Side A: In the early 1800s, William and Eleanor Kendall owned this land, known for its natural springs, beauty, and farmland. In 1850, Elias Drake, lawyer and former speaker in the Ohio General Assembly, purchased the property and named it Tawana or Xenia Springs. He developed a health resort hotel surrounded by summer cottages, all of which were completed the following year. “Tawana” is believed to be Shawnee for “clear or gold water,” alluding to the clear, mineral-rich springs. From its beginnings, the resort did not fare well as it was popular among southern planters who, much to the consternation of nearby antislavery sentiment, brought slave entourages whenever they came. In October 1855, negotiations for its sale opened with the Cincinnati Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which purchased Tawana Springs, including 54 acres and the hotel and cottages, for $13,000 to establish a university for African Americans. (Continued on other side)
Side B: (Continued from other side) Wilberforce University, the nation’s oldest private historically African American institution of higher education, was founded at Tawana Springs in 1856. Tawana House, the resort’s hotel, was remodeled for recitation rooms and other school activities, and the cottages were utilized as dormatories. Several reasons have been suggested for choosing Tawana Springs as the site for Wilberforce University. Foremost, perhaps, is the large number of African Americans that settled in Greene County as the result of the migration patterns of freed slaves before the Civil War and the Underground Railroad, which passed through the area. It is also suggested that Tawana’s natural beauty and readily available structures enhanced the selection. With the Civil War causing a decline in student enrollment, the first university failed in 1862. The following year Bishop Daniel A. Payne purchased the property on behalf of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Payne became the first president of Wilberforce and the first African American to lead a university.