Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 6, 1888
James M. Cox, Butler County's favorite son
By Jim Blount
Butler Countians took more than the usual interest in the 1920 presidential election because one of the candidates was a native of the county. James M. Cox -- whose early life included associations with several Butler County communities -- was the 1920 Democratic presidential candidate.
The Democratic vice presidential candidate was New York's Franklin D. Roosevelt, who a few years later would win election to the White House four straight times.
The victorious Republican ticket was headed by Warren G. Harding, also an Ohioan, and, like Cox, also a newspaper publisher.
It was the first time that two men from the same state won the presidential nominations of the two major parties.
Harding's running mate was Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts, who became president when Harding died Aug. 3, 1923.
Cox was "one of the clearest cases in American history of the best man having been defeated," noted Irving Stone in his 1943 book, They Also Ran. Stone believed Cox "was the right man running at the wrong time."
Cox's political career had started 26 years earlier, thanks to a recommendation from a Hamilton judge.
Cox was born March 31, 1870, in Jacksonburg, and as a youth lived there and in Middletown. He attended high school at Amanda, south of Middletown.
As a boy he worked on a farm and performed janitorial duties at a school and at a church. At 15, while still in school, he became a printer's devil (apprentice) in the office of a Middletown weekly newspaper. Later, he tried another profession before resuming his journalism career as an adult.
"Chancing to be in Hamilton, the county seat, one Saturday," Cox recalled in his autobiography, "I took the teachers' examination and to my surprise received a two-year certificate to teach."
At 17, he began teaching at Heno (now West Middletown) and later moved to Rockdale (between Hamilton and Middletown) and to the Titus District (north of Middletown).
While teaching, Cox continued to work part time for the Middletown Weekly Signal. When it became a daily, he left teaching to become a full-time reporter for the Signal and a part-time correspondent for the Cincinnati Enquirer.
In April 1892, when Cox was 22, he accepted a full-time position on the Enquirer staff in Cincinnati.
In November 1894 Paul J. Sorg -- a Middletown businessman with interests in paper, tobacco and railroads -- was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives from this district.
The congressman-elect, while searching for a private secretary to accompany him to Washington, had lunch with John F. Neilan, a Butler County common pleas judge. Judge Neilan suggested Cox for the job.
Cox served Sorg until the Middletown Democrat left Congress in March 1897. Then Cox -- with the aid of a $6,000 loan from Sorg -- purchased the Dayton Daily News for $26,000. It was the start of a national media company which still exists.
In 1909, Cox returned to Washington after winning the first of two consecutive terms in Congress. In 1912 he was elected governor of Ohio. He failed to win re-election in 1914, but made a comeback in 1916 and was re-elected governor in 1918, setting the stage for his 1920 presidential bid.
In the 1920 contest, Cox won a 1,552-vote majority in Butler County, including a 28-vote 129-101 victory in Madison Township North, his birthplace precinct.
The 50-year-old Democrat scored a comfortable victory in Hamilton (7,356 to 6,120).
But in popular votes nationwide, Harding totaled more than 16 million to 9 million for Cox. In the Electoral College, the margin was 404-127 in Harding's favor.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 13, 1988
Early settlers in Symmes Purchase were busy
By Jim Blount
It was 200 years ago this week that 26 brave persons stepped off flatboats on the Ohio River and established the first settlement in Southwestern Ohio. The party arrived Nov. 18, 1788, to inhabit Columbia, a community about a mile west of where the Little Miami River empties into the Ohio River.
The site today is in Cincinnati 'a southeast corner, between Lunken Airport and Alms Park.
About a month earlier -- Oct. 15, 1788 -- Congress had approved the sale of one million acres in the Northwest Territory to John Cleves Symmes of New Jersey. Symmes quickly sold several thousand acres to Benjamin Stites, who a few weeks later guided the pioneers on the two-day trip from Limestone (now Maysville, Ky. ) to Columbia.
Stites had been with Symmes and others in September 1788 during an inspection of the land north of the Ohio River between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers, a tract which came to be known as the Miami Purchase or the Symmes Purchase.
The first, task for Stites and others who arrived at Columbia in November 1788 was to build a small fort for protection from possible Indian raids. Of course, log cabins also had to be constructed before the onset of winter.
