Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

Jun 15

Early Yellow Springs Citizens: Henry and Mary Portman

Posted on June 15, 2018 at 1:58 PM by Melissa Dalton

Did you know that Greene County was known as an abolitionist community? Even though Ohio didn’t make it easy for freed blacks to settle, the people of Greene County were welcoming. Not only was the area known for its anti-slavery activism, but the land was great for farming and relatively inexpensive. Many slaves and freed blacks knew of this region, especially the Wilberforce/Yellow Springs area, and made their way here in hopes of starting a new life. We believe this is exactly what Henry and Mary Portman hoped for their family.

Henry Portman was born in Kentucky around 1832 and Mary Southerland (or Sutherland) was born in Kentucky as well, but almost 20 years later, around 1851; however, their exact dates of birth are unknown. Although we are not certain of the circumstances or early lives of Henry and Mary Portman, it would stand to reason that due to their place of birth, lack of knowledge of exact birth dates, and the inability to find them on prior census records, the couple were born into slavery and were most likely freed with the end of the Civil War. I haven’t had much luck finding either of Henry or Mary prior to the 1880 Census. At that time, the Portmans were living in Fairfield Township in Madison County, and had four of their children living with them (later census records indicate that they had a rather large family). On the census, Henry is identified as “M” for mulatto (archaic term for biracial), as are all their children, while Mary’s race is identified as “B” for black (Fig 1).

1880 U.S. Census with Portman family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 1. 1880 Census showing the Portmans living in Madison County (

There is another gap in the records between 1880 and 1893 (most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire in 1921). We know the Portmans moved to Greene County at some point during this time, and in 1893, Mary Portman purchased property in Yellow Springs from Eleanor C. Adams for $140 (Fig 2). We don’t have a lot number, but below is the general location of their one acre plot (Fig 3).

Deed Record 81 pg 407 for transfer of property to Mary Portman (JPG)Deed Record 81 pg 408 for transfer of property to Mary Portman (JPG)
Fig 2. Deed Record 81, pg. 407-408 (Greene County Archives)

1902 Map of Yellow Springs with location of property circled in red (JPG)
Fig 3. 1902 Map of Yellow Springs with approximate location of property circled in red (Greene County Archives)

We find the Portmans still living in Greene County in the 1900 Census, and their daughter, Viola, is living with them. Although their dates of birth are not listed, the census states that they have been married for 47 years, and that Mary and Henry had a total of sixteen children, with nine still living at the time (Fig 4).

1900 U.S. Census with the Portman family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 3. 1900 Census with the Portman family outlined in red (

Two of their children, Charles and Mary, married in the following years. Charles married Zettie Newsome, a local girl born and raised in Yellow Springs, and Mary married Albert Jones of Hamilton County, formerly of Alabama (Figs 4 & 5). Sadly, in 1904, Mary Portman died of “dropsy” (swelling/edema) at the approximate age of 53 (Fig 6) and was buried in Glen Forest Cemetery.

Marriage Record for Charles Portman and Zettie Newsome (JPG)
Fig 4. Marriage Record of Charles Portman and Zettie Newsome (

Marriage Record for Mary Portman and Albert Jones (JPG)
Fig 5. Marriage Record of Mary Portman and Albert Jones (

Death Record for Mary Portman and Zetta Ann Portman (JPG)
Fig 6. Death Record of Mary Portman and Zetta Ann Portman (Greene County Archives)

After Mary’s death, Henry stayed in their home in Yellow Springs. The 1910 Census indicates that Charles was living with him, working odd jobs, with both Henry and Charles listed as widowed (Fig 7). If you look on the death record, you’ll see that Zetta Ann Portman is listed right above Mary. She died of consumption (tuberculosis) in July 1903.

1910 U.S. Census with Portman family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 7. 1910 Census with Henry and Charles Portman outlined in red (

In January 1916, almost twelve years to the day, Henry died after a short battle with pneumonia. He was about 84 years old (Fig 8). The Yellow Springs News touted on January 28, 1916 that Henry was “one of the oldest citizens of the town.” Henry was survived by many of his children, and buried in Glen Forest Cemetery. It doesn’t appear he has a grave marker/stone, but I was able to find a grave number.

