Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 1996
Did Millville fire cloak Reily bank robbery the night of Dec. 7, 1907?
By Jim Blount
At least five men raided Reily in the early minutes of Saturday, Dec. 7, 1907. The ruckus woke the town. Nine small explosions and dozens of pistol shots broke the calm in the western Butler County community. Most residents blamed it on noisy revelers outside a village tavern while others were paralyzed with fear as they watched the crime.
"After terrorizing the town," a newspaper said, the well-dressed gang "blew the safe of the bank of Reily and escaped" into the darkness of sparsely inhabited Reily Township (population about 1,100 people).
According to the Republican-News, it was "believed to be the first bank robbery in the history of Butler County." But the "cracksmen," as they were called then, weren't novices.
The heist was well planned. Most of the strategically-placed armed gang immobilized witnesses. In the bank, the leader and an assistant patiently worked on the small safe.
The banker, a doctor and their families and a boy sleeping in a nearby livery stable were among those who witnessed the intrusion, but were unable to do anything about it.
Less than six miles to the southeast, an arsonist had set fire to the closed Hotel de Manrod in Millville. The wind-whipped blaze threatened to destroy the village, then about four miles west of Hamilton. The newspaper said some people believed the suspicious Millville fire was meant to draw attention from the Reily robbery.
The 90-minute drama started when the gang broke into a Reily blacksmith shop, stealing a sledge hammer and possibly a chisel. The tools were used to chip "places to insert nitroglycerine" into the safe.
Using a medicine dropper, the robber "carefully applied the nitro, allowing it to filter down into the crack," the newspaper said. "Then he fired it with a cotton fuse and stepped around behind a chimney until the explosion occurred." The ninth blast blew off the front of the safe.
Meanwhile, outside the bank, other crooks had erected a barricade with boards and overturned wagon beds. One gang member stood guard there. The barrier would have shielded the bandits if armed townsmen had responded to the sounds of the explosions.
Joseph Urmston, who owned and operated the financial institution, resided next to the bank. The frame one-story building was set back from his house, affording Urmston and his family an excellent view of the proceedings.
Also watching from across the street was Dr. Walter Smith. Urmston and Dr. Smith tried to reach their telephones, but both hesitated when they realized there were armed men outside peering into their houses.
A fifth armed robber was in front of Jim Lackey's livery stable near the bank. He was there to prevent anyone from using the horses to seek help. Early in the scenario, he had warned young Charlie Bockover, who was sleeping in the stable, not to leave the building.
With their work inside the bank complete, the gang moved south out of Reily on what is now Ohio 732. They fired pistols in the air as they left town. "This aroused almost every one in town," the newspaper said. Witnesses considered the shots "a stern warning" to potential pursuers. Most residents, the newspaper said, "thought that the shots were the work of boys going home" from Russ Irwin's saloon.
Evidence showed that a sixth accomplice may have guarded horses and two buggies used in the escape. Some believed the robbers were the "unknown men" seen later boarding a Cincinnati-bound passenger train at the Newkirk station on the state line west of Reily.
The gang took $500 in cash, plus $9,000 worth of notes and checks. They didn't find $200 in currency in books in the safe. Damage to the building totaled about $1,000, but it didn't deter Urmston, who had opened the bank April 20, 1907. He was reported "doing business as usual in his home" the next day.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1996
Great Road to Cincinnati vital link for Butler County pioneer families
By Jim Blount
The Great Road, officially established in 1817, was one of two early connections between Cincinnati and Hamilton. It originated with the army that built Fort Hamilton in 1791. The military road's purpose was to link that new frontier outpost with Fort Washington on the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
It began as a trail from Fort Washington through the Millcreek Valley in Hamilton County. In southern Butler County -- in what is now Fairfield -- it followed the course of present Ohio 4 (Dixie Highway). Near the site of present Symmes Road, it continued northwest to the fort, which was centered around present High Street and Monument Avenue.
In the fall of 1791, soldiers worked from sunrise to sunset for three days to cut an 18-mile segment of the road through the heavily forested wilderness. That section connected Ludlow Station (now part of northern Cincinnati) to Fort Hamilton.
With the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, the threat of Indian resistance was believed ended. The army left and abandoned Fort Hamilton. The well-established military road was among the legacies of the Indian war. The road instantly became the vital commercial link between Hamilton and Cincinnati.
In 1817, the army route was designated the first state road between the towns. Although named the New Hamilton Road, it remained the Great Road to most residents of the area.
