On The Road: Xenia, Ohio
"But in looking back at the
places I've been
The changes that I've left
I look at myself to find
I've learned the hard way
We moved to Xenia (pronounced Zeen-yuh) at the end of 2007. A city of 27,000, it is the county seat of Greene County and being only twenty miles east of Dayton it is also part of the Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area. A tidbit of trivia: Xenia is the only city in the US starting with the letter X with a population over 5000.
From the beginning our sojourn here has been a big adventure. We soon discovered that the residents represented well its unique and almost exotic sounding name; it comes from the Greek word ξενία, which means hospitality.
In 1803, the year Ohio attained statehood, a village was founded on the forks of the Shawnee Creeks. Its name was the result of grassroots democracy in action. A committee had several possibilities under consideration when it scheduled a public meeting to make a decision.
The clergyman Robert Armstrong had received a warm welcome in the friendly community and he put forward the idea of using the Greek word. In the voting that followed, Xenia required a tie-breaker but it ultimately triumphed.
Can a place take on the character or meaning of its name? Not sure if there is any scientific method to measure or determine that, but experientially speaking, in this case the answer is yes. Also, in an interesting manifestation of hospitality, Xenia was a crucial hub of the Underground Railroad during the years it was in operation.
The first session of the Ohio General Assembly carved Greene County out of the Northwest Territory, which was the Shawnee homeland. A main tribal gathering place, situated just north of Xenia at what is now known as Oldtown, is where Tecumseh (March 1768 - October 5, 1813) was born.
Growing up during the Revolutionary War and westward expansion of the new nation, he was constantly exposed to warfare. Tecumseh, whose name meant shooting star, became a brilliant and influential leader of his people. He cobbled together a large confederacy of Native Americans who opposed the United States.
During the War of 1812, Tecumseh rallied the confederacy to ally with the British in Canada, joining forces with Major-General Sir Isaac Brock to assist in the capture of Fort Detroit. The strategic win was reversed slightly more than a year later when an American naval victory on Lake Erie choked off the British supply lines. The public buildings in Detroit were burned by the retreating Redcoats while Tecumseh and his warriors waged a rear-guard action to slow the US advance.
The American counter-attack, led by William Henry Harrison, was a successful invasion of Upper Canada. On October 5, 1813 American forces launched a decisive assault and were victorious at the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed on the battlefield near Moraviantown in present-day Ontario. Shortly after his death the tribal leaders of Tecumseh’s grand alliance surrendered to Harrison at Fort Detroit.
Xenia has a rather lengthy history of severe storm activity. Prominent local legend says that depending on the translation, the Shawnees referred to the area as the place of the devil wind or the land of the crazy winds. Records reveal that there have been twenty tornadoes in Greene County since 1884.
On April 3, 1974 the crazy winds were nearly apocalyptic. A tornado that measured F5 on the Fujita scale struck with an obliterating intensity. It was a devil wind day in April; at least one hundred forty-eight tornadoes occurred in a twenty-four hour period across the South and Midwest. Known as the Super Outbreak, it was the worse series of tornadoes recorded in the twentieth century.
The one that sliced through the middle of Xenia hit three hundred miles per hour, creating a path of death and destruction. Thirty-three people were killed and one thousand one hundred fifty injured. The downtown section was flattened beyond recognition. More than one thousand homes and businesses were destroyed. Ten thousand people were homeless.
The city's nightmare received coverage on the national news, and President Richard Nixon, who was embroiled in a fight to rescue his presidency, took time away from Washington's Watergate intrigues to visit ground zero.
After the initial shock and mourning, the citizens of Xenia rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Incredibly, by the first anniversary of the devastation, eighty percent of the homes and forty percent of the businesses had been rebuilt.
On September 20, 2000 Xenia was hit by a F4 category tornado. One person was killed and one hundred were injured. What was eerie in the extreme was that the crazy winds followed a path roughly parallel to the 1974 tornado.
Railroads & Trails
Xenia was incorporated in 1817 and became a city in 1834. Railroads were crucial to its development; the Little Miami Railroad, running along the Little Miami River, pushed northward from Cincinnati and reached Xenia in 1845. It brought an influx of commerce and became the catalyst for industrial growth.
Progress pressed on and Xenia kept pace with all the transitions and changes. The twentieth century came and went, leaving massive transformations in its wake. In 1960, Xenia was served and dependent on three freight railroads, but today there are none. The last sections of track were abandoned and torn up in 1989.
A practical resourcefulness and vision took hold; the former Little Miami Railroad was developed into the Little Miami Scenic Trail. A rails-to-trails system stretches out in four directions from Xenia on over one hundred forty miles of paved trails that are car-free corridors. With such a web of bike trails, is it any wonder that the sign on the water tower refers to Xenia as the Bicycle Capital of the Midwest. There is always a place to ride and explore in Greene County.
- The City of Hospitality
- 1974 Tornado
- Little Miami Scenic Trail
- Greene County Historical Society
- Tecumseh! An Outdoor Drama
- Xenia Area Chamber of Commerce
- The Dayton Art Institute
- Wright State University
- Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
- National Museum of the USAF
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
- Milestones and Friends
Milestones were originally fashioned out of granite, marble or slate, and were an integral part of the Roman Empires communication network. They were placed at mile intervals along the roads, providing a frame of reference to inform or assure...