Finneytown Origin and First Families: “Finneytown, A Town of the Mind”
By: David Bean
It is on the maps. People all over the area can find it, but few people know its secret. Finneytown isn’t a town at all. All that legally exists of Finneytown is a local school district. The image of a town is a mirage. Though the area is simply a neighborhood of Springfield Township it is, to its residents, much more. In the minds of most who live here it is a community, which has a long and storied past. From the time of the Hopewell Indians it has been a place of residence. Today it is viewed as a residential neighborhood with its center at the crossing of Winton and Galbraith Roads. For most of the two hundred years since the Battle of Fallen Timbers it has been a small rural agricultural community peacefully located on the hilltop above the Millcreek. Its center at the intersection of Northbend and Winton.
On the first day of April 1795, an 87-year-old preacher purchased a Section of land (640 acres) from John Cleves Symmes for $426 and 2/3 located in Township #3 (Springfield). It is with this purchase that the story of Finneytown begins. The old Preacher, Rev. Ebenezer Ward, was traveling through the area and visiting his friend, Rev. John Smith (who later would become one of Ohio’s first two Senators), at the settlement of Columbia. A few months later the Reverend David Barrows who was on his way to the signing of the Treaty of Greenville reported the preacher quite ill. Reverend Barrows helped the dying man write his Last Will and Testament (June 18,1795). In it Rev. Ward left his wife Phoebe all the household possessions they had shared (cooking pots, sidesaddles, etc.).
The section of land just purchased; he left to his namesake grandson, Ebenezer Ward Finney. Finney had been orphaned at the age of 5 and had grown up in his grandfather’s home. He was, in 1795, 41 years old, a husband, a father of 4, a successful farmer in Rensselaer County, New York, and a Revolutionary War veteran. Finney could trace his ancestry back to Peter Finney who died in Greenwich England in1620 Peter’s widow, “Mother Finney” emigrated with three children in 1631 coming to Plymouth in Massachusetts Bay Colony.
After learning of his inheritance and after the crops were in, Finney traveled the frontier in the winter of 1798 to inspect the land. What he found had been called the “Miami Slaughterhouse” by residents of the Kentucky settlement called “Limestone” (now Maysville)until Wayne’s victory three years before. It was a heavily wooded hillside and valley close to the Millcreek River, not far from the Ludlow Station (one of the early blockhouses). A wagon road crossed the north edge of his land (The North Bend to Carthage Trace… today known as Northbend Road). An Indian trail bisected his land north to south and the General Quarter Sessions for Hamilton County had just agreed to widen the path from Goudy’s Mill northward to Winton’s Plantation. (Which was located somewhere near the current Winton Woods High School). There were other neighbors in the area. Col. Oliver Spencer had started a farm in 1795 near the current Finneytown High School. Isaac Spinning settled near the present St. Nicholas Greek Church and the McCash family who lived near present day St. Bartholomew Church. He returned to New York and set about selling his farm. When he returned in 1800 he led a party of 14 which included his wife Rachel, their children Abby, Betsy, John, and their oldest daughter Lois and her husband David Sprong and their 3 sons. (Lois and David would eventually produce 11 sons). Rachel’s brother Samuel Raymond, his wife and two daughters. They arrived on the muddy landing at Cincinnati on a flatboat after negotiating the Ohio from Pittsburgh along with their wagons, oxen, and household possessions in September 1800. They made an unusual party because there were so many women and small children in the group.
