Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1998
Camp Hamilton opened in 1861 at Butler County Fairgrounds
By Jim Blount
Ohioans volunteered in large numbers when the Civil War started in 1861, straining the state's supply and training facilities. In Butler County, the immediate response to the April 12 attack on Fort Sumter was so great that some able-bodied men were turned away.
April 15, the day after the surrender of the fort in Charleston harbor, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for three months service. May 3 he asked for an additional 42,000 troops, this time for three years.
Within a few days of the president's first call, Ohio had about 30,000 men to offer for federal service, most of them gathered in Columbus, then a town of 18,554 residents.
Only 23 regiments -- or 12,357 Ohio men -- were accepted by federal officials, well over the state quota of 10,153. That number included more than 300 volunteers from Butler County who left their homes within a week of Lincoln's "appeal to all loyal citizens."
Before Lincoln's second appeal for volunteers there was a need for a place to assemble and train military units in Butler County.
Captain J. W. C. Smith had organized the Butler Pioneers too late to be part of Lincoln's original call. His unit was one of several that had to wait because Ohio had surpassed its quota of volunteers. In the interim, the Butler Pioneers were housed in Hamilton hotels and drilled in city streets.
April 23 -- less than two weeks after the Civil War started -- some of the void was filled with the creation of Camp Hamilton at the 40-acre Butler County Fairgrounds, northeast of Hamilton along the Miami-Erie Canal. Captain Smith's Butler Pioneers were the first volunteers to report to Camp Hamilton.
"On arrival at camp they found the change anything but pleasant," noted an observer, referring to the switch from hotel rooms.
"The first two or three nights were very cold for that season of the year," he recalled. The volunteers "had but little straw for bedding, and but few of the soldiers were so fortunate as to have blankets of their own. The unfortunate shared with the fortunate, and it was laughable to see a half dozen trying to sleep under one blanket. The consequence was a great deal of shivering, only a little sleep and a great deal of catching cold."
The women of Hamilton soon came to the rescue, providing a shirt and blanket to each man. Butler County farmers also responded, donating adequate straw for bedding.
Fairgrounds stalls that had housed horses, cattle and pigs during the annual fair were converted into sleeping quarters for the men.
Tables for 400 people were erected, and Straub, Reutti & Company of Hamilton was paid 35 cents a day per soldier to feed the troops.
Records have vanished, but newspaper reports and other sources indicate that the number of men at the camp ranged from a few dozen to nearly 1,000 during the summer of 1861.
Training received in the camp varied. Some remained only a few days. Others stayed a month or more. One of the latter was the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 900-man unit drilled for more than a month, but without weapons. Its guns were issued aboard a train on the way to its first war assignment.
Camp Hamilton was moved in September 1861 to a new site, known then as "the commons." Water had become a problem at the fairgrounds. There wasn't enough to drink, and too much laying in the camp after heavy rains.
The new location was just outside the city limits at the north end of North Third Street, north of Vine Street. After the Civil War, it was the site of numerous factories and, most recently, Champion paper warehouses.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1998
William H. Miller directed Camp Hamilton before heading for duty in western Virginia
By Jim Blount
William Hamilton Miller, a 38-year-old Hamilton lawyer, railroad executive and community leader, directed the formation of Camp Hamilton at the start of the Civil War in 1861.
Miller was born July 16, 1823, at Trenton in Butler County. He read law in Hamilton under Lewis D. Campbell. He practiced law for a year or more in Nashville, Tenn., before returning to Hamilton, teaming
first with P. C. Conklin and later with John Woods.
Miller had married a daughter of John Woods in October 1851, a month after the first trains entered Hamilton on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. Woods had been instrumental in bringing that railroad to Hamilton.
Woods, a leader in many community projects, also had promoted the building of the Junction Railroad, the line from Hamilton west to Oxford, College Corner and Indianapolis. From its eastern terminus in Hamilton, Junction trains had access to Cincinnati.
