Greene County was established in March 1803. The first judges (later commissioners) met for two years in a tavern in Beavercreek, where much of the original business of establishing the new county was conducted.
When Xenia was selected to be the county seat, the house of William Beatty, located on the south side of Main Street, was used from 1804-09. The first court house was constructed that year, but quickly proved to be inadequate. A beautiful new court house was constructed in 1843. Four large pillars graced the front of the building and a clock was placed in the tower.
Soon that court house was in poor condition, and more space was needed. The voters were asked on several occasions to fund a new building, but each time, the vote was negative. After the roof caved in over the empty jury room, the building was condemned and then the vote was affirmative to build a new structure.
The building was razed in 1900. The four columns which had graced the front of the building were placed at the entrance to Woodland Cemetery where they remain to this day.
A building committee was selected which began to make plans for a new structure. As was the custom when constructing a new building, a cornerstone was to be placed with proper ceremony and a box with memorabilia placed inside the cornerstone. Churches and organizations were invited to share their respective histories for posterity. Some individuals submitted letters to be read in the distant future and of course schools were asked to provide materials as well.
In 2001, the centennial of the court house, it was determined that it would be an appropriate time to investigate the contents of the cornerstone box. It was difficult to find, however. It had been assumed that it might have been below ground level, but that was not the case.
There is a stone on the northeast corner with 1901 etched on it. It was determined that this was indeed the cornerstone and with the use of a metal detector it was discovered to have something metal inside. Getting the box without damaging the stone proved to be a challenge. It was decided that the best way to secure the metal box would be to get it from the inside of the building. The box was retrieved and at a special meeting of the Greene County Commission, it was carefully opened by the Greene County Archivist.
The excitement was great as each photograph and document was brought out after 100 years of storage in the copper box. All the items were in good condition and have since been documented and carefully preserved for future generations in the Greene County Archives.
Among the eighty-seven items enclosed were newspapers from Cedarville, Cincinnati, Jamestown, OSS&O Home, Yellow Springs and Osborn, along with three copies of the Xenia Republican, two of the Xenia Herald and one from the Semi-Weekly Gazette and Torchlight.
There were several membership rosters of local clubs and organizations, and the banks and savings and loan organizations provided information. A collection of US postage stamps in use at that time, ranging from one to ten cents were provided by the Jamestown Postmaster while the Xenia Post Office included a roster of employees. Antioch and Wilberforce Colleges each contributed a catalogue and several businesses included advertising.
The Xenia Daily Gazette published March 16, 1901 included information about the event which had taken place the previous day. Five thousand people came to watch the ceremony in the falling snow.
Lodge #49, Free & Accepted Masons was in charge of the ceremony. They met first in the lodge room and then proceeded to the site where the cornerstone would be placed. More than 250 Masons were in attendance. The Sons of Veterans band provided appropriate music.
During the dedication ceremony Masons in charge included Dr. E.B. Reynolds, S.O. Wolf, Dr. W.A. Galloway, Marcus Shoup and others. L.H. Whiteman presented the trowel to the Grand Master and then H.H. Eavey approached carrying the copper box. The box was put in place and the cornerstone lowered into place with proper ceremony. Because the weather was so bad, the remainder of the ceremony took place at the Opera House. George Little, Chairman of the building committee spoke of the plans for the completion of the structure. The afternoon session closed with more music from the S of V Band and the male voices of Trinity Church. School children assembled on the stage to sing “America.”
“Altogether the laying of the corner stone was a most memorable occasion. Nearly every business house in the city closed its doors while the ceremonies were in progress and the schools were dismissed at noon, hundreds of the children watching interesting ceremonies which will make a lasting impression on their minds.”
It is interesting to note that in 2001, materials similar in nature to those from 100 years ago were collected from the community for the “corner stone.” All items have been carefully preserved and are located in the Greene County Archives for future generations.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.