Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 1994
Champion's Alex Thomson Jr. served community in time of celebration and during period of stress
By Jim Blount
During the company's 100 years in Hamilton, Champion men and women have volunteered their time, talent and leadership for many civic causes, programs and events. Contributions to the community have come from all levels of the paper firm, starting with its top management.
One who served the community in a time of celebration and in a trying period was Alexander Thomson Jr., a grandson of Champion's founder, Peter G. Thomson. His father, Alexander Thomson, was the company's president from 1931 until his death in 1939.
The Champion career of Alexander Thomson Jr. started in the Hamilton mill in 1929, on the eve of the Depression. The next year, he moved to the advertising department. In 1931 he began a six-year stint in the Cincinnati and Cleveland sales offices before returning to Hamilton in 1937 to become advertising manager. In 1939 he was elected to the board of directors and named a vice president.
In the next two years, Thomson -- although a resident of Glendale -- also provided leadership for the Hamilton YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Hamilton Welfare Federation (now United Way), Mercy Hospital, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and Hamilton Preparedness Day program.
His most visible public service was as general chairman of the Hamilton sesquicentennial, a seven-day festival in October 1941. "When early plans were laid to observe the 150th birthday of Hamilton, a group of leading citizens conferred and unanimously named Mr. Thomson chairman," observed the Journal-News. "This was not an easy job, and for months Mr. Thomson proved to be the guiding spirit behind the movement."
Thomson also was a member of Company C, a local National Guard unit, and went to summer training camps in 1940 and 1941, but he was rejected for full-time service because of his health when the Ohio Guard was nationalized.
After the U. S. entered World War II, he took a leave of absence from his Champion responsibilities in June 1942 to become the full-time director of Hamilton Civilian Defense.
It was not an honorary position; it was hard work. Civilian defense was urgent in the early months of the war when German or Japanese air attacks were still considered a threat, even in the U. S. heartland.
The Hamilton CD organization was complex. It needed 3,355 people to fill 21 job classifications, including 440 air raid wardens at a suggested ratio of one for every 500 inhabitants. Within a month of Pearl Harbor, only 301 people had registered for CD jobs. But by mid May 1942, more than 5,000 people had volunteered and 1,086 were completing the required training.
The Journal-News said Thomson "devoted his entire energies to the task, conducted an office in the municipal building and placed Hamilton Civilian Defense on such a high plane that it received national recognition as one of the most effective councils."
Meanwhile, Thomson continued his efforts to join the armed services. Again, he was rejected because of a chronic high blood pressure problem. But he was determined to serve his country in a war zone. In February 1943 he became a Red Cross club director with the promise he would receive an overseas assignment.
Assigned to Cairo, Thomson left the U. S. in March 1943 aboard a freighter hauling explosives, part of a convoy subjected to German submarine attacks in the Atlantic. It took 97 days to reach Egypt, where he was assigned to a transportation unit. But illness shortened his tenure.
By October 1943, he was back in the "stone house" (Champion general office on North B Street in Hamilton), but he never regained his health. Alexander Thomson Jr. died June 18, 1944, "a regrettable loss to practically every phase of Hamilton's community life," said the Journal-News in eulogizing the promising Champion executive.
"Few young men have been as active in civic affairs and few have served as many different kinds of civic, charitable and character-building committees and organizations," said a Journal-News editorial when Thomson died at the age of 35.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 1994
First United Methodist Church 175 years old
By Jim Blount
The First United Methodist Church, formed by six people with the help of a circuit rider, will observe its 175th anniversary this weekend in its fifth house of worship on the same site.
The Hamilton church had its start in the fall of 1818 when the Rev. Samuel West, a circuit riding preacher, delivered a sermon in a building at the southwest corner of N. Third and Dayton streets shared by a school, the Hamilton Literary Society and the Masonic Lodge.
That led to formation of a Methodist Society by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sinnard, Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Jewell, Mrs. John (Elizabeth) Caldwell and Miss Lydia Jones.
A Methodist Episcopal Church conference Aug. 7, 1819, in Cincinnati, authorized a station in Hamilton and Rossville and appointed West its minister. He preached on alternate Sundays at the N. Third Street school in Hamilton and at Delorac's warehouse in Rossville.
A 50 by 200-foot lot on the south side of Ludlow Street between S. Second and S. Third streets was purchased for $125 in February 1820, and a 42 by 32-foot chapel for 65 members was built there for $1,300.
An expanding congregation of more than 150 members required larger quarters, and in 1833 an adjacent lot was acquired and a second church (45 by 60 feet) was built at a cost of $4,800. The old building became a school and later a carpenter shop.
