Journal-News, Sunday, Jan. 7, 1990
Railroad frogs and switches made in Hamilton
By Jim Blount
There are no traces today of the American Frog & Switch Co. which prospered in Hamilton for nearly 50 years.
The company operated during the peak years of American railroading. Its products were standard steel frogs and switches, track supplies and other railroad specialties.
A frog is a device placed at the Intersection of two tracks. It permits a train to cross a perpendicular track.
American Frog & Switch's business address was 1028 Main St. The one-story, 40,000-square-foot plant was on the east side of Main between Lawn Avenue and the Belt Line Railroad at Haldimand Avenue.
The original plant measured 100 by 300 feet and was served by a spur of the Belt Line Railroad. Its property, which originally extended 1,000 feet along Main Street, ran east to Park Avenue.
According to a newspaper report, AF&S was organized May 31,1901, with an impressive list of officers. They were: L. F. Phipps, of the Globe Rolling Mills Co., Cincinnati, president; J. C. Hooven, president of the Hooven, Ownes, Rentschler Co., of Hamilton, vice president; M. E. Dempsey of Cincinnati, secretary; Dr. E. S. Griffis, a Hamilton dentist, treasurer; E. W. Harden of Cincinnati, engineer; and Will H. Rabbe of Cincinnati, superintendent.
Additional directors were two Hamiltonians, Earl Hooven, also of Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co., and C. E. Heiser of the Second National Bank.
They incorporated American Frog & Switch in June 1901 with capital of $400,000.
One of the firm's early customers was the U. S. Navy, according to a Dec. 20, 1911, newspaper report.
The article said "the recognized worth of this company's products on the part of the United States government, which has placed large orders . . . for use in its various navy yards, shows that the government approval is stamped on the Hamilton products."
The report also said "many of the leading railroads of the country use the Hamilton line of frogs and switches exclusively."
The company turned out its unique products through the boom years of American railroading and during two world wars.
"The shop accomplished vital war production during World War II," a newspaper reported. "Besides work for trackage at domestic war plants, required specialists were rushed to foreign countries for use of allies in running of new rail lines and repair of damaged ones."
When "the war ended in 1945, American railroads went into decline and with them the markets served by the local firm.
Between 1945 and 1949, some of the property fronting on Park Avenue was sold and houses were built on the land, reducing the AF&S holding to only seven acres.
In April 1949, R. G. Detmer, vice president and general manager, announced that AF&S would close May 6. Production was to be moved elsewhere and the Main Street property sold.
By then, the shop had only 42 employees, all of whom lost their jobs, some after 40 years of working with the company.
In 1934, its local owners had sold American Frog & Switch to the Taylor-Wharton Iron and Steel Co. of High Bridge, N. J.
The 1949 closing report said the "geographical location of Hamilton was the basis for continuing the shop, even though Taylor-Wharton had unused capacity in the same fabricating field at a plant In Easton, Pa."
A newspaper said "the immediate move leading to abandonment of Hamilton as a production center came with the consolidation last January, with the Weir, Kilby Corp., Cincinnati, operating shops in Norwood, Ohio, and Birmingham, Ala."
Within a few months, the factory was demolished and the land occupied by a shopping center and a branch bank. In the last 30 years, additions and alterations to the retail complex have completely erased visible evidence of Hamilton's link to the golden years of railroading.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 1990
Ku Klux Klan was no stranger to county
(This is the first of two columns on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.)
By Jim Blount
The Ku Klux Klan, which has been in the headlines in this area recently, is not a stranger to Butler County. In fact, the Invisible Empire was a force here in the early 1920s.
The KKK is believed to have swelled to more than four million members by 1925 with Indiana and Ohio the center of its power.
In the 1920s, the Klan — founded in the South after the Civil War -- "was neither predominantly southern, nor rural, nor white supremacist, nor violent," wrote Kenneth T. Jackson in The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930, published in 1967. Instead, Jackson said, it saw "itself as the defender of Americanism and the conservator of Christian ideals."
There are no known numbers for Klan strength in Butler County in the 1920s, but there is agreement that membership and support here were considerable. They were concerned about the influence of Catholicism, Judaism, integration, immigration and internationalism.
An example of Klan strength in the area is reflected in a newspaper report of KKK rites in the summer of 1922.
Saturday evening, July 26, 1922, in a 25-acre farm field between Hamilton and Cincinnati, several thousand Klan members attended the initiation of 700 recruits, including 500 from Cincinnati, 100 from Hamilton and 50 from Middletown.
