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Readers Share Tales of Gypsies, Interurban

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on March 15, 1997
By Roz Young
            We keep hearing about gypsies.
            `My father had direct contact with gypsy metal workers and he had admiration for their knowledge and skill,' wrote James Schwendeman, 661 Wilfred Ave. `He was in charge of maintenance for a number of the Borden plants in the area in the 1920s and '30s.
            `In those days, milk processing equipment was largely made of copper which was tin coated. The tin was applied by melting the tin and wiping it to spread evenly on the copper surface. That is the way I remember it.
            `Periodically the equipment had to be retinned. At these times my father made arrangements for gypsies to do the work. They were usually at the dairy for a week or more and my father was fascinated by their skill.
            `In fact he must have become friends with them, as they taught him how to tin small pieces of equipment. He was always grateful to them for this, as it was useful to him in doing routine dairy maintenance.'
            Phil Stanley called. He is one of six brothers - Phil, Arthur, Tom, Pete, Harry, John and Mike - living in Dayton and descendants of the gypsy Stanleys. He also had a sister Barbara, now deceased.
            Their father was the late Pete Stanley Sr., a son of the younger Levi Stanley, and their mother is Mary Stanley, who lives at 122 Grove Ave. One of her daughters-in-law is Dr. Sherry Stanley, the personable local physician who appears frequently on WHIO-TV.
            Another member of the Stanley family called, but she says I don't dare mention her name. She is also a granddaughter of Levi Stanley; her father, William Stanley, was the last of the family to be buried on the Stanley lot in Woodland Cemetery. Her two older sisters, for some reason, have always contended that they were not members of the gypsy-related Stanleys and that is why she wishes to remain anonymous.
            She would like to write a book for her children about her memories of many gypsy stories she knows, but says she doesn't quite know how to write it. There are books in the libraries and in the bookstores on the writing of family memoirs, and my advice to her is to start at the library. She will also want to read a two-part series in this space right after Easter. It will be an example of memoir writing and also give another view of the local gypsy story.
            Local historian Martin J. Kelly says that the house still standing at 2239 Kipling Ave. is a visible architectural remainder of the gypsy era in Dayton.
            `It is a strange-appearing old brick house with several porches and a cupola on the roof. It originally was part of the Jacob H. Mumma farm going back to the 1840s.
            `The 1895 Atlas of Montgomery County by Herman Fox indicates a C. Stanley for (ownership of) this plot of ground at that time. In 1968 this structure was included in the final Landmark Committee Report, an initiative undertaken by the late Glenn Thompson, editor of the Journal Herald.'
            I N T E R U R B A N  U P D A T E
            Here also is an update on the Valentine Winters interurban story from Herbert Nye, 6583 W. Third St.
            `The man who told you that Valentine Winters routed his interurban track around Johnsville was mistaken,' he said. `It was around New Lebanon and here is how it happened:
            `Valentine Winters had track laid through New Lebanon for the interurban. The road was paved on either side, but he left the area between the tracks unpaved.
            `The city officials asked him to pave the strip between the rails and to put up, at his expense, street lights through the village. This angered him and he tore up the tracks one midnight and rerouted them around New Lebanon a block north and coming out at the Clayton Road.
            `All the natives referred to the dispute as Valley Bluff. After he pulled up the tracks the village paved the street.
            `What used to be two separate villages, Johnsville and New Lebanon,' said Herbert, `is now all one, all called New Lebanon. Some of the people in Johnsville didn't want the village to lose its identity and are still angry about it.'
            When Winters tore up the tracks, he took the good railroad ties to use on the track bed around New Lebanon but left the bad ties. Herbert and his father gathered the rejected ties, split them and burned them in their cook stove.
            Further comment came from John J. Edwards Jr., 9245 Oakes Road, Arcanum. `Valentine Winters did indeed skirt the village (New Lebanon) to the north and would not list it on his maps. If family lore is correct, he listed it as Winters' Folly, and those wishing to board or disembark a car had to do so along the tracks less than a quarter mile north of the village. That area is currently part of the village and is today Traction Avenue.
            `New Lebanon and Johnsville were located very close together and at one time had the distinction of being listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not as being the only two villages in the world to be joined by a sidewalk. Dixie schools now stand on the south side of Main Street, approximately centered between these two former rival villages.
            V I L L A G E   R I V A L R Y
            `I refer to them as rivals because they were. New Lebanon was originally called Sharpsburg but was not able to get a post office because of the existence of another Sharpsburg in Ohio, thus it changed its name. Johnsville and New Lebanon vied to receive a post office and when New Lebanon was successful, citizens from Johnsville marched east upon New Lebanon and engaged in a mini-war.
            `Alas, today about the only reminder left of Johnsville is the name in Johnsville-Farmersville/Johnsville-Brookville roads, and her memory in the hearts of aging historians.
            `My great-grandfather, Dr. Oscar F. Edwards, used to publish a local paper for the village of New Lebanon in the 1870s and 1880s. John Edwards has some copies of the paper in which a number of stories might be of interest to historians.'
            Myrtle Ransome also called. She has lived all her life in what was Johnsville and knew, of course, that the traction went around New Lebanon and not Johnsville. When she was a little girl, her uncle, Owen Miller, was a motorman on the traction. He used to stop on his run to Richmond, pick her up, take her to Richmond, get her an ice-cream cone and take her back home on the return run. She would still like her village to be called Johnsville, but nobody asked the residents of the village how they felt about it.