Yellow Springs

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September 29, 2009 by Brian Ressler

The Yellow Springs

The Yellow Springs

Welcome to the Village of Yellow Springs. Located in the northwest section of Greene County, it is roughly twenty miles outside the center of Dayton. The village, which is home to around 4000 residents, has had one of the longest and most storied histories in all of the Miami Valley, beginning as far back as 1803. It has been the site of continual free thinking, radical ideas, and a leader in the nation for social and political change. It is also the home to some of the most beautiful natural lands in all of Ohio, including John Bryan State Park, Clifton Gorge and the Glen Helen Nature Preserve, which contains the famed Yellow Spring, the village’s name sake.

In the Beginning…

The Village of Yellow Springs was not officially incorporated until 1856, however it’s history began much earlier around the turn of the 19th century. At that time several entrepreneurs from Cincinnati had heard about a “mythical” spring in the area that was purported to cure any ill. The three of them, including Martin Baum, Lewis Davis, and Benjamin Whiteman purchased the lands surrounding the yellow springs. Davis built a small inn close to the springs and Baum convinced many of his wealthy friends from Cincinnati to travel north to stay there to see the springs for themselves. Several others had also taken advantage of these supposed curative waters, building lodges and inns around the area, attracting tourists from nearby to come see the springs, and turning it into a sort of resort to visit.

One of the first acts of liberal mindedness came from a group of people called the Owenites that traveled up from Cincinnati, following a man named Robert Owen in 1825. He had gathered many wealthy and aristocratic people, numbering around 100 families and set out to build a community that was based around a socialist point of view. In this community everyone would live under one roof with a communal kitchen and living area with separate rooms for each family; they would divide up the work and provide for one another, sharing all things as equals. This plan actually worked for a while, however few of the people who followed Owen had any real experience farming, hunting, or had any real crafting skills, and soon disparity broke out between them with a few individuals ordering the others what to do. The community only lasted one year but is a testament to the uniqueness of the area, as the dream of a society in America where all were treated equally had already taken root.

Though these pioneers were some of the first in the area, it is really William Mills whom is considered the founder of the village. Owning large portions of land left to him by his father in Yellow Springs, he was more focused on industrializing the village and helping to build it into a healthy economic community and prominent location in the country. To this end he worked tirelessly to promote the village in every way and to attract attention towards it. In the 1830s, when it started to become apparent that rail lines were the new method of transportation, he took advantage of a new track that was designed to connect Lake Erie with the Ohio River running straight through Dayton and Cincinnati on the way, with stops in Springfield and Clifton. With much effort he was able to convince investors to detour the stop in Clifton to Yellow Springs instead.

The population did for a while boom, bringing hundreds to the village, and after this as he continued to encourage growth and development by showing off natural resources that could be used such as the timber in the heavily wooded area as well as the heavy limestone and clay deposits. Farmland around the railroad at this time was reported to sky rocket to 30 times the average price per acre. Much like many early philanthropists of that age, including John Patterson, it was described that he “acted as an unabashed promoter and booster of the community.” In 1856 he led the petition to finally incorporate the lands surrounding the area into what is now called Yellow Springs.

North tower of Anitoch main hall

North tower of Anitoch main hall

Shortly before this time Antioch College was founded in 1853. The college was intended to be a “nonsectarian” institution when it was established, or rather one that was not influenced or funded by a particular religious institution, which was common practice at the time. To this end, the college had money troubles from the beginning, as well as throughout much of it’s history without a substantial backer. However it has pressed on for over 150 years as the “great experiment,” being at the forefront of innovation in higher learning. Even at it’s founding, the school offered equal education to both men and women, and had a handful of African American students in the 1850s. Antioch is known well for its co-op program which allows students to both study in classes and get real world working experience during their time at the college. Antioch became a focus of the more liberal community in the later half of the 1900s, but nonetheless was a focus for open minded education for its entire history.

Yellow Springs in the 20th Century…

During the depression, Yellow Springs suffered much as the rest of the country did, with much of the community leaning upon one another for support. Work was difficult to come by for everyone, going weeks at a time with no pay to speak of, and it was at this time another innovative idea sprang forth. Arthur Morgan the president of Antioch College in the 1930s, proposed an idea that small communities in the country could become self sufficient and trade various goods and services within to help provide people with what they needed; It was called The Yellow Springs Exchange.

That is not to say that the idea caught on quickly, as many were skeptical that the idea would work. Eventually it became popular with many in the village, and functioned well for a while. Unfortunately it did not last beyond the year, for the exchange could not provide citizens with two major necessities; gasoline and coal. Yet even for those short comings it highlights another interesting approach at a desperate time for everyone in America, however short lived.

Up through this time, despite much of its tolerant attitude, the community was still divided between it’s white and black populations as was most of the country. In the 1940s when World War II was still raging in Europe and in the Pacific, students from Antioch and Wilberforce University banded together to help end some of the discrimination practices that were seen everywhere in the village including the local theatre and many restaurants and cafes. At the local Little Theatre, African Americans were allowed only to sit at the back of the theater in the last two rows. One evening students from the colleges walked into the theater and sat where they were supposed to. During the movie many got up and began sitting out of their designated areas. Though reports vary, it was said that black students moved up to the front rows and white students moved to the back of the theater, causing a rouse out of the owner who could do nothing to stop them. After complaining to both his local and state governments who told him the students were doing nothing illegal, he desegregated the theater in what was seen as an early victory for civil rights in the village.

The move towards an activist community also had an impact on the support of the war effort at the time. Before America’s involvement, many boycotted the war as immoral and unjust. However like the rest of the country after America declared war on the axis powers, they supported the troops across the sea in any way possible, saving rubber, scrap and rationing foods like sugar, flour as well as gasoline. In an innovative move, and with the help of the federal War Relocation Authority, Antioch College also accepted several Japanese American students whose families were imprisoned in interment camps in 1942.

