Journal-News, Wednesday, April 3, 1996
World War I promised to revive natural ice industry in Hamilton area
By Jim Blount
World War I promised to breathe new life into Hamilton's natural ice industry, which once had employed hundreds of men during the December-February harvest season.
Artificial ice -- with the advantages of cheaper prices and an easily adjusted supply -- had dominated the local market by 1910. The success of the manufactured product had spelled doom for about 20 natural ice operations that had been an important part of the economy in and around Hamilton for more than half a century.
Contributing to the demise of natural ice was the rapid decline of the Miami-Erie Canal, which annually had hauled thousands of tons of ice stored in Butler County icehouses to other cities, especially Cincinnati's numerous breweries.
Despite the technological advantages of artificial ice, Hamilton and other communities had experienced ice shortages during extended heat waves in several summers. The most serious had been a three-week period in June and July 1913 when a strike by Cincinnati icehouse workers and a streak of blistering weather caused everything from a loss of perishable foods to warm beer.
When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, no one expected it would have an impact on ice supplies. But the war effort required more than American soldiers to fight in Europe. It also exacted a toll -- and sacrifices -- on the home front.
It began with a coal shortage during the extreme winter of 1917-1918, starting with a streak of below zero temperatures and more than a foot of snow in mid December. It led to such measures as a five-day business and industry closing in January and "Heatless Mondays" from January through March 1918.
Because of other supply shortages, the government resorted to ordering "Lightless Nights," "Gasless Sundays," "Meatless Days" and "Wheatless Days" on the home front.
The war effort also appeared to revive the natural ice industry in the fall of 1918.
"It is possible that the ice plants of Hamilton will suspend operations late this fall to harvest natural ice," the Journal reported in September 1918. The government encouraged the switch from manufactured ice to conserve ammonia and other resources required for war industries and the military.
A Cincinnati representative of the U. S. Fuel Administration had requested the revival at a meeting of ice dealers in the region. He suggested "storage houses for natural ice be erected in every city so fuel and ammonia used in making artificial ice could be conserved."
The Journal observed that "every winter, tons of ice have floated down the Great Miami River and ice as fine as any lake ice melted away on the big and little reservoirs (north of Hamilton) which could have been conserved last winter." This natural ice, the newspaper said, could have been harvested and stored to "relieve the ice famine during the torrid weather of July and August."
One of the unanswered questions was the availability of manpower to cut the ice from ponds, lakes, the river and the canal. At the peak of the natural ice industry, more than a thousand men in the area were employed in cutting, transporting and storing the commodity.
Military and industrial demands had depleted the work force by the winter of 1917-1918. The shortage of manpower wasn't expected to be any better during the approaching winter of 1918-1919.
Fortunately, the crisis never materialized. World War I ended with an armistice Nov. 11, 1918. The urgent campaign to conserve ammonia and other ice-making resources ceased with peace. It was the final blow for the natural ice industry in Butler County.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, April 10, 1996
Remember the Valley Ice Company? firm served area for nearly 50 years
By Jim Blount
The property at the northwest corner of South Front and Sycamore streets provides no clues to its past. For nearly 50 years, Hamilton area residents depended on the Valley Ice Company to provide artificial ice to cool food, drinks and other commodities. Most of that ice came from the company's South Front Street plant.
John Sohn built a brewery on the site in 1858. The structure continued in that capacity for more than 60 years. Most of the time it was the Cincinnati Brewing Company under the aggressive direction of Peter Schwab. When Prohibition halted beer production in 1919, the three-story building was converted to an icehouse, its function for 49 years (1920-1969)
The building was demolished in 1969 and a Kroger Supermarket and Super-X Drug Store were built on the 200 by 400-foot tract, which also is bordered by the CSX railroad tracks.
When those retail operations closed, the structure was altered, and since April 1977 has housed Hamilton's police headquarters and the Hamilton municipal court.
The Valley Ice Company was owned by Mr. and Mrs. William R. Sneed in its final years (1952-1969). William Sneed had started in the ice business in 1915 in Wellsville, Ohio, and helped form the Consolidated Ice Company four years later.
Consolidated was established Nov. 1, 1919, to operate ice plants in three states -- Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. It was unofficially called "The Big Ten" because of its 10 ice-producing centers which served hundreds of cities and villages in the three states.
