Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 1997
Prohibition had its lighter moments
By Jim Blount
The Prohibition era -- when any beverage containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol was illegal -- had its lighter moments, as illustrated by the following examples.
Police brought whisky into the Hamilton city jail in October 1924. But it wasn't there for the inmates to enjoy.
It started when police arrested a man after finding 20 gallons of moonshine in his garage. They couldn't prove the whisky was his, or that he was aware that it was in his garage. Charges had to be dropped, but that left the police with 20 gallons of booze and no place to store it.
Someone noted that the jail was due for a cleaning, and suggested the whisky could be used as a disinfectant.
"The jail was never cleaner," observed Chief Frank Clements. And prisoners enjoyed inhaling the fumes of the residue for several days.
There often was no honor among bootleggers as a Middletown man discovered when he bought a barrel of whisky from a former saloon operator in August 1919.
The buyer thought he had obtained 41 gallons of 94-proof whisky for $900. Before it could be resold, federal agents intervened. They found only 15 gallons, not 41, and their tests disclosed it was a weak 16 proof, not 94 proof.
In another incident, a speakeasy operator at South Front and Pershing streets in Hamilton should have been suspicious. The date was April 1, 1921.
That morning, two men parked a Ford truck in front of his soft drink parlor. They entered and offered a sample of the whisky they were selling. If the owner liked it, they still had two barrels on their truck.
A taste test indicated it was top-quality whisky, and the sellers started the bargaining by asking $300 a barrel. The buyer said he had only $350 in cash -- not enough to buy both barrels.
After negotiating, the sellers agreed to leave the two barrels, take the $350 and return in a few hours for the remaining $250.
A few minutes later, the anxious buyer decided to sample more of the precious purchase. He opened the bung hole and drained some of the contents into a smaller container.
To his dismay, he discovered the barrels contained water, not high-grade whisky. It was an expensive April fool joke on the speakeasy operator.
Lawmen could be fooled, too. State prohibition agents in August 1923 set out to arrest a farmer suspected of selling poisoned whisky in Butler County. Two recent deaths had been blamed on moonshine produced by the farmer.
Agents believed they had succeeded when they confiscated a five-gallon jug of whisky near the farmer's rural residence.
When the case went to court, the agents suffered a setback.
A defense lawyer proved to the satisfaction of the judge that the jug had been on the other side of a property line and, therefore, was not legally in the possession of his client. The charge was dismissed.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 1997
Union Centre is new name in county; site of area's newest I-75 interchange
By Jim Blount
There's an addition to the long list of Butler County place names, many of which are obscure and cloaked in some mystery. The upstart is Union Centre, which promises to become the heart of rapidly-growing Union Township. It is more than the usual story of transforming farm land into tax-producing commercial, industrial and office developments.
Union Centre is different. Its metamorphous should be quick. That's because it is based on a new interchange on I-75, only the third in Butler County. The other two -- at Tylersville and Cincinnati-Dayton roads -- also are in the township in the county's southeastern corner.
Union Centre Boulevard will be the county's first new access to the interstate highway system since I-75 opened July 31, 1960.
The new $35.5 million interchange will offer access to 3,000 acres of available land, already zoned for industrial and commercial use. Each dollar spent on construction is expected to generate $7.40 in investment. Union Township officials project creation of about 21,000 new jobs in the development area.
Of course, Union Township -- the last township formed in Butler County -- has been growing since the 1950s. Today, the area isn't anything like it was June 2, 1823, when Butler County commissioners authorized the county's 13th township. The land was taken from Liberty Township. The 1875 county atlas said the township's "name was given it with no historical significance."
"Probably the earliest settler to come to Union Township was Joseph McMaken," wrote Virginia Shewalter in her 1976 book, A History of Union Township (still available from the Union Township Historical Society, 5680 Tylersville Road, West Chester, Ohio 45069). He was a native of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and a veteran of the American Revolution.
McMaken also served in the Indian-fighting armies of Arthur St. Clair and Anthony Wayne in this region. He resided at North Bend and in Fairfield Township before moving to Section 4 of what is now Union Township in 1795, when he was about 40 years of age.
