Journal-News, Wednesday, April 5, 1995
Roosevelt's death cast pall over city in April 1945
By Jim Blount
"A pall was cast over the city as a stunned populace sought to assimilate the news" that "the president is dead," reported the Journal-News Friday, April 13, 1945. "Hamilton, generally, always has been a 'Roosevelt town,' and the stark reality that their chosen leader had been stricken brought deepest mourning," the newspaper said.
Word of Franklin D. Roosevelt's passing was broadcast shortly before 5 p.m., local time, Thursday, April 12. He had died at 3:35 p.m. in his Warm Springs, Ga., retreat.
He was in the first year of his fourth term. FDR had been president for more than 12 years -- longer than anyone. He was inaugurated March 4, 1933, when the Great Depression was at its worst. He also led the nation during the darkest days of World War II, and died less than a month before Germany's surrender and about four months before Japan capitulated.
In tribute to Roosevelt, stores and businesses in Hamilton closed, and nearly everything else -- except war work -- was canceled or postponed. Flags were ordered at half staff for 30 days after the death of the 63-year-old leader.
City bus drivers and telephone operators paused for two minutes at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 14, as services were held in the White House. Restaurants closed from 3 to 4 p.m., and retail stores closed for the day at 3 o'clock. Theaters delayed opening until 5:45.
Tributes to FDR were incorporated in church services Sunday, April 15, and prayers were said for Harry Truman, the new chief executive, who inherited direction of an unfinished war.
Roosevelt's connections with the area were recalled, including his Saturday, Oct. 16, 1920, visits to Hamilton and Oxford as the vice presidential candidate on the Democrat ticket, headed by James M. Cox, a native of Jacksonburg in Butler County.
"Back in 1920," recalled Robert M. Sohngen, "he and his wife and his lovely daughter, Anna, came to Ohio, and Cy Fitton and I met their train at Oxford and drove them to Hamilton where he appeared for a speech on the High Street side of the courthouse and then spent some time in the home of my Uncle Ed and Aunt Adda Sohngen." (According to the 1920-21 city directory, Edward C. and Addie M. Sohngen resided at 203 South D Street.)
The Cox-Roosevelt team lost to the Republican combination of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Harding died in 1923 and Coolidge finished the term and was elected in 1924. He didn't seek re-election in 1928.
Roosevelt's last Hamilton appearance had been Saturday evening, Sept. 5, 1936, when his special train stopped briefly near the intersection of South Fourth and Sycamore streets. The president was returning to Washington after a 7,000-mile inspection trip of western Dust Bowl states.
The train had not been scheduled to stop in Hamilton. "I remember so well that occasion because it was not a political trip and he was not making appearances," Sohngen said, "but because of the affection Hamilton always had for him, I importuned his secretaries by telegram to have him appear on the rear platform of the train, but they refused." Sohngen was chairman of the Butler County Democratic central committee.
"Then, as his train pulled into town with all curtains drawn, I crawled aboard and personally arranged for the President to greet the throng of people there, which he did," Sohngen explained.
Newspapers reported more than 7,000 people appeared along the tracks of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's Indianapolis-Hamilton line after word of FDR's route leaked out. Many of them were unable to see the president because the train stopped east of the intersection.
"It's good to see you. I am sorry the train pulled away up here and I cannot see you all," Roosevelt apologized during the seven-minute stop. "I have had a wonderful trip, and this is positively my last appearance until we get to Washington."
Roosevelt's favorable Butler County votes in four presidential victories included the following totals:
1932 -- 21,944 to 19,412 over Herbert Hoover, a margin of 2,532.
1936 -- 28,951 to 17,260 over Alf Landon, a margin of 11,691.
1940 -- 30,821 to 23,380 over Wendel Willkie, a margin of 7,441.
1944 -- 26,698 to 22,702 over Thomas Dewey, a margin of 3,996.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 12, 1995
Washington Blvd. planned in 1920
By Jim Blount
Retail development on Hamilton's western border will add to a boulevard system proposed 75 years ago in "a comprehensive plan" for the city's "orderly and economical growth."
What became the basis for Washington Boulevard appears on maps in the 1920 city plan as a parkway extending northwest from South B Street (Hamilton-Cleves Road) across New London Road and Millville Avenue and then northeast and east over Main Street and Eaton Avenue to West Elkton Road and North B Street (Seven Mile Pike). In 1920, most of that proposed right-of-way was outside the city.
