Journal-News, Wednesday, March 4, 1998
High Street block is changing again; last transformation completed in 1954
By Jim Blount
Dirt has been flying in the High Street block between State Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. By January 2000, if the schedule is maintained, it will be the site of the $37 million, 11-story Government Services Center, housing state, county and city offices.
The GSC plan is the second transformation for the tract in the last half of the 20th century. The last one, a downtown retail complex, was completed in 1954. It included stores built for J. C. Penney, W. T. Grant, Lerner Shops and Nobil Shoes.
By the early 1950s, old and poorly-maintained buildings dominated the block, which extends south to Court Street. An exception was a Kroger Store on the eastern corner at one-lane southbound Fourth Street and the railroad (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard).
The 1949 Williams City Directory listed the Allied Surplus Store at 315 High Street at State Street. Going east, next was Hamilton's Outlet Store at 319 High; the Lyric Theater at 321; Queen's Furs at 323; and Kroger at 351. Across the Baltimore & Ohio tracks was another grocery, Albers Super Market, at 401 High Street.
In late July 1953, the City of Hamilton issued a building permit for what was initially called the Kaufman retail merchandising development. The masonry and steel complex ran 233 feet along High Street. It included 85,000 square feet of floor space, or more than two acres.
Everything on the block -- except the Kroger store -- was demolished to make way for the $827,000 project on land valued at $285,000. Architects were Herbert Tannenbaum of New York and Frederick J. Winkler of Hamilton. The general contractor was the F. K. Vaughn Building Company of Hamilton.
The Journal-News said it was "erected by William Kaufman, the New York real estate developer, who is equally well known for his skyscraper operations in Manhattan and his varied real estate developments throughout the country."
An earlier report said the real estate "was first acquired from the Federated Department Stores Inc. by William Kaufman of New York City, part under the name of the Laurel Realty Corp. and part under the names of the High Realty Corp. More recently both of these corporations were sold to Helen Eisenstein of New York City."
Three stores held a grand opening weekend, starting Thursday, Sept. 2, 1954; the J. C. Penney opened two weeks later.
The W. T. Grant Store was at 343 High Street, next to Kroger. It had a 68-foot frontage and extended 200 feet to Court Street. The store, one of two with a basement, advertised that it provided shoppers four stores in one: a fashion store; a dry goods store; a home-hardware store; and a variety store. Grant reported 100 employees at the opening. The company, founded in 1906, was operating 500 stores in 34 states in 1954.
J. C. Penney -- a Hamilton retail fixture since 1920 -- moved from a store at 232 High Street. Its new location at 335 High Street was the widest and the largest store in the Kaufman complex. It had a 75-foot front, a depth of 200 feet and included a basement. It totaled 25,000 square feet, including 18,000 square feet of selling space. The company -- formed in 1902
by James Cash Penney -- had more than 1,600 stores nationally, including 64 in Ohio.
Lerner Shops, at 325 High Street, was a women's apparel store. Its new L-shaped store measured 68x200 feet, plus a 25x125-foot section extending west to State Street.
The smallest was Nobil Shoes, 321 High Street . It was at the corner of High and State streets, occupying a 25x75-foot store. It was one of more than 60 Nobil stores in nine states.
Opening promotions included free bus service between 6:30 and 9 p.m. It included all Hamilton Transit Company routes. Riders weren't obligated to visit the new stores, or to travel to downtown Hamilton. On the first day, Sept. 2, buses hauled 24,000 passengers that entire day, or about 10,000 above the daily average.
As the new stores opened, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce reported the results of a survey which asked its members to identify the city's major problems. Heading the list were traffic on city streets and a shortage of downtown off-street parking lots.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 11, 1998
Citizens greeted 1898 troop trains as they paused at Hamilton station
(This column is the third of a series covering Hamilton and Butler County participation in the Spanish-American War of 1898.)
By Jim Blount
Hamiltonians focused their patriotic fervor on the railroad station on South Fifth Street in the spring of 1898 as the United States prepared for the Spanish-American War.
Hundreds of citizens rallied for the first time April 20 at the busy Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton station (now on Martin Luther King. Jr. Boulevard). They gathered to express their support as troop trains stopped at the station so steam locomotives could take on water and coal.
"Great excitement was manifested at the CH&D Station Wednesday morning after the news became current that a regiment of the regulars of the United States Army would pass through the city," the Hamilton Democrat reported.
The welcome started before the southbound train reached the station. Factory workers and students from the Third Ward School (now the Hamilton board of education building) greeted the soldiers as the trains slowed along North Fourth Street.
