Journal-News, Sunday, March 3,1991
Housing shortage faced World War II veterans
(This is the first of two columns on the Hamilton housing shortage following World War II.)
By Jim Blount
A severe shortage of housing — a byproduct both of the depression years of the 1930s and the 1941-1945 war — faced World War II veterans returning to Hamilton 45 years ago.
Besides wartime marriages, the increased housing demand had been created by an easing of war-related restrictions on building materials; the availability of loans to veterans; pent-up personal savings accumulated by both veterans and war workers; and the continued prosperity and postwar expansion of Hamilton's industrially-based economy.
During the first two full years of World War II (1942 and 1943) building permits were issued for 209 housing units in Hamilton, down 47 percent from 397 units in 1940 and 1941.
In the war's last two years (1944 and 1945), the city issued only 44 housing permits.
That number reflected the impact of federal restrictions on home-front construction announced April 9, 1942, and in force at once. Federal rent controls began in Hamilton 19 days later.
Meanwhile, available housing was taken by workers who moved to Hamilton to take jobs in defense plants.
In 1940 — with World War II already raging in Europe — Hamilton had 14,547 housing units. By 1950, the total would swell by 3,090 to 17,637 units, a 10-year increase of 21.2 percent.
But the postwar building boom had not started by early 1946 when the shortage was tackled by the Hamilton Emergency Housing Commission, which included J. Walter Wack, chairman; Otis W. Briggs, vice chairman; and Murray Stephens, Frank Schremer, Don Meeks and Mayor William Beckett.
In May 1946, the commission published an emergency housing questionnaire in the Journal-News as a first step in seeking help from the National Housing Agency, which had recently been appropriated $400 million by Congress.
The questionnaire asked names and ages of dependents; number of rooms in present dwelling; number of persons occupying it; preference to own or rent; amount of monthly rent affordable; and, if buying, the affordable price.
In two days there were about 325 replies, prompting Wack to note that "it is quite evident . . . there are many veterans who need housing and need it quickly." He said "it is also quite evident that the majority want to rent property — not buy property."
By May 29, 1946, the survey identified between 1,500 and 2,000 persons in Hamilton needing more than 400 housing units, described as enough to fill 15 to 20 city blocks. Later the commission raised its estimate of need to more than 700 housing units.
The commission also reported May 29 that it was considering temporary housing units which had been used by war workers and by soldiers during the war. The committee said it was seeking local sites with sewer and water connections.
Also May 29, it was announced that 62 acres of the former Benninghofen farm, south of Hamilton and west of Dixie Highway, was to become a 270-house subdivision built by Kenneth Hammond of the newly-formed St. Clair Construction Co.
Work was to start within two weeks on the houses which were to be fabricated by the Pease Woodworking Co. on Symmes Avenue in Hamilton.
The two-bedroom houses with basements on 50-foot lots were to be sold only to veterans with emergency needs. They were priced under $7,700.
More than 1,100 phone inquiries were received before applications were available, reported Hammond, who also was building 34 houses in the $10,000 to $16,000 range in the Lawn Avenue area on Hamilton's West Side.
But more than those additions would be needed to relieve Hamilton's housing needs.
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Journal News, Sunday, March 10, 1991
Army barracks eased local housing shortage
(This is the last of two columns on the Hamilton housing shortage following World War II.)
By Jim Blount
World War II army barracks were moved to Hamilton in 1946 as the federal government tried to relieve the city's post-war housing shortage.
July 12, Rep. Edward J. Gardner, of Hamilton, announced allocation of 100 units to the city for temporary housing for families of veterans by the Federal Public Housing Authority.
The former army barracks would be located on 4,000-foot frontage on both sides of South Avenue (now Knightsbridge Drive), between South Front and South Second streets, an area soon called Vets Village.
The city would clear the site and provide sewers, water and sidewalk, if needed, said Mayor William Beckett.
The 20 by 100-foot units — worth about $4,000 each in 1946 prices — were to be moved from Camp McCain in Mississippi.
Cleanup began July 25 at the neighboring city dump west of Peck Avenue to eliminate odors and smoke from garbage fires.
Meanwhile, other local housing projects were delayed because of shortages of materials and manpower. Those problems would continue for at least a year and also delay Vets Village.
