Ms. Olding joins us as a guest blogger, and offers a brilliant description of New Bremen's most well-known lock tender:
"Thomas B. Thompson, NB Lockkeeper
Thomas B. Thompson was an interesting man who became the best known lockkeeper at New Bremen’s Lock 1 North. Born in Pennsylvania on January 9, 1832, he was one of those early 19th century adventuresome frontiersmen who looked for opportunity in numerous places during the early days of this country’s canal and railroad era. At age 19, he came to Piqua, Ohio, where he worked on packet boats on the Miami and Erie Canal. He helped build the Dayton & Michigan Railroad, a line begun in 1851 that paralleled the canal through Botkins and Anna. Not liking railroad work, he roamed the country for a couple of years. He returned to Piqua where he was the proprietor of a saloon, later had a bakery, and then a confectionary business. He traveled to nearby small towns selling from a huckster wagon making frequent trips to New Bremen and staying at the local hotels. While in Piqua, he also bought and sold timber; bought, sold and operated boats; and owned as many as seventeen boats on the Miami and Erie Canal.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, Thompson moved to Dayton where he ran a grocery and saloon for six months. On June 2, 1868, he married his boss’s sister, Mary E. List. The next year on April 27, 1869, they boarded a packet and came to New Bremen, a village of immigrants of German descent. For almost 40 years, Thompson played an important role in the village’s progress; however, he did not become New Bremen’s lockkeeper upon arrival.
For the first two or three years, the Thompsons rented a house from which he conducted a grocery and saloon, and George L., their first of nine children, was born on October 26, 1870. He sold that business, and moved to Washington Street where he operated a saloon until about 1876 or 1877. At this time, “he purchased the house at the lock, and for many years conducted a boarding and lodging house. He also conducted a livery barn a few years, and always had one or more teams busy . . . he did all kinds of hauling and teaming, always being his own manager in whatever he undertook, at times having more irons in the fire than the average man is able to manage.”(1) While Thompson was the lockkeeper, New Bremen’s economy and prosperity flourished with mills and industries due to its abundant water supply and its prominent location at Lock 1 North.
Mrs. Thompson died on March 11, 1905, of cancer. A week later, her husband had a private sale of “a five-room brick house on South Washington Street, two teams, wagons, harness and beds of all kinds, faming utensils of all kinds, top wagon, top buggy and bobsled.” Until his death, he owned TR 8 & 9, outlots 5 & 6, where the lockkeeper’s house is located. Thomas B. Thompson died just before Christmas in 1907, at age 75, thus ending the colorful life of a 19th century Miami and Erie Canal entrepreneur.
The property that contained the lockkeeper’s house was transferred on January 1, 1908, to a son, Walter G. Thompson. About 1910, the original wooden lock was replaced with a concrete structure that was rebuilt and dedicated in 2007 by the Village of New Bremen. Whether Walter Thompson succeeded his father as lockkeeper is not known. After the Great Flood of 1913 heavily damaged the entire Miami and Erie Canal system, Walter Thompson continued to own the property until at least 1920. His name appears on the property where the reconstructed lockkeeper’s house now stands, as shown on a blueprint of the canal and its surroundings on a 1920 map drawn by H. E. Whitlock for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources."
Mary Ann Olding
(1)- New Bremen Sun obituary3/29/1907
This piece was written by Ms. Olding on July 8, 2010. We thank her very much for contributing to our blog!