Eli Wilson was one of the original pioneers of Shelby, arriving in 1818 with the Henry Whitney and Stephen Marvin families.
Eli was born August 29, 1789 in Weston, Fairfield County, Connecticut, of a poor family who bound him out for service until he was 14. He then apprenticed to learn carpentry and married Mabel Barnes on Oct. 10, 1807.
When he was 23, the War of 1812 broke out and he enlisted in the 25th Infantry Regiment in Hartford, Conn. He fell sick on the march from Connecticut to Burlington, Vermont and was left at Cambridge, New York for two months until he was ordered to return to Hartford with Capt. Peter Bradley to recruit a second company.
In the spring of 1813, they again joined their regiment, which was then stationed within four miles of Lake Ontario. The unit crossed the Niagara River to the Canadian side to attack Ft. George. Despite heavy fire, they captured the fort. The unit remained at the fort until October when they set sights on Montreal. They collected about 300 boats and proceeded to the head of the St. Lawrence River, where they encountered heavy fire, lost some vessels, and finally abandoned the campaign. His obituary headline reads “Death of Gen. Eli Wilson” but it was an honorary title as he was enlisted.
He was mustered out and went back to work as a carpenter until 1818, when a group of 20, including the Marvins and Whitneys, set out for the state of Ohio. They made the journey by wagon, crossing the Allegheny mountains to arrive in April 1818.
Eli first purchased land just south of Main Street on Gamble behind where the First National Bank now stands, and set up a saw mill on Blackfork Creek, remaining there six years, then selling about 45 acres to James Gamble. The land encompassed the eastern limit of Blackfork Creek to Gamble Street.
The Wilsons’ second home was located on high ground on what is now Mansfield Avenue between Subway and the power plant. The mansion is still standing. The front door was originally facing west, in anticipation of the S.M. & N.R. railroad coming to town. The citizens of Mansfield and beyond were in favor of routing the railroad through Ganges. When the charter was applied for, Eli Wilson was named one of the commissioners to form the company.
Eli persuaded the company to ride along the route he proposed through Shelby. When the engineer passed through Shelby, he deemed it to be the most practical and cheapest route. The first train stopped by the Wilson mansion in 1846.
Eli provided land for the first cemetery in Shelby, just west of his home, where the Shelby Salesbook, and now Shelby Fire Department now stand. It was named Wilson Cemetery after him, but also sometimes called May Cemetery after another land owner. Eli was buried in the cemetery after he died June 17, 1869 at about 80 years old. His remains, and others, were moved to Oakland Cemetery when the Salesbook negotiated with the city for more land.
Condensed from Independent News, July 1, 1869.
Submitted by Christina Yetzer Drain