In August 1946, the Veterans Information Center in the Rentschier Building began receiving applications for the temporary housing units from the FPHA, the first of which arrived two months later.
At that time, Hamilton expected to receive 33 buildings, including 32 with three apartments and one unit with four. The breakdown also included 12 one-bedroom units, 78 with two bedrooms and 10 with three bedrooms.
Oct. 22, three units arrived on two flatcars at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's South Hamilton yard and erection began by the Alston Construction Co., Rahway, N.J., with John Berns as general superintendent. Project manager for the city was Robert Marrs, later a county prosecutor and judge.
Work was delayed until Dec. 2 by the absence of bids on plumbing as local construction companies experienced a healthy business, but a tight labor supply.
Russel P. Huls, James R. Fisher, Marvin S. Kline, Vincent Emminger, Roby Houser, William McDulin and James Butler were appointed Jan. 31, 1947, to a tenant selection committee.
A few weeks later, Hamilton's housing shortage was estimated at 1,300 units and increasing. A "Remodel for Veterans Program" began in March, encouraging creation of rental units for veterans in existing Hamilton buildings.
Federal officials also cautioned builders that veterans were to receive preference on housing.
The first families moved into two units Wednesday, March 26,1947, as six units in Vets Village were turned over to the city while 64 remained under construction. The first tenants were members of the Forrest Pete Haggard family.
By Sept. 17, more than 300 people in 70 families were living in Vets Village.
Occupants paid $30 monthly to rent three rooms and a bathroom, with water, electricity, ice boxes and stove furnished. Other monthly rates were $33 for four rooms and $35 for five rooms.
"We should remember," Marrs explained, "that the housing is provided by the federal government of the only materials available in a hurry.
"The kerosene stoves furnished and used for cooking and the coal stoves used for heating were all from government surplus. Ice boxes are furnished. Electric refrigeration is impossible because the wiring used by the federal government would not carry the additional load."
He emphasized Vets Village was temporary housing land that it was "supervised and controlled by the federal government."
Oct. 3, 1947, City Manager Frank R. Buechner announced bids would be taken soon on 30 more Vets Village housing units after federal officials had released $92,800 for the project.
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Journal-News, Sunday, March 17, 1991
Local Irish united in Civil War unit
By Jim Blount
Ninety-five young men of Irish ancestry dominated the 115-man Company I of the 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. The local Irishmen enlisted in the summer and fall of 1861, lured by a promise of a $100 bounty and 160 acres of land.
Colonel Michael C. Ryan of Hamilton, with help from Robert Cullen, intended to raise an all-Irish company in the county to become part of the 50th Ohio.
But Ryan died before completing the 50th OVI and Company I was transferred to the 74th OVI, whose 10 companies also included units from Columbus, Enon, Xenia and Cincinnati.
The 95 Irish Butler Countians were among 978 men enrolled in the regiment when it was ordered to leave Camp Chase in Columbus April 20,1862.
An additional 100 Butler County men were in other companies in the 74th, including 32 of German ancestry in Company G.
The original commander of the 74th — who held a Methodist pastorate in Hamilton after the war — was the Rev. Granville Moody. The colonel — who led the 74th from Dec. 10, 1861, until May 16, 1863 — was wounded four times and known as the "Fighting Parson" for his battlefield gallantry at Stones River, Tenn.
Highest-ranking officer among the Butler County Irish was Cornelius McGreevey, 22, when the regiment formed. He rose from second lieutenant in 1863 to lieutenant colonel in 1865.
Other local officers were captains Patrick Dwyer, 26, and Martin Ryan, 20; First Lieutenant Robert Cullen, 25; and second lieutenants Bernard T. Connaughton and Michael McGreevey, both 27 years of age.
The youngest local volunteers, according to records, were seven 18-year-olds: William McClane, Edward Lenehan, John Griffin, Henry Brick, Henry Buck, Patrick Doyle and Jacob Smith.
The oldest was Philemon E. Jones, a 45-year-old musician.
After leaving Camp Chase in April, the 74th served in the area around Nashville and Columbia, Tenn., until November 1862.
