B y Matt Bayman
The Village of Yellow Springs has seen many changes during its more than 185 year history, but the one thing that never changes in the rural community is the willingness of its residents to reinvent themselves.
Most recently, the Village has become a tourist destination that’s attracting visitors from across the United States and beyond, as well as people living throughout the Miami Valley. They come to appreciate, and even participate in, the Village’s vast array of arts and entertainment, to dine at some of the most respected restaurants in the region, to shop at more than 60 specialty stores, to hike and cycle the trails of John Bryan State Park and to stay at some of the most unique bed and breakfasts in Ohio.
When Yellow Springs was founded in 1825, the residents had a completely different outlook for their community and its future. In fact, 100 families, led by spiritual thinker Robert Owen, came to this part of Greene County to create a utopian community. The vision and community failed within two years.
Luckily, within 20 years of being founded, Yellow Springs was connected to the rest of the world by the Little Miami Railroad, and those who stayed behind, which were described by Owen’s son as “a heterogeneous collection of radicals… honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in,” were able to attract commerce, people and tourism to the Village.
However, as most residents and local historians will say, it wasn’t until 1853, when Antioch College opened in Yellow Springs that the community began to develop its unique personality and atmosphere.
“Those early settlers didn’t have much of an impact on Yellow Springs at all. It was more Arthur Morgan and Horace Mann (presidents of Antioch College),” said Erik Owen, owner of the Glen House Bed and Breakfast in Yellow Springs. “Antioch College was the reason Yellow Springs existed in the first place.”
Owen said Antioch College helped spawn very successful commercial businesses in Yellow Springs, including the Antioch Book Plate Company, which later purchased the very successful Creative Memories business – known as the “father of the scrapbook movement,” Owen said. Other commercial businesses that thrived because of their connections to the college include: Vernay Laboratories, Morris Bean & Co. and many others.
As commerce developed in Yellow Springs, Antioch College, led by Mann, implemented new strategies in education, including having students receive “narrative evaluations” instead of academic letter grades, and allowing them to blend practical work experience with classroom learning. This led to a wave of creativity, entrepreneurship and artistic diversity in the community that would be the hallmark of the Village.
When Antioch College closed in 2008, it was a culture shock for the community, but just as in the past, residents and business owners realized they had to adapt, which led to more emphasis on making Yellow Springs a tourist-friendly place.
The good news is that Antioch College opened its doors again in 2011 and hopefully will once again be an inspiration for critical thinking, diversity and creativity in the community.
Owen’s bed and breakfast (www.glenhouseinn.com) is just one great example of how visitors to Yellow Springs can experience the creative energy of the Village during a weekend getaway or extended stay.
The Glen House Bed & Breakfast is actually an art gallery with monthly and permanent artist exhibits, as well as a place for lodging.
“It’s an art B&B. If an art gallery had so many beds and good coffee, that’s what we’d be,” Owen joked. “That’s part of the Yellow Springs mystique; there are lots of artists’ galleries and lots of places to see art studios. And, even better, here, you can meet the artists and buy directly from them,” he added.
Owen said it is commonplace for visitors to dine at one of the local restaurants in town and then walk down the street to meet the person who made the pottery that dinner was served on and possibly make a purchase.
“(Yellow Springs) is a little off the beaten path and a quality experience that doesn’t have anything to do with chain stores. Each little shop has its own environment and its own atmosphere. It’s a unique experience and it’s very welcoming,” he said.
“It’s easy to spend a couple of days or more in Yellow Springs,” adds Holly Simpson, Marketing & Events Coordinator for the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. “There’s always something going on and visitors are treated like locals. Just sitting in a local coffee shop for an hour to read the paper is a great people-watching experience. And these same people will actually speak to you and make you feel welcome. There is a real sense of community no matter where you go.”
This winter, the community in Yellow Springs is inviting visitors to break free from the winter doldrums and come to their hometown to spend a relaxing, artistic or romantic weekend, or longer. Even in the cold of winter, Yellow Springs is a warm place to visit and filled with plenty to see and do. In fact, the hard part, will be deciding exactly what to do.
Simpson said that if a visitor were to ask a dozen residents what the ideal itinerary for a winter getaway in Yellow Springs would be, that they’d receive 12 different answers.
“Some people will suggest a stop by the Saturday morning Winter Farmers Market. There’s breakfast at the Emporium or Sunrise Cafe. A hike in Glen Helen (Nature Preserve) and maybe out to the Raptor Center is beautiful any time of year,” she said. “You’ll hear plenty about a trip over to Young’s Jersey Dairy, especially if kids are involved. Then, there’s the Little Art Theatre and the Chamber Music Yellow Springs, which has world class groups five or six times a year on Sunday evenings and is a real treat for chamber music fans. There are lots of live music options every Friday night; at the Emporium, Spirited Goat and Peach’s for sure. On Saturday night, there are not as many options, so that’s the night to take in a movie then hit the Martini Lounge at the Sunrise Cafe. And there is always plenty of shopping and galleries to visit during the day and a walking guide to most of the outdoor art found in the Village.”
A weekend getaway to Yellow Springs, including a stay at a bed and breakfast, can best be planned by visiting two websites, with a starting point being the Chamber of Commerce website at www.yellowspringsohio.org. This website contains a list of shops, restaurants, arts and culture, recreation, farms and food and events.
To explore lodging options located in and around Yellow Springs, the website www.stayyellowsprings.com is a one-stop-shop. (The Glen House Bed & Breakfast is new and is not yet included on this website). Here, you’ll learn about the diverse opportunities available to overnight guests, from Jailhouse Suites (in a building used as the town jail from 1878 until 1929) and Arthur Morgan House in town to the Yellow Springs Country Bed and Breakfast (Federalist home built in 1812) and the restored mill on the banks of the Little Miami River that is now known as the Grinnell Mill Bed and Breakfast. There’s even a hotel that can be rented out all to one person/family, which the owners say is good for family reunions, group retreats and even bridal parties. It’s called The Springs Hotel; it has 20 solar panels that provide power, free continental breakfast, “honor-system snacks” and a total of 12 rooms. During Valentines weekend on Friday, Feb. 10, the hotel will have art, live music and more, and on Saturday, Feb. 11, at precisely 3:27 p.m., everyone at the hotel (couples, families or just people with stuffed animals) will have a “simultaneous kiss.” Learn more at www.thespringsmotel.com.
Other bed and breakfasts are focusing on more elegant and eclectic evenings.
Guests can stay at the Victoria Green Plain Farm Bed & Breakfast, which is actually a log cabin with exclusive use of the entire cabin, including a modern kitchen, two bathrooms and a master bedroom located in a loft, as well as a fireplace with wood, a campfire area outside and year-round horse riding available nearby.
Sarah Wildman, owner of the cottage and also a member of the Economic Development committee for the Village, said a winter weekend getaway in Yellow Springs offers plenty to do, without being too overwhelming.
“It’s small enough to really feel like it’s an intimate getaway,” she said.
Simpson said that once in town, visitors will only need to park their car once and from there, everything is easily within walking distance, including restaurants, shopping and even the trailhead to Glen Helen Nature Preserve, which is located across the street from Antioch College’s main campus, which is an architectural masterpiece in itself.
Yellow Springs is an active community that has less than 3,800 residents, but more than 21,000 Facebook friends. This technical statistic is just another indication that the Village’s popularity and creative nature is here to stay, or, in the words of Owen, “Maybe it’s always been reinventing itself. Maybe it’s always been looking for the new, the potential, the different way of doing things …”
Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Bayman at MattBayman@DaytonCityPaper.com