Many of the very early settlers were Christians, and desired to have church services on a regular basis. Rev. Robert Armstrong, a Presbyterian minister preaching in Kentucky, was invited to Greene County to preach a few sermons. The folks liked him and asked if he would consider moving to Ohio. He had concerns about the slavery issue in Kentucky and so agreed to move provided that some of his parishioners would be able to purchase land here as well.
The agreement was finally made through the church that he would be assigned in Greene County. He bought property near Goes Station and began to preach in the home of James Galloway, Sr. Rev. Armstrong has the distinction of performing the first marriage in Greene County. In 1805 he united Martha Townsley with James Galloway Jr. at the bride’s family home.
He preached for two congregations, one at the Massie’s Creek site, the other was on Caesar’s Creek. Massie’s Creek was closer to his place of residence, being about three or four miles away, a distance he preferred to walk. The river was between his home and the church and when the water was too high he used a pair of stilts to get across. It was reported that some boys tried to emulate the pastor, but would up with wet clothing,
The first structure used for the church was a house built in 1800 by George Galloway. The house was built with logs and weather-boarded. It featured two large stone chimneys. This structure served the congregation through the winter of 1804-05.
Dill’s History of Greene County has the following information. Subsequently, a church was built on a lot of three acres donated by Mr. James Stevenson for church and cemetery purposes. The building was 30 feet square, and built of peeled hickory logs, and had neither loft, nor floor, save mother earth. In it were neither stoves nor chimneys. There was but one door, and it was in the center of one end of the house. From the door there was an aisle that ran to the foundation of the pulpit, in the center of the other end of the house.
This edifice was on the north bank of Massie’s Creek, about four miles from where it empties into the Little Miami River. Men and women would walk or ride on horseback from two to 12 miles, and sometimes 15 miles, to this house, and sit without fire in the coldest weather and hear two sermons”
This structure was in use until about 1812, perhaps 1813 when a larger and more comfortable house of worship was constructed of hewed logs not far from the first church.
Responsibilities were divided among the parishioners for the new building. Rev. Armstrong was to provide a gallon of whiskey while Squire George Galloway was to haul the logs to the site using a team of oxen. He was unable to control the animals, and so hired someone else to drive them who maintained that the only way to get the animals to move was to swear at them. Since profanity was against the law (and the laws of the church) the man was fined 50 cents for his “crime.”
In 1827, the congregation moved to another location, but the cemetery continued to be used.
Many of those earliest settlers were soldiers of the Revolutionary War having settled in Greene County. Some were here utilizing the land grants offered to soldiers while others came to avoid the slavery issue in the southern states.
The Stevenson Cemetery is one of the oldest in the county. Rev. Armstrong is buried there along with perhaps as many as 21 soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Seventeen soldiers have been previously identified, and recent studies indicate there are more not previously identified. Thirty seven Soldiers from the War of 1812 and eighteen Civil War veterans along with several World War One and Two veterans as well as those from more recent conflicts are at rest in that cemetery.
The church no longer stands, and little evidence of its previous location remains, however, the sacred site is well-maintained. Unfortunately, over the years, time has taken its toll on some of the grave markers. Some were made from soft stone so that names are difficult to read due to age and weathering.
The Cedar Cliff Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution has made this cemetery a special project for many years. In 1931, an imposing gateway of colored stones was placed at the entry. Inscription on one pillar states that the D. A. R. erected them, the other has the name of James Stevenson, the donor of the site. The cost was $188. In 1975, a large stone which bears a bronze plaque giving the names of seventeen of the Revolutionary War soldiers was dedicated. Another plaque will be placed in honor of those recently discovered Revolutionary War graves.
Cedar Cliff D.A.R. has received from the National Association a grant which has been matched by the Xenia Township Trustees to restore as many of the grave stones as possible. This will be a hands-on project for the ladies and their helpers during the summer months as they prepare to restore 58 grave stones by July 3.
The early pioneers came to Greene County for many reasons, but it seems they all agreed that a place of worship and a good minister were important. And then as one by one, as those settlers passed away, it was comforting to have a proper place to bury their loved ones.
Again this year, Memorial Day services will be held at the cemetery at 11 a.m. Bob Ford will be the guest speaker and this year, the soldiers of the Civil War buried there will be especially recognized. Anyone who would like to visit this historical spot and learn more about those who helped form this county will be welcome.
Joan Baxter is a county resident and long-time historical columnist.