Besides Hamilton, its Ohio operations were in Middletown, Troy and Columbus. The company also had plants in Louisville and Richmond in Kentucky, and in South Bend, Elkhart, Lafayette and New Castle in Indiana.
In the summer of 1920, Consolidated purchased the business of the 20-year-old Hamilton Ice Company at North Sixth Street and Ford Boulevard (now Joe Nuxhall Boulevard). Later, for about 50 years, that icehouse was the Hamilton plant of French-Bauer Dairy.
Hamilton Ice Company had been owned by Frank J. Sloat, whose family also had invested in coal mining and development of interurban railways in the region. Its North Sixth Street icehouse dated back to the 19th century when it stored natural ice harvested from the nearby reservoir, now the site of city softball fields, tennis courts and a swimming pool.
Hamilton Ice Company had converted to producing artificial ice about 1900. In addition to manufacturing ice, HIC rented cold storage space to other businesses.
After buying HIC in 1920, the Valley Ice Company concentrated ice production at its South Front property, where capacity was expanded to 120 tons of ice a day.
In 1930 -- with electric refrigerators still a dream for most Hamilton families and businesses -- Valley Ice built a 30-ton capacity plant at the northeast corner of Western and McKinley avenues, site of a donut shop and a beverage carry-out in recent decades.
Valley Ice also sold iceboxes and offered cold-storage service. It operated a coal yard until 1967.
To most Hamiltonians, Valley Ice was personified by the iceman who provided daily delivery or every-other-day service to residences and businesses.
The company operated a fleet of trucks which covered routes in the city and other populated areas. Residential customers placed placards (called ice cards) in their windows, indicating the amount of ice they wanted that day. Most orders were for 25 to 50 pounds of ice.
By the start of World War II in 1941, electric refrigerators had became more affordable. Then the home-front war effort required tire and gasoline rationing. Those restrictions mandated cutbacks in daily ice delivery service.
The ice routes were eliminated a few years after the war. By 1950, Valley Ice reported the majority of its business was supplying vendors and ice vending machines. It closed in 1969.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, April 17, 1996
Police department formed in 1875 after 10-year crime wave in Hamilton
By Jim Blount
A 10-year crime wave terrorized Hamilton before introduction of professional law enforcement in the city. The Hamilton police department was formed in 1875 after citizens had endured everything from wide-open gambling and production and sale of illegal whisky to political tampering and a series of murders.
Until 1875, law and order was supposed to have been the responsibility of city marshals and constables who were elected to their positions. Contemporary observers said marshals were either powerless, or were linked to the elements controlling the city of more 11,000 people.
Michael Maginnis championed reform. The Maryland native had moved to Hamilton in 1861. He won the mayor's office in 1871, but lost in 1873 to John B. Lawder, an insurance agent.
Lawder had little success in trying to effect change. In his first official act as mayor, he ordered Hamilton saloons to close on Sundays. The order was defied as leaders of lawlessness won the test of wills.
In April 1875, to the surprise of local political experts, Maginnis won back the mayor's office in a nine-man contest which included Lawder, the incumbent.
The mayor then wasn't a member of city council. He could participate in council debates, but he couldn't vote. Despite this apparent handicap, Mayor Maginnis convinced council to approve creation of a police force in the summer of 1875.
In the new system -- which cost about $8,000 the first year -- the mayor appointed members of the police department, but their hiring had to be confirmed by a vote of council. The mayor also was justice of the peace, and Maginnis, a lawyer, presided over the trials of the people arrested by the officers he had appointed.
David T. Riley, who had been elected city marshal in the April 1875 election, was the first chief, and Fred Louthan was the first police captain. Other members of the 13-man force -- which replaced the marshal and three deputies -- were Mike Bowerman, Jacob Boli, George Zeller, Dan Dunwoodie, George Hafertepen, Joseph Fallert, August Tabler, Sam Johnson, Levi Breitenstein, Henry Burridge and George Crolain.
Maginnis also succeeded in persuading council to approve ordinances involving gambling, rioting, disorderly assembly, protection of city property and other unlawful acts.
Not everyone wanted the changes, and the mayor's opponents welcomed the controversy which surrounded establishment of a city jail. At that time, city prisoners were confined in the Butler County jail.
