Folks in the Miami Valley know how to throw a party. It would be bragging to say that Greene County throws the best parties of all. For several weeks of the year, spring, summer and fall, festivals abound throughout the county, celebrating everything from maple syrup to potatoes along with corn, popcorn and beans and so forth.
It has been 110 years since the county celebrated one of the biggest festivals ever held here.
Many of the residents who grew up here had moved away “Go West, young man”, but some came to visit family and friends from time to time.
Russell Greiner was one of those young men. When visiting in August 1907, he spoke with the Postmaster, J. F. Orr about the possibility of inviting all those who had moved away to come back for a week-long celebration; a Home Coming. Mr. Orr promised to bring the matter to the attention of the Commercial Club, the leading civic club of the time.
At that time there was a nice meeting room in the basement of the Court House, where several civic groups met. Mr. Orr, true to his word, presented the suggestion which was well received and Mr. Orr was immediately selected to be the general chairman. Many years later Mr. Orr commented that he felt that the men in the organization thought the idea would soon be forgotten, and they could agree among themselves that they had appointed a chairman, and he was the one who defaulted.
But, Mr. Orr jumped right in. He appointed a general committee consisting of Dr. A. C. Messenger, Dr. Austin Patterson, Marshall L. Wolf, Professor E. B. Cox, Harry D. Smith and S. C. Hale. Each man was to chair a committee.
Dr. Messenger was in charge of promotion, publicity and printing while Mr. Wolf chaired the Finance Committee. Accommodations and facilities were under the guidance of Mr. Smith while Professor Cox was responsible for Societies and Organizations. Each chairman had several well-known individuals serving on the committee.
Additional special committees were also appointed
There were those who were in favor of the Home Coming, and others who wondered “Why have a home-coming to bring these people back? Weren’t we glad enough to get rid of them when they went away?” The Chairman and his committees continued to make plans and soon even the scoffers were offering assistance.
Aug. 30 was the opening date selected with the festival scheduled to run four days. Each day offered a special theme. Sunday was “Church Day”; Monday was “Reception Day”, Tuesday “Military Day” and Wednesday “Gala Historic Day.”
The General Committee met monthly beginning in the fall of 1907, but by spring, the meetings were weekly. As the day grew closer, the committee met two or three times a week, wanting everything to run as smoothly as possible.
At that time J.F. Orr was a frequent contributing writer for the local papers. Anonymously, he compiled a series of articles about the Civil War, using letters which had been published in the Torchlight some years earlier. Some Civil War veterans were still living in the city, and proved to be valuable in helping with planning. Others began to become interested in the county history and wanted to help.
The Ladies Auxiliary began obtaining names and addresses of people who had moved away, a rather tedious job, but one which was necessary. They met night after night at Dr. Messenger’s home writing letters and sending invitations.
All committees were working to ensure that this would be one of the biggest and most rewarding celebrations ever held in the county.
Invitations were sent to hundreds of folks and soon hotels all over the county were getting reservations and relatives were sprucing up the “spare room” for guests.
At last the big day arrived. A welcoming committee was on hand at the Pennsylvania train station to greet the visitors and a group of young women operated a booth in the file room of the Probate Court. They were serving as a committee for lodging and information. The headquarters were located in a room on Greene Street near the Post Office.
Sunday was “Church Day”. First Methodist (now Faith Community) was celebrating its 100th anniversary with a booklet written by Mrs. Carrie Geyer Dodds and Mrs. Albert Turrell. Trinity (now also Faith) had an evening song service. The Second United Presbyterian and the Presbyterian Church each had special speakers and an afternoon of sacred music was held at the Presbyterian Church.
The First Baptist Church had letters read from former citizens and in the evening, former members were invited to speak. The First Reformed and First Lutheran Churches each provided special services for the day. The YMCA held special services at an open-air meeting on the Roberts’ lawn (present Shawnee Park.)
Monday was Reception Day. Visitors were asked to register at headquarters. A large tent was erected in the yard of Central High School where many of the festivities took place. A band concert was offered at 1 p.m. followed by welcoming speeches from various state, county and city officials. That evening, another band concert was held on the public square with lodges, schools, churches and other organizations holding receptions to welcome the home comers.
To be continued.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and long-time historical columnist.