By Susan Hartley
January 2, 2014
By Terry D. Wright
The city of Piqua has had a long and continuous history of diversity showing its expression in a variety of economic, social, and religious beliefs. One of those early inhabitants of the city who displayed the importance of diversity in a quickly developing community was David Urbansky, a prominent Jewish clothier, who chose Piqua as his home after his marriage to his young bride near Schenectady, N.Y. His ketubah (marriage contract) gives his Hebrew name as translating into Aaron David Urbansky but he signed it in English as David Urbansky.
Urbansky was born in Lautenberg, Kingdom of Prussia (now part of Poland) in 1839. He immigrated to Ohio at an early age and served in New York as a cabinet maker before migrating to Columbus. Urbansky was in Columbus, where he worked as a clothier, when he joined the 58th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Co. B, as a private. Urbansky reported for service at the age of 22 at Camp Chase, Columbus. After a noted Civil War career where he was awarded the Medal of Honor, he was discharged from military service in 1865. Immediately upon being mustered out of the Grand Army of the Republic he received his citizenship papers in Columbus. After leaving the Army this Medal of Honor recipient then married Rachel Henry in a Jewish wedding, and moved to Piqua, becoming one of its notable citizens and entrepreneurs. The couple had 12 children.
Through his gallantry and patriotism during the Civil War, Urbansky was known for being one of only six Medal of Honor recipients of the Jewish faith during that War of the Rebellion. This most prestigious and highest military award was presented to Piqua’s resident for his valor in 15 or more major fighting engagements including his heroism with the 58th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment at the Siege of Vicksburg where he braved Confederate fire to save his wounded company commander. At the time of the Vicksburg Campaign, the Mississippi River was the single most important economic feature of the continent. Upon the Southern secession, the Confederates closed the river to navigation, which threatened to strangle northern commercial interests.
Although, seemingly small in stature and unremarkable, this Piqua clothier first arrived in our town, also known as the “Border City,” already a noted hero after receiving the Medal of Honor. So, unpretentious was Urbransky that he had lost his first Medal of Honor and was presented it again in ceremonies held on Aug. 2, 1879.
The civic minded Urbansky, a Prussian immigrant, prospered and raised a large family from a successful business career in Piqua; a city where residents accepted his differences in faith and admired his patriotism.
Following a long illness, Urbansky died in January 1897. His funeral was held in his Piqua family residence and was conducted by Reform Rabbi David Phillipson, spiritual leader of the K. K. Bene Israel in Cincinnati now Rockdale Temple.
Urbansky was originally buried in Piqua’s Cedar Hill Jewish Cemetery. Sometime after Urbansky’s death the family moved to Cincinnati. His widow Rachel died in 1914 and the children had their father’s remains moved to Cincinnati and placed next to their mother in what is now the United Jewish Cemeteries, 3400 Montgomery Road. The family subsequently changed their name to “Urban” as many European immigrants did in order to simplify their names. Eight of the 12 children are buried in the family plot.
Urbansky’s diversity of faith was an important element in showing the patriotism, courage, and entrepreneurism which became a positive attribute for a developing and successful 19th century Piqua community.
Terry Wright of Piqua is a member of the Piqua Diversity Committee and will be authoring columns reflecting on the city’s diversity.