In the updated 1948 city plan, a four-lane Washington Boulevard is shown between New London Road and Millikin Woods. Also depicted is a Two Mile Parkway from the northwest corner of Millikin Woods to North B Street.
The 1920 plan -- developed by Harland Bartholomew and associates of St. Louis -- envisioned a "boulevard system" that "connects all large parks and is accessible from the business district." It said "the outer loop embraces the hills to the east and west of the city and takes advantage of the opportunities which the topography offers for picturesque drives and sweeping vistas over the surrounding country."
In 1930, Hamilton City Council authorized work on the first boulevard segment between New London Road and Millville Avenue. A $25,000 bond issue paid for clearing trees and some grading for a 100-foot roadway. That year, to improve alignment, the city traded some land with representatives of the Ellis Potter estate.
During the planning stage, it was called Potter Drive in recognition of the Hamilton native and Cincinnati and New York businessman whose 1925 land donation made possible the municipal golf course which bears his name.
Parcels of land for the New London-Millville portion of the boulevard had been given to the city by Potter and trustees of the Leib estate, which owned a tract at the Millville Avenue end of the proposed road. The Leib subdivision was annexed in January 1931, allowing boulevard construction to start later that year.
Meanwhile, city officials began planning the extension of the boulevard, which had not been officially named. In June 1931, C. N. Teaff, director of public works, said the next section would be through Millikin Woods (then known as Stahlheber Woods) to Eaton Avenue.
"The project may be a year or two in development," Teaff said. Instead, thanks to the Depression and World War II, it took about 30 years, and the connection through the woods and other links still remain on the drawing board.
Dedication of the 1.25-mile New London-Millville section -- which cost $48,000 -- was held Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, 1932, at its intersection with Millville Avenue.
Chairing the event was the woman who suggested its official name -- the George Washington Boulevard. Mrs. Harry (Mae) Diefenbach, a member of the Woman's City Club, also had advocated planting trees along the parkway as a tribute to the revolutionary leader and first president.
In 1932, the nation was observing the bicentennial of Washington's birth (Feb. 22, 1732, in Virginia). Mrs. Diefenbach's dedication committee included Mrs. C. B. Whitaker and Mrs. Margaret Schwartz, also members of the club. Participants included City Manager Russell P. Price; Mrs. C. E. Woolford, club president; and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Instead of a continuous outer beltway, Washington Boulevard has developed piecemeal as four separate thoroughfares. The original link runs northwest from New London Road across Millville Avenue to an abrupt end at the railroad on the south side of Millikin Woods.
A short section, in West Park Subdivision, is between Millikin Woods and Two Mile Creek. Another short span, in Brookwood Subdivision, starts on the north side of the creek and continues northeast to Glencross Avenue.
The longest part extends east from Main Street across Brookwood, Eaton and Cleveland avenues to Berkeley Square Drive near West Elkton Road. Under present plans, with the building of a Wal-Mart Store and other development, the latter section of Washington Boulevard will be continued southwest from Main Street to Stahlheber Road.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 19, 1995
Babeck promoted and rewarded spelling excellence
By Jim Blount
Albert F. Babeck believed Butler County children should know how to spell, and he did more than talk about it. For 20 years he promoted spelling and rewarded outstanding performances.
Babeck, then a Seven Mile resident, died June 7, 1943, at age 94. An obituary described him as a retired farmer "whose name and personality have become familiar to every boy and girl who attended the Butler County schools during the last 20 years." The spelling competition he started continued for at least a dozen years after his death.
The Butler County native attended county schools, where he developed his interest in spelling. "One of his favorite recollections," an obituary said, "was of a spelling bee in which he competed with Mary Kronmiller, who was to become his wife." They were married in 1872 and she died in 1913.
In 1923 he proposed a spelling test in area schools. "I saw so many mistakes in print and so many mistakes in spelling on windows of shops and stores operated by people who should know better, that I wanted to help to improve the spelling of others," he said in a 1942 interview.
To encourage participation, Babeck presented books to the winning classes and schools. The awards, usually described as "library books," went to classes or buildings, not to individuals. From a modest start, the program rapidly expanded to cover grades three through 12 in all county schools.
In 1932, when he awarded 276 books, a newspaper said that year's presentations brought Babeck's nine-year total to 2,800 books distributed. "A spelling consciousness has been aroused among pupils and teachers everywhere in the county that has resulted in marked improvement," said C. H. Williams, county school superintendent, in 1932 in noting the impact of the program.
