.

In early June, Cover, accompanied by a guard of forty men from the newly established militia, was sufficiently recovered from his wound to lead a train of ten wagons of supplies to Fort Smith. Throughout the summer months, Cover was active in provisioning the territory militia, and in October he would lead  thirty-six wagons to Fort Smith. Although there were no military engagements with the Indians, and the militia was dismissed in early October, the conflict between whites and Indians was far from resolved. Frustrated by a continuing series of raids, and unwilling to engage in an all-out war, General-in Chief Ulysses S. Grant directed in March of 1868 that all the military posts along the Bozeman Trail be closed.

Once again, C0ver’s intuitive sense of timing would serve him well. By the late autumn of 1868, Cover had become intrigued with the idea of silk production in southern California. It is certainly reasonable to conclude that this new interest may have been stimulated by a combination of factors, including competition from new grist mills, the closing of the Bozeman Trail and perhaps whispers of doubt regarding his role in the death of John Bozeman. Whatever his interest, Cover sold his interest in the mill to William McAdow (Perry’s brother) and moved to southern California by the spring of 1869 with Mary.

Although the plan to raise silkworms never reached fruition, Cover did not lose his “Midas Touch” with his move to California. Purchasing large tracts of land which soon became prosperous orchards and the town site for Riverside, Cover continued to add to his material wealth.. The “fever” which had been dormant for several years flared again, however, in 1879. Cover became obsessed with the story of the Peg-Leg Mine, which according to popular lore, was located in the desert south of Riverside in the area known as the Salton Sea. On September 16, 1884, Cover, accompanied by Wilson Russell, left Riverside for his fifth expedition in search of the legendary treasure. The men separated on the morning of September 22, agreeing to meet later that day at a known point but it was the last anyone would see of Tom Cover. Despite the exhaustive efforts of Russell and several search parties, the body of Tom Cover was never found. Stories that a skeleton was found wearing Cover’s Masonic ring , and that he was murdered by relatives of a victim of vigilante activity, in which Cover had reportedly played a role, are alluring but not factual.

Since 1884,  Riverside, California has developed into a large city within the urban web of Los Angeles and the idea of open spaces, beautiful orchards and silk worm farms are as distant and unknown to its residents as the name of the man who first settled there. Except for the few weeks each summer when tourists crowd Virginia City and make their motorized pilgrimage to Boot Hill, Cover Street is a quiet residential byway that Tom Cover would likely recognize even today. Cover’s mill was razed in 1812 to make way for the Chicag0-Milwaukee railroad line into Bozeman and its mill s stones were moved—-and remain—in what today is the southeast corner of Beall Park.

In the quiet of a summer’s evening, when the laughter of children playing on the playground at Beall Park has turned to slumber, and the public pavilion is empty, if one listens very carefully while sitting beneath those beautiful trees, the breezes moving about those mill stones will whisper stories from a long time ago. A time when thousands of new emigrants, flushed with dreams of fortune, surged through a new community, when Indians were struggling to protect the way of life known to them and their ancestors, when men and women risked their lives for a fresh beginning…….. the time of Tom Cover’s mill.





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Art Snyder, Paul Snyder and Jim Snyder

Art Snyder, Paul Snyder and Jim Snyder



Yesterday was Bellville’s annual cruise-in. Snyder family members, Harold Dailey, Jim Snyder and Paul Snyder brought vehicles/cars to the cruise-in. Harold brought his 1972 IHC pick-up truck. Jim Snyder brought his newly restored 1948 Chrysler Windsor Coupe. Paul brought three vehicles, a 1948 Chrysler Windsor Highlander Club Coupe, a 1949 Dodge Coronet and a 1952 Chrysler Windsor sedan. Here are some photos that I took.

