John Wallach was the director of the Greene County Library when he approached long-time staff member, Louise Hutchison, assistant reference librarian in April, 1971 about gathering into one area the materials which reflected Greene County history.
Louise was a native of Greene County and as such, had a great deal of personal knowledge about the county. This proved to be an excellent decision. Hutchison was most eager to begin the work and with a couple of bookshelves and a tiny corner in the basement of the Carnegie Library building, the Greene County “Corner” was established.
A microfilm reader was essential to view U.S. census reports for the county along with prior issues of the Xenia Gazette and its predecessors, the Torchlight and the People’s Press.
One could also see city directories, county histories, and a roster of soldiers from the War of 1812 and Civil War letters along with other letters and documents of local interest.
A collection of works by local authors was available along with records from Woodland, Stevenson, and other cemeteries in the county.
The “corner” had only been in operation a few days when a visitor working on a doctorate in architecture asked who designed the Court House. Louise was able to provide the information for him.
She was very excited about the prospect of gathering more materials related to the county and asked residents to provide any material they might like to share. She solicited assistance for local genealogists, who were more than happy to provide information for the files.
Soon, the two shelves were not adequate for the assembled materials so the “corner” began to expand into the basement. The two-shelf space became a whole wall. Some genealogy books were purchased with library funds while other materials were donated.
Precious documents and other materials held by families were often copied and filed for future reference.
As the collection expanded, Louise needed some help keeping the materials properly managed and thus began a volunteer program which was of great benefit, since she was only allowed to spend a limited number of her working hours on the project.
The City of Xenia issued a proclamation on March 28, 1974 which in part read: “Whereas, our heritage is significant to our wellbeing and future; and whereas April 7th will be the third anniversary of the establishment of the Greene County Room at the Greene County District Library … Therefore, I William L. Wilson, Mayor of the City of Xenia, do hereby proclaim the first week of April, 1974 as “GREENE COUNTIY HISTORY WEEK”.
Plans were to have an open house at the library, specifically showing off the history collection. Obviously, the week was not celebrated as planned.
Immediately following the April 3, 1974 tornado, the library was closed. The staff worked tirelessly to get the building reopened. Amazingly enough, the building was opened to the public on April 30, just 17 days after the tornado. The roof was patched and the previous glass windows were now plastic, but patrons could once again visit. The library was open.
Immediately, Hutchison on behalf of the Greene County Room began asking for tornado-related materials. Newspapers telling of the event were collected, not only from local sources, but from far away. People were asked to record their recollections of that day for future generations, and photographs were welcomed.
Soon residents were providing personal memories of the event which were carefully catalogued by a Wright State University student.
Visitors from a number of other states began to come to research family histories and the collection continued to grow.
Following the tornado, the Spirit of 74 Committee was made up of a group of citizens interested in rebuilding Xenia. In June 1975 a report was made to that committee about the possibility of a new, larger public library in the block bounded by North Detroit, East Market, North Whiteman and East Church streets. It was planned that the block, anchored by City Hall, could be used for public facilities.
In time, the plans were drawn, the building constructed, and the Greene County District Library re-opened. Louise was very happy to have a large room dedicated to preserving local history. Gone were the days when a few books were stored on a single shelf. Now a large room, filled with tables and chairs for research, microfilm readers, file cabinets, and drawers designed to hold obituaries were available.
When it became time for Hutchison to retire, the search for a replacement did not take long. Julie Overton of Yellow Springs had been a frequent volunteer and was a qualified genealogist, familiar with Greene County history so she became the new coordinator. Under her direction, the collection continued to expand. Histories of other nearby counties along with information about other states where Greene County settlers had previously lived was available.
Julie wrote a weekly column for the Gazette called “Library Lights,” sharing information about the county often highlighting some portion of the collections in the Greene County Room such as information available on microfiche and microfilm. Included in this collection were census indexes for a number of states and even Canada.
Julie resigned because of ill health and a new coordinator was selected. Deanna Ulvestad is the capable coordinator, who oversees a staff ready to assist with all phases of Greene County history.
Remembering Julie Overton
Julie Overton was born in the United States, then attended high school in Holland, where she had relatives. Returning to the U.S. for college, she met her husband, Ralph. They raised three children. Julie was interested in local history and when someone living a distance away asked for information about a relative, she took a picture of the tombstone, found a copy of the obit, and became a genealogist. She directed the Greene County Room for several years until her untimely death. She often startled people she met by saying “Good morning” no matter what the hour of the day was. She said it got their attention.
— Joan Baxter
Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.