Antioch College

Antioch College

Trends like this continued and Yellow Springs became an active town the Civil Rights Movement through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The campus of Antioch became a bastion of student activism and anti-racism, which prompted Martin Luther King Jr. to give the commencement speech in 1965. The reputation that Yellow Springs holds these days mostly comes from this era of revolution and social upheaval in the country. Though it is not as radical a place as it may have been in the 60s and 70s, the spirit of change and open mindedness still flourish there, encouraging open discussion on all matters political or social.

Yellow Springs Today…

Toy store on Xenia Ave

Toy store on Xenia Ave

Yellow Springs today is an active community offering a little bit of something for everyone. It is an eclectic atmosphere with dozens of shops, restaurants, and taverns centrally located and within walking distances of just about any home in the village. It offers almost anything one could want from the local grocery and hardware store, to a beer drinker’s delight at Peaches which keeps a constantly revolving twenty beers on tap. From wine cafes to coffee shops, a relaxing day in town can be made entirely of ambling from shop to shop, offering clothing boutiques, local greenery, bicycle store and some of the finest hand made pottery in the Miami Valley. Yellow Springs also offers the casual shopper a host of different art galleries to browse through in any variety of medium including glass, canvas painting and sculptures.

Toxic Beauty: A Rock and Roll Gallery

Toxic Beauty: The Rock and Roll Gallery

On a recent visit into town I stopped into a local record store called Toxic Beauty: The Rock and Roll Gallery. Owner Joshua Castleberry, whom I had met previously at South Park Tavern provides an interest music experience these days, selling almost exclusively records and signed concert posters ranging from a 1960’s era The Who concert, up to the 2009 Garden Station Gem City Jam. I asked him why only records, and he said, “It’s a great medium to listen to music to. I wanted to open a music store but CDs seemed to be going by the wayside with digital media so prominent, and records have just recently started becoming a little more popular again with the younger generation.” He said that a lot of teenagers are experiencing records for the first time and was surprised with the depth of sound on them, which keeps them coming back for more. A native of Cincinnati, Joshua had never lived in Yellow Springs before he decided to open up shop there. When I asked him why he chose the locations he explained, “It’s great foot traffic here. I don’t have to do a lot of advertising because it’s always so active; people are constantly walking down the street, whether they live here or are from out of town visiting, they tend to just browse at every store down the street.” He said now that he’s lived here for a while, he has grown to love it, and commented that if he had any children he couldn’t think of a better place to raise any than right there.

Yellow Springs Station

Yellow Springs Station

Yellow Springs offers a lot for anyone who loves the outdoors. The Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail, a 78 mile bike path, runs through Yellow Springs, with a stop at the Yellow Springs Station. A local bicycle shop, The Cyclery offers repair service as well as selling a nice selection of bikes, located directly across the street to the Station. Glen Helen and John Bryan offer, arguably the best hiking trails in the Miami Valley, second perhaps only to Caesar Creek. Offering miles of hiking paths, there are also mountain bike trails, horse riding trails, camp sites at John Bryan and some modest cliff scaling opportunities. Glen Helen is home to the fabled Yellow Springs, as well as, naturally, a glen which has been cut by a stream. Hiking trails can be taken above and below the narrow valley, giving stunning views of the landscape from high and low. Wild flowers of numerous varieties sprout in forest clearings and meadows, creating beautiful panoramas of color.

John Bryan State Park which can be accessed via both the glen and Clifton Gorge is primarily a camping location but also offers several interesting hiking paths which circle around the bottom of a valley as well as the top. The steep cliffs that are in some parts of John Bryan have been set up for climbers to use. On a recent journey down towards the Gorge, I spotted a few climbers upon a cliff side. I worked my way down to them and asked if I could speak with them. A father was there teaching his sons how to properly use ropes and equipment to climb the cliff. He explained he used to live down in West Virginia and would often climb down there, but now lives near Dayton. Though, he explained, the cliffs are not nearly as high, it’s still nice to get out and have some fun when he can at John Bryan. I thanked him for his time before I climbed back up a narrow rock face about 50 feet up to continue my hike.

Decending a cliff edge at John Bryan

Decending a cliff edge at John Bryan

Yellow Springs offers a variety of different lodgings, mostly in the form of bed and breakfasts. If anyone enjoys the outdoor or small town activities that Yellow Springs can offer, there is little else that could make for a relaxing weekend than a stay there. A location such as the Grinnell Mill Bed and Breakfast is located at an entrance to John Bryan and Glen Helen, making it perfect for an outdoor enthusiast, while places like the Jailhouse Inn and the Arthur Morgan House offer lodgings in town. Yellow Springs has a host of activities going on in the fall time including haunted wagon rides, a corn maze and pumpkin picks at the famous Young’s Dairy for a fun family weekend, as well as apple picking at Peifer Orchard; activities I remember fondly from my own childhood. There is also the upcoming Street Fair on October 10th offering 200 plus vendors in a family friendly atmosphere that usually attracts thousands of people from around the Dayton area.

The Village of Yellow Springs has had a long and active history, and today has become a loving community with something to offer for almost everyone. Its legacy as a location for change is well documented, and will continue for the foreseeable future as Antioch looks to it’s reopening in the coming years. Visit this charming community and you will not be disappointed.

For any further information about Yellow Springs, continue below to find additional links, an interactive map and upcoming events.

All history documented here can be credited to The Yellow Springs News Archive.

Neighborhood Links

Neighborhood Calendar
Yellow Springs Map

Yellow Springs on Facebook

Yellow Springs Blog Feed

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