In December 1875, council authorized a city prison. The ordinance led to acquisition of a building which was known as city hall until the present municipal building opened in 1935.
The old structure -- at the southeast corner of present Market Street and Monument Avenue -- had been built about 1835 as the Hamilton and Rossville Female Academy. It had been acquired in 1863 by the Long & Allstatter Company. That firm, owned by John M. Long and Robert Allstatter, used it as a machine shop until 1873 when it moved to a new, larger factory at Fourth and High streets.
The jail hassle involved conflict of interest charges because three councilmen were connected to the company which owned the building. Robert Allstatter was a principal partner; William Pfau was a brother-in-law of a minor partner; and Isaac Graham was an employee.
Despite objections, the building was leased from Long & Allstatter in 1875. The city bought it for $9,400 in 1883.
By that time, Maginnis was gone. The father of the Hamilton police department had moved to San Francisco after being defeated in the 1877 mayoral election. "He thoroughly suppressed crime and lawlessness during his administration," said a local historian in 1901 in assessing the brief, but influential tenure of Michael N. Maginnis.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, April 24, 1996
July 30, 1957, recalled as day of the "Holocaust in Venice"
By Jim Blount
"Holocaust in Venice," said a newspaper headline in summarizing the terror which raked the Ross Township village Tuesday afternoon, July 30, 1957. It wasn't the deadliest highway accident in Butler County history, but the collision, explosions and fires were the ingredients of a major disaster.
Victims, witnesses, police and firefighters who responded agreed the situation could have much worse. The heart of the village around the five-point intersection in the center of Venice, or Ross, could have been wiped out. Quick reactions prevented that.
It started about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. A car and a gasoline tank truck collided at the intersection of Hamilton-Cleves (Ohio 128), Cincinnati-Brookville (Ohio 126) and Layhigh roads.
The 82-year-old driver of the car, a resident of Liberty-Fairfield Road, was burned to death as he tried to escape. The 41-year-old Dayton truck driver suffered a minor forehead injury when his tanker overturned.
Some witnesses thought they saw a second person in the car. Subsequent tests of the car's charred contents verified the unfortunate driver was alone in the vehicle.
After the collision, more than 6,000 gallons of gasoline spurted from the ruptured truck and quickly ran down Hamilton-Cleves Road for more than 450 feet -- the length of one and a half football fields.
In moments, there were several explosions and fires. Hot wires -- felled by the initial accident or its aftermath -- ignited the spilled fuel.
The car involved in the accident was engulfed in flames. Five parked cars also were consumed. A service station and two adjacent houses and traffic signals were destroyed. A restaurant, a cafe, a service station and a residence were among the buildings damaged.
Telephone service to 318 locations was knocked out as about 1,000 feet of cable burned. Electric service in the area also was disrupted.
Sounds of the explosions and the rising clouds of smoke led some area residents to assume the nearby Fernald atomic energy plant had exploded.
"The first thing I saw was a group of people running around and stopping all of the cars," said a driver who arrived seconds after the crash. "The fire, which started as a small blaze, was flaring up," he said. "It kept getting bigger and bigger."
"When we first arrived, about 30 minutes after the fatal accident, it looked as if Venice had been hit by some sort of atomic bomb," a Journal-News reporter observed. "Smoke was everywhere," he said.
Officials estimated at least 150 firefighters from 30 departments in Butler and Hamilton counties and Indiana answered the alarm. About 50 officers from several law enforcement agencies also assisted.
A shortage of water forced firefighters to take water from the Meadowbrook Swimming Pool, about half a mile north of the disaster site. Some swimmers rushed to accident while others remained in the pool, seemingly oblivious to the commotion.
A Hamilton fire company -- which arrived 25 minutes after the accident -- was the first to bring foam to control the burning gasoline. Oxford and Millville departments also dispatched foam-equipped units.
The "Venice holocaust" was the first major test for a mutual assistance program established two years earlier by the Butler County Firemen's Association, whose member departments, both paid and volunteer, totaled 847 people and 77 vehicles in 1957.
"It was certainly a wonderful display of community effort on the part of all the fire departments," said Dr. Garret J. Boone, Butler County coroner. "It was a good lesson in how to do things."
# # #