Rev. John Smith was executor of Rev. Ward’s will and instructed to solve a conflicting claim to the land In exchange he was given the Northwest quarter of the section which he later sold. Brother- in- law Sam Raymond and Son- in -law David Sprong each bought 80 acres at the bottom of the hill (today’s Wooden Shoe Hollow and Winton Terrace). The Southwest corner of the section was sold to David Gray ( Gray Road) Ebenezer Finney himself kept the Northeast corner, a hilltop location for his farmstead located near the intersection of the Northbend to Cartage road and the road to Winton’s Plantation. Finney, faithful to the upbringing in a preacher’s home, donated a plot of land for the construction of a small church of the New Light order and not far away gave the Township Trustees 1/2 acre of land to be used as a Public Cemetery. It is known now of course as God’s Half Acre
The 1/2-acre included a mound, which was thought to be a burial mound of the earlier Hopewell tribe. The small cemetery remains today (though somewhat overgrown and in need of care) next to the Winton Road water reservoir. Buried here are the remains of some 59 early pioneers. There are numerous burials of infants who did not survive the first year and one mother and daughter who both died in birth. The average age at death was 41, but 60 % of the burials were of people under the age of 20. However it appears if you made it to adulthood long lives could be expected as about 38% of the burials were of people over 60. The largest number of burials occurred between 1835 and 1850, which coincides with outbreaks of cholera in the county. There are three Revolutionary War Veterans here ( E.B. Finney, John Dodson and David Sprong). Five veterans of the War of 1812 are here as well.
Rachel Finney died at 66 years of age in 1821 and Ebenezer followed her the next year at age 67. The last adult from the original pioneer group to die was Samuel Raymond who passed away at 87 years in 1861. The last burial was 86 year old Mary Bruen (1882).
Samuel Raymond sold his farm at the bottom of the hill to William Cummings and moved to the intersection of the Road to Winton’s Plantation and the Northbend to Carthage road in 1803 building his home and blacksmith shop there and that gave rise to the development of the economic community. Four of his descendants would follow in the trade and the shop would remain until the 20th century.
A school was started in the basement of the Church (much needed as the census of 1800 showed that 3 out of 5 persons in Hamilton Co. were under the age of 16) with a school marm hired by the local citizens instead of a school master. They must have chosen well because a story has been passed down about a young boy who carried his lunch pail to school and placed it on the windowsill beside his desk, a neighbors hog came by and rooted the pail out the window. The school marm showed great wisdom in face of crisis and dismissed the entire class to pursue the renegade and save as much as possible of the lad’s lunch. That seems to me to be a great form of physical education. The first building to be used exclusively as a school was built in 1860. Where kids went to school between the demise of the New Light Church and this one room school is unknown. William Cummings built the frame structure (or was it log?) on a foundation of bricks fired locally. At one point over 60 children were served by this one room structure. In 1875 a new frame building was constructed and enlarged in 1880 to two rooms.
In 1905 A petition was filed to create Special District School #10 and the first Board of Education was elected. It included Barney Sprong (a grandson of David Sprong, husband of Ebenezer Finney’s daughter Lois) as Treasurer. Two teachers were employed, Mr. T.G. McCalmont ($750) and Miss Menerva Harris ($500). Miss Harris remained at the school for 27 years. A new brick structure of two rooms a gymnasium/auditorium and basement lunchroom and furnace room were built in 1915. That structure is of course surrounded by many additions and still serves as the heart of today’s Whitaker Elementary that you all made famous (or infamous as the case may be.) Do any of you remember the “Sauerkraut dinners” which served as a major fundraiser in those days? The meat was butchered locally and the ladies of the Finneytown Social Club (precursor of the PTA stuffed the sausage casings and made their own Kraut. Reportedly Mr. Wright then the Principal, took part in this preparation as part of his community relations program.
Tremendous change occurred around the hilltop community during these early years. Four years after Finney’s party arrived, not only were there enough people to create a county but enough to allow Ohio to become a state (with Rev. Smith being elected one of the two State Senators) After the burning of Washington in the War of 1812, a Bill was passed by the House of Representatives to make it the National Capital.
