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NOTWITHSTANDING that twoscore years have elapsed since Sardis Birchard, the subject of the sketch, has passed away, his memory is as fresh to-day in Fremont as though he were still in the flesh. Lasting monuments to his memory are found in the park property which he deeded to the city and the Birchard Library will forever be a memorial to this kindly and noble spirit. He who disseminates knowledge is truly a benefactor of the human race, no less is he who conserves the public health by furnishing breathing spaces in the congested city districts. Of the private charities of this godly man there is much that will never be known, for he did not let his "right hand know what his left hand doeth," but it is known that at all times of stress and storm he was among the first to come forward with offers of tangible assistance. It is fitting that such a noble character should receive this tribute to his memory and to his life which was so full of thoughts and deeds for others. Rare indeed were the opportunities of those contemporaries who had the privilege of daily communion with this fine specimen of manhood and of Christian life. Many of these life-long friends have joined Sardis Birchard on the Eternal Shore, but the laurel which crown this life of fulfillment are green today and show no sign of fading.
The Birchard family was one of the first to settle in the vicinity of Norwich, Connecticut. They later removed to Vermont, where Sardis, the youngest of five children was born. After the death of his parents Sardis was placed in [the] charge of his sister who was destined to become the wife of Rutherford Hayes and through this union to become the mother of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the nineteenth President of the United States. Sardis Birchard became as much a member of his sister's family as any of her own children and lived with her ant Dummerston, Vermont, until 1817, when he accompanied the family to Ohio.
During his residence in Vermont, young Sardis Birchard had received such desultory instruction as was possible in the uncertain curriculum of the schools of that early day. He profited to a remarkable degree through such schooling as it was possible to receive and became an expert in the lore of the forest, becoming a huntsman of rare prowess at an age when many boys are considered much too young to be trusted with firearms. He was a natural-born horseman, also developing this ability at an early age. While still but a lad he assisted his brother-in-law, Rutherford Hayes, in a material extent in operating his store business. After the removal to Ohio he was again of assistance in helping his brother-in-law manage his farm, especially in the handling of the live stock, for which work he had a natural aptitude. His spare time was spent in hunting, supplying not only his own family but those neighbors with venison and wild turkeys.
In 1822, Rutherford Hayes passed away, leaving a wife and two children to mourn the loss of a kind, good husband and father. This threw the responsibility of the family on the young shoulders of Sardis Birchard, who was but twenty-one years of age. With a sagacity which would have been expected of a mature man, he devoted himself to the management of his brother-in-law's affairs and tried to take the place of her husband in standing bettween his sister and the world. This early responsibility doubtless had much to do with developing those manly qualities which were early associated with Sardis Birchard. Having a considerable inheritance from his father, and being of a naturally jovial and fun-loving temperament, this early settling- down to the responsibilities of mature life is the more remarkable and speaks well for the sense of gratitude of the young man, who by this means sought to repay his sister for her years of loving care.
Several incidents may be recounted of Sardis Birchard about this time which go to show the characteristics of the young man and also will serve as historical data of the early life of this part of the State of Ohio. On one occasion he was delegated to drive a drove of hogs to provision the settlers of Fort Ball, now Tiffin, Ohio. This was in 1817. The other men connected with the enterprise proved to be a rough lot and soon after they had left on their journey gave themselves over to drinking and carousing. This left the entire success of the trip devolving on young Sardis Birchard. The weather was bitter cold and the streams were without bridges and the poor roads of that day were almost impassable, but he did not consider turning back nor giving up the trip and in due time he delivered the drove at the settlement at Fort Ball. This was his first visit to this portion of the State. In 1824, Sardis Birchard, accompanied by Benjamin Powers, later a prominent banker and business man of Delaware, again visited this part of the State, this time including lower Sandusky in their itinerary. The trip was made in a wagon pulled by one horse. At Fremont they put up at Leason's Tavern which was a log house occupying the present site of the Shomo Block in Fremont. The population of Fremont at this time did not exceed two hundred. While sojourning at Fremont they met George Olmstead and Judge Howland. From Fremont Sardis Birchard and his friend, Benjamin Powers, went to Portland, now Sandusky. After this trip had been terminated he essayed an undertaking of considerable magnitude. He purchased a drove of hogs and drove them all the way to Baltimore, Maryland, almost losing the entire drove in crossing the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia, where it was necessary to swim across, hogs and all. On this trip he was overtaken by a party in a splendid equipage, accompanied by attendants on horseback. This proved to be the cortege of General Jackson, who was on his way to Washington following [the] presidential election of 1824, in which he had received the largest number of votes but was not however, the successful candidate. The party evinced great interest in young Sardis Birchard and his undertaking and General Jackson advised him as to market conditions and of the best method of disposing of his stock on his arrival in Baltimore.
