When "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ" author General Lew Wallace visited Troy in 1887 he was apparently unaware that in 1807 his grandfather, Andrew Wallace, surveyed and laid out the "new town of Troy" as well as what would become "the Square" in 1807.
(Photos from the Troy Historical Society)
Troy's Connection to "Ben Hur"
By Judy Deeter
TROY - On Thursday, Aug. 19, 2016 Paramount Pictures released the remake of the classic 1959 movie, "Ben Hur." The original film, starring Charleton Heston, was based on the 1880 best-selling novel, "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ," written by General Lew Wallace. The screen play for the 2016 version, starring Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman, was written by Carol Wallace Hamlin - the great-great-granddaughter of Lew Wallace.
The Wallace family also happens to have a connection to Troy, Ohio.
Both General Wallace’s father, David Wallace, and his grandparents, Andrew and Eleanor (Jones) Wallace, once lived in Troy. In fact, Andrew Wallace played an important role in creating the town of Troy.
The Wallace family came to Ohio from Pennsylvania sometime around 1800.
Historical records say that Andrew Wallace had been a storekeeper in Carlisle, Pa. prior to coming to Ohio and that his son, David, was born at Lewistown, Pa. on April 24, 1799. At some time, the Wallace family lived in Cincinnati where Wallace published the Liberty Hall Gazette. (Some sources indicate the family lived in Cincinnati before coming to Troy; other records say they moved there after leaving Troy and before moving to their final home in Brookville, Indiana.)
Andrew Wallace was both a surveyor and school teacher. In Troy he did both.
There are a couple of things that should be noted about the Wallace family. Eleanor Jones Wallace was the daughter of Captain John Paul and a niece of Revolutionary War hero Admiral John Paul Jones. She is said to have known President George Washington as a girl. Andrew and Eleanor Wallace were the parents of seven children.
Soon after Miami County was formed in 1807, the first county commissioners purchased 40 acres of land from Aaron Tullis and 80 acres of land from William Barbee and Alexander McCullough to create the town of Troy. They appointed Wallace to survey and lay out land lots for the town.
Historian Thomas Bemis Wheeler in his book TROY THE NINETEENTH CENTURY wrote: “His survey platted Troy into 87 lots, each 16 by 24 rods in size, with four lots in the square formed by the streets which intersected at right angles. The street nearest to and paralleling the Miami River was named Water Street, and the next ones parallel to Water were named Miami, Franklin, and Back Streets. The names of Miami and Back would later be changed to Main and Canal….”
As part of his survey, Wallace created the downtown Public Square.
Wallace made two surveys for the commissioners. His first survey was completed in December 1807; the second in April 1808. He was paid $44.50 for the first survey. It is not known whether he was paid for the second survey. Today, an historical marker at the southwest corner of the Public Square (on the 405 Building) tells the history of the Square and remembers that it was Wallace who laid it out.
According to historian Thomas Wheeler, Wallace taught in the first school in Troy. This was probably during the 1808-1809 school year. The school is believed to have been located on the north side of East Franklin Street between Crawford and Clay Streets. Early resident John Tullis once said, “Mr. Wallace had a little boy whom we called Dave. He wore to school what mothers call a ‘waist’, with pants buttoned upon it.” The boy Tullis referred to as “Dave” was the father of Ben Hur author General Lew Wallace.
Andrew Wallace served as Miami County Treasurer sometime around 1810-1811. His term of office is believed to have ended in 1811. Very little information has been located about his work as Treasurer.
On July 19, 1811, Andrew and Eleanor Wallace became parents to a son named William Henson Wallace. His birth record states he was born “near Troy, Ohio.” William grew up to be the first Governor of the Idaho Territory, the fourth Governor of the Washington Territory, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from the Washington Territory. (William Wallace was appointed as Governor of the Washington Territory by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861.)
Andrew Wallace served in the War of 1812, along with William Henry Harrison, who later became an American General and President of the United States. The two apparently struck up a friendship while serving together and remained friends long after the war.
The Wallace family moved to Brookville, Indiana in 1817. There Andrew Wallace worked as a tavern owner and hotel keeper. He died in there in 1838.
As a young man, David Wallace attended Miami College in Ohio and through Harrison received an appointment to West Point Academy. He graduated from the academy in 1821. He served in the military only a few months after his graduation. He soon went to Brookville, Indiana to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1823. He went into practice with Congressman John Test. He married Test’s daughter Esther French Test in 1824. They became the parents of four children. Their son Lewis, who became the author of Ben Hur, was born on April 10, 1827. It is not known how much contact Wallace family members had with the people of Troy after they moved away.
General Lew Wallace did speak at the Troy Opera House on February 25, 1887 as part of the Troy Lecture Association’s “season” of 1886-1887. (The opera house was once on the third floor of the Troy City building,
which was originally four stories high. (PICTURED BELOW) The upper floors of the building—including the opera house floor and an attic—were removed from the building in 1950.)
Historian Thomas Wheeler wrote in his book TROY THE NINETEENTH CENTURY that Wallace “lectured on problems in the Far East.” Wheeler also said, “Apparently neither he (General Wallace) nor anyone else in Troy then realized that his grandfather, Andrew Wallace, had surveyed and laid out the new town of Troy and lived here for several years.” (The March 5, 1887 edition of the Miami Union newspaper also mentions political predictions made by General Wallace while in Troy.)
The historical marker on the Public Square is a reminder of long-ago resident Andrew Wallace, who not only laid out the Public Square and the town of Troy, but whose family contributed so much to both Troy and America. From the family of Troy residents Andrew and Eleanor Wallace, came three U.S. Governors, one of which created the story of "Ben Hur."
A study built by General Lew Wallace near his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana is open to the public. It has information photographs and information about his life. It is at the Gen. Lew Wallace Study and Museum, 200 Wallace Ave., Crawfordsville, Indiana 47933. Mailing address is P.O. Box 662, Crawfordsville, Indiana 47933. For further information see the Gen. Lew Wallace Study and Museum website www.ben-hur.com .
Note that the Ben Hur (2016) scriptwriter and great-great-granddaughter of General Lew Wallace will be at the Study and Museum in Crawfordsville on September 8, 2016. For more information about her appearance, see Study and Museum website listed above.
For more information the regarding the Wallace family and their years in Troy, contact The Troy Historical Society at (937) 339-5900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.