Cincinnati became a major river port and came to be known as the Queen City of the West. Proctor and Gamble parlayed $7500.00 and pig fat into floating soap millions. The Civil War raged and John Morgan and his raiders scared everyone from Harrison to Lockland with a raid through the northern part of the county. One local resident reportedly moved his prize mare into the living room and drew the drapes as word of the raid spread. (It may be that the horse owner or storyteller also had a lot of the wooden matches that were sold at the tavern, which would be known as the Finneytown Inn. If you do not know that story, check with Tom Whitaker as I understand that is where he got his early training.)
The Roeblings built their bridge across the Ohio then moved on to Brooklyn. The Century turned, Doughboys marched off to war in Europe and truck farms began to appear in Wooden Shoe hollow where Sam Raymond had originally settled. Autos appeared and the roads changed from dirt to gravel but still churned into dust in the summer or mud and frozen ruts in the winter. The township finally paved Winton in 1926.
In 1930 the Depression had begun and a new face appeared in Finneytown belonging to a man who was to direct the schools through a most remarkable period.
There were 50 families in Finneytown and 41 children attending District School #10 when Telford Whitaker was hired to serve as teacher and acting principal. The children went to the local school until they completed the 8th grade and then went as tuition students to Mt. Healthy, or Hughes, or Wyoming. Following the second world war a remarkable transition occurred.
Between 1948 and 1958 the school population increased by 368%. Suddenly the sleepy agricultural region was jarred by the return of veterans with the GI Bill, a baby boom and industry in the Valley that was desperately trying to satisfy the demand for consumer goods that had been postponed by the war.
Farms gave way to subdivisions. Fields became shopping centers and new shops appeared daily. During this 10-year period the residents were presented with 9 tax levies and bond issues as the school district struggled to keep up. Finneytown School had addition after addition added but it still wasn’t enough. In 1953 the State of Ohio passed a law saying any school district not operating a K-12 program would have to merge with another which did have such organization.
As you well know Finneytowners went off to Mt. Healthy, or Wyoming or Hughes after the 8th grade. After protracted discussion a decision was reached in 1955 that a high school should be built and a bond issue was passed to buy land for it and again expand the elementary building. Because of limited bonding power the new secondary campus was built in stages and by the time the school was partly ready in 1958, the first class of Finneytown 9th grade students populated the classrooms and site also hosted grade school students as well.
By 1959 the population of the district was 8194 and forty-four percent were under the age of 19. The pressure was finally reduced when Cottonwood School opened in 1962 and all elementary students were housed in elementary buildings. The first graduating class marched proudly to its ceremony following the Superintendent and Class Sponsor, Telford Whitaker.
A Bond issue provided for third elementary school (Brent) in 1964. Telford Whitaker retired in 1965 two years after hiring me and that probably meant he had seen enough. Just think, he supervised the growth of a school with 41 kids and two rooms to over 3000 and 4 school sites. The peak enrollment was 3200 in 1967 – 1968 and the largest class graduated in 1976 with 301 members.
Just 10 years later the class of 1986 graduated with just 149 members. Brent school was leased to the Township. Your building, now known as Whitaker Elementary was recognized as one to the top elementary schools in the state and was named the Elementary Hall of Fame in 1986.
A second growth spurt has occurred in the community and it has become necessary to reopen Brent School. In fact it was necessary to hold Kindergarten classes at the secondary site for two years until Brent became available again. Additions have been made at Brent School, Whitaker School, and the Secondary Schools in 1999.
While the schools and suburban community of today is different than the agrarian nature of its first 150 years the residents seem to share many of the same values as those early residents. Most are hardworking practical people who see quality education for their children as the best way for them to succeed and that education is a good investment even if it means sacrifice.
The people of today are also people who put down roots and who have made a commitment to one another that they will do what is necessary to pass on a little better place to their children. These are people who know and love. They are the ones who make Finneytown, A Town of the Mind.
The above has been extrapolated and borrowed from many sources including oral histories conducted by community residents, scout groups, women’s clubs, school officials and historical records by David Bean a teacher (retired) from Finneytown High School. He is currently working on an expanded version of this article.