In the summer of 1825 Sardis Birchard was seriously injured by over-exerting himself whole mowing in the hay field, and never regained his health. He became so weakly that his life was despaired of, he having developed pronounced symptoms of consumption. At no time, however, did Sardis Birchard take this view himself, and in the course of time his condition ameliorated, never becoming really strong, but enabling him to lead a fairly active life and one of great benefit to the community. His return to comparative health was assisted by a trip back to his old home in Vermont, where he remained until the approach of cold weather, when he went to Georgia, remaining there until 1827, when he was able to return home and resume his former life. His health precluding farming, he decided to go into the dry-goods business and made a trip to New York for the purpose of stocking up his business. Here he met William P. Dixon, of Amos Palmer and Company, who gave him able assistance and recommended him to other firms and in a short time his bill of goods was made up and shipped to cleveland, where the young merchant planned to sell the goods to the men employed in constructing the Ohio Canal, then being built from Cleveland southward. He followed the course of the canal into Tuscarawas Valley, but tired of the enterprise at this point and disposed of a portion of his goods to another trader and shipped the remainder to Fort Ball, now Tiffin, where he opened a store, remaining here until his stock was disposed of. He then went to Lower Sandusky, where he purchased the stock of Richard Sears, a successful merchant, who had made a fortune in trading with the Indians. The necessary stock to equip a store at this time was vastly different than that required in the present day. Broadcloth, calico, linsey-wollsey, and Kentucky jeans were the principal fabrics for which there was any demand and the other stock was made up of Mackinaw blankets, beads, powder, and lead. Much corn was taken in exchange for merchandise and this was traded in to the distillers of whiskey, who in turn shipped their product to Buffalo. In this way the first interchange of commerce between this section and Buffalo was effected. After about four years at this business Sardis Birchard was planning to retire, as he had amassed a fortune of about $10,000, which was considered a competency in that day. Instead of retiring, however, he entered into partnership with Esbon Husted and Rodolphus Dickinson, under the name of Birchard, Dickinson & Company, operating the largest store in Ohio west of Cleveland at that time. The volume of business amounted to sales of $50,000 per year. In 1835 Esbon Husted died, and his place wa filled by George Grant, who had been connected with the firm from its inception. In 1841 George Grant died, at the age of thirty-one years and the firm was then dissolved, Sardis Birchard attending to the adjustment of the business.
A brief mention of the life of this associate of Sardis Birchard is fitting at this point. George Grant was one of the most promising young business men of his community and his untimely taking off undoubtedly thwarted what would have been one of the most remarkable business careers of his time. His business ability was early evinced and his upward course was rapid. Even in the short span of his life he managed to amass a considerable fortune. He left a wife and child, also an aged mother, to mourn his loss, together with a large number of loving friends. He left a wife and child, also and aged mother, to mourn his loss, together with a large number of loving friends. George Grant was born in Lancaster, Ohio, May 10, 1810, and died April 21, 1841. He came to Fremont when but a child with his widowed mother. He married Statira Dickinson, daughter of Alpheus Dickinson, a native of Massachusetts. Two children were born of this union: Sarah Jane Grant and Georgiana Grant, who died in 1843 at the age of two years. Mis Sarah Jane Grant has always resided in Fremont. George Grant was one of the most highly respected citizens of Fremont and at the time of his death the regard in which he was held in the community was evinced by the fact that all business was suspended for four hours on the day of his funeral. Such prominence is remarkable in a man of such few years of life in which to cement friendships and business associates. The large measure of success which followed the organization of the company of Birchard, Dickinson & Company, is largely attributable to the untiring efforts of George Grant, who sas a brother-in-law of Rodolphus Dickinson. He never considered self where the welfare of the business was to be considered and his own physical well-being was a secondary consideration.