The Junction Railroad had a long birth. It was incorporated in Indiana in 1848 and in Ohio in 1849, but construction didn't start on the Hamilton-College Corner section until September 1853. After conquering some engineering problems, the railroad opened six years later. Woods, president of the Junction Railroad, died July 30, 1855, before finishing the task. His son-in-law took charge and saw that the railroad was completed.
Miller was president of the Junction Railroad June 4, 1859, when the first train operated from Hamilton to Oxford. He watched that day as two trains of about 20 cars each hauled about a thousand people for the ceremonial opening of the rail line that today is part of the CSX system.
Miller was among the speakers in Oxford that day. Also sharing the podium was Dr. John Hall, president of Miami University, and Philip D. Matson, village marshal
Camp Hamilton was established April 23, 1861 -- 11 days after the Civil War started with the attack on Fort Sumter, S. C. -- at the 40-acre Butler County Fairgrounds, northeast of Hamilton along the Miami-Erie Canal.
In April 1861, Miller was a logical choice to command Camp Hamilton, where local and area troops were trained. But Miller didn't intend to stay on the homefront. While organizing the camp, he sought an appointment that would give him a chance to fight.
In June 1861, Miller was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 12th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He left his Camp Hamilton post to move into western Virginia with Company B of the 12th OVI. He left behind a pregnant wife and five children.
Sept. 16, 1861, at Peter's Creek, near Gauley, he was leading a scouting party. Miller climbed a tree for a better view of the countryside. Nearby was a Kentucky regiment, also on scouting duty.
One of the Kentucky soldiers, believing Miller was a Confederate, fired at him. The bullet hit him in the stomach and the first commander of Camp Hamilton fell from the tree, mortally wounded.
The victim of friendly fire was the first Hamilton casualty to be returned home for burial. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
His sixth child -- a daughter, Alice -- was born shortly after her father's death.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1998
Vision 2020 recalls 1920 city plan
By Jim Blount
Hamilton is developing a master plan for the city's future. Known as Vision 2020, it focuses on what Hamilton can become by the year 2020. Findings and recommendations in the final document will range from land use and infrastructure to lifestyle and community services.
In 1920 Hamilton's first city plan was presented to civic leaders and citizens by Harland Bartholomew, a city plan engineer, of St. Louis.
The city's population had jumped 16,481 from 23,914 in 1900 to 39,675 people in 1920, a 69 percent increase. City boundaries then extended almost to St. Clair Avenue on the south, just beyond Millikin Street on the southwest, above Webster and Cereal avenues on the northwest, through Greenwood Cemetery and Fordson Heights on the northeast and beyond Shuler and Fair avenues and Dixie Highway on the east.
The 1920 plan spotlighted Hamilton's disadvantages as well as its advantages, including liabilities that had the potential to become assets.
"The (Great) Miami River has been Hamilton's greatest handicap, but with the approaching completion of the flood protection levees by the Miami Conservancy District, the city will be secure against future floods," observed the 1920 report. Counties along the river had formed the MCD after the disastrous March 1913 flood.
"It is recognized that the imminent danger of floods has precluded the development of certain areas of considerable size," the plan noted, "but with the assurance which the new levee will give should come their reclamation and development."
"Hamilton's riverfront opportunity is one for which many cities would gladly pay a princely sum," planners emphasized. "To few cities," they said, "are given riverfront opportunities such as the Great Miami River offers to Hamilton. It is veritably the front yard of the city, yet how shamefully it has been neglected."
The plan said "with few exceptions, there are no highly valuable improvements on either bank of the river; the majority of the buildings now standing have, for the most part, outlived their usefulness and many of these will be removed in the course of the levee construction by the Miami Conservancy District."
The plan also suggested that "the top of the levee could, with comparatively small cost and labor, be converted into a driveway." The proposed roadway was called Memorial Drive in 1920. It became Neilan Boulevard when built in the 1950s.
A major concern of the planners was a street system serving more and more automobiles and trucks, and, in some instances, sharing the right-of-way with electric-powered streetcars and interurban lines.
