Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 1996
Hamilton city park honors veterans former home of American Legion
By Jim Blount
The familiar Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument isn't Hamilton's only site honoring the men and women who have served in the American military. In 1995, Hillcrest Park -- located on 14 picturesque acres between South B and South C streets and New London Road -- was renamed Veterans Park.
In 1932, the City of Hamilton -- which had recently acquired the land -- leased a 200-square-foot tract to the American Legion for 25 years. Previously, it had been the site of a stone quarry and a garbage incinerator.
In March 1932, work began on building a clubhouse for Post 138, which had been without a permanent home since its founding 12 years earlier.
The American Legion was founded in Paris March 15, 1919, and soon after 20 to 30 local World War I veterans, under the leadership of John Crocker, held meetings in the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument preparatory to forming a Hamilton unit.
Post 138 organized Jan. 9, 1920. J. Wesley Morris was its commander; Gordon Henninger, vice commander; Hooven Griffis, adjutant; and Ernst M. Ruder, treasurer. The post was named for Frank Durwin, the first Hamilton soldier killed in World War I. Its purposes included "to guard Hamilton against the pacifist, conscientious objectors and disloyalty; to assist the former doughboys and gobs in whatever manner possible and to perpetuate the memories of the great experience just completed."
The post's first clubhouse was on the third floor of a building at northwest corner of Third and High Streets. In 1926, meetings were moved to the National Guard Armory at Dayton and Fifth streets, and later to the First National Bank on the northeast corner of Third and High streets.
The Great Depression, which had started in 1929, encouraged the building of a new clubhouse. "One of the main reasons for pushing the work," a 1932 news report said, "was that it would release the building fund of the Frank Durwin Post and give employment to as many men as possible." It promised to provide about 90 days of work for 30 people.
Recalling the locality of their 1918-1919 war experiences, Dr. Hugh Baker suggested that the veterans building be in the Norman-French chateau style of architecture. Another member, Mark Alston, urged that it be erected on the property recently acquired for park purposes.
Commander Sam Levine promoted the project and Gordon Henninger headed the building committee. Architects were Frederick G. Mueller and Walter Hair of Hamilton, and the general contractor was Fred Krahenbuhl of Hamilton.
The stone structure -- one story, measuring 34 by 74 feet -- was dedicated Sunday, Oct. 30, 1932, after a parade from the monument. The building was declared "not complete according to the details of the original plans" of the architects. A west wing and tower, crucial to the desired French chateau design, was supposed to have been added later.
That second phase had to be delayed -- thanks to restrictions on labor and building materials imposed during World War II. With the prospects of that war swelling its membership, the local American Legion post began looking for larger quarters.
Sunday, April 15, 1945 -- less than a month before Germany surrendered and almost four months before the first atomic bomb fell on Japan -- Post 138 dedicated its new home in an existing building at 116 North Second Street.
The 13-year-old New London Road property reverted to the city and became Hillcrest Municipal Park until designated Veterans Park in 1995.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 1996
Fear Not Mills left its name on St. Clair Twp. road
By Jim Blount
A long-vanished complex including a gristmill, sawmill and carding mill left its unusual name on a St. Clair Township road. That early commercial center, Fear Not Mills, was on a bend in Four Mile Creek at the former Seven Mile Turnpike crossing.
Its location today would be south of Seven Mile and west of the Norfolk Southern Railway and U. S. 127 where Fear Not Mills Road meets West Elkton Road. The original mill was built in 1816 by Joseph Watson, a millwright.
It acquired its name because some of Watson's friends believed the venture was doomed to failure. Watson shunned their advice and built the mill. He named it Fear Not, a reflection of his determination.
Watson was correct. The mill was a success and stood for many years. Although gone now, its name survives: Fear Not Mills Road.
Mills were essential in the settlers' struggle to convert their land from a debt to an asset. Their financial survival depended on access to mills, which were trade outlets and community centers on the Ohio frontier until about 1830.
