Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Lebanon looks to the past

Historic is town's middle name

By Randy McNutt, rmcnutt@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — In the middle of Ohio's second-fastest-growing county lies a timeless and colorful city known for its Applefest, antiques shops, quilt shows and the Golden Lamb Inn.

Book, brochure for bicentennial
    Lebanon will have a series of bicentennial observances. Events are set for each month through December, including a July 3 fireworks display at Colonial Park West.

    A brochure listing the events is available from the city. Visit www.ci.lebanon.oh.us or call 932-3060.

    The historical society plans a hardbound book. Lebanon, Ohio: Celebrating 200 Years illustrates life in Lebanon for two centuries.

    It costs $45 for society members, $50 for non-members. Add $6 for postage.

    Information:: 932-1817.

        Celebrating its 200th birthday this year, Lebanon is a brick anachronism resting in a sprawling green suburb. The town is so thoroughly old-fashioned that you can almost feel the years melt away as you walk down Broadway — where famed authors and 10 U.S. presidents have stayed at the inn, and where an opponent of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War accidentally killed himself.

        This year offers a series of events celebrating Lebanon's rich history.

        The next bicentennial-related event, on April 13, is the Daughters of the American Revolution Vintage Fashion Show at Shaker Run Country Club.

        Sponsored by the Turtle Creek DAR and Junior Group of Goodwill of Dayton, the show will feature fashions from the 1860s to the 1950s. Other events include a Vintage Car and Train Show May 3-5, the Historic Home and Garden Tour on June 22-23 and the Bicentennial Celebration at the Lebanon Sports Complex on Sept. 1-2.

        “Most people don't even know about our bicentennial, and that's unfortunate,” said Michael Longoria, a shop owner. “But a lot has happened here. Take Broadway, for example. They laid it out wide so a driver could turn around a coach and team of six horses.”

Patricia Van Harlingen, Curator of Textiles for the Warren County Historical Society Museum in downtown Lebanon, shows the Lebanon Bicentennial Quilt.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Like other old towns, Lebanon was built on dreams, schemes and serendipity.

        Its first “break” — becoming the home of Miami University in 1809 — never did happen, as a legislative change of heart a year later awarded the prize to Oxford. Lebanon officials didn't challenge the decision, and today residents can only ponder the unthinkable — Lebanon as a college town.

        With thousands of students, the downtown certainly wouldn't focus heavily on the past, which is Lebanon's attraction. Near downtown you can a visit a restored 1920s gas station, a mid-1800s mansion named Glendower and an old depot that serves the Turtlecreek Valley Railway's tourist train. The town began with few expectations when it was laid out in September 1802. Because a large number of cedar trees were found in the area, settlers named their town after Lebanon.

        Notable events followed:

200 and counting
   1796: Lebanon settled.
   1802: Lebanon laid out.
   1806: First Warren County Courthouse completed.
   1825: William Henry Harrison comes to Golden Lamb.
   1842: Charles Dickens arrives at Golden Lamb.
   1845: John Quincy Adams visits.
   1862: Lebanon Public Library opens.
   1881: City celebrates Lebanon's first passenger train.
   1883: U.S. Grant and Benjamin Harrison come to town.
   1940: Warren County Historical Society organizes.
   1961: County museum opens in Harmon Hall.
   2002: South Broadway is last street to get red brick sidewalks as part of a $1.1 million improvement project.
        • In 1803, Lebanon became the temporary seat of Warren County (a move made permanent in 1805).

        • In 1807, John McLean founded The Western Star, now Ohio's oldest published weekly.

        • In 1810, the town was incorporated.

        “Settlers first arrived after the Treaty of Greenville was signed in August 1795,” said John Zimkus, historian-in-residence at the Warren County Historical Society. “Francis Dunlavy, the first teacher in the Miami Valley, came in 1798. Jonas Seaman, in December 1803, opened a tavern in Lebanon under the sign of the Golden Lamb. Today it is honored as Ohio's oldest inn.”

        The brick building, at 27 S. Broadway, has welcomed Mark Twain, Daniel Webster, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Clay. Each of Ohio's seven native-son presidents stayed at the inn.

        In an upstairs dining room in June 1871, the controversial anti-Civil War Democrat Clement L. Vallandigham — a lawyer and 1863 Ohio gubernatorial candidate — accidentally shot himself while demonstrating to some lawyers how a gun was handled in a shooting case. He died there the next day.

        In April 1842, author Charles Dickens arrived with his wife and secretary on a mail coach from Cincinnati.

        “We dine soon afterwards with the boarders in the house, and have nothing to drink but tea and coffee,” Dickens wrote later in American Notes. “And they are both very bad, and the water is worse. I ask for brandy; but it is a temperance hotel, and spirits are not to be had for love or money. This preposterous forcing of unpleasant drinks down the reluctant throats of travelers is not at all uncommon in America... ”

        Lebanon historian Dennis Dalton said the author, who would write A Chrismas Carol the next year, was used to better treatment. “The man wanted his brandy — now.”

        The book Lebanon, Ohio: Celebrating 200 Years includes images of downtown buildings erected in the 1800s and early 1900s.

        “Lebanon probably has more distinctive architecture than any other city of its size in the region,” Mr. Dalton said.

        The more prominent buildings were depicted on some of the 42 quilts recently exhibited at the museum. They included bicentennial quilts made by the Lebanon Council of Garden Clubs and a fourth-grade class at Donovan Elementary.

        “The quilts are treasures, made by families and groups,” Ms. Payne said. “They're all made with love for the community, which is what the bicentennial is all about.”


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