Journal-News, Wednesday, May 6, 1998
Beckett paper mill opened 150 years ago
By Jim Blount
Hamilton's oldest operating industry started 150 years ago this month. Now part of International Paper Company, the paper mill that began in May 1848 was known as the Beckett Paper Company during most of its history.
Names have included Miami Paper Mill; Beckett, Rigdon and Martin; Beckett, Rigdon and Company; Beckett and Laurie; Beckett, Laurie and Company; and William Beckett and Son. In 1887, it was incorporated as the Beckett Paper Company, a name that endured into the mid 1990s. Beckett became part of Hammermill Paper Company in May 1959. International Paper Company acquired Hammermill in 1986.
For decades, the Hamilton plant has claimed to be "the oldest operating fine paper mill west of the Allegheny Mountains."
The mill has produced a variety of products, ranging from newsprint made from rags through the Civil War era, and writing and bond papers until World War I, to uncoated fine grades for the advertising industry in the 20th century.
A company publication in the 1970s said "many old-timers in the industry still call us 'The Cover Mill,' since we developed the first cover paper, the famous Buckeye Cover, in 1894." The same source said at the end of the 19th century, "the company's experiments with the then new analine dyes led to the development of the industry's first extensive range of colored cover papers."
Among its thousands of customers was the American Book Company, a Cincinnati publishing house that produced the McGuffey Readers in the 19th century.
In the 1840s, the availability of cheap power -- the privately-owned Hamilton hydraulic -- attracted Calvin Reilly, a Toledo businessman, to invest in Hamilton. He hired Adam Laurie, a young Scotsman experienced in papermaking, to design, build and manage a paper mill. Also involved in the construction was John L. Martin, a Vermont native who was an experienced civil engineer and millwright.
When Reilly encountered financial problems, Laurie sought capital to save the project. The new investor was William Beckett, a young Hamilton lawyer who had been acquiring real estate in the area.
Other partners in the new mill were Martin and a Hamilton lawyer, Francis D. Rigdon. Laurie was superintendent of the Miami Paper Mill until 1857, and a partner until 1886.
In May 1848, the $12,000 mill opened, producing about a ton of rag-based newsprint each day. Its location then was described as north of Dayton Street and west of the Hamilton Hydraulic, which drew water from the Great Miami River north of Hamilton. In the 1880s, the hydraulic was filled in and the railroad now owned by the Norfolk Southern was built over part the waterway's route.
The mill has been rebuilt, modernized and expanded several times in its 150 years. The original mill was razed and reconstructed in 1905. The 1913 flood caused extensive damage and production stopped for six months while the plant was rebuilt.
A Beckett managed the mill for 126 years. William Beckett, a founder, directed the mill until 1896. He was followed by his son, Thomas Beckett, until 1923; his eldest son, Minor Beckett, until 1928; Guy Beckett, a grandson of the founder, until 1960; and two sons of Thomas Beckett, Dan Beckett until 1948, and William Beckett, president from 1958 through 1974.
The hydraulic company's water power led to the building of the mill, but water supply is one of the reasons for its endurance, according to Dave Belew, who headed Beckett operations from 1974 until his retirement in 1992.
"People who come to our mill are almost always amazed that we have no river or lake nearby," Belew said in a 1975 interview. "We have to explain that our water comes from artesian wells under the ground. That is a big plus, and that is the main reason that the Miami Valley has so many paper mills," Belew explained.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 13, 1998
Oxford water tower placed with reluctance
By Jim Blount
It was a reluctant village council that approved erecting a water tower in a downtown Oxford park in 1922. "Not one of the gentlemen who voted for this location really wanted to see the tank in the park," a Hamilton newspaper reported, "but they said that on account of the expense of placing it elsewhere, the park was the only place for it."
Opinions on the six-legged tower -- originally painted black -- have varied throughout its 76-year history. Some consider it an eyesore. Others see it as a historic landmark and the focal point of the community.
In the 1990s, controversy has surrounded its fate -- preservation or demolition. Some Oxford residents believed the issue had been settled in November 1997 by a non-binding referendum. In that vote, 1,447 favored removal and 983 supported saving the olive green tower. A month later, Oxford City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to raze it.
But the debate and legal moves continue, and the unused tower still dominates downtown Oxford.