But food was more of a problem than shelter that first winter. The settlers soon consumed the food they brought with them. Then they had to rely on wild game -- which was plentiful -- and what they could extract from the ground.
According to one account, Columbia women and children had "to scratch up the bulbous roots of the bear grass, which when mashed, boiled and dried, were pounded into a kind of flour which served as a tolerable substitute for wheat and corn flour."
The food situation began to improve in the spring when crops could be planted. But not all of the settlement's manpower could be devoted to farming. Half of the men worked in the fields while the other half stood guard against Indian attacks. The groups switched responsibilities during the day to break the monotony.
Columbia residents suffered another setback in November 1789 when the Ohio River flooded the community. Only one house escaped the water.
Columbia survived the hardships and prospered. It quickly became a trading center -- thanks to an adjacent area known as Turkey Bottom, which produced high yields of corn each year.
At first, Columbia grew faster than nearby Cincinnati (to which it was annexed in 1873), and North Bend, a settlement started by John Cleves Symmes.
A missionary who visited the three river communities in 1792 said Columbia had 1,100 inhabitants while Cincinnati had about 900 and North Bend between 300 and 400 residents.
The first school in the Symmes Purchase was established at Columbia In June 1790 by 27-year-old John Reily, who soon became a leader not only in Columbia, but in the Northwest Territory.
Thirteen years later Reily -- a native of Pennsylvania who spent his youth in Virginia before service in the revolutionary army -- moved to Hamilton. Here he continued to serve and lead until a few years before his death June 7, 1850, at the age of 87.
Reily -- also an Indian-fighter while living at Columbia -- was the first to hold many Hamilton and Butler County offices.
In May 1803 Reily started a 37-year stint as clerk of courts. He was clerk of the Butler County commission from 1803 until 1819, and county recorder for 11 years. Starting in 1804, he was Hamilton postmaster for 28 years.
In 1804 Reily also surveyed and laid out Rossville (now part of Hamilton's west side) for its proprietors.
And, the pioneer Columbia teacher -- for whom Reily Twp. is named -- helped establish Miami University as a trustee from its founding in 1809 until 1840 when he retired at age 77.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 20, 1988
Railroad crossing battles are not new
By Jim Blount
Fairfield's recent campaign for warning signals at its deadly railroad crossings is reminiscent of a similar effort in Hamilton more than 50 years ago. In Hamilton, a series of fatal or serious accidents ignited public demand for lighted, round-the-clock, seven-day safety devices.
As 1937 began, none of Hamilton's numerous rail crossings had automatic flasher warning signals. Only the motionless, unlit crossbars marked most crossings.
Some were protected by watchmen with hand signals -- most for 16 hours a day or less. Example: a busy Grand Blvd. crossing was guarded only from 7:30 a.m. to 7:50 p.m. During a watchman's off hours, only a small sign on top of his trackside shanty alerted motorists that no one was on duty.
That system wasn't adequate in an industrial city of about 50,000 persons with heavy railroad traffic.
As usual, the cost of signals was a major obstacle.
"For years we have felt strongly the need of 24-hour protection," said Hamilton's city manager, R. P. Price, "but during the long period of the Depression the railroads were unable to assume any additional financial burden."
But four people were killed and several seriously injured at rail crossings in Hamilton in the first seven months of 1937.
Also, Butler County had experienced its worst car-train accident the previous year at the Bobenmeyer Road crossing of the Pennsylvania Railroad, just south of the city limits in Fairfield Twp.
Nine persons in one family were killed there Sunday afternoon, July 26, 1936, when a westbound car was struck by a northbound passenger train.
The need for better protection also had been demonstrated in August 1933 when a Hamilton fire pumper was demolished in a with a B&O locomotive at the Sycamore Street crossing.
Several car-train accidents in the 1930s were blamed, on weather conditions (fog and rain) or darkness, elements which blocked or limited a motorist's vision of a watchman's hand signals or the crossbars.
Finally, in August 1937 -- after months of negotiations involving the city, the Pennsylvania and the Baltimore & Ohio railroads -- an agreement was reached.
City Manager Price announced that warning signals would be installed at 23 crossings in the Hamilton. He said the two-year program would cost $70,000 -- with the two railroads paying the entire bill.
The B&O was to spend $50,000 at crossings on its two main lines through Hamilton.
