GREENE COUNTY — While taking one last dip in the pool, munching on a perfectly cooked burger or hot dog or otherwise enjoying the unofficial last weekend of summer with a day off Monday, Sept. 3, don’t forget to thank James H. Kyle.
Born in Cedarville in 1854, Kyle was a senator from South Dakota, serving as the chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, when he became aware that several states were celebrating a day to honor workers, but there was no specific date set nationally for the purpose.
Oregon was the first to make Labor Day a public holiday in 1887.
A champion of the working man, Kyle was determined that a day should be set aside annually to honor the country’s working men and women, so he introduced Senate Bill S-730 Aug. 28, 1893.
The bill reads, “Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress, assembled, that the first Monday of September in each year, being the day celebrated and known as Labor’s Holiday is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes, in the same manner as Christmas, the first of January, the twenty-second day of February, the thirtieth of May and Fourth of July are by law made public holidays.”
After an affirmative vote of both houses of Congress, President Grover Cleveland signed the bill into law June 28, 1894, declaring Labor Day a national legal holiday. By that time, 30 states had been officially celebrating the day.
In Cedarville, you will find a sign stating that this is the home of James H. Kyle, Father of Labor Day. How the Greene County native ended up in South Dakota is quite the story.
His great-grandfather, Samuel Kyle, came to the United States in 1738, settling near Chambersburg, Pa. When Samuel Kyle Jr., decided to leave Pennsylvania, he selected Cedarville as his new home. His first wife died after the birth of their sixth child, then he married Rachel Jackson, a cousin of President Andrew Jackson and with her had 15 more children.
A staunch member of the Covenanter Church and War of 1812 veteran, he expected all 21 children to attend services regularly which included Sunday morning, afternoon and sometimes evening services. Kyle Jr., served as an associate judge of Greene County for more than 40 years, and was a well known surveyor.
One of those sons, Thomas, having returned from service in the Civil War, wanted to move away from Cedarville but was fearful of mentioning this to his rather-strict father. Eventually, however, he told his father of his desire, and Samuel agreed that if Thomas wanted to take his family elsewhere, there were enough members of the Kyle family in the area to keep the church open for generations and gave his blessing. He provided the young family with a wagon and team of fine horses to make the journey west.
Little James, who had been born on February 24, 1854 before his father fought in the war, was not anxious to leave Cedarville. This was where his family and friends were located, and to move elsewhere was not a pleasing thought to him. But his father was determined, and with his wife, James and the other children, he loaded the wagon and began the westward journey.
They settled in Urbana, Ill., where other Cedarville families had previously migrated. There was a Covenanter Church already established, and a good school.
Tom became a minister, supplementing his income by working as a surveyor, a skill he had learned from his father.
It wasn’t long before James decided he liked his new home, where he made new friends and became a very good pupil at the school. Having completed the course of studies in Urbana, he took a course in civil engineering at the University of Illinois. Then he came back to Ohio to study at Oberlin College, graduating in 1878.
Kyle he died in July 1901.
Governor Frank Lausche planted a tree in Kyle’s honor on Labor Day the very next year, and signs were placed at the entrances to the community to remind people of their native son known as “The Father of Labor Day.”
CedarFest begins 7 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31 in the Village of Cedarville with the Cedarville Fire Department pancake breakfast and runs all weekend with various family friendly events.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507. Joan Baxter contributed to this story.