CAMDEN — Passersby in Camden may have wondered recently why a group of 15 or so mostly young adults were briskly walking around the downtown area of Camden staring up at buildings, then clustering in a group, apparently to discuss the view.
The observers were witnessing Miami University’s History 400S course, “The Hidden History of Small Town America”, taught by Doctor Steven Conn, on a Sept. 20 field trip to Camden. Doctor Conn had contacted Helen Whitesell, President of the Eleanor I. Jones Archives of Camden – commonly known as the Camden Archives – in late July to ask if the Archives would be willing to take the class on a walking tour of historical buildings and sites in the downtown area, and in particular the Camden Railway Station area.
Dr. Conn’s syllabus for History 400S reveals the motivation for this particular course, and for the field trip: “The election of 2016 put a new focus on the fate, plight, and condition of rural America. And if we don’t know as much as we should about rural Americans, then historians are partly to blame. While urban history is a thriving field within the discipline, there has been comparatively little research done or scholarship about the history of small towns and other rural places. Our job in this seminar is to rectify that situation. And we will do so by looking around us: at Oxford, at Butler County and in Southwest Ohio.”
Conn’s students are being challenged to complete original research and write a formal research paper based upon primary and secondary sources. Going to the source is what put Camden on the HIS 400S field trip list.
“I was very excited to get Doctor Conn’s call asking if a guided tour would be possible,” notes Whitesell. “And of course, it was something that we were happy to be involved with.”
Whitesell and co-guide, Archives volunteer, Cherry Anderson, began the tour in the Council Chamber of the recently reopened Camden Town Hall. When Anderson started the discussion by asking the students how many had actually ever lived in a small town of 5,000 or less, few hands were raised. Whitesell and Anderson discussed the Town Hall’s history (built in 1889) before leading the group outdoors.
Using notes, information long committed to memory, anecdotal stories and historical photos they carried with them, Whitesell and Anderson discussed such local landmarks as the Dearth building that used to stand at present-day Veteran’s Memorial Park, the Majestic Theater, the Doctor McQueen/Doctor McKinley home, the IOOF building, the White House Hotel (now 4J’s Restaurant), the Railway Station Area, the Bohn Building, and more.
At each stop, student questions and Doctor Conn’s insights and contextual remarks added to the experience.
The Archives plans to keep the material organized for this particular class tour, expand upon the walking tour concept to give additional tours to interested parties in the future, and perhaps also devise a self-guided historical walking tour map. For more information, contact Helen Whitesell at 937-452-3197 or Cherry Anderson at 513-796-0005.