Union Centre joins a colorful list of Union Township place names. In alphabetical order, they include Chester, Chester Station, Crescentville, 18-Mile Stand, Gano, Hogtown, Maud, McMaken's Bridge, Mechanicsburg, Pisgah, Port Union, Pug Muncy, Rialto, Tylersville and West Chester. The adjacent cities of Fairfield and Sharonville also extend into the township.
West Chester is probably the best known of Union Township communities.
West Chester -- along Cincinnati-Dayton Road (or old U. S. 25) in Sections 27 and 28 -- was platted in 1817 by Hezekiah Smith. The first post office was established April 1, 1824, as Chester. It was changed to West Chester Oct. 2, 1826. It sometimes has been spelled as one word, Westchester.
It had at least two previous names, Hogtown and Mechanicsburg, according to early county historians. Some sources say it was first known as Hogtown because farmers in the vicinity raised so many hogs. That was before it was platted in 1817 by Smith, who called it Mechanicsburg (sometimes spelled Mechanicsburgh, with an h).
Chester Station is shown in the 1875 Butler County atlas as a railroad station in Union Township on the Dayton Short Line Railroad (now Conrail), east of West Chester.
Pisgah has rivaled West Chester as Union Township's most recognized location. It has been assumed that its Biblical name is because Pisgah is regarded as the highest point in the southeastern corner of the county. In the Bible, Pisgah is a mountain peak in Moab from which Moses viewed the Promised Land.
It is located in Sections 9 and 15 around the intersection of West Chester Road, Cox Road and Columbus-Cincinnati Road (U. S. 42).
The community probably started about 1812 when William Belch built a hotel, or stagecoach stop, at the intersection. A post office operated from Dec. 21, 1843, until Nov. 15, 1905. The village was not platted until 1924.
Our tour of Union Township communities will continue in future columns.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 1997
Rum running and hijacking profitable occupations in county in early 1920s
By Jim Blount
Rum running and hijacking were risky, but lucrative occupations in Butler County in the 1920s and early 1930s. The profit from one truckload of whisky would surpass the pay of a Hamilton police officer could gross in several years.
A hijacker's profits were even greater because he would have little, if any, expense. Someone else would buy or produce the whisky, then the hijacker would steal it while in transit and possibly sell both the truck and its contents.
Rum runners -- the name given those who transported illegal beer and whisky during the Prohibition era (1919-1933) -- were more fearful of hijacking than arrest.
Men residing in the Little Chicago area were paid as much as $150 to $175 for a round trip between Hamilton and Detroit in the late 1920s. Their jobs were either to drive or guard the illicit shipments.
An enterprising rum runner could make two or three trips a week. Averaging a trip and a half a week, at $150 each, would gross a driver or guard about $11,700 a year.
A Hamilton patrolman in 1928 could gross no more than $1,800 a year. The maximum pay for a patrolman then was $150 a month. A common pleas judge in the 1920s was paid less than $3,500 a year -- or about a third of the income realized by an ambitious rum runner.
Weather also was more of a threat to rum runners than infrequent patrolling lawmen.
For example, weather-related accidents near Monroe and Bethany in eastern Butler County stopped two illicit whisky shipments, totaling more than 140 gallons, within eight days in January 1929.
A new Ford coupe, with only 2,700 miles on the odometer, skidded off the road, hit a pole and overturned two miles north of Bethany on Cincinnati-Dayton Road at 7 o'clock on a Monday morning. The occupants, a man and a woman, fled. Deputies found 70 one-gallon cans of whisky hidden in the car, which had been registered in Cincinnati.
A week later on the same road at 8 a.m. at Monroe, a northbound car collided with a truck and a parked car. The occupants escaped in a passing car. Inside the wrecked car, registered to a Dayton man, police found 75 one-gallon cans of whisky.
Later, two Dayton men were arrested and tried in Monroe mayor's court. They were fined $100 and costs, and, when unable to pay, were sent to the county jail in Hamilton. At $5 to $6 a pint -- the retail rate in 1929 -- the whisky found in their wrecked car was worth $3,000 to $3,600.
