The Village of Batavia, settled by Europeans in 1797, was established as a town in 1814. Batavia Township was established the following year. The village will celebrate its bicentennial year in 2014, and the Batavia Bicentennial Commission is organizing a celebration, which will center on the newly renovated Batavia Downtown area, where some of the houses date back to the era of the village’s origin. The Clermont Sun will publish a series of historic vignettes concerning the community, some local to the village and others relating history of the large community, of which this is the first.
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 State Route 74 or 32) that John Donnells had laid out in 1797 from Mercersburgh (present Newtown) to Williamsburg. Donnells later continued the road to Chillicothe, which became Ohio’s first state capital in 1803.
In 1807, George Ely purchased the Minnis survey, and on October 24, 1814, he laid out Batavia, which is believed to have received its name from Batavia, New York, 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, at the foot of Spring Street, which 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 northeast side of the East Fork along Old State Route 222 (S. Riverside Drive) or Elk Lick Road, near the intersection with present State Route 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 northeast corner of Riverside Drive and Wood Street.
The first church was Methodist Episcopal, and it 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 northeast 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, northeast 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, which 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 northeast 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 southwest 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 behind 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 at the northwest 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 southwest corner of North and Market streets.
Richard Crawford has been a student of Clermont County history his entire adult life, and he has become the county’s most-sought-after resource person for local history. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati and Amelia High School, he has been a journalist for The Clermont Sun, the Clermont Courier, and the Community Press. He has written and edited several books of local history.