Header Graphic
Two Historic Local Organizations

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, November 26, 1933

Two Historic Local Organizations

By Howard Burba


     Sixty-six years ago next Thursday, while the Miami valley was wrapped in a heavy blanket of snow and a blizzard of unusual severity served to keep the people of Dayton close to their hearthstones, the first “Pioneer Society” in Montgomery co., was formed.

     Thirty-seven staunch old pioneers, every one of whom had been born in this county previous to the year 1820, donned their earmuffs, stuck their trousers in their boots, gave their “comforters” an extra turn about their necks and battled the elements in their journey to the city building to place their names on the charter list of such an organization.

     No one is now living who attended that meeting on Nov 30, 1867, for the youngest attendant would be 113 years old if he happened to be on earth today.  But there are hundreds of their descendants scattered about the city of Dayton and throughout the Miami valley, men and women and children who should take justifiable pride in having sprung from such sturdy stock.  The Pioneer Society is a thing of the past, and those 37 charter members have long since passed on.  But the worthy qualities which made them of value to the community in early days were strongly bred into their descendants and it is largely for those descendants we write this latter-day story of that historic old meeting.

     For some time before anyone thought of organizing a pioneer society in this county a little local paper had been publishing at frequent intervals reminiscences of some of the oldest settlers.  These must have attracted considerable attention and really served to suggest such an organization, for in its issue of Dec. 2, 1867, we find the editor commenting on it in these words:

     “For a number of years there had been well-intentioned talk about organizing a pioneer association for Montgomery co., but it never got any further than that.  That there was a general desire on the part of the old folks to get together and talk over old times and compare the notes of half a century, there was no doubt; what was necessary to put the ball in motion was a start.  The sketches we have been giving of personal reminiscences of the old men and women of this county revived anew in the pioneers a desire to undertake what had been already delayed too long; and a number of them delegated us to ‘break the ice.’

     “The preliminary meeting in council chamber of all persons who were born in this county before 1820, or who had emigrated here prior to that date, to organize a pioneer association was the result.

     “In answer to the last mentioned call and in spite of the decided wintry weather, some 37 pioneers met in the council chamber, in this city, on Saturday, the 30th of November, 1867, to take the preliminary steps for permanently organizing a pioneer association for Montgomery county.  After a general greeting, and the renewal of acquaintanceship which had been severed for years, Samuel D. Edgar was chosen to preside, and Ephraim Lindsly was appointed secretary.”

     Then we learn that the chairman consumed considerable time in declaring that this county had been somewhat dilatory in organizing its pioneers, since several such organizations already existed in neighboring counties.  Concluding with the statement that out of this meeting would grow a lasting and permanent institution, he called upon the secretary to record the names of all present who, by reason of having been born prior to 1820, were eligible to membership.  The clerk did so, starting with the oldest pioneer in attendance and proceeding on down the line according to age.

     Here is the list of those charter members.  Possibly you can trace your ancestry back to some of them:

     Daniel Wertz, Judge George Olinger, Moses Simpson, Charles H. Spinning, Adam Shuey, Col. William Stansell, David Osborn, Culberson Patterson, Beniah Tharp, Peter Lehman, Ephriam Lindsly, Solomon Butt, Gorton Arnold, William Neibel, Samuel D. Edgar, George Swartzel, Michael Byerly, Henry D. Stout, John Waymire, William Gunckel, Alfred Hoover, Eddy Fairchild, John Wiggim, Judge Robert Patterson Brown, George W. Kemp, J. Dickinson Phillips, Abraham Weaver, Simeon J. Broadwell, John Clark, Henry L. Brown, Levi Wollaston, Henry Waymire, Josiah Broadwell, J. B. H. Dodson, Robert W. Steele, Dennis Ensey, Hugh Wiggim.

     In addition to these there were several interested spectators in the audience, though they were not of sufficient years to qualify for membership.  These men had arrived in the county since 1820, but they were there to lend their moral support to the new organization: Abraham Artz, Peter P. Coon and Jacob Gantze.

     The registry having been completed, H. L. Brown moved that a committee of three should be appointed by the chair to draft a constitution and by-laws.  The honor fell to William Gunckel, William Stansell and Mr. Brown.  They were instructed to report at the next meeting, held two weeks later and under far more favorable weather conditions.

     At the beginning of the second session Henry Waymire moved that committees of three members each should be appointed in each township and in each city ward to make a census of their respective communities with a view of recording all men and women in Montgomery co. who had been born here before 1820, or who had emigrated to this county previous to that date.  The chair promptly announced these names:

     For the first ward, D. Winters; second, Josiah Broadwell; third E. Lindsly; fourth, E. W. Davies; fifth, Dennis Ensey; sixth, Peter Lehman.  The seventh and eighth wards were left blank, none of the pioneers remembering the names of comrades living in them.  These wards had just been formed at the time of the meeting.

