Journal-News, Sunday, June 4, 1989
Rossville was Hamilton's rival until 1855
(This is the first of two columns on the early relationship between Hamilton and Rossville.)
By Jim Blount
Efforts to promote the Main Street retail district are a reminder that much of the area began 185 years ago as Rossville, a commercial rival to Hamilton.
The towns on opposite sides of the Great Miami River competed for the same business for about 50 years -- until citizens voted to merge into a single community.
Hamilton was formed on the east bank of the river around Fort Hamilton in 1794 and 1795, when the frontier outpost was about to be abandoned by the U. S. Army.
For a few years, the land west of the river opposite Hamilton was officially vacant.
Rossville began in April 1801 when the government placed the land west of the Great Miami River on sale in Cincinnati. Five partners purchased all of section 36 (640 acres) and parts of sections 31 and 32.
John Sutherland and Henry Brown of Hamilton, and Jacob Burnet, James Smith and William Ruffin of Cincinnati, envisioned Rossville as a commercial and shipping center for farmers settling west of the river -- just as Hamilton had become on the east side of the Great Miami.
Rossville's founders expected it to become a marketplace for farmers who would bring their crops and livestock there for shipment on flatboats to New Orleans, via the Great Miami, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Their town plat -- including 132 lots of varying size -- was recorded March 14, 1804, the same day they offered lots for sale in Rossville.
The town was named in honor of Sen. James Ross of Pennsylvania, who had worked for Ohio statehood in Congress. During his senate career (1794-1803), the Pittsburgh resident also had championed free navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for U. S. citizens.
This included efforts to keep New Orleans open to Ohio Valley merchants when the port was owned by Spain and France.
Sen. Ross also had been a co-founder of the town of Steubenville, Ohio, 36 miles below Pittsburgh on the Ohio River.
According to an 1804 map. Rossville extended west from the river to about present F Street, south to present Millikin Street and north to present Wayne Avenue.
Ross Avenue -- then Ross Street -- was meant to be the main east-west road through the town.
Morris Street -- now Main Street -- was named in honor of Sen. Gouvernor Morris of New York, who also had worked for free navigation rights for U. S. citizens on the Mississippi.
Boudinot Street -- now Park Avenue - honored Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, who had been a president of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution, later a congressman and, when Rossville began, director of the U. S. Mint.
Wayne Avenue on the north edge of Rossville was called North Street in 1804 and Arch Street was known as South Street. The 1804 map didn't include a name for present Millikin Street.
Rossville's north-south streets were labeled Water (later A Street; Front (now B Street), Second (C Street) and Third (D Street).
Two lots at the northeast corner of Ross and Second -- now the site of the Senior Citizens Center -- were marked as "public ground." Later, a school was built on the tract.
A triangular plot was reserved as a "burying ground." Today the former Rossville cemetery is a city park (between Park and Wayne avenues and North D Street).
A ferry was the only connection to Hamilton from about 1804 or 1805 until 1819, when a bridge opened on the approximate site of the present High-Main Street bridge.
By 1810, Rossville had only 84 inhabitants. The same census placed Hamilton's population at 326.
By the 1830 census -- when the towns were in the midst of an unsuccessful four-year merger attempt -- Rossville had grown to 629 people while Hamilton counted 1.079.
In the 1850s -- realizing they had more common commercial interests than conflicts -- leaders in both towns took steps that led to a merger.
# # #
Journal-News, Sunday, June 11, 1989
River formed natural barrier between Hamilton and Rossville
(This is the second of two columns on the early relationship between Hamilton and Rossville.)
By Jim Blount
Crossing the Great Miami River in Hamilton is a relatively simple, uneventful action today, but it hasn't always been that way.
For about 15 years — until the first bridge opened in 1819 — ferries linked the rival towns of Hamilton and Rossville on opposite sides of the river.
When the army sought a site for a fort on the east side of the river in 1791, it chose a ford (or natural, shallow crossing), but its safe use depended on the water level and the current.
The treacherous river remained a barrier when settlement of Hamilton began in 1792. When plans were announced in 1801 for a new town (Rossville) on the river's west side, it provided the impetus for ferry service.
With Hamilton and Rossville competing for business, it would have been possible for farmers to operate exclusively on their respective sides of the river.
Both towns offered pioneers similar services and both were starting points for flatboat shipments via the Great Miami, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.
The exceptions were those living west of the river who had to go to court or conduct business with county offices, which were in the county seat of Hamilton.
Two ferries once connected the rival towns -— the Lower Ferry from Ross Avenue in Rossville to about High Street in Hamilton, and the Upper Ferry from Wayne Avenue (then North Street) in Rossville to Dayton Street in Hamilton.
Early historians are uncertain when ferry service started, most dating inauguration between 1803 and 1805.
The Upper Ferry may have started as early as 1803 by John Torrence, who built a tavern in 1798 on the Hamilton side on what is now the north end of the Hamiltonian Hotel property at Dayton Street and Monument Avenue.
Torrence Tavern — besides providing food and lodging — also served as a county building. The first court sessions were held there in 1803.
Across the street was Murray's Tavern, built at the northwest corner of Front and Dayton streets by William Murray in 1805.
Michael Delorac — who usually is identified as the operator of the Upper Ferry from about 1805 or 1806 until 1821 — had a two-story wood-frame tavern or inn in Rossville at what later was Wayne Avenue and A Street.
