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Posted on June 4, 2021 at 9:03 AM by Melissa Dalton
Our next Greene County VIP is John Bryan. I’m sure many of you know the name, but less is known about the man. He was a private individual, but when he had a point to be made, he wasn’t shy about making his opinion known. However, he is mostly widely known for the bequeath of his property, Riverside Farm, to the state of Ohio. We now know that property as John Bryan State Park.
John Bryan was born on August 18, 1853 in Auglaize County, Ohio to John and Minerva Besse Bryan. Bryan grew up to be quite the inventor, and when recognizing a tool, device, or appliance (especially electrical) didn’t meet his needs, he would rework and reinvent. While living in New York, Bryan made a great deal of his fortune through his inventions, although it is said that he never patented anything himself. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bryan made his fortune through the invention of medicated soap, which he sold to a Cincinnati soap company.
Bryan also was a poet, author, and avid naturalist. He was truly passionate about writing fables. There actually is an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer from March 24, 1918 in which Bryan published a classified for a lost manuscript “nearly ready for publication”, which illustrates his commitment to his writings (Fig 1).
Fig 1. Classified ad for lost book, Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 Mar 1918 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)
While visiting a friend in Yellow Springs in 1896, Bryan fell in love with Miami Township, and particularly the Yellow Springs area. Later that year, he purchased over 300 acres along Clifton Gorge and named it Riverside Farm. On the farm, Bryan built the largest barn in the state (some even claim the world), that included a system of pens and gates “devised to allow the cattle to be turned from any side to the other side” and there was an area large enough to turn a four-horse team with a load of hay.
In 1907, Bryan married Fredericka Murphy, a young woman roughly 25 years his junior (Fig 2). Bryan was known for his lack of religiosity, and he and his bride traveled to St. Louis, MO to get married due to less restrictive marriage laws. In particular, he had the words “obey” and “holy” removed from the ceremony and vows (Fig 3). John and Fredericka never had children.
Fig 2. Marriage Record for John Bryan and Fredericka Murphy, Hamilton County, Ohio (Ancestry.com)
Fig 3. Article on marriage of Bryan & Murphy, New-York Tribune, 19 May 1907 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)
In 1918, while visiting Cincinnati, Bryan became seriously ill, and died just days later while staying at the Palace Hotel. According to the death certificate, he died of pneumonia (Fig 4). Some other sources claim it was the flu as it was the height of the 1918 Flu Epidemic, so it is possible it was a contributing factor. John Bryan was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.
Fig 4. Death Certificate for John Bryan (Ancestry.com)
Upon his death, Bryan bequeathed his Riverside Farm to the state of Ohio to “be cultivated by the state as a forestry, botanic and wildlife reserve park and experiment station” (Fig 5). He included another provision that the park could not be used for any sort of religion services, and if it was, the property would revert back to the estate. Eventually the State Legislature determined that the provision was unconstitutional, and accepted the gift. In 1949, John Bryan State Park was transferred to the newly established Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which still manages the park today.
Fig 5. Last Will & Testament of John Bryan (Greene County Archives)
To learn more about the park, visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or just make the drive to beautiful park today! You won’t be disappointed.
Until Next Time!
Greene County Archives
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
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