A newspaper, in describing the scene, noted "fiery crosses" and "whispered signs and countersigns, white altars draped with the American flag, slow-moving figures clad in white and flowing garments."
Hamilton newspapers in the early 1920s also reported other KKK incidents, including the following:
In Oxford, shortly after midnight Saturday, Dec. 17, 1920, 12 to 14 white-hooded men smashed through the door of a house on East Spring Street, upset furniture, tore curtains and urged the resident to leave town.
In College Corner, Saturday night, Sept. 25, 1922, about 60 Klansmen, following a lighted cross, paraded the length of the town. It was the second appearance of the Klan there within a few weeks.
Thursday, Dec. 7, 1922, Hamilton's safety director received a threatening letter, reportedly from the Ku Klux Klan. The letter — which the Klan denied sending — demanded immediate city action to close numerous houses of prostitution.
Two nights later, Saturday, Dec. 9, Hamiltonians were reminded of the Klan's presence by the burning of a cross on the stone quarry hill near South B Street and New London Road.
Twice in July 1923 eight-foot crosses were burned on the same hilltop west of the Columbia Bridge, and two cross-burnings were reported in other locations in the same month.
In Oxford, Jan. 25, 1923, a burning cross was found in the front yard of Mayor James Hughes after the Klan demand his resignation.
Butler County in the 1920s was sandwiched between two large Klan strongholds, according Jackson, who reported more than 18,000 members in the Cincinnati area and about 40,000 in the Dayton area. He estimated there were 200,000 Knights in Ohio, mostly in industrial cities.
"There was a time during the 1920s when it seemed that the mask and hood had become the official symbol of the Buckeye State," said David M. Chalmers in Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, published in 1965.
Chalmers estimated Ohio membership at nearly 400,000, "largest in the nation," but never able to "match either the power of the Indiana realm or the reign of terror and fear created by the Klans of the Lone Star State" [Texas].
Helping to hasten the rapid decline of the Buckeye Klan in the last half of the 1920s was the fall of D. C. Stephenson, the flamboyant grand dragon of Indiana, who had contributed to the growth of the Ohio organization.
In November 1925. Stephenson (the subject of a recent NBC drama. "Cross of Fire") was convicted of assault, rape and kidnaping in the death of an Indianapolis woman.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Jan. 21, 1990
Klan affected many aspects of local life
(This is the last of two columns on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.)
By Jim Blount
"The parade drew the largest crowd to the business district ever seen in Hamilton," proclaimed a newspaper in reviewing an unusual procession Saturday night, June 14, 1924. About 1,500 hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan marched along High Street and, according to news reports, "the streets and sidewalks were literally packed" with spectators.
Some who witnessed that 1924 Klan parade recall it as Hamilton's biggest parade, attracting more spectators than any seen here before or since.
The Flag Day parade included four Klan bands and floats described as "Betsy Ross making the flag, the Little Red School House, the Liberty Bell and 'The Boys of '76.'"
As was its custom for such events, the Klan asked that its designated members patrol the assembly point at the Butler County Fairgrounds and direct traffic along the parade route. City officials complied with that request, excusing Hamilton police from those duties.
"The Klan came to Hamilton masked," a news report said. "Only the delegation from College Corner was willing to show their faces and be publicly known. The masks were pulled from several of the traffic officers, and in every case, these men were non-residents of Hamilton and Butler County."
Newspapers also reported several fights and "the branding of a Catholic boy" followed the parade.
The Invisible Empire of the early 1920s — the Prohibition years — was more than parades and cross burnings. It was an economic, social, religious and political force.
By 1922, the Ohio Klan was showing its strength across the political spectrum — from local races for mayor, councils and school boards to congressional contests.
Historian Kenneth T. Jackson said "the victors included Klansmen, Klan friends and opportunistic politicians who read the signs of the times."
In 1925, the grand dragon of Ohio claimed that 45 of the 99 members of the Ohio House of Representatives were Klansmen.
Two years earlier, the House had rejected an anti-mask bill that would have required secret organizations like the Klan to file a list of officers with the state and open membership rolls for official inspection.
In Hamilton, the growth of Klan influence brought drastic changes in city government.
In 1919, the city election was between Democrats and Socialists with Republican candidates in only three contests, all finishing third. The Republican mayoral candidate got only 8.3 percent of the vote.