     That no eligible pioneers might be overlooked, the committees were enlarged to take in the townships, and here are the pioneers living out in the rural districts selected to work up interest in the organization: In Butler tp., Henry Waymire, Trustum Beeson and R. Sunderland.  Washington tp. Col. William Stansell, Milton McGrew and John Ewing.  Miami tp., William Niebel, John Gebhart and John Crane; German tp., Col. John Stump, Capt. John C. Negley and H. S. Gunckel; Madriver tp., Charles H. Spinning, Sam D. Edgar and Capt. Dan Kiser; Harrison tp. H. W. Williams, John Clark and Samuel Beardshear; Van Buren tp., S. D. Bradford, H. Wade and John Bradford; Randolph tp, Alfred Hoover, Joseph Foutz and Daniel Hoover; Wayne tp., John Shafer, Moses Sherer and Israel Wilson; Jefferson tp., George Olinger, Abraham Weaver and John Burnett; Clay tp., Joseph Williamson.

     After this important business had been transacted there followed an impromptu discussion of early days in the Miami valley.  And wouldn’t it be splendid reading in this modern day to have a verbatim report of the talks made at that gathering 66 years ago?  But the reporter was apparently not gifted in shorthand, so we must accept his rambling report of it, which he offers in these words:

     “There being no further business before the association, the chairman suggested that persons present should relate some interesting incidents of their history.  After a pause of several minutes, Mr. Henry L. Brown arose and stated that although one of the youngest men present, he would briefly answer to the call of the chairman.  He had lived in Dayton over 50 years, and there were old men present with whom he had never spoke—boy and man—until that day.

     “The speaker had long ago determined that the boys of the present day, with whom he came in daily contact, should not have this to say of him.  He wanted to get acquainted with the boys and girls.  He thought there was a lack of proper intimacy between old and young people.  And there was a lack of companionship between old people.  He was decidedly in favor of the Pioneer association.  The meetings could be made highly interesting. He wanted to hear of old times, and the pioneers were the ones to impart the information.  He trusted they would not be backward in talking.  One incident of his first appearance in public life the speaker alluded to.

    “Mr. Daniel Wertz, who only lacked 20 days of being 86 years of age, arose and desired to know if there was an older man than himself on the list of pioneers.  Being answered in the negative, he did not believe that there was a man in the chamber anything near his age who could dance with him!  He then ‘cut the pigeon-wing’ for the entertainment of the pioneers, none of whom dared to compete with him!  He closed his brief diversement by inviting his compeers to his house ‘on New Year’s, to eat red apples and drink cider!’  The old gentleman hoped to be present at a good many more meetings of the association.

     “Mr. Wertz, Mr. Patterson, Mr. Holverstott, Mr. Sloan, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Morrison and others of the more aged pioneers were present.

     “Mrs. Mary Swaynie (nee Van Cleve) a venerable lady of 81 years of age, was present, and was introduced to the association.  Mrs. Swaynie, arrived here in the year 1796, when about 10 years of age, and was one of the memorable 19 who came here from Cincinnati via the great Miami river in a keelboat, which was poled up the river.  Mrs. Swaynie is the only survivor of that little pioneer party, and now, at the age of 81 years, she is quite spry and does not appear to be more than 50.

     “A very interesting scrap of pioneer history was handed in by the venerable Mr. Aughe, and read to the association by Mr. Lindsly. 

     “Mr. Brown, in explaining why the annual meeting of the association was named on May 1, remarked that the county was organized on that day, in the year, 1803, at the house of George Newcom, in the building in which Joseph Shafor now has a grocery store—corner of Main and Water sts.  Mr. Brown then read some interesting reminiscences of the early history of Dayton and Montgomery co., from “Howe’s Recollections of Ohio.”  It seems that the county was named for Gen. Montgomery of Revolutionary War fame.  Some gentlemen from Cincinnati attempted a settlement here, which they named Venice, in the year 1788, but the project was abandoned.  Gen. Jonathan Dayton, Gen. Findley and others were more successful in 1796, the year that Mrs. Swaynie arrived here with the 19 pioneers, before mentioned.

     “Miamisburg was settled in 1806 by pioneers from Berks co., Pennsylvania.  It was first called “Coles’ Station” from the man who was at the head of the party who first located there.

     “Germantown was laid out in 1804 by Phillip Gunkel, who built grist and sawmills on Twin creek at that point, and opened a store.  The place was principally settled by the families of Gunkel, Schaffer and Emerick, from Lebanon, Centre and Berks cos., Pennsylvania.

     “After the usual friendly greeting between the old folks, the association adjourned to meet in council chamber on the second Saturday in January, 1868, at 10 o’clock, a. m. to elect permanent officers, and complete the organization.”

     And thus ended the session at which the Montgomery County Pioneer society, which ceased existence many years ago, was formally launched.  It was for long years one of the most interesting organizations of its kind in this part of the state but the arrival of more modern civic institutions, and the rapid passing of the pioneers who made up its membership saw it pass into history.

