Bob Hodson has always subscribed to the theory that once a need is found, it should be filled by someone. So after one of his early Hillsboro banking customers pestered him enough about the need for a historical society, he decided to do something about it.
“Preservation of history. It was getting away,” Hodson said of the reason he decided to help fill the need. “All these things were going to the flea markets and the history of the town and the county was being lost.”
“People were asking me, telling me, ‘you can do it.’ A lot of people were willing to help, but they either didn’t know how or didn’t want to take the responsibility,” added Hodson, a 1945 graduate of Buford High School who started working in 1961 at the Hillsboro Bank and Savings Company, later called First Security Bank before it merged with Fifth Third Bank.
Discussions started taking place in 1964 with community leaders including Virginia (Bell) Thompson, president of the C.S. Bell Company and the customer that kept prodding Hodson until he took action.
On May 20, 1965, the first meeting was held about the possibility of starting a Highland County Historical Society. Hodson chaired the meeting and those in attendance included Mary Jean Tannehill, Charles Harsha, Violet Morgan, Mrs. Granville Barrere, Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Evans, Mrs. Louis deCazenova, C.M. Lacey, John and Virginia Thompson, Robert Yacubian, Else Ayres, Hazel Frost, Mary Teter, Dr. N. James Bodenhamer, and Dorothy Hodson, Bob’s wife, who served as acting secretary.
Part of the discussion was about the reasons a historical society was needed. They included: history was being lost, what was in people’s minds was not being recorded, precious historic items were going elsewhere including the Ohio Historical Society, and many items in local attics and barns were being sold to collectors.
“Not to mention nothing was being done to acknowledge the past,” Hodson said.
After rules and regulations were developed with the help of local attorney Ronald Swonger, another meeting was held June 10, 1965 at the Highland County Courthouse. An article of incorporation and code of regulations were adopted with 15 people named to the initial board of trustees. Those trustees were John Thompson, Violet Morgan, Elsie Ayres, Darrell Hottle, Mrs. Granville Barrere, T.J. Belleson, J. Harold McKenzie, Mrs. R.E. Evans, Stanley Kibler, Charles Harsha, Worth Faust and Bob Hodson.
Later, three additional trustees — Fred Keeler from Hillsboro, Maurice Jodrey from Mowrystown and Ruth Carlisle — were named to ensure that all areas of the county were represented. After that, Arthur Milner from Leesburg and Stanley Kibler from Lynchburg were added as trustees.
Keeler was elected president of the society on Aug. 24, 1965, and the society was organized and ready to fulfill its stated mission: “To make the citizens of the area more keenly aware and appreciative of the history of Highland County; to gather the historical treasures of our area into one museum and to preserve the relics and culture of our area.”
The next step was to make people aware of the society, as well as the need for financial support. Letters were mailed to area residents requesting memberships at $5 per family and $3 for individuals. The first money-making project was a Hillsboro homes tour that raised $679.45, followed by an auction that raised $887.85.
A home for the society was needed next and talks from the beginning had centered on the Highland House in Hillsboro.
The Highland House was built in 1842, had a great historical significance, and was in an ideal location, Hodson said.
On Jan. 27, 1966, authority was given to purchase the Highland House from The First National Bank of Cincinnati, executor of the estate of Helen Boyd, for $18,000.
“Even though there was much work to be done to the building, it was a wise choice and strongly supported with some significant financial gifts,” Hodson said.
The Highland House hosted its first historical society meeting on May 26, 1966, and the structure serves as headquarters for the society to this day.
While Hodson served as treasurer of the society from 1965-67 and president from 1968-70, he said his objective with the society, and other organizations he was involved in, was always to get them started and then back off.
While Dorothy Hodson started an antique show in 1967 that was the society’s major fundraiser for several years, Bob Hodson faded into the background a bit.
Things ran relatively smooth for many years, but in the early 2010s the society started suffering from internal and other issues. So, in 2013, Bob Hodson was called to the rescue. He organized a meeting and the society was completely restructured.
Today, the Highland County Historical Society also owns the historic Scott House, a reconstructed log cabin on the Highland House grounds, and an old carriage house off an alley behind the Highland House.
Hodson said that while he and his wife helped get the society off the ground, several others have been more responsible for keeping it alive and well. He said he is grateful for all those who have helped, and that the society is now under strong leadership and doing well.
“Today, as the society and community visit the (Highland House) museum, they do it with a reflection upon the past,” Hodson said. “It was the vision of a few people who saw the need to preserve the history of the county and set out to fill that need. None of the organizers would personally benefit, except to know that their efforts would help preserve the past for the benefit of future generations.”
All of the original organizers, except the Hodsons, who were the youngest of those organizers, are now gone.
“But their memory and the results of their effort is now evident at the Highland House,” Hodson said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.