"The high school graduating class, carrying the class colors, and hundreds of citizens were excitedly awaiting the train at the station. Flags in the vicinity of the depot were displayed and songs and cheers rent the air," the newspaper said in reporting the event, which transpired five days before the U. S. declared war on Spain.
"About 9:30 the first section of the train pulled in with a detachment of the 13th regiment, U.S.A., from Fort Porter, near Buffalo, N. Y., enroute to Tampa, Fla., and soldiers were greeted with loud cheers and the waving of flags." When the train came to a complete stop, the soldiers and their greeters enacted a ritual that would be repeated every time a troop train arrived in Hamilton.
"The soldiers tore off the buttons from their coat sleeves and breasts and gave them to the ladies who will use them as the heads of hat pins while girls returned the compliment by presenting the soldiers with bouquets," the newspaper explained.
"About 9:45 section No. 2, with a detachment of troops from the same regiment, stopped and the same excitement was repeated. About five companies, in all 304 men, were in the two trains and were a fine looking body of men." Among the ranks was Charles Finch, formerly of Oxford.
A reception was accorded another military contingent Monday evening, May 16. The newspaper said "about 9:30 o'clock the first section of the trains over the CH&I (Cincinnati, Hamilton & Indianapolis) Railway with Indiana state troops passed through Hamilton. This train carried the horses, tents and provisions of the Fourth Regiment, Indiana National Guard, now the 160th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. The second train arrived at 10:30 and was followed by another at 11:45 and one at 12 o'clock midnight.
"The station, streets and sidewalks were lined with people who greeted the soldiers, and begged and pleaded for buttons," the report said. "The crowd of people remained until the last train-load passed enroute to Cincinnati" and then to a camp at Chickamauga, Ga.
Friday morning, May 20, at 8:15, 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. three train, with about 335 soldiers of the 32nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry, passed through Hamilton over the CH&D. "The arrival of the troops was not generally known and very few citizens were at the station to bid the boys au revoir, as on former occasions, and to collect buttons."
Saturday, May 21, starting at 4 a.m. several trains arrived over the CH&I with volunteers from Nebraska, but "owing to the early hour, there was no one at the station to cheer the boys."
The next evening, Sunday, May 22, the welcome mat was out again. Between 8 p.m. and midnight, four troops trains of 36 coaches arrived over the Indianapolis line. The southbound troops were from the former First Regiment, ING, then the 159th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.
Two trains arrived as scheduled at 8 and 9:30 as hundreds of Hamiltonians turned out to greet the soldiers and listen to a brief concert by the regiment's band. But two other sections were delayed at McGonigle by a disabled locomotive. Local greeters had to wait until about midnight to extend a Hamilton welcome to the Hoosier soldiers.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 18, 1998
Klondike gold beckoned county residents
By Jim Blount
What had been known as "Seward's Folly" for 29 years became a source of quick wealth in 1896 when George Carmack discovered gold in the Klondike River basin of Canada's Northwest Territory. As in 1849, after a similar California find, some Butler County men sought their share of the riches.
In 1867 when the U. S. paid Russia $7.2 million for Alaska -- at the behest of Secretary of State William H. Seward -- critics believed it was wasted money. The Aug. 16, 1896, discovery ended the ridicule, although it took time for most of the United States to learn about it.
It wasn't until early 1897 that the news reached the states. It was almost a year later, July 19, 1897, before the first shipment of gold reached San Francisco. By 1898, the rush to Alaska was on. About 100,000 people started toward Alaska and nearby Canadian gold fields between 1897 and 1899.
Rudolph Meili joined two Cincinnati friends in heading to Alaska Feb. 10, 1898. Meili, until then a machinist at the Black Clawson Company in Hamilton, left behind a wife and family in their Vine Street residence. Meili and companions reached Seattle by Feb. 20, but had to wait until March 1 to sail. Five days later, he wrote a letter describing his trip from Seattle to Juneau.
"It seems to me everybody works here hand in hand to fleece these Klondikers out of as much money as they possibly can," he observed. His group, finding hotels too expensive, "went camping from the first day to the last," he said.
Ship safety also concerned him. "A case is the more than criminal carelessness with which they handle the inspections of all out-going vessels. I saw vessels leaving Seattle for Alaska which were hardly able to keep water in the harbor, but they had not the least trouble in obtaining clearance papers," he said.
Meili said "our vessel, the Cleveland, although over 35 years old, would be a comparatively safe one, had it not been overloaded in such a frightful manner, and after filling every inch of space below, they piled up the freight all over the deck.
