We are all very familiar with the story of Ben Holladay and how he became known as the “Stagecoach King.” But did you know there was another man called the “Stagecoach King” long before Holladay had the moniker? His name was William Neil.
William Neil was born in Virginia in 1788, but shortly thereafter his family moved to Kentucky where he would spend the majority of his childhood and adolescence (Holladay was born and raised in Kentucky as well). In 1818, Neil moved to Columbus, Ohio. He had a couple of failed business ventures while there, but in 1827 Neil purchased 300 acres of land just north of Columbus. Although he would use the land to build his home, Neil eventually donated a large portion of the land to the state of Ohio, which used the land to build the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. We today know this college by another name: Ohio State University.
(Neil’s home is no longer standing, but his son, Robert’s home is, and now used to house the Kappa Sigma fraternity on the Ohio State campus. Soon Neil purchased more land, and in 1832 built the Neil House tavern in downtown Columbus. A few years later, he expanded the tavern into the grand Neil House Hotel. The hotel would go through two more transformations before it was torn down in 1980.
Sometime in the late 1820s, Neil purchased a stagecoach line that operated between Columbus and Granville, Ohio. This would be the first of many stage lines that the Neil Moore Stage Company would acquire over the next several years. This is when Neil became known as the “Stagecoach King.” Neil would eventually own many of the stage lines between Cumberland, Maryland and St. Louis, Missouri. Thus the Neil Moore Stage Company became the largest stage line company west of the Allegheny Mountains.
In the late 1840s, Neil discovered the newest mode of transportation—railroads. To focus primarily on railroad investment, he sold off his stage line company, and moved most of the actual coaches out west. Neil owned most of the rail lines that operated in Ohio, primarily as freight lines, until the Pennsylvania Railroad took over most of the lines—still actually running today. By the time Neil passed away in 1870, he had become one of the most important business leaders in all of Ohio. His acute business acumen helped Columbus grow into one of the largest cities in the Buckeye State, and eventually into the state capital. It was said of William Neil that, “his manners were not of the suave order, but he was noted for energy and shrewdness. One who knew him says of him, ‘that he was honest in his dealings, somewhat rough in his ways, but an energetic, pushing man, who made things move.’”