Jim Snyder's 1948 Chrysler Windsor

Jim Snyder’s 1948 Chrysler Windsor

Gifta Snyder and Paul Snyder

Gifta Snyder and Paul Snyder

Brad Snyder, Randy Snyder and Paul Snyder

Brad Snyder, Randy Snyder and Paul Snyder

Paul Snyder and his 1949 Dodge Coronet

Paul Snyder and his 1949 Dodge Coronet

Jim, Pat and Kimberly Snyder

Jim, Pat and Kimberly Snyder

Art and Joyce Snyder

Art and Joyce Snyder

Paul and Brad Snyder

Paul and Brad Snyder


Randy Snyder and Jim Snyder

Randy Snyder and Jim Snyder

Jim Snyder

Jim Snyder



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Josiah Stevenson Cover

Josiah S. Cover was a brother of Tom Cover.  Marlene Mossestad from Riverside, California was recently nice enough to provide me with Josiah’s obituary, which appeared in the Riverside Daily Press on April 4, 1889. His obituary read as follows:



We learned this morning of the death of one of Riverside’s oldest and most respected citizens, Mr.  Josiah S. Cover. He died at San Diego at 6:30 yesterday and his remains were brought here on today’s train. His brother, Perry and his life long friend and companion, Samuel McCoy, were with him in his last hours. and describe the calmness and faith of his last moments  as characteristic of his life. His last words were “a blessing on all my friends,” after which his face lighted up with happiness as he sank into his final sleep.

Mr. Cover was a native of Frederick, Maryland, where he was born fifty-nine years ago.

He was one of the earlier settlers of Riverside, coming here in 1874, and with his partner was among the first to introduce and propagate the celebrated orange which has helped so greatly to make  this valley  famous.

Those who have known genial “Uncle Si,” as he was lovingly called by everybody, will not soon forget his thorough honesty or his kindly charity. They were the result of the growth in him of the purest Christianity and are arguments unanswerable in favor of the religion he loved.

The funeral will take place tomorrow afternoon at the M.E. Church.

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Franklin Edward Cover

Franklin Edward Cover

Franklin Edward Cover  is a descendant of Jason Jerome Cover, one of  the  siblings of Tom Cover (and also Mary Margaret Cover). He was born in 1928 in Cleveland and died  in Englewood, New Jersey in  2005 at the age of 77. At the time of his death, he was staying at the Lillian Booth Actor’s Fund of America home while recuperating from a heart condition.

While Franklin had a long acting career, he was best known for his role as George and Louise Jefferson’s white neighbor, Tom Willis,  in the long-running TV sitcom, “The Jeffersons.” The Jeffersons ran on TV from 1975 to 1985.   In his nearly six decades in show business, Cover made numerous appearances on television shows, including “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “All in the Family,” “Who’s the Boss?” “Will & Grace,” “Living Single,” “Mad About You” and “ER.” He began his career on the stage, appearing in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “Henry IV,” and later in numerous Broadway productions, including “Any Wednesday,” “Wild Honey and “Born Yesterday.” But Cover was best known for his role as Tom Willis, who was in an interracial marriage with a black woman, in “The Jeffersons.” He and his wife lived in the same “deluxe apartment” building that Sherman Hemsley moved his family to after making money in the dry-cleaning business. There, Cover often played a comic foil to Hemsley’s blustering, opinionated black businessman. The show ran from 1975 to 1985. Cover also appeared in several films, including “The Great Gatsby,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Wall Street.”

Franklin graduated from Denison University in 1951. He has a son who is also an actor.



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Josiah Cover

Josiah Cover

My Dad and I are avid readers of western paperback novels.  Perhaps, that is why I am so fascinated with the exploits of Tom Cover and his brothers, Josiah and Perry, all of whom left Ohio, went west and had many adventures before ending  up in Riverside, California.  Before he reached California,  Josiah Cover lived for a time in Baxter Springs, Kansas.  From approximately 1870-1873,   Josiah Cover,  his sister, Mary Margaret Cover Biddle, her husband, George Washington Biddle, and their children, including Martha Ellen Biddle, who later married Henry Albert Snyder,  all lived in Baxter Springs. Josiah  Cover was known to all as “Uncle Si.”

