William J. Winans

William Jasper Winans (1865-1919) (1-5-1-3-5-4-9-2)1 married Minerva Marlott.

Railroad worker, IL and OH.


William was born the third of six children to William (1-5-1-3-5-4-9) and Anna Winans in the farming country of Douglas Township, Effingham County, Illinois on October 25, 1865. His oldest sister, Sarah, was born four years before William. He had an older brother, Isaac (1-5-1-3-5-4-9-1), probably named for his grandfather in Milton, OH, who was born three years before him. William J. also had a brother and sister who were born twins, two years after him (John (1-5-1-3-5-4-9-3) and Mary), and a youngest brother, George (1-5-1-3-5-4-9-4), who was born four years after William. All of the children were born in Illinois. William was probably named for his father. In 1870 and 1880, William Jasper was listed with his parents and siblings on a farm in Douglas Township. Every one of William's neighbors is similarly listed as engaged in farming or in keeping the house. We do not presently have an address where the family was living in 1880 and this may be because they were deep in farming country where street addresses were not used.

William Jasper stayed with his family until 1886 or 1888 when he struck out on his own at the age of 20 or 23. William began his career with the Erie Railway. The Erie Railroad ran through Galion, Ohio and established large rail yards there, making the city an important rail center. William became a brakeman. A brakeman was a member of a railroad train's crew responsible for assisting with braking a train when the conductor wanted the train to slow down. A brakeman's duties also included ensuring that the couplings between cars were properly set, lining switches, and signaling to the train operators while performing switching operations. The brakemen rode in the caboose, the last car in the train, which was built specially to allow a crew member to apply the brakes of the caboose quickly and easily, which would help to slow the train. In rare cases, such as descending a long, steep grade, brakemen might be assigned to several cars, and be required to operate the brakes while the train was moving from atop the train. Brakemen were also required to watch the train when it was underway to look for signs of overheating axle bearings, as well as for people trying to ride the train for free, and cargo shifting or falling off.

William presumably met Minerva while working on an Erie Railroad line that took him into Canada. Minerva, who may have used the name Olive, was born on September 17, 1869. Minerva was from Hamilton, Ontario, or someplace nearby. William and Minerva were married on April 15 or June 27, 1893 when he was 27 and she was 23. The couple moved initially to Galion where a daughter, Hazel, was born in February, 1895 and where Lawrence was born on December 8, 1897. The family was residing at 51 Market Street in Huntington, Indiana at the time of the 1900 census. The Winans family then moved back to Galion and had a third child, Bernice, in around 1907. Bernice died in Galion while still an infant at the age of ten months prompting William to buy a family plot at the Fairview Cemetery in Galion in 1908. Minerva died in the following year on May 9, 1909 when William was 43 and Lawrence was 11. The Winans family resided in a pleasant house at 515 West Church St. in Galion at the time of the 1910 Census. The house is still there and there is a former church or school across the street. After his wife's death, William retained the services of a live-in housekeeper, who was living with the family at the time of the 1910 census. Katherine Helfrich, who was then 57 years old, of German parents but born in Ohio appears in the record. The census record also indicates that William had advanced to the position of conductor for "steam railroad" by the time of the 1910 census.

While working for the Erie Railroad, William had become a man of prominence in labor circles, being a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, Buckeye Lodge No. 35. He was appointed by his union to serve as their legislative agent at Columbus for a number of terms of the general assembly. It is from this period that the words of William are preserved in the official record of hearings to adopt a program of workers' compensation in 1911. William was appointed by Ohio Governor Judson Harmon (D., 1909-1913) and served on a commission created by the Ohio Senate in 1910 to conduct hearings on employers' liability. The final legislation did not go quite as William would have recommended, but his questioning on behalf of the commission shows an intelligent and pragmatic view of the problem. In looking at William's "minority report" he favored a state-administered system that preserved the right of employees to sue for damages, similar to the system that railroad employees enjoy up to this day.

William retired from the Erie Railroad in 1912 after about 25 years of service. He served one term on the Galion City Council. He made a bid for the Democratic nomination for the Ohio Legislature from Crawford County but was defeated. Family tradition holds that William also ran unsuccessfully against William Green for the Democratic nomination for State Labor Commissioner. William's obituary describes him as "greatly liked by his fellow workmen and a good citizen, as well as active (in) all that stood for community betterment."