The regiment's first taste of battle was Dec. 31, 1862, through Jan. 3, 1863, at Stones River, southeast of Nashville. The 74th was one of several regiments ordered to charge Confederate lines Jan. 2, starting the day with 396 men, but losing eight killed, 98 wounded and 19 missing in the combat.
Butler County men lost at Stones River included Pvt. John Hawkins, 20, killed Dec. 31, and Sgt. John Toohei. 23, who died Jan. 31, I6G3, of wounds suffered Dec. 31.
The 74th OVI also fought in battles at Chickamauga, Ga., and Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1863, during Sherman's Atlanta campaign and march to the sea in 1864 and in the final drive through the Carolinas in 1865.
It arrived May 7, 1865, at Richmond, Va., capital of the Confederacy, and marched in the Grand Review of the victorious Union army May 24 in Washington, D. C.
The discharge of the 74th OVI — then only 457 men — was completed July 17, 1865, at Camp Dennison, northeast of Cincinnati.
During more than three years of service, the regiment lost 160 men, including 53 killed and 107 who died of disease. Eleven of the dead were Butler County Irishmen in Company I.
Besides Sgt. Toohei and Pvt. Hawkins, those killed or dying of battle wounds were: Corp. James Halley, 22, June 19, 1864, at Chattanooga; Pvt. Martin Kenehan, 45, died Aug. 3,1864, at Atlanta; and Pvt. James Dolan, 24, Nov. 24,1864, at Chattanooga.
The six who died of disease were: Pvt. John Berney, 28, Feb. 19, 1864, at Monroe; Pvt. James Dolin, 25, Nov. 24,1864, at Chattanooga; Pvt. John Duvine, 44, Dec. 20, 1862, at Nashville; Pvt. William Lyons, 26, Aug. 31, 1863, at Nashville; Pvt. Malachi Ryan, 29, Feb. 14, 1863, at Nashville; and Pvt. Michael Traverse, 28, Feb. 16,1864, at Hamilton.
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Journal News, Sunday, March 24, 1991
Historic cabin sheltered many in 160 years
By Jim Blount
What is the story behind the log just south of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument in Hamilton? Was it part of Fort Hamilton? Was it the birthplace or home of a famous Hamiltonian?
Those are common questions from persons who aren't familiar with the history of the cabin that now stands on land once within the walls of Fort Hamilton, an army outpost in the Northwest Territory during the Indian wars of the 1790s.
The building was not part of the fort built 200 years ago in 1791, and it wasn't erected in Hamilton.
It may have been built as a barn, stable or blacksmith shop instead of a house.
The cabin was discovered at 209 Park Ave. in 1964 when it was about to be destroyed. Thanks to a new owner — who didn't know he had acquired a log cabin — and the efforts of many people and organizations, the building was saved and relocated on public property.
The cabin had 57 owners and hundreds of occupants in about 160 years as a private residence, according to Esther Benzing, who was Butler County archivist in 1964 when the structure was discovered. She also reported it had been involved in three sheriffs sales.
It was believed to have been built before the establishment of Rossville, a village founded in 1804 on the west side of the Great Miami River. Rossville was merged with Hamilton in 1855.
It was uncovered in September 1964 when R. B. "Penny" Hershner was planning to demolish the building to create a parking lot for his adjacent Hershner Realty office at the southwest comer of Part and North C streets.
Hershner donated the four-room cabin — which had been covered with clapboard siding — to the Butler County Park District.
The park district offered the building to the City of Hamilton with county park employees doing the reconstruction. The park district also agreed to accept responsibility for operation and maintenance costs.
In October 1964, Hamilton City Council was unanimous in approving the rebuilding offer on city-owned land south of the monument. The council action also exempted the project from city building codes.
Thomas B. Rentschler and Walter Rentschler of the Citizens Bank led the way in financing its dismantling, moving and reconstruction at the Monument Avenue site.
The cabin's stone fireplace and stone chimney were built through the cooperation of cement and concrete manufacturers, suppliers, contractors and masonry apprentices.
Planning and overseeing the entire project was Bruce Diehl, park district director.
Despite the cabin's age, a 1964 report said "weather and people have left it virtually unmarked, except for slight black fire scars on the outside of the rear part of the building.