In recently doing some research about Baxter Springs, I was reminded about how much Baxter Springs resembled the western towns depicted in the paperback novels and cowboy/western movies that I enjoy. Baxter Springs is located in the far southeast corner of Kansas.  Following the Civil War, Baxter Springs sprang up as the first Kansas “cow  town.” The town was laid out in 1865 on 80 acres. The town incorporated in 1868 with 1,500 residents and the population grew to 6,000 in two years.  As Missouri became off limits to Texas cattle due to quarantines, Baxter Springs became the terminus for cattle drives from Texas. The cattle drives ended in Baxter Springs, which was a railroad junction for cattle being shipped east. The community built corrals capable of holding 20,000 cattle and provided range land with ample water and grass for grazing. Baxter Springs gained a reputation for being one of the wildest “cow towns” in the West.

After the long cattle drives from Texas, cowboys found the town a welcoming sight after several months on the dusty trail, making the most of Baxter Springs’ numerous saloons. Offering up flowing liquor, card games and available women, every third business in Baxter Springs was noted as being a saloon, gambling hall or brothel. Public hangings, gunfights and saloon brawls became common occurrences.  In 1872, the mayor of Baxter Springs shot and killed the city marshal in a dispute over an arrest warrant. At one point, every bank in Baxter Springs had been robbed, including one bank that was robbed by the James Gang (Jesse James).  Ultimately, the rail spurs were pushed south into Texas and the fortunes of Baxter Springs declined.

Against this backdrop, we know that George Washington Biddle and Mary Cover Biddle moved to Baxter Springs in 1870 with their young family. Their daughter, Martha Ellen Biddle, would have been seven (7) years old at the time they moved to Baxter Springs.  It is unknown what took them to Baxter Springs but we know that George and Mary operated a boarding house. Recently, a very nice lady from Riverside, California contacted me after reading some posts on my blog about the Covers. Interestingly, while not a relative of ours, she has been researching Josiah  Cover and his long-time  friend and business partner, Samuel McCoy,  and she graciously has provided me with  additional information and documentation  about Josiah  Cover and  Samuel McCoy. While I already knew that George and Mary operated a boarding house in Baxter Springs, I have now learned that they called the boarding house, “The Ohio House.” I have also now learned that Samuel McCoy built the boarding house and stayed there as well. Actually, Samuel McCoy’s obituary refers to this house in Baxter Springs that he built  as being a “hotel.”Josiah Cover was the cook for the boarding house. Josiah  was apparently quite a cook.  Some Cover family history materials I have just obtained describe Josiah  as “being a first rate cook” and indicate that “the canned fruit he put up was the envy of many a female house wife.

Tollie Cover Biddle was the son of George Washington Biddle and Mary Cover Biddle. I found the following in the Biddle Family History book about Tollie’s experiences in Kansas:

“Tollie Biddle was 9 years old when his family moved to Baxter Springs, Kansas. The country was just opening up to settlers and there was much open prairie where the Indians lived. The Biddles, like most people in the town, had a cow that was turned loose each morning to graze at will over the prairie. Some days she wandered considerable distances among the prairie bushes and was hard to find. It was young Tollie’s job to bring the cow in at night which he did with a great deal of apprehension because shortly after arriving in town, he was standing in front of the hotel when a large Indian brave came by, took hold of Tollie, pulled out a big knife and pretended to cut Tollie’s throat! Needless to say, he was frightened but the bystanders had a good laugh.”

George Washington Biddle and his family moved back to Ohio in 1873. It is unknown why they moved back to Ohio but their move may have been related to the decline of Baxter Springs as a booming cow town.  So, the next time you watch a TV western, don’t forget that we had ancestors who lived  for a while in an actual, rip-roaring, wild cow town. I wish I knew a lot more about their time in Baxter Springs—-I am sure that their time there was very interesting!






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Eliza Jane Cover

Eliza Jane Cover

As readers of this blog may have realized by now, I am fascinated with the Cover branch of our family, especially Thomas  W. (“Tom”) Cover. Tom had many siblings, including a sister, Eliza Jane Cover, who I knew virtually nothing about. Several weeks ago, Sara Judson, a descendant of Eliza Jane Cover, left a comment on this blog. I exchanged some e-mails with her and she graciously agreed to write a post about Eliza Jane Cover and other nuggets of information that she has about the Cover family. Sara now lives near Fort Collins, Colorado. Thanks to Sara for this post and the photos that she provided of Eliza Jane Cover and her parents, Rev. Daniel Cover and Lydia Stevenson.




