October 15, 1966 was an auspicious day in Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. He signed the National Historic Preservation Act, which created the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of our country’s historic places that are worthy of preservation.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that event, the Ohio History Connection and more than 80 partnering organizations sponsored Ohio Open Doors. During this 10-day event in September, dozens of special programs and behind-the-scenes tours not ordinarily available were held at historic sites across the state.
One very special Ohio Open Doors event took place during the afternoon of Sunday, September 18. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, welcomed visitors to their Cedarville home.
The architectural importance of the DeWines’ home is one reason it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, but its primary significance is that it is the birthplace of Whitelaw Reid (1837-1912). Reid was the Republican Vice Presidential candidate under Benjamin Harrison in the 1892 presidential election; United States Ambassador to France from 1889 to 1892; United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s from 1905 to 1912; and editor of the New York Tribune from 1872 until his death.
Reid’s father, Robert Charlton Reid, chose to live near Xenia, the Greene County seat that was steadily growing because of the area’s success in producing corn, wheat and wool. For the site of his home, he chose a forested area that was being cleared for planting on a small country road southwest of Cedarville. Doing much of the work himself, he built the house in 1826, the year he married Marion Whitelaw Ronalds.
The two-story building had a one-story wing containing a sitting room, a dining room and a kitchen. Wood from the farm was used in the house’s construction; the floors were of made of oak, while the doors, stairs and interior woodwork were of black walnut. The first-floor rooms had large marble fireplaces, the windows had 8” by 10” glass panes, and the living room had plenty of bookcases to accommodate the couple’s love of books. Some of the Reids’ original furniture is still in the house today.
After graduating from Miami University in 1856, Reid held a variety of jobs. He was the principal of a small grade school in South Charleston, a few miles from Xenia. He also worked as an agent for a mail-order fruit tree nursery in Illinois and as a distributor for a new writing fluid. But he discovered that journalism was his true calling.
He edited the Xenia News. He traveled to Columbus, where he reported the annual session of the Ohio Legislature for the Cincinnati Times. He was city editor for the Cincinnati Gazette, then served as an aide-de-camp for the newspaper during the Civil War. He worked hard, carefully analyzing the events of the war, and gained a national reputation as a reporter. In 1868, he accepted Horace Greeley’s offer to join the staff of the New York Tribune, and took over after Greeley’s death in 1872. He adopted improvements to the printing and distribution of newspapers, such as using patented typesetting machines, the linotype machine and the typewriter.
While Reid’s journalistic career flourished, his widowed mother continued to live at their Cedarville home. He visited Cedarville often, keeping an eye on the family home. He occasionally purchased small adjoining tracts of land, and he hired locals to keep the house in good condition. A tree enthusiast, he ordered seedlings for the property, giving specific instructions on where they should be planted. Most important, he substantially remodeled and enlarged the house.
Outside, the weatherboarded structure with a tiled roof is classic Queen Anne style. Inside, the main stairway and some of the added rooms feature beautiful handcrafted paneling and other decorative elements.
For the Ohio Open Doors event, Attorney General DeWine personally welcomed visitors at the home’s original front door. Mrs. DeWine gave tours of the original downstairs portion of the home, and her husband rejoined groups to describe the subsequent additions to the home. Guests were then invited to tour a large guest house the DeWines recently built on their property. There, we saw historic photos and artifacts pertaining to Reid, as well as countless DeWine family photographs and mementos lining the walls.
Besides offering lemonade to her guests, Mrs. DeWine served lemon coconut squares and buttermilk brownies. Recipes for both sweet treats are included in the 12th edition of Fran DeWine’s Family Favorites, a printed collection of handwritten recipes with illustrations created by DeWine children and grandchildren. Guests took home a complimentary copy of the cookbook, which also includes recipes for Mrs. DeWine’s favorite rolls and the Attorney General’s favorite honey-spice cookies and raspberry pie.
For more on Reid, see The Life of Whitelaw Reid, a two-volume biography by Royal Cortissoz, and Whitelaw Reid: Journalist, Politician, Diplomat, by Bingham Duncan.
Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Her Generals, and Soldiers is Reid’s two-volume work on the history of the state during the Civil War, as well as information about Ohio’s regiments and generals during the war. It was published in 1868. Two years earlier, Reid wrote After the War: A Southern Tour, a record of what he had seen and his impressions of his trips through the South.
Reid was often requested to address various events, and the text of several of his speeches were printed. For example, see The Story of San Francisco for English Ears: Luton Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner, April 10, 1908; Our New Interests: An Address at the University of California, on Charter Day, March 23, 1900; Our New Duties: A Commencement Address at the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of Miami University, Thursday, June 15, 1899; University Tendencies in America: An Address Delivered at Leland Stanford, Jr., University, April 19, 1901; The Scot in America and the Ulster Scot: Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, Opening Address, Season of 1911-12, Synod Hall, November 1, 1911 and Some Newspaper Tendencies: An Address Delivered Before the Editorial Associations of New-York and Ohio.
During the 1870s, Reid was president of The Lotos Club of New York, a literary club. Lotos Leaves: Original Stories, Essays and Poems, a publication of the club that was edited by William Fearing Gill, includes “Some Southern Reminiscences,” an essay Reid wrote that includes recollections of the year or two that he spent on Louisiana and Alabama cotton plantations after the Civil War.
Original letters that Reid wrote to Miami University’s Board of Trustees in 1856; its president, Robert Hamilton Bishop, Jr. in 1881; and William McSurely, its librarian, in 1899 and 1903 are among the holdings of The Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University’s King Library. You can see scans of the letters and read their transcriptions in two books I edited: With Sentiments of Respect and Affection: Letters of Old Miami, 1809-1873 and There Can Never Come a Second Home Half So Sacred: Selected Documents of Miami University, 1873-1931.