April 17, 2003
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Yellow Springs, then and now
Three months and 80 years into the News’s yearlong project examining the last 200 years of local history, some themes are becoming clear. A picture is emerging that shows that today Yellow Springs, in some ways, is much like it was 150 years ago.
One of the fascinating things the project has shown is the influence individuals or groups have had in shaping the town, and in some cases, history. William Mills, for instance, helped found the village of Yellow Springs and bring Antioch College here. He also brought the railroad to town, luring it from its original path through Clifton. As the first president of Antioch, Horace Mann helped get Antioch off the ground and championed the college’s co-educational philosophy.
During the Civil War, Moncure D. Conway, a minister and abolitionist, brought his family’s slaves to Yellow Springs, where they could experience freedom. Two of those former slaves, Dunmore and Eliza Gwinn, appear to have prospered here and become prominent residents, helping to start with other members of the Conway Colony the Anti-Slavery Church, which today is the First Baptist Church. Olympia Brown, a member of Antioch’s Class of 1860, became a Universalist minister and a key figure in the women’s suffrage movement. Then there’s Wheeling Gaunt, who bought himself out of slavery, moved to Yellow Springs in the 1860s and later bequeathed to the Village what today is Gaunt Park.
There were also the oddballs and dreamers: the Owenites, a commune of about 100 families that lived in Yellow Springs for a year in the 1820s; Marion Ross, the Antioch student who participated in the celebrated locomotive chase “Andrew’s Raid” during the Civil War; Hugh Taylor Birch, who dropped out of Antioch, became successful and wealthy and eventually donated Glen Helen to Antioch.
Between 1803 and 1883, Yellow Springs was slowly becoming a community. A downtown filled with shops was growing and was starting to serve as a focal point of life. Organizations and clubs were forming. Like today, the village relied on the tourists, or visitors, who would travel to town to stay in the spas and resorts that were built around the Yellow Spring and in the Glen. The tourist trade as well as the village’s commercial sector was influenced by the railroad that connected Yellow Springs to major cities around the Midwest and East Coast.
The story of the Conway Colony shows that Yellow Springs was an accepting place nearly 150 years ago. Though it struggled financially, Antioch was at the forefront of providing equal education to men and women.
From the time Lewis Davis first came to Yellow Springs in 1803, people and organizations, businesses and institutions, have stepped forward to make this village the place that it is today. Many continue to be remembered, and honored. This community has much experience to draw upon as we enter a third century of challenges and celebrations.

—Robert Mihalek