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Journal-News, Sunday, Sept. 4, 1988
Hamilton water system turns 104 years old

By Jim Blount

Drought this year has renewed appreciation of Hamilton's abundant municipal water system which began 104 years ago. Until 1884 residents drew their water from private backyard wells and firefighters relied on a few large cisterns and hydraulic canals, which had been built to supply water power to local industries.

Problems with those sources in the summer of 1882 fueled public pressure for a community water system. The only question was if it should be a municipal water works or service by one or more privately-owned corporations.

In April 1882, Hamilton City Council appointed a committee to study the situation and make recommendations. Its task was made easier that summer when routine fires at local factories and a livery stable nearly turned tragic because of a scarcity of water in cisterns and hydraulic canals.

Also, as the city had grown (1880 census: 12,122) some residents feared their wells were being contaminated by sewage, especially seepage from outdoor toilets. Several cases of typhoid were cited as circumstantial evidence.

Those fears were confirmed in August 1882 in a chemist's preliminary study of private wells. It disclosed that samples taken From the Great Miami River were safer to drink than those drawn from backyard wells in Hamilton.

Aug. 28, 1882, Hamilton voters responded by giving lopsided approval to creation of a city water system. The vote was 1,405 in favor (81.3 percent) and 323 against.

Before council could act on that mandate, it needed passage of an enabling act by the Ohio legislature in Columbus. That step came March 15, 1883.

Then council authorized $300,000 in bonds for a municipal water system and awarded a $285,951 construction contract to D. F. Minnehan of Springfield. The city also paid $5,000 to Pollock Wilson for 10 acres on Wilson Hill. It would be the site of a six-million gallon reservoir 221 feet above High Street at the courthouse and 248.85 feet above the Great Miami River at low water. Planners said it would assure 95.73 pounds of water pressure.

That original reservoir -- now between MiHikin Street and Washington Blvd. -- is still part of the Hamilton water system.

To complete the system, 20 supply wells were dug and two large mains were built across the river.

Meanwhile, Hamilton voters chose Herman Reutti, Asa Shuler and Joseph B. Hughes as members of the first Board of Water Works Trustees. Later, T. C. Crider was employed as engineer and Ira S. Millikin as secretary.

July 19, 1884, the first water was pumped through city mains and to 300 hydrants. The water was free until October.

By mid 1885, construction had totaled $354,225 for a 37-mile system which had a pumping capacity of 300,000 gallons a day and served 2,6O4 customers.

There have been several alterations, improvements and expansions to Hamilton's water system in the last 104 years.

Today (1988) it pumps an average of more than 14 million gallons a day, and as much as 22 million gallons daily in recent weeks. Its storage capacity exceeds 13 million gallons with a million-gallon addition underway.

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Journal-News, Sunday, Sept. 11, 1988
High Street underpass once a dream

By Jim Blount

It was five years ago this week that Hamilton's No. 1 headache was relieved with the partial opening of the High Street underpass. For more than 64 years there had been proposals to divert motor vehicle traffic either over or under busy railroads crossings at Fourth and Fifth streets on the eastern edge of downtown Hamilton.

By the late 1970s, an average of more than 21,000 vehicles a day crossed the tracks which carried as many as 30 freight trains within a 24-hour period. The underpass seemed to be only a periodic dream in the midst of a daily nightmare.

Starting in 1919, there were various proposals to alleviate the traffic delays caused by the trains, all dashed by a constantly-changing list of obstacles, headed by a lack of money.

Railroad cooperation also was a major hurdle in the 1960s and the 1970s, especially as the companies experienced a series of corporate changes and financial troubles. An added complication in the late 1970s was that the number of railroads operating over two sets of tracks increased from two to three.

Chessie System's trains crossed High at Fourth Street while the tracks at Fifth Street were shared by Conrail and the Norfolk & Western, which had purchased the line in 1976.

The plan was to combine the two sets of tracks. With three railroads, that would have required a complicated track-sharing agreement. The railroads said that wasn't feasible.

In December 1979 Conrail announced plans to abandon service over 6.4 miles of track from Seward Road southeast of Hamilton to Old. River Junction at New Miami.

That left only two railroads to negotiate a sharing agreement for the relocated right-of-way through downtown Hamilton. That came in 1980, and early in 1981 the Ohio Department of Transportation awarded contracts for demolition of about 40 buildings in the path of the complex project.

July 14, 1981, ODOT awarded the $7.6 million construction contract to National Engineering Contracting Co., Cleveland. The firm's bid was under the state's estimate of $8.75 million.

Thursday morning, Sept. 24, 1981, Gov. James A. Rhodes was among many participants in an elaborate groundbreaking ceremony on the north side of High Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.

"I never thought I'd live to see this day" was the reaction of many longtime Hamilton residents as the work began.

Within a few weeks, drivers traveling along High Street had to endure detours and restricted traffic as well as train delays as construction crews dug a two-block ditch which depressed High Street below the combined tracks at Fifth Street.

Part of the underpass was opened nearly two years later. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday morning, Sept. 13, 1983, climaxed by a round trip through the underpass by city officials.

At 2:25 that afternoon, eastbound traffic started through the two completed lanes while work continued on the other half of the project. Westbound High Street traffic was detoured to Dayton Street until the other two lanes were finished.

But completion of the underpass roadway didn't mean the end of waiting for trains at the Fourth Street crossing. It wasn't until 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, 1985, that a southbound Chessie train became the last to use the tracks and block High Street.

By completion in 1984, the total cost — including demolition of buildings, underpass construction, railroad relocation and railroad signalization — had reached about $15 million.

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Journal-News, Sunday, Sept. 18, 1988
Miami's Hamilton Campus turns 20 years old

By Jim Blount

Twenty years ago this month classes began at Miami University's Hamilton Campus, bringing to fruition several community dreams.

For state officials, it was another step in a bold plan to bring a college education within the reach of every Ohioan. For Hamilton civic leaders, it was realization of efforts to locate Miami instruction in a permanent home. Extension programs, held in Hamilton for many years, had been in rented quarters and in less than the best conditions.

And, for many years, city leaders had been seeking to improve Peck's Addition, a Hamilton eyesore.

Since the early 1920s, municipal planners had envisioned making Peck's Addition something besides a swamp, a garbage dump and the site of substandard housing. Ideas included creating a vast park and recreation complex and building a new Hamilton High School there.

When Hamilton High was split into Taft and Garfield high schools in 1959, civic leaders continued to advocate transforming Peck's Addition into a city cultural center.

Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign in 1966 -- as Hamilton was observing its 175th anniversary -- the campus proposal became reality.

The Ohio General Assembly had appropriated $1.8 million for buildings. But there was a condition -- that amount was only about 75 percent of the estimated cost. To receive the state funds, the community had to raise at least $600,000.

Individuals, families, companies and civic groups responded with cash and pledges exceeding $1.56 million, more than twice the amount needed. Heading that campaign was Peter E. Rentschler, a Hamilton industrialist who also contributed many years of community service, much of it related to education.

Miami trustees recognized the role of the Rentschler family in 1967 in naming the Rentschler Library, one of the two original buildings on the campus.

A formal groundbreaking was held June 20, 1967, on the 76.8-acre site along the Great Miami River. Gov. James A. Rhodes; Dr. John Millett, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents and a former Miami president; Dr. Phillip R. Shriver, Miami president; Hamilton Mayor Thomas N. Kindness; and Rentschler were among several participants.

Later that year temporary offices were opened in the Anthony Wayne building in downtown Hamilton to accept applications for the two-year campus from prospective students.

In November 1967, T. Michael Smithson, director of admission and records, announced that William Gabbard and Judy Reeb were the first male and female students admitted.

Completion of the two buildings was expected by the start of the 1968-1969 school year, but strikes delayed the project.

University officials considered moving classes to other locations. Instead, nine classrooms, a lecture room, a lab and some office space -- mostly temporary and makeshift -- were readied on two floors of the Rentschler Library building.

Classes began in September 1968 while carpenters, electricians and other workers continued construction of the library and adjacent five-story Mosler Hall, which wasn't ready for use until late in the school year.

Because of the problems, dedication ceremonies were postponed a year -- until Sept. 26, 1969.

Dr. Bernard Phelps directed the campus in its first eight years of operation. Dr. M. Douglas Reed took over in 1976. The current director, Dr. Harriet Taylor, assumed the post in 1985.

In 20 years, the campus -- with enrollment topping 2,000 -- has added an auditorium, a technical education building and a physical education structure.

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Journal-News, Sunday, Sept. 25, 1988
Hamilton once army fort on Ohio frontier

By Jim Blount

Attempts to settle Ohio began in 1788, but migration across the Appalachians into the area was slowed by Indian resistance. Building log forts on the banks of the Ohio River at Marietta and Cincinnati had failed to intimidate the Native Americans, and in 1790 an ill-prepared military expedition ended in defeat.

In 1791, Congress -- at the urging of President George Washington -- authorized an increase in the army and the militia to challenge the Indians again.

At the same time, Arthur St. Clair -- governor of the Northwest Territory since 1788 -- was appointed major-general and commander of the U. S. Army. St. Clair, based in Cincinnati, hoped to gather 3,000 men for another campaign against the Native Americans residing later became western Ohio and eastern Indiana.

One of his objectives was to build a series of forts extending north from Fort Washington in Cincinnati. Execution of that strategy led to the building of Fort Hamilton 197 years ago this month.

The task was assigned to Lt. Col. William Darke, who also was responsible for cutting a road through the wilderness between Fort Washington and the first in a chain of "forts of deposit," the 1790s military term describing supply posts.

In August, Darke 's advance unit established a camp at Ludlow Station, five miles north of Cincinnati on Mill Creek. Sept. 6, 1791, Darke's soldiers started for their destination, about 25 miles north of Fort Washington. It took three days to chop through the thickly-wooded countryside.

Darke made camp near the present site of the Columbia Bridge in Hamilton and waited for orders. Sept. 20 St. Clair ordered Darke to proceed to erect the fort on a site which had been selected during a previous scouting mission.

The location on the east bank of the Great Miami River was chosen because the army planned to transport supplies from Cincinnati via the river. The site also was at a ford, a natural river crossing, which had been used by the Indians. It is believed to have been on an alignment with present Ross Avenue and Court Street. The fort's gate was at this point, opening to the west.

About 100 men worked for two weeks to complete the fort, then about half the size of a modern football field.

From the surrounding woods, the men and their oxen combined to cut straight, 20-foot logs and drag them to a flat area beside the river. The timbers -- from 9 to 12 inches in diameter -- were placed upright in a three-foot trench around the perimeter.

Four blockhouses or platforms were built, three on the land side and one facing the river.

Inside the fort, soldiers built a barracks for about 100 men, a guard room, two storehouses and a magazine.

Darke's contingent faced a familiar military problem -- a shortage -- according to the adjutant general of the army.

"The provisions of tools . . . was scanty in the extreme," said Col. Winthrop Sargent in his diary of the campaign. "Eighty axes only were furnished by the quartermaster, and of these 13 were borrowed from the troops." Sargent said the crew had "one saw and one frow" (a wedge-shaped cleaving tool).

Sept. 30, 1791, is regarded as the completion date for the crude fort which was named in honor of Alexander Hamilton, then secretary of the treasury in President Washington's cabinet.

The fort -- which would be enlarged later -- immediately became the temporary base for about 2,000 soldiers, considerably less than the 3,000 that St. Clair had anticipated. Oct. 4 -- five days after completion of Fort Hamilton -- Gen. St. Clair led his hastily-assembled army out of the frontier outpost toward a showdown with the Indians.

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