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Short history of Xenia.
Xenia, named by Rev. Robert Armstrong after the Greek word for hospitality, attracted its first permanent settlers in the late 1790s. It was laid out as the county seat in 1803, and the first courthouse was built in 1806. The first log structure built in the new town was John Marshall's house, on the southeast corner of W. Third and S. West Street; the building there now was built in 1840 by his son Robert, the first white child born within the current city limits. The first school came along in 1805, preceded slightly (1804) by the first business, a tavern owned by William Beatty, on lot 14 across from the public square on E. Main Street. Here court was held until the courthouse was completed. The second courthouse in Xenia was built in 1843, lasting until 1900; the current courthouse was completed in 1901.
Xenia was incorporated as a town in 1817, then as a city in 1834. Its most rapid population growth occurred after 1845, when the Little Miami Railroad reached town. This opened up quicker emigration and trade to Cincinnati and beyond. Farmers could ship goods instead of driving livestock on foot along the turnpikes, which were also known as “mud roads” in the early days. By the 1850s, railroads connected Xenia to both Dayton and Columbus as well as Cincinnati. Mass transit systems like interurban buses and trolleys ran between area cities and Xenia starting in the 1910s. The last passenger train stopped in Xenia in 1971; the last freight train to pass through town was in 1984. After that, the old railroad tracks were converted into bicycle paths in the Rails to Trails movement – the reason we are the “Hub of It All.” Xenia had a city bus system from the 1930s until 1975, and now the Greene CATS line runs all over the county.
Other improvements in the nineteenth century include the telephone, which made its appearance in 1879; artificial gas (made from coal), which lighted city streets starting in the 1840s; electricity, which replaced gas in 1881; and the waterworks, which was built in 1886. This modern waterworks system also helped make firefighting easier, since the old “pumper” no longer had to carry its own water to the scene. Natural gas was piped to the area starting in 1905, and the manufacture of artificial gas ceased.
Xenia sent many soldiers to the Union cause during the Civil War, but was also home to a few Confederate sympathizers. Greene County supplied 3554 soldiers, which was the highest percentage (13.57%) of any Ohio county compared with its 1860 population. The city has also sent its share to many other wars; Revolutionary War veterans settled this area, and we honor our current and former soldiers who make Xenia their home today.
Many types of business and manufacturing have made Xenia their headquarters, both local and worldwide. Cordage and twine, tobacco, shoes, meat packing,
Public services have been around for a long time in Xenia. There was a “bucket brigade” fire department as early as the 1830s, if not before. The first detective, Norman S. Tiffany, was hired in the 1860s, but constables and private watchmen served the town before that. A market house stood on the public square behind the courthouse, facing Market Street, from 1814 until its dilapidated condition forced its removal in 1860. The current city hall, built in 1939, replaced the old town hall/opera house, built in 1869.
Woodland Cemetery was established in 1847, and continues to serve city residents and those who have moved away. Several small church and family cemeteries were moved to Woodland from other places, which is why many tombstones there predate 1847. Columns from the front of the 1843 courthouse stand at its entryway. Two other active cemeteries are in the city: Cherry Grove Cemetery on West Second St., founded in 1870 to serve the African-American population, and St. Brigid Cemetery on Upper Bellbrook Rd., affiliated with the Catholic church of the same name, located on Fairgrounds Rd.
Ethnic diversity has been a steady presence, even from an early day. African-Americans have lived in and around Xenia since the 1820s, not just entering the area with Wilberforce University in 1856; other groups include Chinese, German, Irish, English, Swiss, Mexican, and of course Native Americans. In fact, in the 1810 tax duplicate for Greene County, 36 non-Caucasians were listed along with 5,834 Caucasians. In the 1830 Federal census, the town of Xenia listed 17 people of color and 900 whites, figures which have steadily increased in the years since.
In 1918, Xenia was the largest town in the county, followed by Jamestown. As of the 2000 Federal census, Xenia was third behind Beavercreek and Fairborn, cities that did not even exist in 1918. The name “Xenia” is supposed to be from the Greek word for “hospitality,” named by the Reverend Robert Armstrong in about 1804. That and another name were voted upon by the populace, small though the number was, and the vote resulted in a tie. The deciding vote was cast by Laticia Davis, wife of Owen Davis, the man who built the first mill in the county at Alpha. Unfortunately, the other name has been lost to the mists of history, but this is an instance of where a woman got to vote before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. Another instance is the Xenia school board election of 1895. In that year, women not only voted, they also provided two candidates for the empty position on the school board; Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Carruthers defeated the three male candidates by a sizable margin.
Detroit & West Main St, SW corner ca 1890s
Despite its reputation, Xenia has had less than half a dozen major tornadoes. In 1933, one man was killed and “scores” of homes were damaged when a tornado hit south of Main Street and east of Jasper Road, in the section known as “Frog's Hollow.” Of course, in April 1974 much of the city was extensively damaged or destroyed, with over $75 million in insurance payouts and total dollar losses of approximately $95 million. 33 people were killed, two National Guardsmen died in the Cherry's furniture store fire days later, and were injured. Many survivors still live in Xenia and can be persuaded to tell their stories. In 1989, another twister hit North Monroe Street and the surrounding area, with 16 people injured and about 100 buildings damaged. In September 2000, one man was killed at the fairgrounds when a tree fell on his car; 150 were injured; over 300 homes and businesses were damaged and three churches were destroyed, Dayton Avenue Baptist, Church of God, and Faith Community United Methodist. Jo's Diner and Groceryland on North Detroit Street were both rubble; only the latter was rebuilt.
Other weather events in Xenia include the big snowstorms of 1910, 1950, and 1978; each dropped over 10 inches of snow, which was blown into drifts by the accompanying winds. The Xenia flood of May 1886, which killed 28 people, had a small tornado associated with it, but the waters were the big story. Eight members of the William Powell family died, and seven of Orin Morris's family, when “torrents” of rain caused Shawnee Creek to rise out of its banks and sweep along Third Street from Fair Street to Cincinnati Avenue. There was another flood in January 1959, but mostly affected the Little Miami River valley rather than Xenia itself. Pictures of the 1886 damage are at the Greene County Ohio Historical Society, and must be seen to be believed; that museum also has photos of all the above weather events and more.
Sports, both professional and amateur, have always had a following in Xenia. Dean Chenoweth, driver of the famous hydroplane “Miss Budweiser,” was born in Xenia. Stephen G. Phillips, inventor of the horse-racing starting gate, is buried at Woodland Cemetery. Lloyd Gearhart, who played one year in the major leagues, had a home on South Detroit St. called Diamond Acres, where he ran a baseball museum. Xenia High School graduate Barry Clemens played forward for the Portland Trailblazers and Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1970s. In 1867, the Xenia baseball team won the state championship, defeating the Columbus Railroad club 97-15 and the Springfield Republics team 67-39; the prize was a rosewood bat and a silver ball. Currently, Xenia High School graduate Trent Cole plays Defensive End for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.
Some other sports venues in and near Xenia: Kil-Kare Speedway; roller-skating rinks, one located on West Second St in the 1890s and one on Bellbrook Ave about a century later; Theological Seminary tennis court on West Third; the bicycle craze took off in the late 1860s, and its practitioners were described as “suffering from a severe attack of velocipede”; the former Community Bowling Lanes; the pool hall on East Second (where you can still make out the balls and cues painted on the side of the building), and a variety of baseball and softball leagues. The Greene County Historical Society has photos of early 1900s football teams practicing in a vacant lot on East Church St. where the YMCA is now.
Last Updated Wednesday, September 15 2010 @ 02:41 PM EDT|11,616 Hits