Death Certificate of Henry Portman (JPG)
Fig 8. Death Certificate of Henry H. Portman (

After Henry’s death, the family probated Mary Portman’s estate as the land and home were in her name. They sold the property, settled the debts, and the estate closed in 1919 (Fig 9).

Statement of Assets, Estate of Mary Portman (JPG)Application for Letters of Administration, Estate of Mary Portman (JPG)
Fig 9. Statement of Assets / Application for Letters of Administration for the Estate of Mary Portman (Greene County Archives)

Although we do not have a great deal of information about this couple, it’s one of those stories that should be told. This story is a great example of the hope and resolve for finding a better life for one’s family, and the lengths people go to find achieve those goals.

Until Next Time…

Greene County Archives

Jun 08

A Lifetime of Service by Amy Brickey

Posted on June 8, 2018 at 7:49 AM by Robin Heise

One of the most rewarding aspects of my internship at the Greene County Records Center and Archives is getting to know all of the people from Greene County’s past. Whether through criminal or estate records, each individual has a wonderful story to tell. Today’s story is about a rather ordinary couple who gave back to Greene County by providing extraordinary service. While processing estate records, I came across the will of Mrs. Charlotte Davidson (née Dribble). She listed no heirs, but quite a lot of personal property in her will and to whom it should go. Within the list of item recipients, however, was an unusual entry. Mrs. Davidson bequeathed a portrait of her late husband, David Davidson, to the City of Xenia, to be displayed in the Central Fire Department (Fig 1).

Fig 1: A portion of Charlotte D. Davidson's will (JPG)
Fig 1: A portion of Charlotte D. Davidson's will

A little research revealed that Mr. and Mrs. Davidson were exemplary Xenians. Mrs. Davidson was a member of the Lewis Relief Corps, a chapter of the Woman’s Relief Corps who were affiliated with the Grand Army of the Republic. According to a quote from County, 1803-1908, “An important adjunct to the G. A. R. is that of Lewis Relief Corps, comprising 67 patriotic women of the city. The work of the Woman’s Relief Corps along charitable lines deserves special mention. Lewis Corps has also placed flags in several of the public schools of the county.” The Woman’s Relief Corps was dedicated to providing aid and relief to those wounded in hospitals and Civil War battlefields. They also cared for the wives, widows, children, and orphans of veterans and soldiers who never returned. Mrs. Davidson was dedicated to this cause and appeared in several newspapers of the period. One article in the Xenia Daily Gazette from 1907 detailed how she installed new officers into the Relief Corps, and who those new officers were. Another article about Mrs. Davidson was featured in Everywoman, a Columbus magazine devoted to the women’s suffrage movement (Fig 2).

Fig 2: Tribute to Mrs. Davidson from Everywoman magazine (JPG)
Fig 2: Tribute to Mrs. Davidson from Everywoman magazine

While Mrs. Davidson was busy with the Lewis Relief Corps, Mr. Davidson kept his own busy schedule. David T. Davidson was actually Captain David T. Davidson, Company H, Ohio 94th Infantry. He enlisted for the Civil War on 23 July 1862 and was promoted from 2nd Lieutenant on 20 Feb 1863. He later resigned on 5 November 1863. The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1866 states that Company H was mustered on 24 Aug 1862 at Camp Piqua, OH. The book also lists Capt. Davidson’s service period as three years.
But Capt. Davidson’s service to Ohio was not finished. After his involvement in the Civil War, he went home and joined the Xenia Fire Department. By 1873 he had been promoted to fire chief, one year after the fire department became a regular paid department. Capt. Davidson even received praise from those who owned or worked in buildings he and his department saved from fire damage (Fig 3).

