Have you ever wondered why, when they got around to naming the roads near Vandalia Lake, the main road snaking over what locals refer to as “Thrill Hill” was named Zent Drive?
As with many of Vandalia’s streets, it was named for a family whose settlement here was important to the area. But unlike other street designations, Jeremiah Zent settled near the road that would later bear his name.
Natives of Starke County, Ohio, Jeremiah and Mary Zent – with infant son, Isaac – came to Fayette County in April 1861, settling on a tract of land near a spring that was known far and wide for its constant flow of water. The spring did not freeze in winter.
Some years ago, Mrs. Mae Zent Capps, Jeremiah’s daughter, wrote a few paragraphs about her family, and shared them and the family Bible with the late Eleanor Doyle, a family historian who worked with the Fayette County Genealogical Society.
Mae wrote: “Grandfather Samuel Zent was born in Germany and grandmother Elizabeth Hegeser, was born in Switzerland.
“Grandfather Thomas Armstrong was born in Jefferson County, Ohio, in 1813, and Grandmother Nancy Armstrong was born in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1815. President William McKinley was a first cousin to Thomas Armstrong. Great-grandfather Armstrong was born in Dublin, Ireland, and married Elizabeth McKinley in Jersey County, Pa., she an aunt of President McKinley.
“Mary Catherine Armstrong was born May 24, 1838, in Starke County, Ohio, attended college at Loudenville, Ohio, married Jeremiah Zent on Feb. 8, 1859, and moved to Illinois in April 1861. They moved to Roanoke, Ind., in August 1864, and remained four years, returning to Sharon Township, Fayette County, in 1869.
“The first remembrance mother had out of the ordinary was going to a neighbor to borrow fire. They had to keep fires banked around, or kindle with steel and punk. Great-grandfather Godfrey Meyers had the first box of matches in Starke County, Ohio. He used them only to light his pipe on state occasions.
“In 1848, mother saw her first fire engine. It was worked by hand. In 1850, the first railroad was built into Massillion, Ohio. It was known at that time as the Pittsburg & Erie, afterwards known as the Pennsylvania.
“Postage stamps were not in use, and you had to pay 10 cents cash for each letter you received. At Roanoke, Indiana, mother saw Lincoln’s funeral train en route to Springfield. The car containing the body was ebony, and was decorated with painted flowers. The door was open and the bier was banked in flowers.”
Jeremiah Zent was a farmer, and he and Mary were parents of eight children, including, Isaac, Jesse, Clara, Nancy, Raleigh, Josie (who died at the age of 2), Mae and Olivia.
From a biographical sketch of his son, Isaac, in the 1914 "History of DeKalb County, Illinois,” we learn that Jeremiah was public spirited and an influential citizen. During the War Between the States, he openly espoused the cause of the Union, even though living in a hotbed of secession.
Although Jeremiah did not serve as a soldier during the war, the members of the local Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) made him an honorary member.
Jeremiah Zent died in Vandalia on April 2, 1902, and his wife, Mary Armstrong Zent, died on April 12, 1934, outliving four of her children.
Mae Zent married late in life to George Beidler Capps, son of Ebenezer Capps and Elizabeth Beidler.
Historians will immediately recognize the name of Ebenezer Capps as one of the first merchants in Vandalia. He set the prices of goods from New Orleans to Chicago. Funny to note, however, that he does not have a Vandalia street or byway named for him.