Hijack, hijacker and hijacking are terms created during Prohibition, according to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
The original meaning of hijacker, the dictionary explained, was "a bandit who preys on bootleggers and other criminals." The term derived from the robber's command to his victim: "Stick 'em high, Jack!" That meant raise the arms well above the head. Hijacker is "now applied more generally to one who steals goods in transit," Brewer said.
Some operators took precautions against hijacking, according to a man who had first-hand knowledge of the Butler County situation. "Bootleggers' trucks seldom traveled alone, and there were always two men in the trucks -- a driver and a guard." The guard, he said, was there to discourage hijackers.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 1997
Port Union and Rialto once engaged in Union Township 'Post Office War'
By Jim Blount
A century ago, residents of Port Union and Rialto would have rebelled at the thought of their two communities merging. The Union Township towns -- which were never incorporated -- are gradually growing together as development continues in the township.
Port Union -- at the corners of Sections 3, 4, 9 and 10 -- is on Princeton-Glendale Road (Ohio 747) around its intersection with Port Union and Port Union-Rialto roads. Rialto is in Section 3, east of Port Union, around the intersection of Rialto and Port Union-Rialto roads.
In the late 1880s, Port Union and Rialto were enemies in a "Post Office War," according to an account in the Hamilton Daily News.
"The post office muddle between Port Union and Rialto is assuming serious proportions, to the great discomfiture of the residents of the former place," the newspaper reported in November 1888.
"It seems that a petition was gotten up which was numerously signed by residents of Port Union without much attention being paid to the substance matter stated therein, and when looked over by the postmaster at Port Union, he discovered it stated that more mail matter came to Rialto then to Port Union," the report said.
"This caused the postmaster of the latter place to keep an account of the number of pieces received for six successive days, and for each day he found there was a great deal more came to Port Union than to Rialto; in this connection it might be stated that the proprietors of the mills at Rialto do not receive their mail matter there, but at Lockland, Hamilton County.
"The postmaster at Port Union after his observation of the mail received at the two places, sent his report to the department at Washington. The outcome of the post office war will be watched with much interest by people in the localities named," the newspaper said.
Port Union derived its name from being a port on the 250-mile Miami-Erie Canal, which stretched from Cincinnati to Toledo. Rialto also was on the canal at lock 38, much of which remains today. The canal opened between Middletown and Cincinnati in 1827.
Both communities also were on the Cincinnati & Richmond Railroad, which opened between Cincinnati and Hamilton in 1888. Later the line was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, then Penn Central and Conrail and now Norfolk Southern.
Port Union -- laid out by William Elliott -- was first called McMaken's Bridge in honor of a family of early settlers who built the first house there in 1827. Port Union had its own post office from May 11, 1850, until Jan. 31, 1903.
Rialto was once owned by the Friend & Fox Paper Company, which had three mills there. A sawmill and grist mill had occupied the site before it was purchased in 1866 by C. W. Friend and George F. Fox, who either converted the grist mill or built a new facility to produce paper for book and newspaper publishers.
Records indicate there was a Rialto post office from July 16, 1890, until Oct. 31, 1900.
That means there was no loser in the "Post Office War" of the 1880s. Rialto gained a post office in the struggle, but not at the expense of neighboring Port Union. For 10 years, 1890-1900, both communities could boast of having a post office.
Crescentville -- at the southern edge of the township and the county -- was a similar mill town. It was mostly in Hamilton County, but extended north into Section 32 in Union Township.
After 1881, it was the site of the Crescent Paper Company, also owned by the Friend and Fox Paper Company. The mill burned in 1895, but was rebuilt and operated until about 1925.
Crescentville was at the intersection of Crescentville Road, the canal and the railroad. A canal lock was just south of the county line. A post office served the community from July 5, 1888, until Feb. 15, 1911. What was left of the mill and canal was obliterated when I-75 was built in the late 1950s. The Hamilton County portion of Crescentville was annexed to Sharonville in 1960.
This has been the second part of a tour of historic Union Township communities. It will resume in a future column.
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