The original building and the second church were destroyed by a fire March 5, 1839. For several months, services were held in the Butler County Courthouse and in an old Presbyterian Church at the northeast corner of S. C Street and Ross Avenue in Rossville (now the site of the Murstein House, the Hamilton Senior Citizens center).
Construction on a third church started in 1839. It was partly occupied in the summer of 1840, but the two-story brick edifice wasn't completed until 1849 because of financial problems. An adjacent parsonage was built in 1859, the church was raised six feet and redecorated in 1869 and the first pipe organ installed in 1883.
The last services in the building were April 30, 1893. With membership nearing 500, a larger church was needed, and church leaders agreed to spend $25,108 for a new structure and demolition of the existing one.
The fourth church -- dedicated June 3, 1894 -- was described as "a majestic structure of Romanesque design" constructed "of pink buff Lancaster, Ohio, sandstone . . . laid in rectangular blocks of unequal size and shape." The building designed by Architect Fred E. Townsend featured "two large towers of different heights . . . roofed with red tiling" and winged gargoyles on the four corners of the larger tower.
One of several name changes came in 1903 when the congregation of about 650 people sponsored formation of a Lindenwald church. The original church became the Hamilton First Methodist Episcopal Church.
The complex was damaged during the March 1913 flood, but the loss was minimal and First ME's sanctuary opened to other congregations for several weeks while its Sunday school was converted to an emergency center. From there, food and clothing were disturbed to some of Hamilton's 10,000 homeless. The church also became a temporary hospital and 19 babies were born there during the crisis.
One of Hamilton's most dramatic fires destroyed the 31-year-old stone church Monday, Feb. 25, 1924. The blaze -- which raged for five hours -- was detected at 4:30 p.m. and in less than an hour had engulfed the church, Sunday school rooms, auditorium and parsonage.
The loss included a $14,000 pipe organ installed two years earlier and the pastor's 2,000-volume private library.
The Rev. James H. Denney, his wife and their four children were provided lodging by members of the church, and for several months morning services were conducted in YMCA and evening services in the Bene Israel Synagogue.
The congregation's fifth building, costing $250,000 and designed to seat 500, was dedicated Oct. 24, 1926. The 68-year-old structure at 225 Ludlow Street will be the setting for the 175th anniversary observance. The services will be conducted by Grant Montgomery, who is in his 16th year as its pastor.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 1994
Virginia preacher found area 'delightful' in 1795
By Jim Blount
"Glad shall I have been to have had a little more time to have pleased my eyes with a view of this delightful country." wrote a Virginia preacher after a quick visit to Fort Hamilton and vicinity in 1795.
During his sojourn into the unsettled Northwest Territory, the Rev. James Smith, a 38-year-old Methodist minister, kept a journal which reads like a real estate brochure promoting land sales.
His trip started Oct. 4, 1795, from Virginia. He crossed the Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio River at Point Pleasant (now in West Virginia). Then he made stops at Gallipolis in Ohio; Blue Licks and Lexington in Kentucky; and Cincinnati.
In 1795, most of the territory -- which now includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin -- was wilderness. There were only a few settlements along the Ohio River. The Treaty of Greenville had been signed that August, ending a bloody four-year war between the occupants of the territory, the Native Americans, and the U. S. Army. Settlement around Fort Hamilton had started in late 1794.
Fort Hamilton -- the northwest terminus of Smith's trip -- had been built in 1791 during an ill-fated campaign against the Indians. With peace, the fort's days were numbered when the Virginian arrived the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 17, 1795, after a two-day ride from Cincinnati.
"This fortification stands on the eastern banks of the Miami River, about 30 miles from Cincinnati," Smith noted in his journal. "The fort is built of large logs with portholes to shoot through. This is partly surrounded with an outer wall of considerable extent; this wall is composed of the bodies of trees of about 9 or 10 inches in diameter, cut off about 10 or 12 feet long, set endways in the ground, and sharpened at the top." He said the Great Miami River "at this place is about 120 yards wide."
On the return trip, the Rev. Mr. Smith said, "we proceeded down the river about five miles and lodged with an Irish family adjoining the river. Here we got plenty of fish which are taken in great abundance in this river."
His most lavish praise of the area was in a part of his journal titled "Observations on the Territory Northwest of the Ohio." He wrote: "Within about 9 and 10 miles of Hamilton the lands, I think, are the richest I ever saw. The growth is mostly walnut, sugar tree, etc., tied together by clusters of grapevines, which in this country grow amazingly large."
"From this to Hamilton is the most beautiful level that ever my eyes beheld; the soil is rich, free from swampy or marshy ground and the growth is mostly hickory. Near Hamilton we saw several prairies, as they are called. They are large tracts of fine, rich land, without trees and producing as fine grass as the best meadows.