For their mutual survival, both farmers and millers promoted building roads to the mill sites throughout Butler County. "Farm-to-market" was part of transportation nomenclature for more than a century. An early Ohio law authorized millers to collect tolls at their mills for the purpose of paying for maintenance of roads leading to them.
Millville is a prime example of the supportive relationship of mills and roads. An Indian Creek mill was the catalyst for the appropriately named village.
Joel Williams is credited with building several mills in Butler County, including the one erected in 1805 on Indian Creek (later known as the Cochran mill) for Joseph Van Horne.
Ten years later, Van Horne laid out the village. By 1815, Millville (in both Hanover and Ross townships) was the hub of several mill and market roads in western Butler County.
In addition to a grist mill, a saw mill, a carding and fulling mill, a still, a tannery and several blacksmiths, Millville also was the site of stores and taverns, a nail factory, a harness shop and other businesses. A post office was created Feb. 17, 1817, in Millville, which today has a population of about 750 people.
One of the earliest, if not the first mill in northern Butler County was operated by Bambo Harris, a free African-American. His mill was on the east bank of Elk Creek near Miltonville in what is now Section 18 in Madison Township.
Some early local historians regard it as the first gristmill in Butler County, opening about 1800, possibly even before Joel Williams started his Bank Lick Mill in Fairfield Township on the east bank of the Great Miami River.
"Harris operated the mill successfully for over a half century and became one of the area's best known and respected citizens," said George Crout, Middletown-area historian. "He was a member in good standing of the Prairie Baptist Church," Crout said. "When he died, his friends gathered at the little country church to pay him honor, and he still rests in the village cemetery on the hill at Miltonville."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 1996
Fords and ferries provided earliest river crossings in Butler County
By Jim Blount
Before the first bridge opened in 1819, the safest way to cross the Great Miami River in Butler County was at a ford or on a ferry. The availability of both depended on river conditions. High water periodically closed both types of crossings.
The danger of challenging the swift current and debris-laddened river was demonstrated by a tragedy in 1819 at Ball's Ferry.
This crossing was immediately east of Trenton in Madison Township on the Great Miami River, near a settlement known as Brownstown. The ferry carried travelers on the first state road from Chillicothe (the state capital 1803-1810 and 1812-1816) to the college lands (later Miami University in Oxford).
The ferry -- like most in the area -- was a flat-bottomed boat guided across the river by a system of ropes and pulleys and powered by the current pushing against the boat.
Davis Ball and then Aaron Ball operated the ferry from about 1818 until 1861, and Peter Schertz until 1867.
In 1819, a group of five men, a boy, a girl and a dog with a team of horses and a wagon asked to be ferried to the east side, despite the swollen condition of the river. At first, Davis Ball refused to make the risky crossing, but the travelers persisted.
At mid stream, a rope snapped and the boat overturned. Within five minutes, the wagon, horses and dog were lost and five people drowned, including Davis Ball.
The ferry -- which was replaced by a covered wooden bridge in 1867 -- is believed to have been about a quarter mile south of the present Ohio 73 bridge, which opened in 1965.
Not far below Ball's Ferry was Gregory's Ford, between present Woodsdale and LeSourdsville. It was a crossing on a popular route to Dayton from Rossville (a village on the west bank of the Great Miami, opposite Hamilton).
The site for Fort Hamilton was chosen because of a ford then at the approximate site of the High-Main Street Bridge. That shallow crossing was believed to have been on an Indian trail that pre-dated the 1791 fort by at least a century or two.
Later, near that ford, were two ferries linking Hamilton and Rossville. In 1805, it cost $4 for an annual license to operate a ferry between the towns.
The Upper Ferry, or Delorac's Ferry, was owned by Michael Delorac. Based on the present street system, the ferry would have linked Dayton Street on the east bank with Wayne Avenue on the west.
Delorac also had a two-story wood-frame tavern or inn in Rossville. He operated the ferry from about 1805 or 1806 until 1821, two years after the Miami Bridge opened near the site of the present High-Main Street Bridge.
