By Richard Crawford
Clermont County Historical Society
In 1911, the state of Ohio announced it would build four armories, and Batavia citizens were eager to have one in their village.
On February 9, State Sen. Hugh L. Nichols and Ohio National Guard Capt. H.B. Glancy met with Adjutant General Waybrecht and the Armory Board in Columbus. The two Clermont Countians must have made an impressive presentation, because they were promised one of the sites if the legal requirements of furnishing a suitable site, without cost to the state, could be met.
A large meeting took place at the Clermont County Courthouse at 7 p.m. February 10 to rally support for the armory. Citizens promptly pledged more than $400 to buy a site. By the next day more than $500 was pledged.
Three sites were considered—Water Street (now Riverside Drive) near the old armory at the northeast comer of Riverside Drive and Wood Street; Second Street between Main and North streets; and at the comer of Broadway and Third streets. The Second Street property, owned by Fred Kline and Lena Bunn, was chosen.
Funding of $200,000 was approved, and construction began in spring 1912. It was completed Jan. 24, 1913. Andrew James was the architect. At the time there was room behind the building, and plans were made to construct a drill ground there. Capt. E.K. Parrott was in charge of the armory.
A fee of 50 cents per month entitled members to use the building for basketball, dances, dinners and similar activities.
The first event in the armory was Feb. 21, 1913, a Washington’s Birthday Supper by the Ladies Aid Society of the Batavia Presbyterian Church. The Friday evening event lasted from 5 to 7:30 p.m., and the price of the dinner was 25 cents.
One of the most prestigious events there was Oct. 18, 1913, a banquet in honor of Hugh L. Nichols, the first Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. He was a Batavia resident, born in New Richmond.
Many county and community activities took place in the armory, including balls, dances, dinners, charity events, March of Dimes dances, exhibitions, G.A.R gatherings, political rallies, antique shows, dance lessons and dog training. Memorial Day parades began there. But the Armory is perhaps most remembered for sports events.
The first basketball game in the Armory was Feb. 22, 1913, when two Batavia teams met. Admission was 10 cents.
The Clermont Courier reported that a record crowd of 350 watched Batavia bounce Bethel 70-11 in a high-school basketball game on Jan. 26, 1917.
Because it was largest gym in the county, the first Clermont County high school basketball tournament took place in the armory on Mar. 20, 1920. The boys champion was Milford, and the girls champion was Owensville. Loveland was runner-up in both divisions. The 1930-31 tournament was the last played entirely in the Armory. Batavia was the boys winner, and Amelia was runner-up. New Richmond was the girls winner, and Moscow was runner-up.
The Armory also hosted county broom hockey tournaments, boxing and professional wrestling contests, and Roller Derby.
Notwithstanding the numerous social activities at the Armory, its primary purpose was the storage of arms and ammunition and headquarters for the National Guard. It also housed the Selective Service and was the gathering place of Clermont Countians who took their oath there to defend our nation. The Armory housed that duty from World War I into the Vietnam War.
Gen. Henry Clark Corbin is memorialized in the Armory. Gen. Corbin was born in the Clermont County village of Laurel on Sept. 15, 1842, the son of Shadrach and Mary Ann Clark Corbin. During the War with Spain (1898), he was Adjutant General of the Army. Shortly before the war, he and his family lived at 260 North St., Batavia.
In a biography of William McKinley, U.S. President during the war, author Margaret Leech wrote that Gen. Corbin was “in all but name, the army chief of staff … brilliantly able.” In An Army for Empire, author Graham Cosmas described him as “the best fitted for high command” of all the officers in the war.
Gen. Corbin died in Washington in 1909 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Richard Crawford, a student of Clermont County history his entire adult life, has been a journalist for The Clermont Sun and other newspapers. He holds a master of arts degree in history from UC, and he has written and edited several books of local history.