The gold rush and a new school

Batavia is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and The Clermont Sun is publishing a series of historic vignettes. The late Rosanna Hoberg, author, was a columnist and reporter for The Clermont Sun. This column was published in 1964.

By Rosanna Hoberg

In most instances Batavia welcomed progress, but in some cases the citizens felt that they would like their village to remain just as it was in bygone days.

For Instance, one elderly gentleman (the father of the little boy whose childhood during the Civil War was described earlier) who lived on Main Street at the present site of the Nichols Laundromat (302 E. Main St., now the Clermont County Public Defender’s Office), objected violently when the town sought to put a telephone pole (to serve the first telephone in town) in front of his residence. Consequently, he stood in the newly-dug hole all day in a pouring rain in order to obstruct progress, but unfortunately the pole was inserted anyway, because four days later he was dead of pneumonia.

The First National Bank of Batavia, with a capital of $100,000, controlled by 11 stockholders, opened for business on March 1, 1865, in one of the offices in the long one-story building extending from the Court House to the Jail. In 1875 the bank was moved to a new building built for it, which now houses Tom’s Barber Shop (1964 reference; now Sew N Sew, 242 E. Main St.), and in January, 1906, the bank moved to the later site of Blocher’s Drug Store, where it remained until 1925, when it moved into its present building (now Chase Bank). The Clermont Building and Loan and Savings Association was organized in Batavia in 1870, with 1,000 shares of stock valued at $200 each.

For a time right after the war, excitement was created and the village became a focus point for all eyes, when gold was discovered in Elk Lick and on the lands of Colonel William Howard and R.W. Clarke, adjacent to the town itself. Hundreds came from Cincinnati, whose papers published glowing accounts of the hidden wealth which so easily might be procured. A gold mining company was formed, whose main offices were in Batavia, and where the manufacturing was to be done.

Soon the digging began, even in the village itself. The principal operations were carried on in the rear of Mrs. G.W. Griggs’s residence, and there the busy workmen were visited by thousands who were led there by curiosity or interest in the developments of the treasure field. The project lived just long enough to prove that the hills and streams around the village actually contained gold, but the quantity was so small that it would not pay the expense of mining it.

In 1870 it was written that the village had been provided with a simple apparatus for use in case of fires, but until this time an engine had not been deemed a necessary part of the outfit. No destructive conflagration had ever visited the village, and the bucket brigade was deemed sufficient.

In 1872, on April 29th, it was resolved to build a new schoolhouse that would accommodate no less than 500 pupils. The school lot was purchased from R.G. Clarke for the sum of $795, and on May 10th the contract was let for $18,800 with the school board furnishing the bricks.

The edifice rested upon a limestone foundation, procured in the neighborhood and trimmed with Ohio River free stone, presenting an almost square appearance. It was two stories high, with slate roof, surmounted by a center belfry containing a bell, weighing 700 pounds, and of most excellent tone (it still rang every school day in 1964; in 2014 it is mounted in front of the Batavia Elementary School). It had six large recitation rooms and a lecture hall 24 by 78 feet and was built to seat 400 persons. At one end was a spacious stage 18 feet wide, supplied with appropriate scenery, the donation of the Historic Society in town. This structure was later used to house just the elementary students, when a high school was built in 1914 (in 2014 the Batavia Elementary School). Later the original old building was torn down, and a new addition to the high school took place in 1936. In the year 1954, the present grade school building was erected (newer wing of 2014 structure), and at present (1964), land has been purchased in the Auxier subdividion for a proposed high school. (The first year for the new school, now Batavia Middle School, was 1966-67.)

The village, as a whole, was described about this time (the late 1800s) as “bearing a neat and inviting aspect, containing many homes whose unpretending but substantial architecture betokens comfort and enjoyment. Most of the streets are well-paved and kept orderly and on every hand appears the evidence of thrift and enterprise. In addition to the public buildings, there are Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Brethren Churches, a very handsome Union School, and various other Interests. Since the completion of the Cincinnati and Eastern Railroad, which has a station at this point, there has been a steady increase of population, and there are at present about 1000 inhabitants.”

Excerpted from History of Batavia, Ohio, 1814–1965, by Rosanna Hoberg. Some references are added to reflect 2013 circumstances.