History of Batavia Township
By Richard Crawford (Clermont County Historical Society)
The village of Batavia , third county seat of Clermont County , was built on land surveyed on May 28, 1788 , for Francis Minnis, a captain in the American Revolution for seven years. John O’Bannon was the deputy surveyor, Nicholas Keller and Archelus Price were the chain carriers, and John Ormsley was the marker man.
The first settler was Ezekiel Dimmitt who built a cabin on the site of the present post office ( 575 W. Main St. ) in autumn 1797. A Virginian, he and his wife, Phoebe, moved here from Kentucky . They settled by Donnells’ Trace (present Old S.R. 74 or 32) that had been laid out in 1797 by John Donnells from Mercersburgh (present Newtown ) to Williamsburg . Donnells later continued the road to Chillicothe that became Ohio ’s first state capital (1803).
In 1807, George Ely purchased the Minnis survey and on October 24, 1814 , laid out Batavia that is believed to have received its name from Batavia , N.Y. , home of some of the early settlers. Ely chose the site because it was located at the Donnells Trace fording spot of the East Fork of the little Miami River (foot of Spring Street) that in early years was the main street in town because of the springs along it. Ely built a home for himself, a cabin on the NE side of the East Fork along Old S.R. 222 ( S. Riverside Drive ) or Elk Lick Road near the intersection with present S.R. 222.
Batavia was incorporated on February 10, 1842 . In summer 1814, Samuel Gilbreath opened the first store in town near the fording place. Thomas Chichester established the first known school in 1819, on the NE corner of Riverside Drive and Wood Street.
The first church was Methodist Episcopal and it, too, occupied the same corner as the school. For many years it was known as the Old Stone Church . In this building, on Thanksgiving Day 1909, was played the first reported high school basketball game in Clermont County.
Batavia became the third county seat of government on February 24, 1824 . Ezekiel Dimmit built the first courthouse on the NE corner of Main and Market streets in 1827. The second courthouse was built on the same site and was dedicated on December 19, 1936 . The third courthouse (NE corner of Main and Third streets) was dedicated in 1998.
A gold rush occurred in the Elk Lick Valley in 1868. This caused the formation of the Batavia Mining Company that did not last more than one year. Prior to the gold rush, other excitement occurred in the village. In particular, on July 14, 1863 , Confederate cavalry under the command of General John Hunt Morgan invaded Batavia . Some spent the night in town. They sought fresh horses and food and stole other personal property.
Because Batavia was the county seat, some notables lived here. Lt.-Gen. Henry Clark Corbin lived on the NE corner of Market and North streets. He became only the third man in U.S. history to earn the rank of Lieutenant-General. He served as Adjutant-General of the U.S. Army during the War with Spain (1898).
Hugh L. Nicholas lived at 160 Wood St . He was Lieutenant-Governor of Ohio and the first Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. On the SW corner of Market and Third streets stood the Griffith home where Ulysses S. Grant visited the Griffiths to whom he was related. The Norfolk and Western Railroad depot was the site of visits of many famous personages. Presidential candidates made speeches here. The depot was located on the east side of the N. & W. tracks between Clough Pike and Main Street . The first train arrived in March 1877; the last passenger train stopped in April 1971 and the depot was removed in January 1989.
The Cincinnati , Georgetown , and Portsmouth Railroad depot was located at 549 W. Main St . The first car arrived in Batavia on September 6, 1903 , and the line was disconnected on June 12, 1934. A station on the Underground Railroad was located at 225 Wood Street . It is believed the runaway slaves hid in the small building in the back of the house. The first newspaper in town (1828) was “The Clermont (or Ohio ) Sun.” The original offices were located on the site of present 52 S. Market St . Arguably, the oldest house still standing is located on the NW corner of North and Third streets. It was built about 1815-17. Harriet Beecher Stowe and her family of abolitionists stayed in this house when some of them were preaching (many times against slavery) in the original Presbyterian Church that stood on the SW corner of North and Market streets.
The village of Amelia is Clermont County ’s only incorporated village that was never formally laid out. The village lies in Batavia and Pierce Townships . The Batavia Township survey was made for Robert Gibbons of Yorktown , Va. , on April 15, 1788 . The Pierce Township survey was made for Robert Baylor of Logan Co., Ky. , on the same day. John O’Bannon was the deputy surveyor. Nicholas Kellar and Archelus Price were the chain carriers and John Ormsley, the marker man, in Batavia, and William and Isaac Kees, the chain carriers, and John Brady, the marker man, in Pierce. Amelia was incorporated on December 20, 1900.