Before the 1922 vote, Oxford Council received only one written objection to its placement. That was a letter from the local Woman's Club, written by its secretary, Mrs. A. N. Ramsey.
"By a vote of four to one this park was decided upon as the location for the standpipe, or water tank, which is to be erected in connection with the forthcoming improvements . . . on the village water system," said the Oxford correspondent for the Journal in reporting council's March 14, 1922, meeting.
Voting for the site, the Journal said, were Councilmen Ferguson, Caldwell, Pults and Wright. Councilman Gentry voted against, and Councilman Coulter was absent because of illness.
A $56,000 bond issue -- approved 503 to 201 in November 1921 -- paid for improvements to the Oxford water system. A separate $11,500 appropriation was earmarked for standpipe construction, a noisy project that began in late August 1922.
"Anyone who has not yet noticed the new water tower," a Miami student newspaper said in September 1922, "has at least heard some of the 11,000 rivets being hammered into its sides." Workmen inserted between 600 and 700 rivets a days, according to a separate report.
It was completed Oct. 20, 1922, and filled with water the same day.
"The tower, not a pretty thing, and certainly no improvement to the east park, fills a long felt want in the village," said an opinionated correspondent in reporting its completion.
Earlier that year, the writer had interviewed W. H. Petty, foreman of the three-man crew that erected the tower. His report said "the tower will measure 135 feet from the iron ball, which will surmount the top, to the level of the piers which contain six columns."
"The tank will hold a little over 200,000 gallons of water," the article said. "When the tank is full, the water alone will weigh over 1.5 million pounds. The pressure will be about 56 pounds."
The tower, empty since November 1993, has been subject to several proposals that would preserve it and find new uses for the Oxford focal point. On the other side of the issue are concerns about potential health and safety hazards if it remains.
There have been various estimates of costs, ranging from more than $100,00 for demolition to in excess of $300,000 for preservation.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 20, 1998
Local troops received food from home
(This column is the seventh of a series covering Hamilton and Butler County participation in the Spanish-American War of 1898.)
By Jim Blount
The 75 men in Hamilton's Company E looked forward to combat as a train took them from Columbus, Ohio, to their new training site at Chickamauga, Ga., southeast of Chattanooga. Instead, they had to fight the regimen and rigors of camp life and the effects of an inefficient supply system after arriving Sunday, May 17, 1898, at Camp George H. Thomas, named for a general who had commanded many Butler County troops during the Civil War.
The former Ohio National Guard unit had left Hamilton April 26, one day after the U. S. had declared war on Spain, officially starting the Spanish-American War of 1898. Company E and other soldiers gathering at Chickamauga expected to be fighting in Cuba soon.
The Hamiltonians had heard much of Chickamauga, where many of their ancestors had fought in September 1863. Reminders of that Civil War battle were evident as the First Ohio Regiment "camped on the ground where the fighting had been thickest," said Karl W. Heiser in his book, Hamilton in the War of '98.
"The soldiers picked up bullets, pieces of shells and other relics of the battlefield," said Heiser, in describing Company E's arrival on the site that had recently been designated a national park..
Within a few days, the Ohioans were among more than 40,000 hastily-assembled troops at Chickamauga.
Letters to loved ones in Hamilton revealed details of camp life, including the "plain fare" at meal times. The contents of some of those letters were shared Thursday evening, May 26, at a meeting of the Woman's War League, headed by Mrs. E. G. Rathbone.
The Democrat said the women learned that men in Company E "are having to sustain both their minds and bodies on a diet of bacon, beans, potatoes and coffee three times a day without change. They have had no bread, not even hardtack, since they reached the park, and are not liable to taste fresh meat for two weeks to come."
Mrs. E. G. Rathbone and the WWL decided do something to enliven meals for the soldiers. They decided to collect various breads, beef and veal loaves, cakes, canned salmon, canned corn, canned fruit, sugar, jams and jellies and other foods. Their objective was for the treats from home to reach Company E within four days -- in time for Memorial Day.
Donations were brought to an empty downtown storeroom provided by E. G. Rathbone, husband of the WWL's president. Volunteers helped package the generous donations. They were shipped south Saturday afternoon via the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
The four large boxes, a small one, three barrels and a keg arrived at the Company E camp Monday morning on a mule-powered wagon. "When the wagon passed," said Captain August W. Margedant, "every hat came off and continuous cheer went up for the kind ladies of Hamilton."