"Whenever there was a few inches open," he added, "the company succeed in filling it up with some of the 50 or 60 dogs on board."
He wrote the letter from his bunk, "using my knee as a table, and not having enough room to either lie down, sit or stand. I have seen some poor steamship accommodations, but this one takes the cake."
It was about 1,600 miles from Seattle to the gold fields. The easiest part was the 1,000-mile sea trip up the Inside Passage and the Lynn Canal (an 80-mile long fjord) to Skagway and other boom towns.
Meili estimated that "fully one third of the people starting out for the Klondike never get any farther than Seattle or the other coast cities." He said "after seeing the dangers they have to go through, and hearing the hard times stories from Alaska, they grow chicken hearted and return home, if they have enough money left to do so."
On the second day of the voyage, his ship reached Victoria in British Columbia. "There, I took out my miner's license, which gives me a right to fish, hunt, cut timber necessary to develop a mining claim, and to locate such a claim, for all of which I paid $10 and am now a full-fledged Canadian miner with nothing missing but the gold."
The ship also made a stop at the boom town of Wrangel. "New buildings are shooting up on all sides like mushrooms," Meili said. He found tents, available in Seattle for $16 to $20, and empty lots which sold for $20 to $25 six months earlier, bringing $40 to $45 in rent a month.
"Any man who can hold a saw and hatchet can get from $4 to $7 a day and board, and can work as much overtime as he wants." He said "restaurants and saloons are coining money and the gambling houses are wide open."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 25, 1998
Seven Mile man told of Alaska gold trek
By Jim Blount
Some of the hardships of Alaska gold seekers a century ago were shared with readers of Hamilton newspapers in 1898, thanks to letters from a Seven Mile man, George A. Wilson.He was joined by two Middletown men, Eugene Newman and Happy Happlisberger, in the Gold Rush of '98.
An estimated 100,000 people left the United States between 1897 and 1899 to search for gold in Alaska and western Canada, but only about 40,000 reached the area. Wilson's letters reflect that data.
"There are lots of disgusted people here and some are selling out and going back," he wrote in March 1898. Wilson said "about 85 percent of the people wish they had not started," but he said he was among the other 15 percent.
Some made money without finding gold, he said. "Teamsters that have good teams and wagons make from $30 to $40 a day lately, but their hay costs them $75 a ton," Wilson noted.
A major hurdle for the 1898 prospectors was the steep climb to and through the Chilkoot Pass at the north end of the water trip through the Inside Passage and the Lynn Canal.
The treacherous Chilkoot Pass -- 3,502 feet at its highest elevation -- extends 29 miles from the former village of Dyea in Alaska to Lake Bennett in Canada's Yukon Territory. It was the main route for prospectors until 2,890-foot White Pass, above Skagway, opened about 1900 as a relatively easier path to the gold fields.
"The trail is getting in a very bad shape and the weather is warm again, and the wind is coming from the sounds," Wilson wrote March 18. "It is going to make it bad for the people who come without means to have their outfits hauled" through the pass.
"It is necessary for each man to have 1,100 pounds of provisions to pass the custom officials," Wilson said, referring to the border checks by the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police. Gold seekers not properly outfitted weren't allowed to make the final 400 mountainous miles to the known gold areas.
Wilson wrote again five days later, from the trail. "We have been here three days looking over the trail and having our goods packed up on the summit," he said. "Everything is up there now, but out tent and baggages."
"This morning," he said, "there was one continuous string of horses, oxen, dogs and men with sleds until reaching the steeper part." Wilson said "we could see nothing but great hills on both sides; for what is called the top of the summit is the lowest place to get over."
"Going through the canyon, you see nothing but rocks on either side from 100 to 200 feet high, and trees growing on the top."
"For the last week, I have been walking from 10 to 15 miles a day, dragging heavy boots and generally carrying something in my arms or on my back," Wilson said. "I feel pretty tired at night, but after 10 hours or more rest, I am ready for another day."
He said "most of the people live in tents, some going and some coming every day. There are quite a number of poorly constructed buildings used as hotels and business rooms. Most of them are frame covered with tar paper."
"We leave here tomorrow morning, if the weather is favorable, for Lake Bennett where we will pitch tents and do our cooking for the first time," he explained. "So far, we have found it cheaper to board."
"Gene and Happy and myself are in first-class shape," the Seven Mile prospector reported. "We bought an interest in a mountain donkey that will be taken over the summit to help pull our stuff (supplies) down and over the lakes."
Wilson also noted that "every day since we have been here, people have sold out and gone back after pulling their stuff this far."
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