The other early road to Cincinnati wasn't what became U. S. 127, a combination of Pleasant Avenue and Hamilton Avenue through Hamilton, Fairfield and Mount Healthy. Instead, wrote Mrs. Alta Harvey Heiser in a 1946 Journal-News column, it was a road "now all but forgotten."
In 1795 Ephriam Kibby, Benjamin Davis and Charles Bruce helped open a road that followed the east side of the Great Miami River between Fort Hamilton and Colerain, a community once located near where the old Colerain Pike met the river (west of present U. S. 27 and south of Ross). On a modern map, the road would wind through Hamilton and Fairfield along a combination of Neilan Boulevard and River Road.
"It was not until 1830 that any attempt was made to open the road now known as Mount Pleasant Pike," Mrs. Heiser wrote. "Nilles Road was opened before there was a Mount Pleasant Pike" (an earlier name for Pleasant Avenue and U. S. 127).
What became Nilles Road opened in 1806 between the river and present Dixie Highway (Ohio 4), according to Mrs. Heiser.
To early residents, the most coveted roads connected them to mills, fords, ferries the county seat and outlets for their farm products. Nilles Road was built to connect mills in western Fairfield Township to the Great Road.
On the river, there were mills and a ford and later a ferry at a Fairfield Township community known at various times as Graham's Mill, Fair Play, Black Bottom, Hart's Block, Alston's Mill, Graham's Mill and Miami Chapel. The ford and ferry -- called Anderson's Ferry for its founder, Isaac Anderson -- connected to mills and roads in Ross Township on the river's west bank.
Via flatboats, the millers and farmers in that area could send their bounty to distant markets, most notably New Orleans.
Shipments to nearby Cincinnati were by wagon. The best route was the relatively level Great Road, not the closer, but more rugged Colerain Road. That's why east-west Nilles Road was built. And, to answer a frequently asked question, that's why Nilles Road doesn't extend east of present Ohio 4 (Dixie Highway).
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 1996
Clark Lane left Mt. Healthy home to become blacksmith in Rossville
By Jim Blount
Clark Lane would be proud of the library that bears his name. Patrons have endured months of disruption during renovation of the 130-year-old library center in downtown Hamilton. Now the building -- distinguished by its octagon core -- is truly a gem in a city blessed with many aged, but functional structures.
"Hamilton having done much for me, I felt it my duty to do something in return and gave a free library," said Clark Lane several years after he had donated it to the city.
Like many 19th century Hamilton entrepreneurs, Lane rose from humble beginnings. Through a combination of hard work and foresight, he accumulated wealth and shared it with the community. He also encountered his share of business adversities.
Lane was born April 5, 1823, in a one-room log house in or near Mount Healthy in Hamilton County. "He received such meager education as the country schools of that early day provided," said Lane's obituary in the Hamilton Democrat.
He learned blacksmithing from his father, who also made wagons and plows. In 1841, at the age of 18, he took charge of the family blacksmith shop.
In 1844, he left home to practice his skills in Rossville (then a separate town, which in 1855 would merge with Hamilton). There he worked for a wagon builder, but he didn't stay. For reasons to be covered in a next week's column, Lane relocated in Dayton.
There, on Christmas Day 1845, he married Sarah Correll, who was two years his junior. In 1846, Lane moved back to Hamilton with his new wife. Later, he said he returned for two reasons: He regarded Hamilton as his "first love" as a place to live; and his Dayton employer relocated here.
Lane wasn't an employee long. He soon opened his own business. "I borrowed $1,000 from my friend, William Beckett, and success crowned my labor," he said years later.
"In 1846 Clark Lane organized a company to manufacture grist mills, sawmills, paper mills, portable engines and agricultural machinery," wrote Dr. William E. Smith in his 1964 book, History of Southwestern Ohio, The Miami Valleys.
His early business success was tempered by tragedy at home. Two children of Clark and Sarah Lane died in the local cholera epidemic of 1849-1850.
According to Lane's obituary, he formed a partnership in 1854 with Job E. Owens and E. G. Dyer to manufacture implements and machinery. In the mid 1850s, the firm produced foundry castings, mill gearing and paper-making machines. Buyers included several new paper companies forming in Hamilton, Middletown, Dayton, Piqua, Lockland, Richmond and elsewhere.
Dr. Smith said "in 1857 Owens, Lane and Dyer undertook to manufacture 350 large threshing separators which they sold at $300 each. In 1859 they made 1,100 threshers." Dr. Smith said the firm "popularized reapers, binders and threshers in the South, especially in St. Louis for Trans-Mississippi trade."