On its Cincinnati-Dayton-Detroit line, nine sets of signals were planned (Vine Street, Heaton Street, Buckeye Street, Dayton Street, High Street, Maple Avenue, Ludlow Street, Walnut Street and Hanover Street). On the B&O's Hamilton-Indianapolis division, signals were scheduled at six crossings (Fifth, Fourth, Third, Second and Front streets and Millville Avenue).
The Pennsylvania was expected to pay $20,000 for signals at eight locations (Vine Street, Heaton Street, Dayton Street, High Street, Seventh Street, East Avenue, Maple Avenue and Grand Blvd. ).
The first flasher -- at the Grand Blvd. crossing of the Pennsylvania Railroad, near Mosler -- was activated on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1937. All eight signals along the PRR line in Hamilton were in place by Jan. 22, 1938.
The first signal on the B&O went into use July 13, 1938, at Vine Street. The other 14 were operational within a year.
Most of the first signals were not automatic. They were activated by watchmen who usually were responsible for three adjacent crossings.
Still, the improvement was dramatic. In the first 30 years of lighted warnings, only six of the 12 crossing deaths in Hamilton were at locations with flashers -- an average of only one every five years.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Nov. 27, 1988
Crossing solution blocked by delays
By Jim Blount
The virtual elimination of a 100-year-old traffic bottleneck, is a pleasant side effect of the CSX reduction in Hamilton railroad operations in 1988. Until the mid 1950s, the South Hamilton railroad crossing was considered the city's most dangerous crossing and its No. 1 traffic delay.
The crossing -- in the mid section of a busy rail yard for most of its existence -- has been there since the first train entered Hamilton in 1851.
Concerns about safety and traffic delays there began about in the 1890s with rapid industrial development in East Hamilton and a residential boom in Lindenwald, then outside the city.
As industrial growth continued and the automobile became more popular and affordable, public demands increased for either an underpass or overpass to avoid the busy yard tracks of the Cincinnati, Hamilton 8 Dayton Railroad (later the Baltimore & Ohio, then the Chessie System and now CSX).
The campaign peaked in 1910 after 12 deaths in a series of accidents at the crossing.
A year later the CH&D offered plans for various improvements, ranging from an $88,000 underpass to a $330,000 overpass. City officials studied the plans for six months, but took no action as the public outrage subsided.
Interest was renewed in 1920 when Hamilton's first city plan spotlighted the problem.
But nothing happened until September 1929, when city council asked Butler County commissioners to apply for state highway money for the project, then estimated at $150,000.
It was eligible for state funding then because the crossing was on two state routes (4 and 9). On similar projects in the area, the railroads were paying 50 percent of the cost with the state and county each providing 25 percent.
"Records of Coroner Edward Cook show heavy loss of life at the crossing and police reports for recent years reveal hundreds of accidents," noted a newspaper in 1929.
Before the state acted on the request, the Great Depression began and in 1930 Hamilton announced it would build an underpass without state assistance. The city agreed to pay 35 percent with the B&O assuming the remainder of the cost.
But the $150,000 plan was shelved as the continuing Depression took, its toll on the city and B&O treasuries.
Hopes for a South Hamilton solution were revived in 1945 when World War II ended. Instead, city funds went for other improvements, ranging from swimming pools to slum clearance.
But public complaints about traffic delays at the crossing continued into the early 1950s.
In that post-war era, more Hamiltonians were driving to and from work instead of walking or riding buses -- a factor which seemed to lengthen the line of cars waiting for slow-moving switching operations and long freight trains at the crossing.
But other things had changed, too. Cost estimates for an underpass rose to $2.5 million and the railroad would have been required to pay only 15 percent of the cost, not 50 percent.
In August 1952 city council agreed to place four measures on the November ballot, including a $1.5 million bond issue for the city's share of a South Hamilton underpass.
A month later, council changed its mind and killed the South Hamilton bond issue. Voters approved only one of the other three bond issues.
Five years later council offered voters a package of seven city improvement measures, totaling $10 million. A $2.5 million bond issue would have built a South Hamilton underpass with a cloverleaf connection to surrounding streets. It would have cost property owners 85 cents a year for 30 years for each $1,000 of valuation.
But only 23 percent of the 1957 voters (4,176 out of 18,191) favored it and the fervor for a South Hamilton solution faded.
Within a few years, the public and city leaders shifted their emphasis to securing a High Street underpass.
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