Journal-News, Wednesday, May 7, 1997
Era of blacksmith, once thriving trade in Butler County, ended in the 1930s
By Jim Blount
"One of Butler County's thriving trades of another day," noted a 1937 report, "is fast on the wane." The blacksmith, "once to be found in every hamlet and village of the county," the Journal-News said, "has come to represent the passing of the horse-drawn carriage in his scarcity."
"The sound of a sledge hammer on white-hot iron, the pungent odor of the smithy 1and the rising and falling sigh of its bellows, all dear to the childhood hearts of many residents of Hamilton and Butler County," the reporter recalled, "have passed on to make room for the more or less unromantic clangor and clamor of the auto repair shop."
The article was an indication of the fading horse industry and the extinction of associated businesses and jobs. At the turn of the century, horse-related services had been urgent to the local economy and the mobility of Hamiltonians.
The 1937 report said "the blacksmith still exists after a fashion, represented in Butler County by a handful of men who carry the honor of their trade as highly as did their more numerous predecessors two decades ago."
The demise of the village or neighborhood iron craftsman meant more than the loss of a once necessary service. It also was the end of a beloved social institution. The shop was a favorite gathering place for men. They talked and smoked while horses were shod, a plow blade or tool mended, or a new piece crafted for a fireplace or wagon.
The 1937 article said "the blacksmith shop, which was the converging place and theater of many children after school hours, is approaching the rarity of the dodo more rapidly than the men who pursue the trade."
"Once the farmer and the equestrian brought their horses to the smithy to be shod, and stood about the door and gossiped of crops, horses and changing sartorial styles.
"Today, the smith is a circuit rider, setting up shop one or two days a week in this community and that, traveling from one township to another to serve the diminished demands of his patrons," the article said.
"Only a faint touch of the cheerful warmth and sociable atmosphere of those former smithies pervades the present 'fly-by-night' shop: A smithy has to 'bide a while' before it takes on these likable qualities, and draws the strings of mirth and socialability.
"Today, the blacksmith does not make his own horseshoes," the reporter observed, "but buys them ready-made with great convenience and economy. Shaping the iron into a shoe was the most picturesque process of the smithy of the old days. The sparks flew, the hammer rose and fell in a symphony of bell-like sound, the water bucket hissed and fumed as the finished piece dropped into it to cool," the writer said in 1937.
Fifty-five years earlier, a county history had noted the reduced role of local blacksmiths. "Many of the articles which we now buy ready made were then beat out on the anvil," said the 1882 publication. "Nails were among these; the point to a plowshare, the remainder being wood; bolts and bars, knives, sickles and axes were wrought out by his labors. He was an indispensable man."
In addition to horseshoes, the early blacksmith forged and shaped a variety of iron products. His output ranged from nails, hinges and tools to pots, pans and chains. His tools were a charcoal-fired hearth, bellows, tongs, pincers, anvils and hammers.
Some pioneer customers bartered -- swapping slabs of bacon, cords of wood or credit on merchandise -- for the smithy's services and products.
Several future columns will look at other aspects of the local equine industry of nearly a century ago.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 14, 1997
Sixteen horse shoe shops served Hamilton in 1900
By Jim Blount
In 1900, what did Hamilton's 16 coal dealers, three breweries, four maltsters and numerous doctors, peddlers, dairies, embalmers and undertakers, ice dealers, factories and other businesses and professionals have in common?
They all relied on horses and mules for transportation and, in some cases, power. So did hundreds of farm families in surrounding Butler County.
In 1900, according to Williams' city directory, there were at least 16 Hamilton businesses offering blacksmith and horse shoeing service.
The same source listed 144 males who reported their occupation as either blacksmith or horse shoer. Most were members of Local 75 of the Horse Shoers Union, which met the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month in a building at the southeast corner of South Second and Court streets (now a bank parking lot).
Hamilton was a city of 23,914 people, according to the 1900 census. That meant there was one blacksmith or horse shoer for every 166 citizens, regardless of age.
City boundaries were the Miami-Erie Canal (present Erie Highway) on the east, Grand Boulevard and Knightsbridge Drive (then South Avenue) on the south, Miami Street and Greenwood Cemetery on the northeast, Black Street on the north, Rhea Avenue on the northwest, Lawn Avenue on the west, and Millikin Street on the southwest.