    The same cannot be said of still another county-wide organization formed here along about the same time the old Pioneer society was launched.  I have reference to the Montgomery County Horticultural society.  It had its inception on Dec. 9, 1867, or within a few days after the first meeting of the pioneers.  The Horticultural society remains one of the permanent institutions of the county and each succeeding year finds an increased, instead of a diminished interest in its meetings.

     “A considerable number of gentlemen interested in horticulture,” reads an old newspaper of Dec. 9, 1867, “met in the gentlemen’s parlor at the Phillips House on Saturday afternoon in response to a call published in the city papers.”  And then he goes on to chronicle the formation of this second, and more substantial organization:

     “Nicholas Ohmer, Esq., was called to preside and Dr. Gundry was chosen secretary.  On taking the chair Mr. Ohmer stated the object for which the meeting was called.  He had been engaged in horticultural pursuits for a number of years and he had not only found it pleasant, but profitable.  He had also engaged pretty extensively in the cultivation of shrubs and flowers for his own gratification and for the gratification of the friends who visited him at Fruit Hill.  During all the time he had been engaged in the cultivation of fruits and flowers he had felt the need of a society of horticulture, where gentlemen could meet and exchange experiences, views, theories and results and where mutual benefit could be derived.  And other horticulturists felt just as did the speaker.

     “They had frequently expressed themselves as anxious to organize a society; and recently a number of gentlemen of horticultural tastes and practice met the chairman at the postoffice, when the question which lay nearest their hearts was again brought up; and these gentlemen then and there delegated him to issue a call for a meeting, when they and others would respond, and organize a society. And they had all been as good as their word.

     “A larger number of gentlemen than he had expected had responded to the call, and he was encouraged to believe that a permanent organization would be effected, and he was confident great good would grow out of it--benefits in which the whole community will share.  The chairman said that it was hardly necessary for him to offer any remarks to impress on the gentlemen the great importance of an association of the character they were met to organize.

     “They were all alive to the benefits to be derived from meeting together on stated occasions, to compare notes, systematize the business, and institute uniform names for all varieties of products.  The chairman had just returned from the annual meeting of the Ohio Pomological society at Sandusky.  At the meeting it was determined, after a most thorough discussion of the subject in all its bearings, to change the name to Ohio Horticultural society, and thereby extend the interest, and enlist all classes of horticulture in the good work.  It was also determined to organize auxiliary societies in all the counties of the state, and secure from these a full representation to the annual meeting.  Gentlemen left the recent state meeting full of zeal for the noble cause, and were determined to procure the organization of auxiliary societies in every district in the state.  And returning to the work in hand, the chairman suggested that probably the first business for the meeting would be to take the initiative for forming a Horticultural society.

     “A motion was then made and carried, to appoint a committee of three persons to draft a constitution and by-laws for the regulation and conduct of the society; nominate officers for it, etc.  By general request, the chairman named the committee to comprise Dr. Gundry, W. F. Heikes and Jacob Bower.  The committee are to meet at the residence of the chairman at Fruit Hill, tomorrow afternoon.

     “A letter was then read from Mr. Jacob Zimmer, of Miamisburg, who stated his regret at not being able to be present at the meeting to organize a society; yet he expressed his entire sympathy with the movement, and his desire to be ‘counted in,’ and his determination to attend future meetings of the society.  And then the occasion was made interesting by the relation of the experience of gentlemen in horticulture. We have not room for details, but the gist of the conversational discussion was that although the gentlemen had gathered useful hints from the perusal of books, and rules on the subject, they had acquired more real and useful information from association and conversation with horticulturists than in all other ways beside.  One important point gained by these meetings was the knowledge of what varieties of fruit, berries, etc., could be most successfully and profitable grown in various sections of country, and on the different formations of land.  Indeed, there were a great many interesting topics touched, and it was clear to us that a new and permanent interest in horticulture was instituted Saturday afternoon.

     “A resolution of thanks was offered to Mr. Reibold, proprietor of the Phillips House, for the use of his parlor for the meeting; and the meeting them adjourned to meet again next Saturday, 14th inst., in the council chamber on Main st., above the market—on which occasion a constitution will be offered for adoption, and permanent officers will be elected, and the society be put firmly on its feet for sturdy work.”

     And there you have the story of the formation of two organizations which have added bright and interesting chapters to the history of Montgomery co.  It was not a spirit of rivalry that brought them into being along about the same time; that was a mere coincident.  Many of the pioneers of that day were interested in both organizations.  And since there was no overlapping of interests, they dwelled in harmony throughout the years.

     The minutes of the Horticultural society are still obtainable, over a period of more than half a century. But so far as known, those of the pioneer society disappeared years ago.  Like those who made up its membership, only silence and memories cling about the aged charter roll.  But the love of the land these pioneers planted and the spirit of enthusiasm they passed down to their descendants still lives and is a power for good in the community.