The first homes in the village were log cabins believed to have been built in the north and west parking lots of the present Amelia United Methodist Church (19 E. Main St,). Here, David Jernegan and John O. Butler built a sawmill in 1862 or 1827. From this, other mills were built in the village that soon caused the area to be called Milltown, a named soon slurred into Milton. The first settler may have been an Irishman, Daniel Kirgan (or Kergan) who settled on the western edge of Amelia in 1809.
When a post office was established on February 25, 1836 , it was not given the name Milton because a post office of that name already existed in Ohio . The name chosen was Amelia, after Amelia Bowdoin, the well known and popular operator of the tollgate on the Ohio Turnpike. Her home still stands at 94 W. Main St. , across the street from where it stood when it served as the tollhouse.
John S. Johnston, who carried some of his goods around in a large trunk, operated the first store. The main street was the Ohio Turnpike (present Main Street/S.R. 125). It was built in 1831 by E. G. Penn; his home stood along the turnpike (present Apple Hill Apartments, 29 E. Main St .). U.S. Congressman Charles Cyrus Kearns married Lena Penn, E.G.’s daughter. U.S. Speaker of the House, Nicholas Longworth, and his wife Alice Roosevelt, (daughter of Theodore Roosevelt) visited the Kearns.
The Amelia section of S.R. 125 was widened to four lanes and concreted in 1951. The rails of the Cincinnati , Georgetown , & Portsmouth Railroad reached Amelia in 1878. It was in service until April 20, 1935 . It crossed Main Street just east of 81 W. Main St ,. Where its station had been. The Interurban Railway and Terminal Co. began operation on June 16, 1903 . Nicknamed “The Black Line” because of the dark green cars used by the IR&T, it stopped service on May 5, 1918 . Its rail ran along the middle of the Ohio Pike. It had a turnaround spot at 13 W. Main St.
The first telephone in town was in the Beeler house ( 22 E. Main St .). Amelia has or had many well known homes. Mid-Maples or Thomas-Fuller House ( 119 W. Main St. ) is believed to have been a speakeasy during the days of prohibition (1920s-1930s). Kearns served in the U.S. House (1915-31), his home stood at 66W. Main St . Nellie Mattox, one of Clermont County ’s last Justices of the Peace, held court in her home in the second house east of the NE corner of Main Street and Hopkins Ave.
The oldest building is believed to be the Morse House that stood on the SE corner of Main and Oak streets (present site 44 Oak St .). It was built in the 1850’s by Increase Sumner Morse who died here in 1875.
The most historic building in town is the Knights of Phythias building ( 41 W. Main St. ) that was built in the 1850’s. It has served as the village hall, Amelia High School ’s graduation hall and gymnasium, motion picture theatre, war munitions factory, and hosted Farmers Institutes among its many activities.
Amelia has what was believed to be the United States ’ largest gold fish farm. The Glen Mary Fish Farm operated on 35 acres beginning in 1913. Frank Hitchcock owned and operated the farm that was at the end of the street named in his honor. The Pommert family owned and operated one of the largest gladiola farms in the nation. It stood on the south side of Main Street .
Aaron Cleveland operated a stagecoach line from Georgetown to Cincinnati with the office on the SW corner of S.R. 125 and S.R. 132 south. A round trip took about eight hours and cost $1.25. Cleveland served in the U.S. Postmaster General’s office when his cousin, Grover Cleveland, was U.S. President.
Henry Smith was the first preacher in the area. A Methodist circuit rider, he first arrived in the area in 1799. The early area churches were Methodist (1808), Church of Christ (1828), and Baptist (1868).
The first village school was just north of the Methodist Church on Church Street
John McGrew taught as early as the 1820’s. John Robinson owned much of the land in the center of Amelia. He donated a portion for the building of a school that opened in 1870. A memorial to the school, torn down in 1962, is in the yard of Amelia Elementary ( 5 E. Main St. ); the school stood on the present front parking lot. Amelia High School ’s first senior class was in 1893 and consisted of five seniors.
Gold And Treasures In Clermont County
The best known gold discovery in Clermont County took place in 1868 when it was discovered by Samuel Atchley who was hunting that day on the farm of Robert Wood along Karin’s Run which empties into East Fork of the Little Miami River. Its present site is on the north shore of Harsha Lake in East Fork State Park
Captain J. W. Glass formed the Batavia Gold Mining Co. with shares sold at $100.00. Glass panned on Backbone Run about one mile below Batavia, then on a run within the eastern village limits of Batavia, then just west of Old S.R. 74 on the east edge of town, and finally south of town in the Elk Lick Valley. Before more than $20.00 worth of gold was found, the approximately 400 – foot long flume, that cost $3,000.00 to build, was destroyed by a flood and the company went out of business.