Considering those limits, most residents of the city resided within two to three blocks of a shop owned by a man who was either a blacksmith or horse shoer.
Four shops were along High Street, starting with G. W. Hunter, who maintained a horse shoe business at the southwest corner of High and the bridge. Daniel Tyson, at 10 High Street, in addition to blacksmithing, also listed his business as "carriage and wagon maker and general repair shop."
Two blacksmiths were on the same side of the block between Third and Fourth streets -- William Herold at 321 High Street, and George J. Janser at 329 High Street.
Residents south of High Street had five choices. John Hanly, a horse shoer, was at 317 Court Street; Alex Burridge, a blacksmith, worked at 206 South Avenue (Knightsbridge Drive); and the blacksmith shop of John C. Jacobs was at the northwest corner of South Front and Stephan streets.
The Lotz & Haid blacksmith shop at the southeast corner of Third and Charles streets, was operated by William Lotz and August Haid. The F. & W. Wick blacksmith shop at 518 Canal Street (now Maple Avenue) was owned by Fred Wick and William Wick. In the city directory, the Wicks listed their business as "general blacksmithing and horse shoeing; also wagon makers, repairing."
North of High Street were four shoers and smithies. Frank M. Truax and Amos M. Truax, the latter a resident of Oxford, ran the Truax & Son shoe business at 20 North Second Street. Around the corner, on the north side of Market Street between Front and Second, John Moore advertised as a "practical horse shoer; road horses and track horses a specialty."
At 228 Market Street, John Schweizer, in addition to blacksmith services, also manufactured and repaired carriages, buggies and wagons.
Completing the 1900 directory listing were four blacksmith businesses located west of the Great Miami River, including two each on Main Street and B Street.
George J. Krucker's shop was at the northwest corner of Main and C streets, while Amos Farnsworth operated at the northeast corner of Main Street and Eaton Avenue.
Louis Heiland's business was at 14 South B Street, in the first block south of Main Street. Daniel Smith owned a shop at 212 North B Street.
The 16 shops were just part of the equine industry so important to Hamilton's economy and social life at the turn of the century. Other phases of the complex will be explored in future columns.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 21, 1997
Civil War casualty hadn't 'grown up' -- Pvt. Louis F. Berry died at age 15
By Jim Blount
Soldier obituaries were becoming common in the Hamilton Telegraph by the seventh month of the Civil War when the death of Pvt. Louis Ferree Berry was announced. His demise was reported on an inside page of the Nov. 7, 1861, edition of the weekly newspaper.
"Had he lived, he would undoubtedly have grown up a useful and enlightened man," the Telegraph said. The newspaper's assertion that a volunteer warrior hadn't "grown up" wasn't a slap at Berry.
The son of Phillip and Rachel S. Berry of Hamilton was only 15 years old when he died. With a month to go until his 16th birthday, Pvt. Berry is believed to have been the youngest Civil War casualty from Butler County.
According to some post-war estimates, there were about 200,000 Union soldiers in the 15-16 age range, and at least 300 who were 13 years old or younger.
The "farcical physical examination of volunteers" also accounted for the presence of at least 400 women in the Union ranks, noted George W. Adams in his book, Doctors in Blue.
Pvt. Berry had given his age as 18 years when he left Hamilton with the Butler Pioneers, a unit which became part of the 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Pvt. Berry -- like the majority of men who failed to survive the war -- didn't succumb to a battle wound. He died Sept. 29, 1861 -- "sudden and unexpected," said the obituary -- "of congestive fever." He was stationed at Camp Gauley, Va. (later W. Va.) when he died.
Twice as many Civil War soldiers died of a disease as were killed by enemy weapons. Overall, the Union army lost about 224,000 men to disease and about 110,000 in combat. A total of 35,475 Ohioans died in the four-year conflict with more than 21,700 of them claimed by illness.
The leading causes of death among the troops were diarrhea or dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, pneumonia, measles and malnutrition.
Many factors contributed to the losses. Never had so many men been assembled for American armies. The large concentrations complicated health, housing and nutrition.