Thank you to Brad Snyder for inviting me to do a guest post about the Cover family. The more I learn about them, the more intriguing they become. Growing up, I was never told a detailed story about them, just little facts here and there. But now, with the internet, I’ve filled in some of the gaps.

I remember when my grandmother mentioned the name, she always used a certain emphasis and precision.

Her mother Verdie probably used the same emphasis. The granddaughter of the Reverend Daniel Cover and Lydia Stephenson, she was the daughter of Eliza Jane Cover and Isaac Markward.

Lydia Stevenson

Lydia Stevenson

Verdie’s parents both died within a few years of each other when she was a child…her mother died of edema, and her father died of typhoid. She was raised in the family of her Uncle Upton Cover.

Her cousins Martha, Emma and Perry became her siblings. I have an autograph book that she gave to Emma in 1881 when Emma was 22 and Verdie was 17.

It is filled with beautiful handwriting, little poems and a few sketches. There is one from M.E. Biddle, who is probably Martha Ellen Biddle Snyder, who would have been 18.

There is an autograph by “Katherine Deane Cover, aged 7”, the daughter of Jason Jerome. She became an accomplished artist, and I have inherited some of her watercolor and pastel paintings that belonged to my great-grandmother.

At the top of one page, in 1884, someone wrote, “Ho for the West!” Since Tom, Josiah and Daniel Perry had already moved to Riverside, California, the west was on their minds. Verdie and her fiancé actually traveled to Riverside to get married…a destination wedding! That was in 1886, just 1 ½ years after her Uncle Tom went missing.

Emma died just a few years after she collected these autographs. Her sister Martha died five years after that. Verdie named her two daughters after them: Emma Ivalena, who was born in Nebraska, and my grandmother, Martha Alverda, who was born in Colorado.

A few years ago, my husband and I were driving home through northwestern Kansas when we stopped to look at a little G.A.R. cemetery (Grand Army of the Republic, a cemetery for Civil War veterans) near St. Francis. There was a D.M.V.B. Cover buried there, with the inscription “55th Ohio Infantry, Company K”. When I looked him up online, I found he was Eliza Jane’s first cousin…the son of her father’s brother Joseph.

The Reverend Daniel Cover lived near Mansfield, Ohio around the time that Johnny Appleseed was there. Johnny Appleseed would plant little orchards and then return after a time to sell the trees and surrounding land. One of the things my great-grandmother passed down to us was a walking stick inscribed, “Made from one of the trees planted by John Chapman, Johnny Appleseed.”

I’ll finish with this story, from the 1871 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, about Johnny Appleseed. It mentions an “itinerant missionary”…probably not Daniel Cover, but who knows?

Rev. Daniel Cover

Rev. Daniel Cover

“Toward the latter part of Johnny’s career in Ohio an itinerant missionary found his way to the village of Mansfield, and preached to an open-air congregation. The discourse was tediously lengthy, and unnecessarily severe upon the sin of extravagance, which was beginning to manifest itself among the pioneers by an occasional indulgence in the carnal vanities of calico and “store tea…” There was a good deal of the Pharisaic leaven in the preacher, who very frequently emphasized his discourse by the inquiry, “Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?” When this interrogation had been repeated beyond all reasonable endurance, Johnny rose from the log on which he was reclining, and advancing to the speaker, he placed one of his bare feet upon the stump which served for a pulpit, and pointing to his coffee-sack garment, he quietly said, “Here’s your primitive Christian!” The well-clothed missionary hesitated and stammered and dismissed the congregation. “




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From left to right, Ora Otis Snyder with shovel, Philip Snyder, Trent Snyder, Dennis Snyder, Dick Snyder and Paul Snyder

From left to right, Ora Otis Snyder with shovel, Philip Snyder, Trent Snyder, Dennis Snyder, Dick Snyder and Paul Snyder

The following article, written by Dutch Collins, appeared in the Bellville Star on May 11, 2000:

As the speaker for the Bellville Historical Society meeting on April 15, J. Paul Snyder addressed the gathering. Snyder gave a broad overview of the family business, added some humor along the way and related some of his own experiences as a Bellville funeral director for more than 20 years.

