Today’s world is pretty mobile, especially here in North America. For example, what use to take weeks to arrive at a destination can now take mere hours by plane or auto. As a result, people from many countries, regions or states live in areas which is not native to them. In fact, an individual may live in two or three locations in their lifetime. Years ago, many people were born, grew up, married, had families and died in the same town.
From years gone by, George F. Irwin was such an individual. He was born 19 September 1851 in Troy. His father John was a miller on the West Main Street. lock for a number of years. Sadly, his mother was taken from him in 1858 by breast cancer.
By the time George was 18 years old, he was out of the house and working for his own living. As a young man, he worked on the Miami-Erie Canal as a boatman — a great job for a young man to travel and “see the world” outside his hometown. He later engaged in various forms of labor to make his living.
In 1884, Mr. Irwin ran and was elected as the town marshal and went on to win seven consecutive elections to the position.
It was said of him that he performed his duties so well that those who had any inclinations toward wrongdoing in Troy would avoid it altogether. It was noted in his obituary that for approximately six years of his tenure as marshal, he was marshal, constable, detective and any other law enforcement position that needed filling by the force of one.
Marshal Irwin honed a keen gift for ferreting out evidence against criminals which made him well-known in the area, and often his talents were called upon by other law enforcement departments. One such case, which was sensational, was that of Jefferson Shanks in 1893. The charge was that he murdered his wife in order to marry another woman. It was Marshal Irwin who was able to find the evidence and connects the dots and put Shanks in the Ohio Penitentiary for his crime. Irwin became known for his detective skills.
In another circumstance, he was able to “break up” a gang of counterfeiters who were operating in an abandoned icehouse in the area. After this episode, Marshal Irwin received the gratitude of the federal government and a cash reward (authentic we trust) for his work. However, it did take him awhile to solve the mystery of the right woman to marry.
It is not known to me whether George Irwin could not find the “right girl” to wed, or if the right girl could not find him. For many years, he was a bachelor and lived alone, but in 1886, the marshal married a widow by the name of Sarah Bates, and together lived in happiness and shared their lives for almost 20 years.
Although he was not that old, Marshal Irwin earned the nickname “Pappy” because he had lived in Troy so long, was known by almost everyone, and because of his congenial spirit, unless you were on the wrong side of the law. For several years he was also acting truant officer, so, at least in my mind, I could see him being called Pappy by the young people who thought he was old at 45-50 years of age. With all his accolades, joys and successes in life, probably one of his proudest moments came in 1900.
In 1890, Troy had attained the population to be incorporated as a city. As part of the transition from a town to a city, Troy attempted to “modernize” many of their institutions. Therefore, in 1900, it was acknowledged that modern cities no longer had marshals; rather they employed a Chief of Police. In April of 1900, the Troy City Council, in recognition of his long and successful, and continuing, career as marshal, voted that they now name the position of Chief of Police with George F. ‘Pappy’ Irwin being the first one in Troy’s history. It was a simple move; a change of a title, yet it was very moving for the man that had dedicated his life to keeping Troy safe.
Sadly, Police Chief Irwin died too soon at the age of 53 years. He left his widow, but no children.
Troy has been fortunate to have had many good officers over the years, and several outstanding chiefs, but right near the top of that list is George F. Irwin.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to email@example.com