Fig 3: Praise to Capt. Davidson from the Xenia Daily Gazette (JPG)
Fig 3: Praise to Capt. Davidson from the Xenia Daily Gazette

Capt. Davidson remained Xenia’s fire chief until he retired in 1899 after almost 30 years of service. The Xenia Daily Gazette reported on Capt. Davidson’s retirement (Fig 4), while several local newspapers including the Xenia Daily Gazette, Dayton Daily News, and the Dayton Herald reported when Capt. Davidson passed on 29 Jan 1904 (Fig 5).

Fig 4: Capt. Davidson's retirement notice, Xenia Daily Gazette (JPG)     Fig 5: Capt. Davidson's death notice, The Dayton Herald (JPG)
Fig 4: Capt. Davidson's retirement notice, Xenia         Fig 5: Capt. Davidson's death notice, The Dayton
Daily Gazette                                                          Herald

The story of their work and service to Xenia, and to Ohio, however, still lives on. Xenia’s Fire Division website mentions Fire Chief Davidson and states that, in 1872, the Fire Department purchased two steamer engines for Station #1 on Cincinnati Avenue and Station #2 on S. Whiteman Street. One steamer, housed at Station #1 was named “The Victor,” while the other steamer engine, at Station #2, was named the “D. T. Davidson.” Mrs. Davidson is remembered as a national aide to the Woman’s Relief Corps in many WRC Annual Convention journals. Capt. and Mrs. Davidson now lie at rest in Xenia’s Woodland Cemetery, however, two questions remain alive: what was the “famous Xenia cracker?” And, is Capt. Davidson’s portrait still kept at the main Xenia Fire House? If anyone knows, please leave us a comment or tweet on our Facebook or Twitter accounts!

Until Next Time...

The Dayton Herald,
Xenia Daily Gazette,
Dayton Daily News,
Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1866, Vol. VII, 87th-108th Regiments – Infantry.
Greene County, 1803-1908.
Xenia Fire Division – History,
Greene County Records Center & Archives

Jun 01

The Mysterious Case of Josephine Sheley: Part 2

Posted on June 1, 2018 at 8:53 AM by Melissa Dalton

The witness statements/depositions and newspaper articles indicate just how vague the details of the events leading up to the death of Josephine Sheley really are. Several people were interviewed by the coroner – Clara Sheley (who was recalled for additional questioning), Melda Sheley, Dr. F. W. Ogan, Dr. L. M. Jones, Thomas J. Pearson Jr., Ella McLaughlin, Sarah F. Ginn, and Perry H. Sheley.

It seems the only thing everyone agreed on is that Clara Sheley went to the bank for her brother, and stopped off at the butcher and got ground beef as well. The remaining details are jumbled; stories and memories harmonize at points, while others collide. However, here’s what I’ve been able to gather.

The depositions of Clara and Perry Sheley follow the same course, for the most part. Clara went to the bank to cash a check, and stopped at the butcher shop on the way. She ordered ground beef and told Tom Pearson she would return to pick up the meat after she finished up at the bank. She got the check cashed, went back to the butcher shop, got the meat that was waiting for her, and was met by her brother outside, at which point she gave him the meat, and they parted ways. This is where the stories diverged. Perry claimed Clara bought the meat without being asked, although Clara claimed Perry told her to buy it. Additionally, Perry stated he went back to the McLaughlin house to pick up a dress and apron, but Clara said that was done the day before (Figs 1 & 2).

Excerpt of Deposition of Clara Sheley (JPG)
Fig 1. Excerpt of Deposition of Clara Sheley (Greene County Archives)

Excerpt of Deposition of Perry Sheley (JPG)
Fig 2. Excerpt of Deposition of Perry Sheley (Greene County Archives)

Melda Sheley was questioned more about the events at home and the preparation of the meat. She did admit to preparing the meat for dinner, adding the usual ingredients, but noted that there was something that looked like pepper in the meat. She claimed that the meat caused their mouths to feel like it was on fire after eating some of it. Josephine told the children to stop eating it because she believed it was “poisoned”. Melda stated that most were ill for a day or so, but Perry and their mother were the worst. Perry remained ill for three or four days, and her mother seemed better after a few days, but then got worse. Melda was asked if they kept poison around, and if her mother ate more than the rest. She declared neither were true, and when asked if her mother exclaimed that Tom Pearson poisoned them, and she responded that she never heard her mother make such a claim, but others stated she did (but who those others were was not asked) (Fig 3).

