General James W. Reilly (Civil War)
Most Salemites have their own fond memories of important events and activities that have taken place at Reilly Stadium through the years. It is, indeed, a special place, and we have General James W. Reilly to thank for its existence. On April 15, 1915, the Salem Board of Education used $5,472.69, its portion of the Reilly estate, to purchase the old Independent Amusement Park. The field was renamed “The General Reilly Athletic Field of the Salem Public Schools.”
James Reilly’s life was an interesting and productive one. He was born in Akron on May 21, 1828. His parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Reilly, came to the U. S. from Ireland in 1825. Thomas was a well-known contractor for public works.
James was educated at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmetsburg, Md. In 1848 he moved to Wellsville where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1851. He was elected to represent Columbiana County in the Ohio legislature in 1861.
In July of 1862, during the Civil War, he was made colonel in the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, whose members came from Summit, Stark, Portage and Columbiana counties. Practically one whole company – Co. C – of this regiment was recruited from the Salem area. In August of 1862 Colonel Reilly reported with his regiment to General Lew Wallace in Kentucky.
The following year, the regiment served in eastern Tennessee, in and about Knoxville. In the spring of 1864 Reilly’s troops started with Sherman in the famous campaign to Atlanta.
On July 30, 1864, Colonel Reilly was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General when he and his brigade joined in pursuit of General Hood in northern Alabama. Later, he was with General Thomas at Nashville, and participated in engagements with Hood’s forces at Columbia and Franklin. In the latter battle, he commanded the 3rd Division of the 23rd Army Corps. His military career ended at Goldsboro, N.C. when the war was almost over.
Reilly returned to Wellsville in 1865 and resumed his law practice, which he continued until his death in 1905. For many years he was the attorney for the Pennsylvania Railroad; also one of the incorporators of the Ohio Mutual Fire Insurance Co., a member of the Constitutional Congress from Columbiana County in 1873-74, and president of the Wellsville First National Bank.
History tells us that General Reilly was a man of positive character and rugged honesty, with a strong sense of justice. As a lawyer, he was a success; and as a public-spirited citizen he was of great value to his community, enjoying the confidence of all who knew him. As a soldier, he stood for the most rigid standards of training and discipline, and was held in the highest esteem by his troops. In 1915 Salem was proud to be able to give its athletic field the name of one who left such an exemplary record.
James Reilly died at the age of 77 on Nov. 5, 1905. A life-long bachelor, he left no will. His estate was estimated at $250,000, a sizeable amount at that time in history. News reports stated that 375 people presented claims to the estate, some coming from as far away as England and Ireland.
In the absence of any known will of heirs, his estate was awarded to the state of Ohio. Litigation took several years, after which time the courts decided to apportion the funds remaining to the schools of Columbiana County. Salem was the first to use money from the estate to erect a permanent memorial to General Reilly’s life.
The site of Reilly Stadium was originally occupied by Pidgeon’s Brickyard and Pidgeon’s Pond. It later was turned into the Independent Amusement Park, where in 1910 the Quakers began playing football. The field was also used for baseball games, circuses, carnivals and medicine shows.
In 1915, the Salem Board of Education bought the park from stockholders, and for the next 13 years made small improvements to the field. In 1928 Reilly School was built, and the stadium was greatly enlarged. The old wooden grandstand was torn down, and concrete bleachers were built to seat 1500. A brick wall was erected to replace the old wire fence, and lights were added in 1929. Later, there were major renovations made to the field and stadium.
One final bit of historical information about James Reilly should be mentioned. He was best man at the wedding of Richard Finley and Mary Ryan of Salem. They were the grandparents of Mary Finley Snyder (mother of Virginia Snyder). Richard served under General Reilly in the Civil War. Mary Snyder managed the popular Finley Music Store on S. Broadway Ave. in Salem during the mid-1940s.
Other Items in Current Panel: