Journal-News, Sunday, Aug. 6, 1989
Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Millville native, first baseball commissioner
(This is the first of two columns on Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of professional baseball.)
By Jim Blount
In questioning the authority and fairness of baseball's commissioner, Pete Rose has challenged precedents set by a native of Butler County.
Recent legal moves by the manager of the Cincinnati Reds -- who is facing questions about alleged gambling on baseball -- stymied quick action by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti.
Rose's lawyers questioned the commissioner's right to serve as prosecutor, judge and jury -- powers that Kenesaw Mountain Landis established and exercised during his 24 years as baseball's tough-minded leader.
Landis, who was born in Butler County, became baseball's first commissioner in 1920 during the game's darkest hour.
"His integrity and leadership established baseball in the respect, esteem and affection of the American people," says a plaque honoring Landis in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N. Y.
Landis was a stern disciplinarian who was often called "the czar of baseball" because of his absolute authority.
The former federal judge molded his power in a series of showdowns with popular players and the powerful in professional baseball, including team owners.
Landis' backers called him the "Squire of Baseball" and lauded his bold manner. They praised him as "a modern Moses" who led baseball "from the wilderness" in the early 1920s.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis -- who was baseball commissioner from November 1920 until November 1944 -- was born in Millville Nov. 20, 1866. When he was eight years old, his family moved from Seven Mile to Indiana, eventually settling in Logansport.
In 1891 -- at age 24 -- Landis earned a law degree and was admitted to me Illinois bar, starting a practice in Chicago.
Two years later, he was in Washington. D. C., as personal secretary to Walter Q. Gresham, the secretary of state in President Grover Cleveland's cabinet.
After Gresham's death in 1895, Landis returned to his law practice in Chicago and involvement in the Republican Party. Landis also was married July 25, 1895. to Winifred Reed in Chicago, and they parented two children, a son and a daughter
In March 1905, Landis was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to a vacancy on the U. S. District Court for northern Illinois, which covered Chicago and the surrounding area.
In this $7,500-a-year job, Landis soon built a reputation as an unorthodox judge. A highly-publicized 1907 case caused him to be called "the showboat judge" by some of his critics.
After a six-week trial in 1907, Landis fined the Standard Oil Co. $29,240,000, which was an unprecedented penalty at that time.
Landis also compelled John D Rockefeller, founder of the company, to testify. Rockefeller's firm had been indicted on 1,462 counts of accepting rebates from a railroad.
The U. S. Supreme Court nullified Landis' action, but he insisted that "the imposition of that fine called attention to and ended abuses which could not otherwise have been corrected."
Sept. 28, 1920 -- near the end of the baseball season -- a Chicago grand jury indicted eight White Sox players for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series which had been won by the underdog Cincinnati Reds.
The "Black Sox" scandal rocked public confidence in professional baseball, which was then directed by a three-man commission appointed from within the sport.
Nov. 12, 1920, baseball owners asked Landis to become commissioner of the game, offering him a $50,000-a-year salary. Landis accepted, on the condition that he would have absolute control over baseball.
He formally took charge Jan 12, 1921, pledging to clean out those involved in gambling and to keep the sport above reproach.
Landis fulfilled that promise and was re-elected commissioner several times. He served until Nov. 25, 1944, when he died at age 78 in Chicago.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 1989
War memory prompted Landis' strange name
(This is the second of two columns on Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of professional baseball.)
By Jim Blount
How did Millville-born Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of professional baseball, acquire his unusual name?
He was the sixth child born to Dr. Abraham and Mary Kumler Landis, whose other sons and daughters had been given common names (John, Walter, Charles, Frederick, Frances and Catherine).
The explanation for the unusual name begins when Abraham Landis volunteered for the Union army during the Civil War (1861-1865).
Nov. 13, 1862, the Millville doctor joined the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a unit composed mostly of men from Butler County.
Landis, with the rank of assistant surgeon, alternated between service in the field with the 35th OVI and at hospital assignments in the South.
The 35th performed admirably as a rear-guard Sept. 20, 1863, while the main Union army retreated from the bloody battlefield at Chickamauga, Ga.
When the regiment finally moved into Chattanooga, Tenn., Landis remained on the battlefield to treat wounded men who had to be left behind. He was taken captive Monday, Sept. 21, 1863.
The rival armies exchanged some wounded men Oct. 2, 1863, but Landis and Dr. Charles O. Wright of the 35th and six other surgeons were detained as prisoners of war.
Landis was held by Confederates in Libby Prison in Richmond, Va., until he was exchanged Nov. 24, 1863.
After spending some time with his family in Millville, he returned to the 35th in May 1864 and took part in the advance from Chattanooga toward Atlanta.
Late in June 1864, he was at Kennesaw Mountain, near Marietta, Ga. attending a wounded soldier.
Some accounts say he was preparing to amputate a shattered leg when a Confederate cannon ball ricocheted off a tree and struck Landis in the left leg, fracturing the limb.
Army records say he was "unable to perform the duties of his office or to travel to rejoin his regiment" because of the injury. He was honorably discharged Sept. 27, 1864.
When Landis returned to Butler County, he obviously didn't forget his injury. When a son was born Nov. 20, 1866, in his Millville home, the child was named Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Although the name of the battlefield was usually spelled with a double "n," only one "n" was placed in the boy's name.
Eight years later, the Landis family left Butler County, first moving to Delphi, Ind., and then to Logansport, Ind.
Later, the future baseball commissioner left Logansport High School six months before graduation. He worked in a general store and as an errand boy for a railroad before operating a roller-skating rink. Then he became a reporter for the Logansport Journal, covering local courts.
In 1883, he was appointed official court reporter for the Cass County Circuit Court, and soon he wanted to be a lawyer. Landis had to makeup his missing high school work in night school before enrolling in the YMCA Law School of Cincinnati.
He completed work at Union Law School (which later became part of Northwestern University), graduating with a bachelor of law degree in 1891 and opening a law practice in Chicago.
Then a connection with his father's Civil War service gave Kenesaw Mountain Landis a career boost.
In 1893, President Grover Cleveland named Walter Q. Gresham, a Chicago federal judge, as his secretary of state.
According to some sources, Gresham, who had risen from colonel to brigadier general during the Civil War, had known the elder Landis and later became interested in the career of his son.
Gresham chose the 26-year-old Landis as his secretary, a post Landis held for two years until Gresham died May 28, 1895.
The young lawyer with the strange name returned to Chicago to practice law. In March 1905, he was appointed a federal judge, and in November 1920, he was selected first commissioner of baseball, remaining in that post until his death Nov. 25, 1944.
[Editor's note: Jim Blount's column above is published today because it was inadvertently omitted from some Sunday editions of the Journal-News this week.]
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Journal-News, Sunday, Aug. 20, 1989
Semler mill a success in late 1800s
By Jim Blount
Home-grown and home-ground flour, which is now a novelty, was a common item in Hamilton kitchens before the turn of the century when several mills operated here.
One was the Semler mill which sold its flour under a variety of names in far-flung markets. In addition to the Hamilton area, its brands were available in New England, the South and in Europe.
In 1895, a newspaper reporter said he "saw the finest and latest improved machinery doing a work that is simply marvelous" at the mill on the east side of North B Street, north of Wayne Avenue. He also noted that "42 men are constantly employed" there.
"Every 24 hours this machinery turns out 350 barrels of flour ready for use. Night and day this wonderful machinery is kept in operation, even at this time when business has not yet fully recovered from its recent depression."
"When crowded, this mill can produce 400 barrels of flour every day, and this is often done, especially along about harvest time," said the report published April 13, 1895, in the Hamilton Daily Democrat.
The business was started by John Semler and Conrad M. Semler, father and son.
In 1849, John Semler had moved from Pennsylvania to Amanda, near Middletown, where he was a foreman in a mill for 13 years. In 1862, he relocated to Hamilton. still in the milling business
His son, Conrad M. Semler, born in Hamilton Aug. 20. 1863, learned the miller's trade from his father. Conrad Semler assumed management of the company when his 56-year-old father died April 28, 1892.
In 1875, they built the Semler & Co. mill, also known as the Eagle Mill, at 234-242 North B Street. That water-powered mill with a capacity of 75 barrels per day was destroyed by a fire in 1884.
A new, larger mill was built on the same site that year. This steam-powered operation could produce 100 barrels of flour per day. Improvements in 1890 increased the daily capacity to 200 barrels per day, and then to 350.
The 1895 article described Semler as "one of Hamilton's energetic business firms" which through "enterprise and up-to-date hustling . . . has built up an enormous business."
The firm sold flour "all through the South and East, where it comes in competition with the finest grades of flour made in the world. It holds its own because it is among the best flour that money can buy," the reporter claimed.
"For the home trade, Semler & Co. manufactures the special grades of flour known as Melrose, May Flower, Finest and Little B. Those flours are also shipped to the New England states, especially to Boston, where they have a big sale."
