Lebanon: Home of Miami University

By Charlie Zimkus

Because of the Ichabod Corwin’s generosity, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, could very well have been located in Lebanon.

On February 17, 1809, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law stating that a university would be established in the Symmes Purchase, land between the Little and Great Miami Rivers. Much of the area had already been settled, so choosing a site wouldn’t be easy. Three commissioners were charged with identifying a proper home for “The Miami University.”

On June 6, 1809, two of the three commissioners met in Lebanon and fell in love with the growing frontier community and Corwin offered to donate 40 acres of his land, where Lebanon Cemetery now stands. One of the commissioners was so thrilled with Corwin’s offer that he took out a knife and carved “M.U.V.” into a large white oak tree, representing “Miami Uni Versity.” The oak stood for many years near where Corwin’s nephew, Thomas Corwin, is buried.

The third commissioner later visited Lebanon and also signed the recommendation. Representatives from other potential sites loudly protested, arguing that the recommendation was invalid because the last commissioner was not present at the initial visit. The state legislature, to appease the complaining communities, disregarded the commissioners’ recommendation and instead chose to create a town in Butler County, outside of the Symmes Purchase, in which to locate the university.

Historian Josiah Morrow wrote in his 1882 History of Warren County:

“It has been the opinion of eminent lawyers that Miami University was legally located at Lebanon, and that the change of the site to a point outside the Miami Purchase was in violation of the intention and purpose of the original grant by Congress .... No attempt, however, has been made to remove the institution from Oxford.”

Charlie Zimkus illustration
Lebanon founder Ichabod Corwin carves the letters ”M.U.V.” on a tree where the Lebanon Cemetery now stands, marking his 40-acre donation for the creation of Miami University.