"Its celebrated Eclipse and Merchant Saw Mills were favorably known in the Midwest. It introduced steam engines for farm and road work," Smith said. "According to Lane's diary, his firm shipped the first steam engines to California and Oregon."
The Civil War (1861-1865) disrupted Lane's business, but his income still permitted construction of his mansion and preliminary consideration of the library, both on North Third Street, north of Buckeye Street.
After the war, Lane's manufacturing business prospered until hitting financial problems about 1880. He was appointed receiver and had phased out the company by about 1882, when he moved to Elkhart, Ind., where he resided with a son.
Lane's former factory quickly housed a new company, Hooven Owens Rentschler, a major employer for more than 50 years. Through corporate moves, it later became part of the General Machinery Corp., the Lima-Hamilton Corp., and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corp. Its Hamilton manufacturing operations closed in 1962.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 1996
Vote for 1844 Abolitionist candidate cost young Clark Lane his first job
By Jim Blount
By 1844, Clark Lane had "the habits of industry" and had "obtained a good physical education," according to a contemporary. As a confident 21-year-old, he easily found work as a blacksmith in Rossville, the town which formed in 1804 on the west bank of the Great Miami River opposite Hamilton.
Lane's services were in demand because of his physical strength, skills and the work ethic instilled under parental tutelage on the family farm near Mount Healthy.
"In his early manhood, no better type of a perfect physical development could be found anywhere," said Dr. Henry Mallory, who knew Lane as a young men. Mallory said Lane "was naturally endowed with a high degree of intelligence and natural good sense. It was not in the nature of Clark Lane to be idle for a moment."
His fortunate employer was John H. Brown, a wagon maker in Rossville. It was a logical move for both men. Lane's father, a farmer and blacksmith, also had built wagons, and he made sure his son learned trade.
To Lane -- who 24 years later donated a library to Hamilton -- there was more to manhood than being strong and holding a secure job. He was a man of conviction, and in 1844 looked forward to casting his first vote in a presidential election.
Lane's strong opposition to slavery matched the views of one of three prime candidates in the 1844 president contest.
James Birney (1792-1857), a native of Danville, Ky., was a slaveholder who had turned abolitionist. He was an agent of the American Colonization Society, which supported political action to end slavery. The society also favored settling freed slaves in Africa or the Caribbean.
Birney -- formerly of Kentucky, Alabama, Ohio and New York -- was a Michigan resident when a presidential candidate. He won the Liberty Party nomination in 1840 and 1844.
As Clark Lane voted for the first time, national expansion and slavery were major issues in the 1844 campaign. The concept of Manifest Destiny (pushing U. S. settlement westward) was popular, especially in the South and West.
John Tyler had succeeded to the White House in 1841 after the death of William Henry Harrison, but in 1844 Tyler became the first president not to receive nomination for a second term. Instead, the Whigs tapped Kentucky's Henry Clay, an opponent of expansion. Democrats chose a dark horse, James K. Polk, who promised to bring Texas and Oregon into the Union.
In the 1844 race, Birney attracted enough votes from Clay in New York to swing that state and the national election to Polk. Overall, Polk won 49.5 percent of the popular vote, Clay 48 percent and Birney 2.3 percent. In the Electoral College, Polk topped Clay, 170-105, with none for Birney.
In Ohio, Clay won the state with 49.7 percent of the vote to 47.8 percent for Polk and 2.6 percent for Birney. Out of 312,224 ballots cast, outspoken Clark Lane was one of only 8,050 Ohioans who voted for the former Cincinnati resident. His first vote cost Lane his first job.
"I was an abolitionist, I voted for Birney, the abolition candidate," Lane recalled in an 1892 interview. "Next morning, Brown (the wagon maker) came into the shop, and in language more forcible than polite, told me, that no abolitionist should work in his shop."
Lane quickly moved to Dayton, where he was employed in the shop of M. D. Ross. Less than two years later, Ross was lured to Hamilton. He opened a shop producing iron work for a new Butler County jail being built on the south side of Court Street, opposite the Courthouse. Ross brought Lane with him, but the ambitious Lane soon struck out on his own.
Twenty years later, Clark Lane was living in one of Hamilton's most magnificent houses and was constructing a library across North Third Street.
When he died Sept. 4, 1907, the Hamilton Democrat called him "Hamilton's first public benefactor." Dr. Mallory described Lane "as mechanic, manufacturer and philanthropist," who was "generous to a fault." Lane, said Dr. Mallory, was "one of the most charitable and liberal contributors to every public enterprise."
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