Rates for Delorac's ferry in 1814 included 25 cents for a four-horse team loaded; 12.5 cents for a four-horse team empty; 12.5 cents for a two-horse team; and six cents for a man and his horse.
The Lower Ferry had a succession of owners or operators, beginning with Archibald Tolbert. who had been a squatter on the west side of the river before the start of government land sales there.
In 1807 James Mills took over the ferry and ran it until he left in 1812 for service in the War of 1812. Mills operated it for the owners of Rossville, who paid his $4 license fee.
Isaac Falconer replaced Mills in 1812 and Levi Johns was in charge for a few months in 1814 before yielding to John Hall, who operated the ferry until it closed in 1819.
In 1814 Hall paid $1,200 for the right to operate the ferry and for half a block along Water Street (later A Street) at the ferry landing in Rossville. Hall — who was county coroner from 1817 to 1819 and a two-term sheriff, starting in 1825 — built a tavern on the riverfront property.
High water and ice jams periodically interrupted ferry service and the 500 to 600 residents of Hamilton and Rossville started considering an alternative.
Efforts to replace the ferries began in 1815 and resulted in the opening of the Miami Bridge in December 1819.
# # #
Journal-News, Sunday, June 18, 1989
Rossville was Hamilton's rival until 1855
NOTE: The column published Sunday, June 4, was inadvertently reprinted in the Journal-News Sunday, June 18, 1989.
Journal-News, Sunday, June 25, 1989
'Canal fever' hit Butler County in 1820s
(This is the first of a six-part series on the history Miami-Erie Canal in Butler County.)
By Jim Blount
The canal era was relatively brief here, but it brought many changes to Butler County. Despite its speed limit of 4 miles an hour, the waterway was the region's most efficient form of transportation in the 1830-1855 period.
Ceremonies starting the Miami-Erie Canal were held July 21, 1825, south of Middletown. A marker is at the spot, now the northeast corner of Verity Parkway and Yankee Road.
The Middletown rites weren't the first in Ohio. Seventeen days earlier — July 4, 1825 — ground was broken at Licking Summit, near Newark, for the 308-mile Ohio-Erie Canal between Cleveland on Lake Erie and Portsmouth on the Ohio River.
That event was exactly eight years after the July 4. 1817, start of New York's Erie Canal.
The 363-mile Erie Canal — linking Albany on the Hudson River and Buffalo on Lake Erie — was called "Clinton's Ditch" after its staunchest advocate, Gov. DeWitt Clinton.
The New York project infected Ohio with "Canal Fever," and Gov. Clinton had top billing when he joined Gov. Jeremiah Morrow and other notables at the Newark and Middletown ceremonies.
Eventually, the 248-mile Miami-Erie Canal ran between Cincinnati on the Ohio River and Toledo on Lake Erie — coursing through Lockland, Hamilton. Middletown, Franklin, Miamisburg, West Carrollton, Dayton, Tipp City, Troy, Piqua, St. Marys, Delphos and Napoleon.
Butler County was the first to feel the economic and social impact of the Miami-Erie Canal, which originated as the 67-mile Miami Canal between Dayton and Cincinnati.
For engineering and political reasons, state canal leaders began by first building the 44-mile section from Middletown south to Cincinnati.
This was a flat stretch that required few locks to raise and lower boats about eight feet.
For example, it was five miles between a lock north of Dayton Street in Hamilton and the next lock at Port Union in southeast Butler County. This economical section was called the "Five Mile Level."
By September 1825, about 1,000 men. mostly local farmers and their sons, were working on the canal in Butler County. They labored with pick, ax. spade and wheelbarrow for 30 cents a day. A farmer supplementing his muscle with his horse or ox was paid 75 cents a day.
Each canal laborer also received a jigger of whiskey each day to prevent malaria, which caused about one death for every three miles of canal in Ohio.
They built a waterway 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep with 10-foot towpaths on each side.
The 15-mile segment from Middletown to a point east of Hamilton was completed in August 1827. It reached south to Cincinnati in December 1828 and north to Dayton in January 1829.
The cost of building the first 67 miles, which included 32 locks and six aqueducts, was about $900,000.
The northern extension from Dayton to Toledo wasn't started until 1837 and was completed in 1845, running Ohio's bill for the full 248 miles of canal to more than $8 million.
Three reservoirs — With Grand Reservoir between Celina and St. Marys being the largest — were built to maintain a steady supply of water for the Miami-Erie Canal.
There were 19 aqueducts, which were wood bridges carrying the canal over lower streams and valleys to prevent water loss.
The system had 103 locks, an average of one every 2.4 miles. The lifting and lowering devices were necessary because Lake Erie is 117 higher above the Ohio River.
The highest point on the Miami-Erie at Loramie is 512 feet above the Ohio River. That required a northbound canalboat to be raised the equivalent of a 50-story building in about 100 miles. The Carew Tower in Cincinnati is 49 stories.
The Butler County farmers were more interested in income than canal engineering.
A state study in 1822 said flour, which sold at $3.50 a barrel in Cincinnati, would bring $8 in New York. It would cost $1.70 to haul that barrel to New York via canals, leaving the Ohio farmer an additional $2.80 in profit.
# # #