History can be full of surprises and sometimes even a mystery or two. Maybe even a ghost. Greene County Historical Society has all of this and more. Its museum on Rolling Meadows Road, Waynesburg is filled with the trappings, tools, machines and artifacts donated by local families and intrepid history hunters. Visitors can time travel between the mid 1700s, through the gas and oil rich Victorian Age and even touch the museum’s crown jewel – “Waynie,” the original narrow gauge steam engine that made the last trip on the Waynesburg and Washington Railroad line in 1929, accompanied by the number six coach car that is being lovingly restored as part of the railroad exhibit.
But it’s those hundreds of indigenous artifacts on display inside – the arrowheads, clay pots, shards and stone tools, that take us back to 1925 when the historical society was born.
US Army Veteran Frank B. Jones was already an avid collector when he came home in 1906 and joined forces with Waynesburg College professor A.J. Waychoff, who had a hankering for anthropology, geology and local history. Waychoff and nephew Paul R. “Prexy” Stewart, explored the indigenous mounds in Ohio, then found traces of this ancient culture on farmland around the county. They rediscovered a segment of the 5000-year-old Warrior Trail near Nettle Hill and together with Jones founded the historical society. When its first museum and library opened in the basement of the Long Building in Waynesburg in 1925, the society had a membership of more than 200 fellow history lovers.
Over on Rolling Meadows Road, the past had another part of the story to tell. Richard Zollars reports in The History of Greene Hills, that in 1789, Barnet Rinehart (1758-1822) built the brick farmhouse that is now the oldest part of the museum’s sprawling complex of buildings, additions, sheds and barns. The farm was named Lions Bush and it’s easy to imagine the last of the big cats passing through the ravine behind the museum where Civil War battles are now fought during the annual October Harvest Festival.
In 1861, the farm was sold to the “Directors of the Poor for the County of Greene” and those with nowhere else to live worked the land to help pay their keep. Wings, outbuildings and a boiler house for better heating were added between 1886 and 1900.
The boiler house with its big chimney is now the library for the historical society’s cache of books and documents, along with family photographs and manuscripts that have been donated over the years.
The “poor farm” closed in 1965 and sat empty until the historical society seized the moment turned it into a museum in 1969.
The Harvest Festival began celebrating the past in 1973 with a crisp October weekend of spinning, weaving, butter churning, apple pressing, blacksmithing, Civil War reenactors and Native American encampments.
But there’s more to the museum and its rich Western Frontier history than one fall festival.
Throughout the year ghostbusters pilgrimage through the corridors, old rooms and deep basements where so many lost souls from the poorhouse days are said to wander. Reenactors sleep over, camp out and jump centuries, from tribal days to Civil War skirmishes.
What better way to understand the past than to live it? Come to Greene County for the Harvest Festival or just stop by for a visit and find out for yourself!
LEARN MORE about this year’s Harvest Festival.