After the closing up of the business attendant upon the dissolution of the firm of Birchard, Dickinson & Company, Sardis Birchard invested in some land in a district which had never been opened for settlement of cultivation. This proved to be a bonanza investment, as the country developed in the direction of his holdings and he made a large fortune from this deal alone. He then became interested in banking in connection with Judge Lucius B. Otis. They established the first bank in Sandusky County, under the name of Birchard and Otis. In 1856, Judge Otis moved to Chicago, severing his connection with the bank in Fremont. Sardis Birchard then became affiliated with A. H. Miller. A year later Doctor James W. Wilson became interested financially in the undertaking and the banking firm of Birchard, Miller & Company was formed. In 1863, the First National Bank was organized, the firm of Birchard, Miller & Company becoming merged in the new bank. This was the second National Bank organized in Ohio and the fifth in the United States. Mr. Birchard was the first president, James W. Wilson, M. D., was the first vice president, and Anson H. Miller was the cashier. Mr. Birchard remained as president of the bank until his death.
Sardis Birchard was one of those rare spirits who, as their material wealth increases, cultivate a wealth of spirit to correspond. He became more public-spirited as his wealth increased and the richness of his nature more than offset the material wealth of his coffers. No enterprise affecting the public welfare was too small or of too little consequence to receive material aid at his hands. In the matter of large bequests he was so generous that he is still called "the city benefactor." About four years before his death he presented the city of Fremont with two parks, one, a large tract of land lying between Birchard Avenue and Croghan Street and a smaller triangular park at the intersection of Birchard and Buckland Avenues. In 1873, just one year before he passe to the great beyond, he set aside property and collateral to the amount of $50,000 for the establishment of a library which should be free to the citizens of Fremont forever. This beautiful and classic building stands on land of historic interest, being on the site of old Fort Stephenson, where Colonel Croghan and his gallant comrades fought with a heroism that will always live in history and will be handed down from father to son by the citizens of Fremont and its environs. In the establishment of this library Sardis Birchard was unwittingly providing a memorial for himself, as his death occurred just a year following its inception. It is fitting that such a memorial should be in the form of a library, as, in its wide scope of usefulness and helpfulness it well exemplifies the life of Sardis Birchard.
Sardis Birchard was unable to enter actively into the war activities of 1861, but was largely instrumental in influencing me to step forward and enlist in the service of their country. The early injury which he had sustained and his subsequent delicate health precluded such activity, but in every way possible he lent his assistance. He was among the first to buy government bonds in 1862.
It would be impossible to tabulate the charities of this noble man, as the bulk of them were only known to the recipient and the giver. The library and the parks are possibly the most important of his bequests, as affecting the largest number of beneficiaries, but there were other important bequests worthy of mention. He bequeathed $5,000 to Oberlin College, $5,000 to the Home Missionary Society, and $1,000 each to the Ladies' Relief Society and the Conger Fund.
Sardis Birchard was a member of the Presbyterian Church, having joined the church in May, 1857. He was always ready with financial and personal service whenever such assistance was required. This good man carried his religion into his daily life and all who came into the circle of love and mercy radiated by this truly Christian man, went away benefited, spiritually and physically. Sardis Birchard will live in the hearts of his friends and of their children's children, forever.
Sardis Birchard passed to the eternal life January 21, 1874, at the age of seventy-three years and six days, after a life of such richness and fulfillment as is seldom given us to contemplate.
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