Many doctors serving the military had never been to a medical school. They had acquired their professional title by serving as an apprentice in the office of an experienced doctor. Many diseases and infirmities were present when the men entered the army because their physical "examination was a mere pretense," said Adams, a medical historian
The soldier diet -- influenced by supply problems -- contributed to the high rate of intestinal problems. "Beans killed more than bullets" was a popular expression among Civil War veterans.
Pvt. Berry's regiment, the 26th OVI, defied the U. S. and state death ratios, losing 116 men to disease and 122 in battle.
The Butler Pioneers, under the leadership of Captain James W. C. Smith, had organized too late to be among the first volunteers accepted from Butler County in April 1861.
While more than 300 Butler County men entered the Union army that month, the Pioneers had to be content to train in the streets of Hamilton, awaiting their call to duty.
By May 16, their ranks numbered 90 men and the Pioneers were sent by train to Columbus. They were soon back in Hamilton, not yet a part of the army because of confusion about their orders.
June 9, 1861, they made a second trip to Columbus. This time they became Company A of the 26th OVI, a regiment composed of men from Butler, Ross, Delaware, Guernsey, Mahoning, Champaign, Scioto and Madison counties. Its first service was in the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia.
Besides Pvt. Berry and Captain Smith, the names of 75 other local men are identified as members of the 26th OVI on the walls of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 28, 1997
Prohibition evidence could be elusive, Oxford marshal learned in March 1921
By Jim Blount
Evidence in prohibition cases could be elusive -- as the Oxford village marshal learned in March 1921.
He arrested two Indianapolis men after finding whisky in their roadster. The marshal hauled the men to the residence of Mayor James Hughes to begin prosecution. While the mayor and the marshal conferred, someone stole the car and the whisky. The car was recovered, but not the booze.
No evidence, no case, ruled Mayor Hughes. Charges against the men were dropped and they headed for Indianapolis after a night in the Oxford jail.
The Oxford incident was just one of several cases in this area -- known as Little Chicago -- involving disappearing evidence during the Prohibition era (1919-1933)
In Monroe, the absence of evidence didn't stop Mayor William Stewart from prosecuting people charged with prohibition violations.
In May 1923. three Hamilton men were found guilty and fined a total of $1,300 despite the theft of evidence -- 105 quarts of whisky -- from the Monroe garage.
About a month later in the same court, two Hamilton men were convicted and fined under similar circumstances.
Motorcycle Officer Jess Dennis stopped trucks driven by two Hamilton men in June 1923 on Hamilton-Middletown Pike. One of the trucks and 28 kegs of beer confiscated from both vehicles were taken to a garage in Monroe.
Before the men could stand trial, the truck and the contraband disappeared from the garage. Four days later, despite the missing evidence, Mayor Stewart found them guilty and fined each man $500.
Five days later, the same two men were arrested at Anderson, Ind., as they drove two trucks, with 40 half barrels and nine kegs of beer, from the Norton Brewery in Anderson. This time, federal agents made sure the evidence didn't vanish.
In November 1922, trusting agents "lost" nine and a half barrels of beer taken at the Stockton Club, Dixie Highway and Seward Road in Fairfield Township.
The agents raided the roadhouse and charged two men, but they didn't remove the beer from the club. Instead, they sealed and labeled the barrels with intentions of returning the next day with a truck. When they arrived the next afternoon, agents were told someone had broken into the building during the night and took the barrels.
A cornered bootlegger tried another way of disposing of his whisky during a raid on his Shuler Avenue home in October 1921.
Lewis Bolser, St. Clair Township justice of the peace, led the raid. As he walked beside the house, the bootlegger dropped a keg of whisky from a second-floor window, just missing Bolser.
It was the second close call for Bolser in only a few months. In June 1921, an explosion rocked Bolser's residence in Coke Otto (New Miami). At first, neighbors feared the house had been bombed by bootleggers seeking revenge.
Investigation disclosed that 72 bottles of home-brewed beer -- being held as evidence -- had burst with "such a kick that the resulting explosion sounded like a bomb."
A similar blast made a mess of an office in Hamilton police headquarters in July 1923. Police and sheriff's deputies had combined in a raid on a farm house in Morgan Township the previous day, confiscating eight barrels of mash from a moonshine still. A bottle of the mash, stored in the police chief's office overnight, exploded, spraying a sticky substance over the walls, ceiling, furniture and other contents of the office.
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