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Courthouse Farmers Market

Courthouse Farmers Market: Uncertainty surrounds the origin of the farmers market around the Butler County Courthouse in Hamilton. Available evidence indicates that the tradition began before 1820. It hasn't always been located around the courthouse, and it has often been a controversial topic.

Early historians mention an 80-foot market house being completed in 1817. It was on the banks of the Great Miami River between present Market and Dayton streets near one of the two ferries that served Hamilton. Ten years later, city leaders built a larger market house, in the middle of High Street between Monument Avenue and Front Street, opposite the former Hamilton Municipal Building (1935-2000). It was just a few yards east of the two-lane Miami Bridge, the only span then linking Hamilton and Rossville. It was a toll bridge, and going to and from market was one of the exemptions to the tariffs. The High Street market building is visible in a lithograph of Hamilton believed to have been produced in the 1855-1860 period. In 1861 the market moved to the courthouse square when city and county officeholders agreed on that location.

In those horse-and-wagon days, some farmers left home the previous night to be certain they could open their stands at sun-up. Their horses or oxen usually were sent to a nearby livery stable, but most farmers spent what was left of the night sleeping in their wagons. Prices weren't posted at some stands, and not all sales were measured in pints, quarts, dozens, etc. Instead, many shoppers wanted to know how much homegrown lettuce or green beans could be purchased for a nickel or dime. The enterprise was headed by a city market master (or market superintendent), whose duties ranged from policing the operation to custodian. Inspectors and other employees managed the markets according to city ordinances. One of the regulations, noted Alta Harvey Heiser in her book, Hamilton in the Making, imposed a $10 fine "for selling or buying anything intended for market before it reached the market house." She said "sales could be made after hours" and "refusing to sell anything displayed brought a fine of $2." "At noon last Saturday there were 42 teams standing on High Street between the single block bounded by Front and Second," reported a Hamilton newspaper in October 1875 in describing the volume of business at the courthouse farmers market. The writer found the market was so popular that it "blockaded" traffic on High Street. For decades all sidewalk stands were filled while others worked from wagons double and triple parked along High, Court, Front and Second streets around the Butler County courthouse. The overflow extended along High Street between Front Street and Monument Avenue. Operators peddled everything from firewood and hay to vegetables, fruits, horseradish, eggs, meat, fowl, dairy goods, flowers, baked goods, candy, cookies and crafts. From 1875 until 1910, the market's future was debated in official and unofficial circles. The issue was its location -- continue around the courthouse, or move to another venue.

In 1910, an argument for moving was "that Market Street had been built for the market. The hydraulic had been arched to create a central storm sewer at a cost of $17,000. Then the street had been paved" and "the name of the street had been changed from Stable to Market for market purposes." Tuesday, Feb. 8, 1910, the market reopened on Market Street with stalls and wagons stretching from Monument Avenue to North Third Street. The change was unpopular with both farmers and their patrons. June 4, 1912, after a petition drive, the market was moved back to courthouse. It became permanent Nov. 5, 1912, when 56.7 percent of Hamilton voters favored the courthouse site. The market prospered until the mid 1950s -- before super stores, Sunday shopping and two-car families. By the end of the decade, the drop in the number of stands was seen as an advantage. Fewer stands equated to fewer patrons double-parking their cars while shopping. City leaders saw the market as a traffic bottleneck, not a popular city asset. Some critics believed the market took up too many parking spaces, causing downtown stores to lose customers. The market operated Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings with the latter the busiest day.

In 1999, officers of Historic Hamilton Inc. led a campaign to preserve and revive the market on Saturday mornings.
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