Excerpt of Deposition of Melda Sheley (JPG)
Fig 3. Excerpt of Deposition of Melda Sheley (Greene County Archives)

The depositions of Ella McLaughlin and Sarah Ginn were the most at odds with Clara’s. Both women explained that they recalled Clara bringing the meat back to the house, and then giving it to her brother later. Additionally, McLaughlin claimed that there was “rough for rats” missing from their shed and neither she nor her husband knew what happened to it (Figs 4 & 5).

Excerpt of Deposition of Ella McLaughlin (JPG)
Fig 4. Excerpt of Deposition of Ella McLaughlin (Greene County Archives)

Excerpt of Deposition of Sarah Ginn (JPG)
Fig 5. Excerpt of Deposition of Sarah Ginn (Greene County Archives)

The last deposition of consequence was that of Tom Pearson. He verified that Clara came in, went to the bank, and then returned to pick up the meat. However, he claimed that he never asked who the meat was for, while Clara stated otherwise and that she told Pearson it was for her family (including her mother). He did admit to a dispute over a bill, and confronting Josephine (who outright refused to pay the bill), but was not asked to elaborate on said dispute (Fig 6).

Excerpt of Deposition of Tom Pearson (JPG)
Fig 6. Excerpt of Deposition of Tom Pearson (Greene County Archives)

On August 25, 1893, the coroner filed his findings (Fig 7). He determined that Josephine was poisoned, and Clara was the main suspect. He further recommended that the prosecution investigate the matter. Newspaper articles claim the stomach of Josephine Sheley was sent to Cincinnati for examination, but I have been unable to find any information about the results of such testing (Fig 8). Furthermore, our records indicate that no criminal case was ever filed against Clara Sheley, or anyone else for that matter. Various articles do specify guardianships and such (Fig 9), and there was a case filed against Clara and her siblings by a John Bailey, for partition of the family land (Fig 10). Each child, and Mr. Bailey, were guaranteed a share, and he was granted his portion, while the others requested the land stay together for the benefit of the children. Other than that, I couldn’t find much besides marriage and death announcements.

Coroner's Findings, filed August 25, 1893 (JPG)
Fig 7. Coroner’s Finding, filed August 25, 1893 (Greene County Archives)

Article from the Cincinnati Enquirer dated August 23, 1893 (JPG)
Fig 8. Article from The Cincinnati Enquirer dated August 22, 1893 (

Notice in Xenia Daily Gazette, dated August 23, 1893 (JPG)
Fig 9. Notice in Xenia Daily Gazette regarding guardianship of Melda Sheley, dated August 23, 1893 (

Notice in Xenia Daily Gazette, dated November 14, 1893 (JPG)
Fig 10. Notice in Xenia Daily Gazette of transfer of land to John Bailey, dated November 14, 1893 (

Shortly after her mother’s death, Clara moved to Fayette County, Ohio. It was there that she met her future husband, Harry C. Loveless, and they married on October 20, 1896 (Fig 11). Sometime before 1900, Clara and Harry moved back to Silver Creek Township, along with their two young children, and Harry worked as a farmer for many years (Figs 12 & 13). However, Clara and Harry moved to Xenia sometime before the 1920 Census (Fig 14). Clara, however, contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and died in 1924 at the age of 49 (Fig 15).

1896 Marriage Record for Clara & Harry (JPG)
Fig 11. Marriage Record of Clara B Sheley and Harry C. Loveless (

1900 U.S. Census (JPG)
Fig 12. 1900 Census (

1910 U.S. Census (JPG)
Fig 13. 1910 Census (

1920 U.S. Census (JPG)
Fig 14. 1920 Census (

Death Certificate for Clara Loveless (JPG)
Fig 15. Death Certificate of Clara B. Loveless (

So the question remains. What happened to Josephine Sheley? Was it murder? Was it suicide? Was it just an unfortunate accident? We may never know.


Greene County Archives