The Hamilton donations provided enough food for several days, the commander of a Company E said, "and pork and beans will go begging."
"If you could have been here and could have seen the happy faces, you no doubt would have felt repaid for the very great trouble you have gone to," said Margedant in extending thanks to the members of the Woman's War League and the Hamiltonians who responded to their appeal.
That evening, the well-fed members of Company E received word that Wednesday or Thursday they would move south to Florida, and possibly an invasion of Cuba.
"When ranks were broken that night, a buzz of excitement pervaded camp," said Heiser. "The men talked wildly of encounters with the Spanish and their shouts rent the air for miles around."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 27, 1998
Professor McFarland's hat trick fooled enemy
By Jim Blount
Civil War events elsewhere in the fall of 1863 overshadowed the unique service and suffering of a Miami University mathematics professor and his company of Oxford-area soldiers at Cumberland Gap.
The passage -- which had been a gateway to settlement in Kentucky in the 19th century -- straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border about a quarter mile north of the point where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet. Three public roads, including the Wilderness Road, once passed through the gap, which was 300 feet above the valley floor.
The rugged area was considered impregnable by almost every commander who served there, but during the Civil War, the strategic pass changed hands several times: (1) Confederates occupied it in September 1861: (2) Union forces took possession in June 1862; and (3) Confederates regained the position in September 1862, holding it until September 1863.
Instrumental in the gap's next change was Robert White McFarland, a native of Champaign County who came to Oxford in 1856 to teach mathematics and astronomy at Miami.
His brief military career began when he directed the training of Miami students and Oxford residents as home guards in 1861. Captain McFarland recruited students and Oxford men in 1862 to become part of Company A of the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 86th disbanded when its uneventful three-month term expired in September 1862.
The 86th OVI was reorganized in July 1863 with the 38-year-old McFarland as lieutenant colonel. The revived 86th's mission was to seize Cumberland Gap. In Kentucky, the 86th joined a brigade that also included he 129th OVI, detachments of the 8th, 9th and 11th East Tennessee cavalry regiments, and the 22nd Ohio Artillery Battery.
The march to the gap began from Camp Nelson, Ky., Aug. 20, with less than 3,000 raw, undrilled troops. "In the eagerness of the authorities," McFarland wrote, "this brigade was ordered forward before it was fully equipped. Ammunition, forage, supplies of all kinds -- even arms for part of the cavalry -- were wanting."
McFarland said his commander, Colonel John F. DeCourcy, believed that "strategy, not force, would win." This was where McFarland's mathematical mind went to work.
McFarland said Confederate spies and informants would "report all the various numbers seen on the caps of the soldiers, and that from such reports the officers would estimate the strength of the enemy."
"The first thing to be done in order to produce the impression that the column was very strong," the professor said, "was to rearrange the brass numbers always found on the soldiers' caps. In this way, the 86th regiment was made to appear also as the 8th, 6th, the 68th -- the 9th, the 98th, etc., to the number of eight regiments in all. In like manner, the 129th became the 1st, the 2nd, the 29th, the 92nd, etc., or 16 regiments in all. The (artillery) battery number being 22, the figure admitted of only small change. The same was true of the cavalry regiments, the 8th, 9th and 11th."
DeCourcy also took advantage of blind spots hindering the 2,300 defenders. "When the first division reached the valley, it was out of sight from the gap," McFarland explained.
"Immediately under cover of the forest, it retraced its steps up the rugged hill, beyond that part of the road which was visible from the gap," and "fell again into line and marched down again." McFarland said "this was repeated till each division had marched down four times, thus making a display of what seemed to be 16." Aiding the Union moves was the daily fog, which provided welcome cover until 10 or 11 a.m.
The effectiveness of the schemes is evident in personal letters and official reports written by several southern soldiers and officers after the surrender of the gap Sept. 9, 1863. Instead of 3,000 opponents, their inflated estimates of the Union strength ranged up to 30,000 men.
We'll report more next week on the mathematician who devised the "numbers game" that fooled the Confederates and saved lives on both sides of the line.
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