"Hamilton clearly has not apportioned her wide and narrow streets with an eye toward traffic requirements," the plan said. "A street best serves its purpose when its width has been determined in accordance with its need and strategic location. High Street, Hamilton's most important thoroughfare, with a commodious 112 feet, becomes for inexplicable reasons, a narrow 60 foot street on the west side of the river."
Planners urged a minimum width of 80 feet for major streets and 100 feet on some, including Dixie Highway, Pleasant Avenue and High Street east of the Miami-Erie Canal (now Erie Highway).
"The development of Hamilton has clearly been influenced by its transit service," the document said. "It is evident that the greatest settlement of population has occurred within a short walking distance of the several transit lines."
"On the other hand, lack of streetcar service has greatly retarded the growth of the most desirable districts in and near Hamilton, namely the uplands to the east and west." The local streetcar company was struggling in 1920. Planners described the system as "extremely poor from the standpoint of both service and equipment."
Future columns will review other highlights of the 1920 city plan.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 1998
1920 plan highlighted appearance
By Jim Blount
"A community, like a person, is judged by its appearance. A self-respecting city will exert every effort to have its appearance correspond with its position in the industrial and commercial world." That admonition isn't part of the Vision 2020 project looking more than 20 years into Hamilton's future.
Instead, it was part of the 1920 Hamilton plan completed by Harland Bartholomew. The document was unveiled two years after World War I ended. In 1920, woman voted for president for the first time and prohibition was the law of the land.
Hamilton -- then a city of 39,675 people -- was in the early stages of an industrial and residential boom. By the end of the decade, city population would reach 52,279, a 31.5 percent increase.
During the 1920s radio would become practical and affordable, and "talking movies" would displace silent films as popular entertainment . The decade ended with a stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression.
"Industrial sites, transportation facilities and public utilities are not all that is required for civic advancement, nor are these things in themselves proof of a city's progress," said the 1920 report by the St. Louis-based planner.
"A city must offer good living conditions, recreation facilities and other features which will make life in the city more pleasant. Furthermore, cities have found it beneficial to create civic pride and public spirit."
"Failure to recognize this most important phase of the community's life results in the slovenliness so noticeable in many small and unprogressive cities," the plan observed.
"It can be attributed to carelessness, lack of initiative and absence of real civic consciousness. As a matter of good business, if nothing more, the city's appearance merits serious consideration."
Suggestions included removing utility poles and overhead wires, and establishing tough city regulation of signs, billboards and lights.
"Nothing will so effectively add to a city's appearance and comfort as a widespread planting of street trees," the plan urged. "The value of proper planting is exemplified on several streets in Hamilton, but there has been no attempt to carry out a very general or comprehensive tree planting program."
In surveying Hamilton, the planners found that "for the most part, tree planting has been left to the whim of the property owners along the street; there has been no supervision of the planting, either as to spacing or choice of trees, and when once planted they have had no further care."
"First impressions," the 1920 plan said, "are lasting and the city should do everything it can to make them favorable. Hamilton has many opportunities to create definitely pleasing impressions upon those passing through the city over the main highways. This can be done by emphasizing several of the entrances and approaches to the city."
The city's image also could be enhanced, the planners believed, by improvements to Hamilton's riverfront. Planners said "Hamilton's riverfront opportunity is one for which many cities would gladly pay a princely sum."
Planners saw plenty of room for improvement, noting that "the haphazard development which is so characteristic of most American cities is evident in Hamilton."
"As a part of a comprehensive plan, a zoning ordinance, as has been prepared for Hamilton, regulating the use, height and area of buildings, is of particular value and will do more than any other feature of the plan to effect the much needed orderliness in the city."
"The way has been prepared," the 1920 study said, "and the degree of accomplishment now rests with those officials and citizens who from time to time will be called upon to decide whether the plan shall be followed or allowed to remain a mere collection of maps and drawings."
Additional topics in the 1920 city plan will be covered in future columns.
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