Snyder began the history of the Snyder family dynasty with the marriage of his parents, Ora O. Snyder, Sr. and Marion Idella Lucas in February of 1916. The wedding took place at the farm home of Paul’s grandfather, Thomas Lucas on Bellville-Johnsville Road, the last farm before you reach U.S. Route 42.

Ora and Marion Snyder began their married life on that farm and operated it in partnership with Paul’s grandfather, Tommie Lucas. Marion’s mother, Cora Idella Lucas, died when Marion was only six months old.

Ora Snyder’s parents were Henry Albert and Ella Biddle Snyder, who lived on a farm just outside Johnsville, where Hersh’s Countryside Restaurant now stands. For many years, it was known as Mar Guy’s Restaurant.

Ora was one of four children-he had a brother and two sisters–one of whom was Gladys Snyder Hoeflich Rinehart, wife of Ed Hoeflich and mother of Ruth Ellen, Mary Louise and Lee Edward.

Henry Albert Snyder raised Percheron horses on this farm and in 1916, Johnsville undertaker, Lee Lewis, bought a team of horses from Henry Albert to pull his horse-drawn hearse and other carriages. But when the team of horses proved too frisky, Lewis hired Ora Snyder to drive the team for him.

In those days, when a death occurred, the undertaker would be summoned to the house where he would embalm the body. Later a casket would be taken to the home and the wake or visiting hours would be held in the home and the funeral service would be either at the home or the church. Paul said that on cold winter nights his father would go into the family home to assist Mr. Lewis in preparing the body for burial.

In 1919, Ora Snyder enrolled in the Columbus School of Embalming, where he received his embalmer’s license. By this time, Lee Lewis had sold his Johnsville funeral home to Dale Craven and in 1922, Ora Snyder purchased that funeral business from Mr. Craven and established the first Snyder Funeral Home in a big brick building on Delaware Street in Johnsville.

In those days, the undertaker had a full schedule on the day of the funeral. He would start out the day by preparing the grave and taking a wooden vault to the cemetery. He then would take his chairs and equipment to the family home.. Most funerals then were held in the afternoon and it would be late before Ora returned home with all his equipment.

In 1926 while the Snyder family was still living in Johnsville at the funeral home, Ora Snyder purchased the former Lexington Academy building on Delaware Street in Lexington and converted it into a funeral home.

A cousin of Marion Snyder, Mary Shortess, served as hostess at the new funeral home in Lexington and Paul’s two oldest brothers, Donald and David, moved to Lexington to assist at the funeral home and to drive the ambulance. (Donald later invented the Hi-Lo trailer in 1954 and built a factory in Butler. He died in 1978.)

Lexington businessmen encouraged Ora Snyder to come to Lexington and in 1939 he moved his family from Johnsville to Lexington into a big house a block south of the funeral home. By this time, the Ora Snyder family had grown to 13 children–10 boys and three girls.

“No history of Snyder Funeral Home would be complete,” said Paul “without mentioning Henry L. Hosler–a long time friend and associate of the Snyder family.”Henry was a native of Johnsville and the former postmaster of the Shauck Post Office. He had obtained his embalmer’s license and was at this time assisting in the operation of both the Johnsville and Lexington funeral homes.

In 1941, Ora Snyder purchased the A.A. Shafer funeral home on Main Street in Bellville. Some of the older Snyder children had already graduated from school and several others chose to stay at the Lexington funeral home when Ora and Marion moved their family  to Bellville.

Ora O. Snyder, Jr. (Pete) was the first of the Snyder children to complete his studies at Bellville High School, finishing in 1946. Seven other Snyder children followed, including Philip (1946), T. Arthur and H. Arden (1951), J. Paul (1952), Janet (1954), James (1955) and Patricia (1957).

Al Shafer had established his funeral business in Bellville in 1907. The large brick home across from the Bellville Historical Museum was built in 1910. Mr. Shafer had served the Bellville community for 34 years.

