Troy has for a numbers of years been recognized as a city that proactively supported local business and industry, as well as seeking out new concerns to become part of this community in west central Ohio.
Historically, a good example of this was when the Troy Land & Improvement Company (more of a committee) sought out new industry to improve the city and was able to convinve the Hobart Electric Manufacturing Co. and the McKinnon Dash Co. to make the move to Troy. This tradition continues today through the city of Troy and Troy Main Street advocating for new businesses that are open to new frontiers or settings. Occasionally, Troy has “lost” a concern to another community, but it isn’t often that this takes place, but it did in the case of one of Troy’s oldest industries back in 1968.
Charles W. Skinner, a local vegetable farmer back before the turn of the century (1900) provided a good portion of the vegetables sold in the Troy Market. According to historic accounts, his gardens were located in about the same area where the Overfield School, the former E.A. Hobart home, is now located.
Naturally, as a produce gardener, he looked for ways to improve his crops, specifically in the area of watering, which seemed like a full-time occupation in and of itself. Skinner diligently worked on developing an irrigation system using a series of pipes and spray nozzles, whereby he could water large portions of his gardens. Prior to a chance meeting on a train, he continued tending to his gardens and working on his system for self-use.
The chance meeting was on the Dayton and Troy Interurban, somewhere between Dayton and Troy, where he met Walter H. Coles, another Troy businessman. In discussing Skinner’s ideas, Coles and Skinner soon decided to go into business together, and in 1908, the Skinner Irrigation Company was incorporated in Troy.
Four years later, Skinner sold his interest in the concern to his partner, but the company bearing his name continued to grow and develop in scope and size. Initially, it was devoted to producing watering systems for commercial growers of flowers, vegetables, fruit and nursery stock. Many of these irrigating systems were the above ground types that could water large areas all at once.
By the 1930s, the Skinner Co. was the largest in its field, but they continued to add new products such as systems for private estates, golf courses, and cemeteries. Andrew Melon, J.P. Morgan, J.D. Rockefeller and the White House were some of the company’s customers.
A new product in the early 1930s was the concealed lawn watering system, whereby the pipes were placed underground and the sprinkling apparatus was level with the ground until the water was turned on and remained in place until the system was again turned off. This was not only very attractive, in general, but also did away with hauling hoses in and out of the garage when the lawn needed to be watered.
These systems and others which were invented made the Skinner Irrigation Co. a well-known industry throughout much of the world. In the 1960s, it was estimated that 15 percent of their business was overseas, and this in a market where they were one of three of the largest irrigation system companies in the world, and the oldest.
As is often the case in the business world, when someone is successful, bigger “dogs” come after them. Such was the circumstance, when Ashley F. Ward, Inc. purchased the Skinner Company in 1964. By this time, Coles’ son-in-law A.J. Friedmann was president. Up to that time, the company had been locally owned by stockholders in Miami County. Of course, it was not long (1968) until the head company moved the Skinner Division to Cincinnati to streamline the production of the equipment.
Today, Ashley Ward, in Mason, is a machine company for various mechanical parts and equipment, but the Skinner Irrigation Division seems to have ceased production, perhaps, in the mid-1970s.
In a day, when communities like Troy and Piqua either developed local industry or enticed others to come and grow in Miami County, Skinner Irrigation was one of the few “Big Ones” that got away from Troy.
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