Take a visit to John Bryan


Joan Baxter



Ohio is fortunate to have a number of wonderful state parks, each with its own particular themes of interest.

One of the nicest of those state parks in located right here in Greene County not far from Yellow Springs, officially known as John Bryan State Park.

There are many miles of paved roads throughout the park along with a wide variety of hiking trails; some more challenging than others, depending on your particular interests. Bicycles are always welcome as well. Anywhere in the county you can get on one of the fine bike trails and ride to the park. The trails are well-maintained.

Each season at the park brings particular delights with the abundant wild flowers and the number and variety of trees and of course, if you love watching birds, you are in luck.

The 752 acre park hosts an amazing bit of scenery including the Clifton Gorge with the Little Miami River running through it. The Little Miami was the first scenic river to be designated as such in the country.

Sights and sounds abound in the park and picnic tables are available if you want to take along your lunch.

Like so many other places with names, we often take the name of the park for granted. Did you know that there was actually a man named John Bryan and the park is named for him?

If you have heard anything about the man, you probably have heard that he was wealthy, very eccentric and a self-declared atheist who lived in Greene County near Yellow Springs.

So who was this fellow who protected the land to the degree that no living tree was even chopped down while he was alive?

Many years ago, Carl E. Smith was a student at Antioch College. He knew that Bryan was an atheist and therefore would not be in church on a Sunday morning. As a rash young student, he made the decision to walk across the fields and pay a visit to this strange man about whom he had heard.

Smith arrived at the front door and knocked. He was admitted and chatted for while with the tycoon who seemed to enjoy the visit from the young man. Smith was shown about the house which was quite a magnificent structure. Bryan was particularly pleased to note that he had indoor plumbing in the house and in fact a large bathroom featured two commodes.

Many years later, when Smith told the story, he was most amused to note that Bryan pointed with pride to the chips on the plaster and on the mantle where his wife, in a fit of anger, threw dishes at him.

Smith remembered that as he was leaving, Bryan stated that usually he would have presented his guest with one of the books he had authored but had none on hand at that time. In addition, he remonstrated that should Smith want to visit again, he should bring several people with him, since he (Bryan) liked an audience when he spoke.

Eccentric probably does not define the man well. He was a shrewd businessman having a major interest in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. He made a fortune on his business ventures.

He liked to write fables which he had published in a book. Some scholars who read his fables compared them favorably with Aesop. Bryan never sold his books or allowed them to be sold. He preferred to give away his publications. He offered to donate one of his publications to Antioch College for the library.

At that time, the college was church-affiliated and knowing that Bryan was an atheist, politely reused the offer of the book. It was probably not a good move since the man was so wealthy, but the administrators stood their ground.

Not surprisingly, Bryan was very angry at the rebuff. He vowed to put the college out of business forever. He began to purchase land in the area acre by acre until he had purchased considerable land which abutted the Antioch property. Perhaps he would have continued his mission, but he died before he could purchase any of the school property.

Upon his death, his will was read and in it he donated his entire property to the State of Ohio to be used as a park with the provision that no religious services could ever be held on the property. The state legislature was stymied. Obviously this would make a wonderful park for the people in the area, but the stipulation of no religious services gave some halt to the acceptance.

Finally, someone put forth the fact that the U. S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and so the gift was accepted with pleasure and today, people from all over the state enjoy the park and its amenities.

Bryan had money and enjoyed spending it where it was noticed. He had the distinction of having constructed the largest barn in the world. Later the Russians said they had one larger, but there was no proof.

The barn, which is no longer standing, was visible for miles. The interior had a system of pens and gates devised to allow the cattle to be turned from side to the other side. In the haymow, there was an area large enough to turn a four-horse team with a load of hay. Whether he actually ever used the barn is a matter of speculation, but it certainly was an interesting sight.

Bryan was also instrumental in getting the train to come to Yellow Springs. He was a rather strange man, but one who was concerned about conservation of nature’s bounty.

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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.