In early America, it was the custom for the undertaker to also operate a furniture store along with the undertaking business. When he wasn’t busy making caskets, Mr. Shafer would build furniture and his store was located where the business “Somewhere In Time” is located and operated by Ron and Jeanie Roberts. Al Shafer sold his furniture store to Mike and Rosemary Myers in 1944.

Along with the purchase of the A.A. Shafer funeral business, Ora Snyder acquired Al’s horse drawn hearse. The hearse was built in 1885 by the Hess and Eisenhardt Company in Lima, a company that is still in business today building funeral hearses and limousines.

The Snyder funeral home on Main Street in Bellville was quite a building in its day, according to Paul. “Many of you,” Paul told his Historical Society audience, “will recall the large open oak stairway that led to the second floor. The first floor was used for the funeral home and the family lived on the second and third floors. I remember as kids in the summer time, when there was no funeral taking place, we would sit on the front porch in wicker rockers and count the cars going by.”

He also remembers when his father came upstairs to remind his youngsters to be quiet during a funeral service.

When World War II broke out in 1941, three of Paul’s older brothers—David, Richard and Robert–as well as Henry Hosler, were drafted into the service. Paul’s mother, Marion began the necessary training to receive her Funeral Director’s license so she could assist in the operation of the funeral homes in Johnsville, Lexington and Bellville.

Paul said that back in those days his father also operated an ambulance in each of the communities where there was a Snyder funeral home. It was necessary to keep someone at the funeral  home on 24 hour call to respond to a call for an ambulance.

Paul remembers the air raid drills during World War II when all of the lights were blacked out and anyone not complying was subject to a heavy fine. Someone was always posted as a lookout at the cemetery in the old chapel and when the “all clear call” came into the funeral home, one of the air raid wardens was sent to the cemetery to advise the lookout that all was clear. Paul said that it was quite a concern back then that Bellville could be bombed by the Germans or Japanese.

In 1946, all of Paul’s brothers came home safely from the war and Richard and Robert joined their parents in the family business and the elder Snyder purchased the Ira George funeral business in Butler. Mr. George had operated his funeral business as part of his furniture store. Ora Snyder then purchased the home of Dr. Rommel on Cleveland Street in Butler and located the funeral home there. Paul noted that D. D. Rommell was born in that house on Cleveland Street.

In 1953, the Howard Meredith funeral business and furniture store was purchased in Fredericktown. The Kelly Walter home on College Street in Fredericktown was bought to house the funeral home. Paul’s brother, Richard, took over the funeral home in Fredericktown and Paul ran the furniture store. In 1962, the funeral business was incorporated and became known as Snyder Funeral Homes, Inc.

The Snyder family opened a funeral home in Mt. Gilead in 1963 in the former Tucker laboratory building. Dr. Tucker was famous for having perfected a cure for asthma and people came from all over the state for the asthma “medicine.”

Three years later in February 1966,  Ora and Marion Snyder celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. It would be the last time the entire family was together as Marion died unexpectedly in her sleep in August of that year.

In 1969, the family firm decided to cease the ambulance service in all of the communities where the Snyders were operating funeral homes. Paul said this decision was made for several reasons. One being that a new federal regulation stated that all ambulances had to have 54 inches of headroom. The combination funeral car and ambulances the Snyders were using did not meet this requirement. “Also, ” Paul said, “ambulance operators now had to be trained and certified in life saving procedures which we were not.”

He also recalled several humorous incidents about the ambulances, which drew some hearty laughs. My mother called me out of school one day to run an ambulance trip and I grabbed Tom Ridenour to help me. We had to go up to the second floor of this house in Bellville and carry this rather large lady down the stairs to place her on our cot. All she had on was a silk nightie and every step down the stairs, she slipped a little out of our hands,” he chuckled. Another funny incident occurred when Dr. Betty Reed called from Butler for an ambulance and when Paul’s brother, Arthur, got there and saw all of the blood, he passed out and had to be revived by Dr. Reed.

