W.E. Smith Legacy Preserves History Here and Nearby with Round of Grants

By Julia Arwine

A charitable trust with its origins in Oxford is helping to preserve history throughout Southwestern Ohio.

The W.E. Smith Charitable Trust distributes grant money each year to organizations with historical projects in the counties of Butler, Warren, Preble and Hamilton.

The trust was started by the estate of Ophia Smith, who wrote books on Oxford’s history, and is named after her husband William E. Smith, who was the chair of the history department at Miami University and the first director of the McGuffey Museum.

In the latest round of funding, 12 organizations received a total of more than $23,000. Individual grants ranged in amount from anywhere between $250 to $6,000, said Dick Sollmann, chair of the Smith trust’s advisory board.

The largest grant, of $6,000, went to the Lewisburg Historical Society for the publication of a book about the history of the area, in honor of Lewisburg’s bicentennial that happened last year. The book will detail the history of various businesses and landmarks and publish hundreds of historical photos, many of which were preserved only on microfilm.

“It’s going to be jam-packed with the history of our town,” said Brian Barnes, the main author and researcher of the book.

Barnes estimated that it will come out to be around 500 pages, and is hoping to have the book ready for publishing and purchase this coming spring.

Another large grant went to the Over-the-Rhine Museum in Cincinnati, which requested $3,000 to develop a walking tour program. The money received from the grant will go towards hiring a tour writer and project administrator for the program, which will include two tours centered around tenement life in the historic Cincinnati neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, and at least three specialty tours about women’s history, African-American history and union and labor activism history in the area, said Anne Delano Steinert, board chair of the museum.

“It will help the museum educate people about Over-the-Rhine using physical places,” Steinert said.

The Butler County Historical Society received a cumulative amount of about $2,200 for two projects: $1,000 for the construction of a World War II exhibit about Butler County’s veterans and war effort on the home front — set to open to the public on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 5 — and approximately $1,200 for a camera to help digitally inventory the collection at the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in Hamilton, and for the construction of a Vietnam War exhibit.

“Smith [Trust] is probably one of our best supporters,” said Kathy Creighton, the society’s executive director.

Another grant went to the Friends of Chrisholm Historic Farmstead, to fund part of the organization’s upcoming bicentennial celebration of the settlement of the Amish community in Butler County, which has since developed into the Mennonite community. The celebration, scheduled for June 22, will take place at the Chrisholm MetroPark Farmstead and will be free and open to the public. The Smith grant money will go toward transporting and housing four Amish leaders from Holmes County to speak at the celebration, and toward the making of a short film about the people who started the Friends of Chrisholm and the Chrisholm Farmstead, said the group’s president, Anne Jantzen.

“We want to bring the community together and use it as an opportunity to introduce the community to the Amish settlement of Butler County, because it’s a gem that hasn’t been discovered yet,” Jantzen said.

A smaller grant of about $680 went to the Historic Southwest Ohio Heritage Village to install blackout curtains in the upper window of the nineteenth-century Vorhes House, to protect the archival materials stored on the house’s upper floor, said Executive Director Bill Dichtl.

The trust also funded the updating and reprinting of a booklet about Butler County history at the Smith Library of Regional History in Oxford, a library that is part of the Lane Library system and was both named after and founded by the same Smiths who started the trust.

Other grant recipients are:

  • Hamilton Heritage Hall, to support the “Prohibition and Temperance Movement” exhibit.
  • Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, for the painting of a mural in Oxford depicting the history of race in the community.
  • Historic Hamilton, Inc., for educational and promotional materials for Hamilton’s Historic Log House.
  • Friends of Whitewater Shaker Village, Inc., in support of a public address system.
  • Middletown Historical Society, for display and exhibit lighting.