William's daughter Hazel married a farmer named Henry Parris of Conneaut, Ohio with whom she had six children. William remained close to his son Lawrence who eventually became employed by the Wilson Brothers Lumber Company in Pittsburgh. William lived for a time with his son in Marietta, OH. At some time before his death in 1919 William opened a restaurant in Kent, near Akron, OH. Before Lawrence had married in 1921, but while Lawrence was living in Pittsburgh, William visited him in May of 1919. Shortly before William was to board a train bound for his home in Akron, he was hit and killed by a switch engine in the railroad yard. With his railroad background, William was probably taking a shortcut and died for the decision on May 26, 1919 at the age of 53.

Dave Winans
September 2013

In our ongoing study of the Winans family, we are indebted to the researchers who went before us, such as Major Ira Winans and Alice (Winans) Egy Woolley, who compiled information about hundreds of our forebears and made it available to us. But sometimes these researchers' carefully documented information goes only so far, then must be supplemented by the work of the descendants. This is true in the case of the subject of this page, William Jasper Winans, whom Mrs. Winans lists on page 112 of the John Winans section of her book, as one of only four children of William Winans, and an unknown wife, with only the barest information on each person.

I knew nothing more about this man than what I saw there, until I was contacted by his great-grandson, Dave Winans, who wrote the article above, and who sent me a photocopy of a faded clipping about the subject's tragic death in 1919, which we present here in its entirety. Thank you, Dave!


Struck by Switch Engine While About to Board Train at Pittsburg
Remains Brought Here for Burial

W. J. WinansThe remains of the late W. J. Winans were brought to this city, at 2 o'clock this afternoon, from Pittsburg, Pa., where his death occurred, and his body was taken to the L. J. Snyder & Co., chapel. Friends may view the remains this evening and during the forenoon tomorrow. The funeral services will be held in the chapel of the undertaking firm at 3 o'clock, tomorrow afternoon, with burial in Fairview. Buckeye Lodge, No. 35, of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen will have charge of the funeral, and Rev. J. W. Dowds will conduct the services.

Mr. Winans, who has been living at Akron for some time, went to Pittsburg a week ago today to spend the week end with his son. At 8:30 on Monday morning he bade goodbye to his son and that was the last the latter saw him alive. At the Pittsburg union depot, Mr. Winans was about to board a train for Akron when he was struck by a switch engine and instantly killed.

The deceased was well known in this city where he lived for many years. He was born in an Illinois town 53 years ago last October, and when 20 years of age came to Galion and was employed on the Erie railway as freight brakeman. He continued in the employ of the road for a number of years and was advanced to conductor, retiring about seven years ago to engage in the restaurant business in Kent, which he conducted until a year ago when he was with his son at Marietta for a while, then, about six months ago went to Akron where he was employed up to the time of his death.

Mr. Winans was prominent in labor circles for a number of years. As a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, he was the legislative agent at Columbus for the organization for a number of terms of the general assembly. He served one term in the city council of Galion and at one time was a candidate for the democratic nomination for representative to the legislature from Crawford county, but was defeated. In the year 1911 he was appointed by Governor Harmon a member of the commission to gather and formulate data and information which formed the basis on which the present workmen's compensation act was enacted, devoting much time to this important duty and taking great pride in accomplishing a mission of so much importance to his fellow workmen.

Soon after coming to Galion to work on the Erie, the deceased was married to Miss Minerva Marlott, of Canada. The couple lived here for a while, then went to Huntington, Ind., returning later to this city where Mrs. Winans died in 1909. Two children, Lawrence Winans, of Pittsburg, and a daughter, Hazel, now Mrs. Henry Parris, of Conneaut, Ohio, survive. An adopted son, William Winans, died some years ago.

The death of Mr. Winans, who during his long residence here, was greatly liked by his fellow workmen and was a good citizen, as well as active [in] all that stood for community betterment, will be learned with deep regret, especially so because of the tragic nature of his demise.

Galion Inquirer, Wednesday, 28 May 1919

Dave writes us...

My branch of the family seems to have run into trouble with William (b. 1837). There is no oral history to explain what happened. William J (b. 1865) achieved success working for the railroad. He tried politics but didn't get far. He married a woman from Hamilton Ontario who died when my grandfather was only twelve. My grandfather Lawrence (b. 1898) was a successful businessman who relocated to Pittsburgh from his native Ohio in around 1916. He tried to enlist in the army by lying about his age but when the army realized that he was only 17, they kept him home.

Lawrence lost his father to a tragic train accident in 1919 then married in 1921. Lawrence went on to have nine children and 28 grandchildren but he seldom talked about the past. He kept in touch with his sister Hazel and did okay through the depression. He died in 1960 when I was just a baby.

1 I've inserted, for several persons in this article, the numbers assigned by Mrs. Alice (Winans) Egy Woolley, in her book Winans Family Genealogy.
This page was last updated 6 Nov 2013.