Democrats prevailed, electing the mayor, auditor, treasurer, solicitor and president of council and eight out of nine council seats. A Socialist won the Fifth Ward seat.
In 1921, Democrat dominance began to slip with the KKK entering the picture in support of many Republicans.
A Democrat mayor was elected in a three-way fight, but by only a margin of 301 votes over the second-place Republican candidate, who took 41 percent of the vote.
Democrats retained the offices of auditor, solicitor and president of council, each a three-way contest in which the Republicans were the formidable challengers instead of the Socialists.
A Republican was elected treasurer by 67 votes. Republicans also won three of nine council seats with Democrats taking the remainder. In 1923, the Republican upsurge continued and the party took control of Hamilton government.
The GOP won eight of nine council positions, ousting three Democrat incumbents. The party also won all city offices (mayor, auditor, treasurer, solicitor and president of council), ousting three Democrat incumbents.
But in 1925, with the Klan on the decline, Democrats reasserted themselves, winning four of five city offices (mayor, president of council, auditor and solicitor) and capturing a six to three advantage on council.
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Journal-News, Sunday, Jan. 28, 1990
Palace Theater opened in February 1920
By Jim Blount
The Palace Theater, described as "the first building of its kind in Hamilton designed and built exclusively for the showing of motion pictures," opened 70 years ago. The $100,000 theater at 213-219 S. Third St., opened Tuesday night, Feb. 3, 1920, when movies were booming here.
Mayor Culbertson J. Smith, speaking at its opening, hailed the addition of the Palace to the city because "at the present time there are not enough theaters to hold all the people" who want to attend movies.
In February 1920, four other movie theaters were operating in downtown Hamilton, all within a block of the Palace.
They were the Eagle, at the northwest corner of Court Street and Journal Square; the Grand, at 201 S. Third St.; the Jefferson, at 123 S. Second St.; and the Jewell, at the southeast corner of Court and S. Second streets.
A sixth movie house would open later in 1920, the Rialto, at High and Front streets.
Movies had been around since the release of "The Great Train Robbery" in 1903, but most were the crude nickelodeons shown in buildings not designed as theaters. Many were short features shown at vaudeville houses.
The movie boom began after the end of World War I (1918).
A 1920 newspaper said the Palace "is a replica of the famous Rivoli Theater in New York City, and Managing Director Fred S. Meyer intends to make it just as much like the Rivoli as possible."
The Hamilton theater — called "the theater beautiful" and the city's "temple of the silent art" when it opened — was designed by Meyer and Frederick G. Mueller, a Hamilton architect.
Besides Meyer, the Palace management and staff included Harry Silver, resident manager; Harry Turberg, treasurer; Nat Turberg, chief usher; G. W. Betz, chief projectionist; and Walter Charles, musical director.
The Palace, located next to what is now Ringel Furniture, showed silent films when it opened. "Talkies" were seven years away. (It was October 1927 when Warner Brothers produced the "Jazz Singer," featuring Al Jolson, with singing and dialogue as part of the film.)
During opening week at the Palace, the featured films were "From Hand to Mouth," a comedy starring Harold Lloyd, and "The Brat," starring Nazimova, described as "the highest paid movie star in the world" and, according to a recent contest, "Hamilton's favorite screen actress." Also shown was a newsreel, "Palace Timely Topics."
Bernard Cowham of Chicago was featured on the theater's $10,000 Bartola symphonic organ during opening week.
The Palace's eight-piece orchestra, led by Walter Charles, started the opening-night program by playing "The Palace March," which was written by Charles for the new theater.
Orchestra members were Will H. Lebo, organist; Marcella Lebo, assistant organist; W. B. Charles, piano; Carl Pabst, violinist; Lee Inman, cornet; Elmer Bevington, clarinet; Frank Wolpert, trombone; Carl Henning, bass; and Frank Sullivan, traps.
A preview of the opening said "Third Street, even in these prohibition times, is going to get all lit up next Tuesday." The day after, a newspaper said opening night made S. Third Street "look like Broadway, alias 'The Gay White Way.'"
A New York City idea introduced in Hamilton with the Palace opening was military ushers, complete with swagger sticks.
"When moviegoers enter," a newspaper explained, "they will be met by an usher who will salute, conduct them to their seats, stand at attention until they reach their places, turn on his heel and go back to guide other patrons to their seats."
The Palace continued operations for more than 30 years before going dark in the early 1950s.
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