Friday, April 20, 2012

Hannah Schwing Neil, caregiver

In Columbus the name Hannah Neil has become synonymous with the care of homeless women and children. Hannah was married to William Neil who established the first stage coach company and a chain of coach lines along the major thoroughfares of pioneer Ohio earning him the title of "Stage-Coach King." When railroads began to appear, William switched his attention from coaches to railroad building. He owned the prestigious Neil House, one of Columbus' finest hotels and the Old Vance Farm where OSU would later be located. In short, William Neil was the wealthiest, most influential man of his day. One would think that the wife of such a man would be content to live quietly in the midst of luxury and comfort insulated from the cares of ordinary folk. But that was not Hannah Neil. While her husband was busily accumulating a fortune, she found her greatest pleasure in giving all of her worldly possessions to the poor and needy. She was even known to give the clothes she was wearing to a needful person. Her granddaughter stated that Hannah had given away every dress she ever owned "except for one black silk." Hannah made her rounds visiting the homes of the poor with such regularity, that her horse Billy knew each alley and each stop of her route. Hannah aided Jane Hoge in her work with the Female Benevolent Society, and she also started her own charitable society. It was first established in 1858 as an industrial school where poor children could learn a skill, but when the numbers of homeless women and children continued to increase, the school evolved. It became the Hannah Neil Home for Women and Children where the spirit and vision of this remarkable women continues yet today. When Hannah died of pneumonia in 1868, crowds of poor folks turned out to pay her tribute. There were so many, in fact, that the church could not hold them all and they lined both sides of the street in sorrow as the funeral procession passed. Note: The Hannah Neil Home stands at the corner of Parson Avenue and East Main Street. It is the former home of the Ohio Arts Council. It now sits abandon, awaiting a new owner. Leslie Blankenship Columbus Historical Society

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