The same article said "a walnut and poplar wall was constructed sometime after the cabin was constructed, dividing the building into as many as four rooms — two down and two up — with a small loft overhead.
"The cabin proper, a brilliant piece of wood craftsmanship, was originally constructed without a nail being used in the building of the four walls," noted the newspaper report.
The relocated cabin was dedicated Friday afternoon, Dec. 18, 1964, in a program led by George Cummins, Hamilton lawyer and historian who was chairman of the Butler County Historical Society's cabin restoration committee.
Other participants included Mayor Thomas Kindness; William R. Stitsinger, president of the Butler County commissioners; William Huxster, secretary-treasurer of Hamilton Area Unit Masonry Inc.; William K. Baldridge, president of the Butler County Historical Society; M. David Urmston, chairman of the park district; others who helped in the project and representatives of families that had resided in the building.
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Journal-News, Sunday, March 31, 1991
Three firemen killed in 1912 courthouse fire
By Jim Blount
March has been a month of tragedy in Hamilton history, most notably the 1913 flood which claimed mere than 200 lives in the community. A year and 11 days before that disaster, three firefighters died while battling a fire in the Butler County Courthouse.
The dead were John Hunker, 39, in his first year with the Hamilton department; William Love, 46, a veteran of more than eight years; and George Fritz, 36, a fireman nearly 12 years.
Deputy Chief John F. Heath and Fireman Thomas Ogg were injured fighting the fire while Chief William Dowty collapsed later.
Most of the courthouse escaped serious damage in the brief, but fatal fire of Thursday, March 14, 1912, because it was discovered in the middle of a workday when there were plenty of people around to spread the alarm and help remove valuable records. The county loss, initially believed to be $100,000, was later revised to $80,000.
"The fire started near the cupola," a newspaper reported, "due to crossed electric wires, which were used in running and lighting the large clock that rested in the tower."
Anson Lukens, a Journal reporter working in the courthouse, noted that the lights in the dome went out at about 11:30 a.m., an outage at first blamed on a squirrel.
The fire was discovered when Lukens and Barney Ellers. an elevator operator, went to the fourth floor to rescue the squirrel. Courthouse workers and clients were warned by shouts of "Fire!"
"Turmoil was at its height in the building in an instant," the Journal noted. "The alarmed officials dashed into the lobby, only to be frightened by brick and other debris beginning to drop through the glass dome above the second floor lobby."
The newspaper said "greater excitement did not prevail in the doomed building" because "the courts were not working and the offices were practically deserted."
"The report said "a mad dash then ensued to save the valuable records" with employees and others throwing record books from windows. Meanwhile, spectators circled the building as Hamilton firefighters moved into the courthouse with hoses.
"Little or no alarm was given that the tower was about to fall," said the Journal, noting that the "two-by-four timbers that supported the large tower burned away and the tons of iron and steel above, including the big clock, dashed to the street below," striking some people near the building.
The clock had topped at 11:33 and collapsed at 11:43.
Several people in the courthouse were warned just before the tower, including a bell, dropped to the lobby. But cries from the debris indicated that others weren't as fortunate.
Fireman Hunker, who was killed instantly, was found under the mass, which severed gas lines, feeding the blaze until the supply could be cutoff by Frank Menchen, a city gas employee.
Fireman Love and Fritz died of burns in Mercy Hospital. Love died at 4:50 p.m., a little more than five hours after the fire had started. Fritz lingered for nearly five days before his death at 6:10 a.m. Tuesday, March 19.
At 1 p.m. — slightly more than an hour after discovery of the fire — County Commissioner Frank Kinch began organizing salvage crews to work on the second floor.
Meanwhile, city and county officials began tracking down numerous false reports of missing persons which temporarily inflated the human loss. It took a day to confirm there were no more bodies under the rubble.
By the next day, judges and county officials were seeking or occupying temporary quarters until the courthouse cleanup and repair could be completed under the direction of commissioners James Harmon, Frank Davis and Kinch.
The fire also altered the habits of Hamiltonians who relied on the courthouse to remind them of the time. "The big bell that hung in the tower and every hour tolled the time of day is forever stilled," a newspaper reported.
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