“As most of you know, ” Paul told his audience, “the ambulance service was taken over by the Jefferson Township Fire Department and this community can consider itself very fortunate to have this free Rescue Squad service manned by a dedicated, competent and trained group of men and women who volunteer their time and service to provide us with a first class rescue squad as well as fire department.”

At that point in his talk, he spotted Bernie Hollar in the audience, a member of the Bellville Rescue Squad. “The next time you see a member of the Rescue Squad” Pauil remarked, “stop them, shake their hand and tell them what a good job they are doing.”

In the early 1970’s, several other second and third generation family members entered the family funeral business. Three of Paul’s nephews and he himself became funeral directors. Those nephews were Dennis and Dan Snyder, sons of Richard Snyder, andClarence and Bessie Banks,  Trent Snyder, son of Philip Snyder. The 1970’s would also see Bob Snyder and Phil Snyder leave the family business to pursue other interests.

In 1971, the Snyder family constructed two identical funeral home buildings in Bellville and Lexington. The Bellville site on Mill Road, on land purchased from Clarence and Bessie Banks,  was built to serve both the Bellville and Butler communities. The Lexington home was built on Lexington Avenue between Lexington and Mansfield to service those two communities. The Butler funeral home  was closed in 1972.

Ora O. Snyder, Sr. died in September of 1973 and both he and Marion are buried in Bellville Cemetery.

In 1984,  J. Paul and Shontell  Snyder’s son, J. Todd Snyder, and Phil Snyder’s son, C. Clay Snyder, both completed their training at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and entered the family business as third generation funeral directors.

Up through the middle of the 1980’s, the Snyders were keeping each funeral home equipped with a hearse, family sedan and flower car. Paul said the cost kept escalating each year, so the decision was made to sell the hearses and sedans and rent hearses from a livery service as they were needed. This proved not to be as reliable as anticipated and over a period of time the decision was reversed.

In the early 1990’s, the DeVore Funeral Homes in Marengo, Sunbury and Delaware were purchased, making a total of ten Snyder Funeral Homes. These include Bellville-Butler, Lexington Avenue, two in Mt. Gilead, Fredericktown, two in Mt. Vernon and Marengo, Sunbury and Delaware.

J. Todd Snyder, now directs the Richland County Division. Trent A. Snyder directs the Morrow County Division, C. Clay Snyder directs the Delaware County Division and Dennis L. Snyder, R. Dan Snyder and Weston Snyder collectively direct and operate the Knox County Division.

IN 1996, Ohio Funeral Support Services, Inc. was started. This corporation erected a building in Mt. Vernon to house a crematory and livery service. This crematory handles all of the cremations for Snyder Funeral Homes as well as a dozen other funeral homes in the area.

Three hearses and limousines are kept in Mt. Vernon and dispatched daily to where they are needed. Paul made mention that Everett McClarren drives for the Bellville funeral home.

The most recent fourth generation entry into the family business is Ora’s great-grandson, Weston T. Snyder, son of Dennis Snyder. Weston graduated from the Cincinnati Mortuary College and now works with his father and uncle in the operation of the Knox County Division.

Paul recalled there have been several humorous things that have happened that he enjoys relating to people. “One time, I was leading this 40 car funeral procession to a cemetery in another town and I drove right by the cemetery. Naturally, everybody kept following me. I found a nice big barnyard to turn around in and went back to the cemetery. Upon arriving at the cemetery, the widow came rushing up to me. (I was bracing myself for a good chewing out) but she said—-Oh, thank you!  You turned around on the old farm we used to live on and he would have loved it.”

In February of 1997, J. Paul Snyder retired from full-time service but still helps out when needed. But he said, “Shontell and I enjoy our retirement and we love traveling, camping and loafing.”

In conclusion, Paul said, “Although I am now retired, I am proud of having been a part of guiding a business that my parents started in 1922 to the place where it is today.”


Since the above article was published,  Snyder Funeral Homes has continued to grow and flourish, acquiring additional funeral homes in Marion, Delaware and Galion and fourth-generation funeral directors, Chad Snyder,  Sean Snyder, Hannah Snyder and Gideon Snyder, have joined the family business.




















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