It started as part of Greenfield’s sesquicentennial celebration and seven decades later is still growing with a membership nearing 400.
The Greenfield Historical Society is celebrating 70 years of preserving and sharing the history of Greenfield. On March 1, 1949, it was incorporated as the Historical Society of Greenfield, Ohio, with its main goal of planning the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Greenfield.
The society came about when Mayor J. Wesley Kelley appointed two community committees on March 30, 1948, to plan the town’s sesquicentennial celebration. Dean Waddell was appointed general chairman of the committees.
As the committees worked it was decided to form a historical society for the town. The temporary board of trustees were Dean T. Waddell, president; George M. Waddell, vice president, representing the Rotary Club; Leroy Bergen, treasurer, representing the Chamber of Commerce; Sarah B. Duncan, secretary, representing the Women’s Business and Professional Club; Mayor J. Wesley Kelley, representing the Village of Greenfield; and Dorothy Lynch representing the Greenfield schools.
The application for incorporation was signed by Professor F.R. Harris, Glenn Schrock, Frank DePoy and Dean Waddell. Harris, Schrock and DePoy were all descendants of General Duncan McArthur, the town’s founder. After the incorporation, the society became the leading group for the sesquicentennial plans.
The celebration was held over the Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-5, 1949. The opening ceremony included F.R. Harris, Ohio Governor Frank Lausche and Greenfield native son Lt. General John Edwin Hull. It was a huge event including a queen contest, parade, historical pageant, carnival, several balls, free entertainment and fireworks.
“We are not sure what exactly happened with the society during the years after the sesquicentennial until 1964,” the historical society said in a news release. “Records from that time are not available. In 1964, several community members led by Harry Turner, a social studies teacher at McClain High School, decided that the society needed to be revived. New officers were elected.
One of their first projects was the saving of Travellers Rest. The stone building was built by Noble Crawford in 1812 as an inn. In 1965, it was about to be bulldozed and replaced by a Texaco gas station. Community members got permission from Texaco to tear the building down and move it to another location, thus saving part of Greenfield’s history. It was eventually rebuilt on its present location next to the Old Burying Ground.
Over the years the society has worked on preserving other historic Greenfield buildings such as helping several times with the preservation of the cemetery chapel. The society presently owns six buildings, each more than 100 years old.
The B&O Depot, built circa 1854, was moved by the society from South Washington Street along the B&O tracks to its present location in 1985 and renovated 1987-88. The Smith Tannery, built in 1821, was received from Rite Aid in 2003. In 2005, the society purchased the Grain & Hay building, circa 1895. The Old Seceeder’s church/two room schoolhouse, built circa 1835, was purchased in 2005, renovated and dedicated as the Konneker Education Museum it 2009. The latest building to be owned by the society is the Shiloh Baptist Church, built in 1874. The congregation disbanded several years ago and the building was donated to the society earlier this year.
The Smith Tannery and Travellers Rest are on the National Registry of Historic Places. The society has also placed or helped place Ohio historic markers for the Smith Tannery, August West and the West Settlement, Edward Lee McClain High School and the C.R. Patterson & Sons Company.
The society has also produced several publications. It supervised the reprinting of F. R. Harris’ “A Greene Countrie Towne” in 1976 for the U.S. Bicentennial. In 1999, it published the book “Greenfield” to celebrate Greenfield’s Bbicentennial. It published two pamphlets, “Paint Creek Patterns” for the area quilt trail in 2006, and “Paint Creek Freedom Trail” in 2008 celebrating the area’s importance on the Underground Railroad.
In 2012, the society published “Greenfield in the Images of America” series. “McClain High School, A Century of Tradition, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Edward Lee McClain High School,” was published in 2015 by the society. The Greene Countrie Towne Crier is the society’s newsletter published three times a year.
In 2004, the society’s website made its debut.
“John King created the site and has been the webmaster ever since. He does a masterful job of keeping it up to date and filling it with interesting materials,” the news release said.
The web address is www.greenfieldhistoricalsociety.org.
In 2011, the society received a grant to catalog its photos thanks to the efforts to Judy Schmidt. The grant provided Past Perfect, a computer program, to catalogue each photo and a large file cabinet with materials to store the photos. Past Perfect is also being used to catalog every item the society has in its archives.
The society has increased its programming over the years. For many years it held occasional programs on various topics. Now programs include yearly presentations to students in grades 2-5. Senior social studies students at McClain High study Greenfield history and make visits to the historical society museums. The society’s Old Burying Ground Ghost Walk has been going since 2005, Spring Tea since 2007 and it has hosted several cemetery strolls in the Greenfield Cemetery.
Members of the society’s board have worked with members of the Highland County and Lynchburg societies to research the Underground Railroad in Highland County. This material was organized into notebooks and digital files and shared with every Highland County library branch and high school.
“Requests for information about Greenfield have increased over the last few years. Many of the requests concern the Patterson family and their buggy and automobile manufacturing,” according to the news release. “Several magazines and media outlets have shared our information on the Pattersons. The National Museum of African American History and Culture contacted us for information to use on their website.”
Rebuilding of the stone wall at the Old Burying Ground was completed in 2007-09 by society volunteers. Restoration of the tombstones and gravesites in the Old Burying Ground is presently being accomplished by volunteers under the direction of Scott Anderson and John King. Stones are being cleaned, straightened, repaired and mapped by a dedicated crew.
“With all this activity, the society relies heavily on its fundraisers for funds to keep the work continuing. Sunday dinners, Spring Tea and tour of homes are all well attended by the community. Our History Day in October with its 5 K run/walk is also a popular event,” the news release said. “Membership is also very important to the society. Our membership has grown greatly in the past few years. A very early list of members included 39 names. In 2009, the membership was just over 200. Presently, we are within 15 of being 400 strong. Membership provides a very large part of our operating expenses.“
Information for this story was provided by the Greenfield Historical Society.