These brief entries are a sampling of notable local events in Wayne County history. 1800s
Henry Voltz, an immigrant peddler, was arrested when the body of his partner, named Lawler, was found murdered in White County in 1853. The controversial case was moved to Fairfield for the trial. The full account is sketchy and conflicting, but Voltz, who could not speak English well, was found guilty. He was hanged on May 24, 1853 on a gallows built on a hill west of Fairfield before a large crowd. Voltz’s final words were recorded as, “I am an innocent man; the man who killed Lawler is in this crowd today; you are hanging an innocent man.” He was buried beneath the scaffold with the rope still around his neck. At some point Voltz reportedly identified a man named Campbell as the killer. This man left the area and later died in Memphis, TN. On his deathbed Campbell apparently confessed that he had killed Lawler and that Voltz was innocent
Local leaders lobbied hard to bring the southern extension of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad through Wayne County in the early 1870s to insure an economic growth. They succeeded in a route that was ten blocks west of the Fairfield business district. Small depot towns expanded or sprang up along the route countywide; villages too distant from the railroad began a slow fade. About a decade later, the Airline (soon purchased by the Southern Railroad) crossed the county with an east/west route. Fairfield gained a second depot and once again, villages along the route grew while more distant ones did not. The railroad was the primary economic force for fifty years, affecting agriculture, education, civic, and social transformations
The “Marble Front” was a massive log structure facing S.E. Third Street in Fairfield. Since the logs were whitewashed, the building was jokingly named the “Marble Front.” The store and surrounding shops were a main destination for early settlers. In June, 1881, the building burned leaving nearly a half-city block in blackened ruins. The Fairfield National Bank now stands on the site. This was one of numerous devastating fires that plagued the town in its first century. Wood or fuel oil heating, congested wooden buildings, human carelessness, and rudimentary firefighting equipment created a volatile and repeatedly disastrous combination.
Built about 1840 on the east side of the courthouse square, the Jackson House was an elegant hotel. Abraham Lincoln may have stayed there when he made his legal and political travels early in his career; he tried at least one case in Fairfield. The three-story frame structure burned in 1882. Its reputation was carried on by the fancy Lang Hotel (now Joe’s Body Shop).
Wayne County’s first log courthouse was replaced by a substantial two-story brick structure about 1837. Scarcely thirty years later the second courthouse was deteriorating. A two-story, brick, “fire proof” building was erected on the southwest corner of the courthouse yard to insure the safety of the county records. That “fire proof” burned in 1886; arson was suspected. Irreplaceable criminal, civil, tax and land records documenting the county’s earliest years were destroyed. Over time the mistaken idea that the courthouse itself burned took hold in local lore. It did not but the consequence was the same. Local realtors did manage to recreate many property records.
The Fairfield Woolen Mills installed its own engine for the first electrical service in the mid-1890s. A few well-to-do citizens obtained electrical service using small power plants installed by private companies. Between 1895 and 1898, electric lines were spreading around the community and the city invested in a power plant. Electricity was not available in the rural areas until the 1930s.
Chartered in 1885, Hayward College operated in an imposing two-story brick building on the Hayward property (where FCHS stands now). Robert Hayward donated the land and a massive campaign raised local money to construct the building and hire staff. The building had ten large classrooms, a chapel, offices, and library. In 1898 chimney sparks caught the roof on fire. Available fire apparatus—a hand pump—proved useless. The contents of the building were removed as the fire grew out of control. The heat was so severe that the brick walls buckled, preventing any repair. Classes resumed in the Methodist Church to finish the academic year. Fundraising for a new building failed to develop, the college ceased, and the land was vacant until chosen for the new high school in the 1920s.
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