"For the trade through the South, Semler & Co. manufactures the brands known as Ambrosia, Point Lace, Orange Blossom and Tube Rose," the article said.
Two other Hamilton Flour mills were listed in the 1894-1895 city directory.
The Carr & Brown Milling Co., later known as the Carr Milling Co., was on the south side of High Street between South Fourth and South Fifth streets.
The Sherer Milling Co., also known as the Fort Hamilton Milling Co., was at 11 South Water Street (now S. Monument Avenue), south of High Street.
By 1912, the Semler mill had become the Prince Milling Co. with Charles Diefenbach as president and George P. Semler as treasurer and general manager.
Two unrelated events contributed to the gradual demise of local mills — the March 1913 flood, which destroyed or damaged industries along the Great Miami River, and World War I, which brought changes in food processing and marketing.
Fire also was a constant threat in mills and Semler had its share In addition to the 1884 blaze, it suffered $50,000 damage in 1895, $35.000 in 1900, $75,000 in 1901, $40,000 in 1903 and $75,000 in a 1910 fire.
By 1920, after World War I, only the Carr Milling Co. remained in business In Hamilton.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Aug. 27, 1989
Hueston Woods State Park named after pioneer
By Jim Blount
Hueston Woods State Park, which is partially in Butler County, bears the name of one of the area's pioneers, Matthew Hueston, who arrived with Gen. Anthony Wayne's army.
Hueston, as a businessman and a farmer, later accumulated land in Butler and Preble counties in Ohio and in Indiana. About 40 years ago, 377 acres of his land in the two counties became the nucleus for a 3,600-acre state park.
He was born May 1, 1771, near Mercersburg in present Franklin County, Pa., then a trading center for Indians and settlers. Later, his parents moved the family to a cabin on the western Virginia frontier, near Wheeling, W. Va.
When Lord Dunmore's War began in 1774, William Hueston sent his wife and children to Taylor's Fort, 12 miles away, for protection.
William Hueston continued to work on his new farm, where he was fatally shot and scalped by Indians, leaving his wife, Elizabeth, with six children to support.
At 15, Matthew Hueston began a four-year apprenticeship with a tanner. April 17, 1793, he headed west on his own, taking a boat load of leather to sell in Cincinnati and Louisville, then frontier towns.
In June 1793, he settled in Cincinnati and worked for about two months at a tannery.
He then joined Robert McClellan and William McClellan, also later connected with Butler County, as packhorse drivers for Gen. Anthony Wayne's army.
In this risky job, he hauled supplies from Fort Washington at Cincinnati through Fort Hamilton to Fort Jefferson (southwest of Greenville). Later, Hueston drove cattle north to Fort Jefferson where he butchered the herd for the army.
Eventually he was promoted to a $30-a-month commissary position in Wayne's army.
In 1795, after Wayne's victory over the Indians and the signing of the Treaty of Greenville, Hueston left the army to become a sutler (traveling merchant) and operated stores in Cincinnati and Greenville.
He also was a cattle drover between Cincinnati and Detroit. The drives — including as many as 350 head — took about 40 days for a round trip. Hueston was usually paid $2.50 a head.
By 1800, Hueston had saved about $1,500, which he decided to invest in land. He began by acquiring 200 wooded acres in Fairfield Township, south of Hamilton.
In 1801, when the federal government began selling land west of the Great Miami River, he bought 2,600 acres in what would become Hanover, St. Clair and Oxford townships.
Hueston was married April 15, 1802, to Catherine Davis, and they settled on his 200 acres in Fairfield Township (near Ohio 4 and Winton Road), where they farmed and operated a tavern and drover's stop.
In 1808, he began a career in public service that extended more than a quarter of a century. That year he became a justice of the peace in Fairfield Township.
Four years later, when the War of 1812 began, Hueston volunteered to return to the army, first as soldier and then as a commissary until the end of the war.
In 1813, he moved his family to a farm on Four Mile Creek in Hanover Township where he also was a justice of the peace (until 1834) and elected a Butler County commissioner from 1826 until 1835.
Meanwhile, other Hueston family members also located here.
His mother. Elizabeth, also lived near Four Mile Creek with her second husband, Thomas Gray. A brother, Thomas Hueston, settled on a farm north of Hamilton near Seven Mile. A sister, Mary, who married Gilbert Marshall, resided near Darrtown.
In 1834 Matthew Hueston, the father of four sons and five daughters, moved to Rossville (now a part of Hamilton) to a new house at the northwest corner of South D and Franklin streets.
He was residing there when he died April 16, 1847, about two weeks before his 77th birthday.
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