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.

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Aug 03

Death at Simms Station

Posted on August 3, 2018 at 11:50 AM by Melissa Dalton

Ambition and confidence typically are considered good qualities. These qualities provide the determination needed to succeed, however, there are times when they can lead one to do, and make, irrational decisions. This week’s blog follows a story of a man whose ambition and confidence proved to be fatal.

Fred J. Southard was born on October 22, 1879 in Pine Grove, Michigan to parents, Nathan and Letitia (Veley) Southard (Fig 1). According to newspaper articles, Southard had a “spirit of adventure” and set out on his own at a young age. Rumor was he went west and worked on farms, but then made his back to Great Lakes region and settled in North Dakota, and later moved to Minnesota. He married Alva (or Alta, but maiden name unknown) sometime in the early 1900s, and it was at this time that Southard began to excel in the business world (Fig 2).
Birth Record of Fred J. Southard, Van Buren Co, Michigan (JPG)
Fig 1. Birth Record of Fred J. Southard, Van Buren County, Michigan (

1910 U.S. Census with Fred and Alta (Alva) Southard outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 2. 1910 U.S. Census with Fred and Alta (Alva) Southard outlined in red (

Southard started his own mortgage company, F. J. Southard Mortgage, which he remained president until his death. He also was president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Minnesota, but resigned just days before his untimely demise (Fig 3). Reports indicate that he became interested in flying and aviation roughly a year or so prior to his death. He went to California to attend the Curtiss Flying School for about a month. He returned to Minnesota for a short time, but decided to continue with his aviation endeavors. Southard came to Dayton to attend the Wright Flying School at Simms Station, and purchased a Wright model biplane.

Excerpt of article from Dayton Daily News, dated May 21, 1912 (JPG)
Fig 3. Excerpt from article in Dayton Daily News dated May 21, 1912 (

Southard was eager to fly his machine, but due to the illness of Wilbur, training was delayed as Orville was caring for his brother. Worried Southard may try to fly his plane without the proper instruction, the Wright Brothers and their flying instructors did not permit him to take his airplane out alone, and even locked Southard’s plane in a hangar at Simms Station.

Southard drew weary of waiting, and on May 21, 1912, he decided he was going to take his “flying machine” for a solo flight. Early that morning, Southard broke into the hangar by removing the door from its hinges, and taxied his plane for takeoff. According to an eye witness, Southard had a smooth beginning, but shortly into the flight, the plane began to dip, and suddenly turned “turtle”, and plummeted roughly 100 feet to the ground. Southard was killed instantly (Fig 4).

Excerpt of article from Dayton Daily News, dated May 21, 1912 (JPG)
Fig 4. Excerpt from article in Dayton Daily News dated May 21, 1912 (

An inspection of the plane was completed by the mechanics and aviators at Simms Station, and it was reported that the machine was in proper working order. It was determined that the crash was due to human error and lack of experience of its pilot (Fig 5).

Death Certificate of Fred J. Southard (JPG)
Fig 5. Death Certificate of Fred J. Southard (

Southard’s body was prepared by Greene County coroners, and an inventory of personal property and effects were recorded (Fig 6). His father, Nathan Southard, retrieved the body for burial in Michigan. Newspapers claim his wife was too distraught to make the trip to Dayton, but other reports indicate they were divorced. Most interesting is that one article claims he had a love interest in Dayton in which they discussed marriage. Whatever the case, Southard left a large estate, reportedly upward of $75,000, which amounts to almost $2,000,000 today (Fig 7).

Inventory of Coroner of personal effects of Fred J. Southard (JPG)
Fig 6. Inventory of P. C. Marquart, Coroner of Greene County, of personal effects of F. J. Southard (Greene County Archives Probate Records, FB 475)

Article from Xenia Daily Gazette, dated May 22, 1912 (JPG)
Fig 7. Article from Xenia Daily Gazette dated May 22, 1912 (

In hindsight, the story of Southard was the culmination of events. Wilbur had contracted typhoid fever and was extremely ill (Fig 8). Orville was focused on caring for his brother, and the Wright Flying School and its students, were put on hold. Southard was an overly-ambitious and impatient man, unwilling to take the advice of distinguished and skilled aviators. All these taken together created the perfect storm.

Excerpt of Diaries by Bishop Milton Wright, pg 749 (JPG)Excerpt of Diaries by Bishop Milton Wright, pg 750 (JPG)
Fig 8. Excerpt from Diaries 1857-1917 by Bishop Milton Wright, p 749-750

And, this is what I love about this field and working in an Archive. All it takes is one randomly placed inventory in probate records to prompt someone to do a little bit of research and uncover a lost story.

Until Next Time…

Greene County Archives
Wright, Milton. 1999. Diaries, 1857-1917. Dayton, Ohio: Wright State University, p. 749-750.


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