Rates for Delorac's Ferry in 1814 included 25 cents for a four-horse team loaded; 12.5 cents for a two-horse team; and six cents for a man and his horse.
The Lower Ferry, also called Tolbert's Ferry, ran between present High Street in Hamilton and Ross Avenue, then in Rossville.
The Hamilton-Rossville ferries became obsolete in 1819 with opening of the Miami Bridge, the first covered wooden bridge built in the county.
South of Hamilton was Anderson's Ferry. It was operated after 1812 by Isaac Anderson from Section 23 of Ross Township on the west bank and connected with a community in Section 15 of Fairfield Township on the east bank. The Fairfield area was known at various times as Black Bottom, Fairplay, Hart's Block, Alston's Mill and Graham's Mill.
Farther south was Dick's Ford or Dick's Crossing in Section 34 of Ross Township.
It was first known as Shaw's Ford or Shaw's Crossing after an original land owner (1801).
It was a busy crossing until 1834 when the first Venice Bridge opened southwest of the ford.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 1996
Terror struck neighboring villages of Millville and Reily in December 1907
By Jim Blount
Terror is the only word that describes the feelings of residents of southwestern Butler County after frightening events in two communities in the wee hours of Saturday, Dec. 7, 1907. One threatened to level Millville; the other endangering lives in Reily. Many persons theorized they were related, and possibly the start of a crime wave.
The Millville calamity was the first to be reported in Hamilton. The city fire department was asked to send aid as the village "narrowly escaped destruction." Newspapers said the fire was "declared to have been of incendiary origin."
Residents noticed a man on horseback fleeing shortly after the blaze was discovered at about 12:30 a.m. It started in a hotel owned and formerly operated by Sam Manrod. The 60-year-old brick structure -- which was closed -- had been known as the "Hotel de Manrod."
Its only occupant that night, a man sleeping on the second floor, jumped to safety after his dog aroused him. The lucky tenant's wife had been visiting in Hamilton for several days. Although December, there had been no fires in the building for three days for heating or cooking.
The fire had started in a basement storage area, which had been locked. The first people on the scene reported the door unlocked and open.
"The fire was fanned by a strong southeast wind," reported the Republican-News. Blowing in that direction, it carried sparks toward Indian Creek and away from most of the village.
In its path, however, were the residence of J. M. McCloskey and the post office and grocery he operated; the home and saddle shop of Jacob Fisher; the former town hall, owned by William Hulley; and the covered wooden bridge over Indian Creek. All were saved, but suffered roof damage.
In the era before organized volunteer fire departments, it was up to residents to combat fires. "Every church bell and dinner bell in the village sounded," the newspaper explained. The few residents with phones also called for help. About 500 people answered the alarm.
"Bucket brigades were formed, and the fire fighters turned their attention to saving the buildings. They left the hotel to its doom because it was beyond saving," the report said.
"People were stationed in gangs about the village, armed with brooms to extinguish shingles and sparks that were carried in all directions," the newspaper said. "After two hours, they succeeded in placing the blaze under control."
In Hamilton, Fire Chief William C. Dowty sent the city's finest steam pumper, Old Neptune, to assist. It was delayed until four horses could be borrowed for the hazardous non-stop trip of about four miles over unpaved roads.
The engine and crew, directed by Captain Phil Erb, arrived after the flames were under control. (Old Neptune -- which had started its nearly 35 years of service in 1885 -- is now in the possession of the Butler County Historical Society.)
The next morning, Manrod estimated his loss in the destroyed hotel at $2,500. Charles Delker, the tenant awakened by his dog, totaled his loss at about $300. Damages exceeded $500 each for McCloskey and Fisher, and were under $500 for Hulley at the former town hall.
The Millville covered bridge -- originally erected in 1849 and rebuilt after an 1894 tractor accident -- lost its roof, a monetary setback of less than $500.
As cleanup continued in Millville the next day, its residents learned the fire that nearly wiped out their village could have been set as a diversion for a crime in a neighboring community to the west. Next week's column will review the terror that swept Reily that night.
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