"From Hamilton down the Miami River to the Ohio, the lands exceed description. Indeed, this country, of all others that I ever saw, seems best calculated for earthly happiness.
"If ever you have a desire to raise great quantities of corn, wheat or other grain, here is perhaps the best soil in the world, inviting your industry. If you prefer the raising of cattle or feeding large flocks of sheep, here the beautiful and green prairie excites your wonder and claims your attention.
"If wearied with toil, you seek the bank of the river, as a place of rest, here the fishes sporting in the limpid stream invite you to cast in your hook and draw forth nourishment for yourself and your family. The most excellent fowl perch in the trees and flutter in the waters while these immense woods produce innumerable quantities of the most excellent venison," he observed.
The Virginia minister was drawn back to "this delightful country." He made another trip to the territory between August and November 1797.
Finally, in 1798, he purchased property on the east bank of the Little Miami River at the mouth of Caesar's Creek, near present Waynesville, in what became Warren County.
But the native of Powhatan County, Va., never lived on the land. In the summer of 1800, he was felled by a fever. He died at Columbia (now an eastern part of Cincinnati) July 28, 1800.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 1994
Does ghostly couple still haunt Sutherland Park?
By Jim Blount
Cholera -- a mysterious, ghastly disease of the 19th century -- spawned a local ghost story which has resurfaced for more than a century and a half.
"Before 1817, there had probably never been a cholera epidemic outside the Far East," explained Charles F. Rosenberg, author of The Cholera Years (University of Chicago Press, 1962). But during the 19th century, Rosenberg said, "it spread through almost the entire world. Of all epidemic diseases, only influenza in the 20th century has had a more extensive odyssey."
Symptoms of the highly contagious disease included vomiting, muscle cramps, chills, fever and diarrhea. Severe dehydration, caused the afflicted to shrink within a few hours. In some victims, the skin turned black and blue because of ruptured capillaries.
Death often came within just a few hours of the first discomfort. Cholera was fatal to about half those strickened.
Within a 34-year span, three epidemics started in the United States, 1832, 1849 and 1866. In 1866 -- a year after the end of the Civil War -- cholera killed more than 50,000 Americans.
After the hideous intestinal affliction struck in Europe in 1831, quarantines were ordered in U. S. Atlantic port cities through the winter of 1831-32, but to no avail. Cholera reached the U. S. for the first time in 1832. In June 1832, about 4,000 people died in New York City alone.
"Americans prided themselves on their railroads, canals and steamboats. Before the end of 1832, cholera was to travel on them all," observed Rosenberg. "Few communities, however remote, escaped its visits; and hastily dug graves in every state between Maine and Wisconsin bore witness to the extent of cholera's wanderings."
By 1833, the epidemic reached Hamilton and Rossville, towns on opposite sides of the Great Miami River. The mysterious disease claimed the lives of young and old, and the strong as well as feeble inhabitants of the neighboring towns.
Here, as elsewhere, the cause of the grisly ailment defied doctors. Meanwhile, quacks and numerous get-rich-quick opportunists peddled useless preventives to a fearful public.
Among the cadaverous victims was a young Rossville woman, who died a few days before her wedding. Her scheduled nuptial day became the day of her burial.
According to her dying wish, she wore her wedding dress as her body was interred in the Rossville Burying Ground (now Sutherland Park, a Hamilton municipal park between Park and Wayne avenues and North D Street).
A few days after her funeral , the lifeless body of her distraught fiancee was found sprawled over her flower-covered grave. The man -- who died of a self-inflicted bullet through his heart -- was buried in the cemetery near the grave of the woman he had planned to marry.
In ensuing years -- on the anniversary of their planned wedding, as clocks struck midnight -- the ghosts of the unfortunate couple were reportedly seen dancing in the cemetery, she in her wedding gown.
Verification of some of the facts behind the legend has been impossible. Names and dates of original burials in the Rossville graveyard were lost with abandonment of the cemetery. Many bodies in the Rossville burying ground were removed to Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton when it opened. The remaining Rossville graves were covered over and their tombstones eventually destroyed or damaged by nature and vandals.
Meanwhile, the mystery of the deadly disease continued until 1883 when Robert Koch, heading a German scientific commission, isolated the cholera-causing organism.
"Cholera could not have thrived," wrote Rosenberg, "where filth and want did not already exist; nor could it have traveled so widely without an unprecedented development of trade and transportation." Cholera, it was discovered, entered the digestive tract via unwashed hands, by eating uncooked fruits and vegetables and from ingesting sewage-contaminated water.
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