That year, the competition included four categories: (1) one-room schools; (2) two and three-room schools; (3) centralized, consolidated and village schools; and (4) grades 9-12 in all high schools. Awards ranging from one to seven books were earned by classes ranking highest on the county-wide spelling exams.
In the 1930s, the tests included 50 words for grades three through eight, and 75 words for the upper grades. A 13-member spelling committee scored and checked the papers.
The annual results showed Butler County of the 1920s and 1930s still having many small schools.
In 1937, for example, the top five schools in the one-room competition were reported as Busenbark, Dubbs, Pike, Pisgah and Upper Brown's Run. Leaders in the two and three-room contest were Collinsville, Miltonville, Somerville, Stockton, Williamsdale, Astoria, Overpeck, Poasttown, Port Union and West Middletown.
"One of his greatest pleasures was in making personal visitations to the schools and presenting the handsome book awards," the Journal-News said. In April 1937, for example, the 88-year-old Babeck visited 33 schools in two days to personally present about 300 books.
Before he started the spelling program, Babeck had given libraries to the Trenton and Princeton rural schools. In 1926 he provided Webster's dictionaries to each of the 100 classrooms in the county school system, and a movie projector for use throughout the county.
"Several years ago, on his birthday (March 18)," the 1943 obituary noted, "the school children of Butler County presented Mr. Babeck with a handsome plaque purchased with penny contributions from each child in the school system."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 26, 1995
Butler County farmers found help in cities during war labor shortages
By Jim Blount
Labor shortages extended into rural Butler County during World War II as farmers tried to meet the government's war demands. Like their city cousins, area farmers struggled to produce more despite government limitations on new farm machinery, gas rationing and other war-time obstacles.
In May 1942, a survey found only 47 workers available to fill 221 summer jobs on Butler County farms. In 1941, before the U. S. entered the war, there had been 200 men available for the seasonal work, said Gerald Huffman, the county extension agent.
The situation worsened in the summer of 1943 when military draft demands collided with farm labor needs. Until then, a local draft board covering the townships had granted deferments to farmers and their sons "to avoid further shortages in food production."
That practice ended in the spring and summer of 1943, forcing farmers to look to the cities for assistance.
With more than 16,000 local men in the armed forces, Hamilton industries had scrambled for workers to keep plants operating. Women were welcomed onto shop floors to perform tasks considered "man's work" when World War II started in December 1941.
But factory employees -- most of whom were already working 48 or more hours a week to meet military demands -- were a surprising source of farm labor in the summer of 1943.
In June 1943, Huffman reported 150 experienced farm workers -- all employees of war industries in Hamilton and Middletown -- had volunteered to work on farms.
As schools closed in June 1943, the Victory Farm Volunteer Labor Corps provided more help. It enrolled more than 200 junior and senior high school males, ages 12 to 17.
Additional assistance came in July 1943 from the cotton fields of Alabama. The workers were available to farmers who provided room and board and the prevailing wage for farm harvest workers.
They were available to harvest wheat, hay and other Butler County crops until Sept. 15, when they were due back in Alabama to start picking cotton.
During the war, Butler County farmers also made crop changes requested by the government. In March 1942 they were urged to convert more acres to tomatoes because of military food needs.
In October 1942, farmers harvested the largest crop of soybeans in the county's history. Between 3,000 and 4,000 acres had been planted to produce the oil-bearing beans, which helped compensate for the loss of oils formerly obtained from areas occupied by Japan.
In recapping 1942 production, Huffman noted substantial increases in produce, milk, eggs, poultry, beef cattle, sheep and hogs, all on the government's essential food list.
Wheat, which didn't make the list, dropped from 630,000 bushels in 1941 to only 395,000 bushels in 1942.
Overall, 1942 Butler County production increased, despite the labor shortage, rationing, a lack of new equipment and shortages of parts for old machinery.
Huffman said about 15 to 20 percent of U. S. farm output had been sent overseas in 1942. It was expected to jump to 25 percent in 1943 with increased shipments to allied nations and an expected U. S. military buildup abroad.
In 1943, area farmers were asked to up hog production 10 percent, and to increase the market weight 10 pounds over 1942 averages.
To supplement farm output, city residents were encouraged to have Victory Gardens with a 30-by-60-foot backyard plot was suggested for the average family. The government said the number grew from 10 million gardens during the first year (1942) to 20 million. Eventually, Victory Gardens produced 40 percent of the nation's vegetable supply during the war.
In 1943, the government also recommended Victory Flocks. It was suggested this new source of eggs and poultry could replace rationed meat and cheese for city residents.
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