Journal-News, Wednesday, July 7, 1999
Brice helped rescue Miami University with fortune earned in railroading
By Jim Blount
By the Civil War, Miami University had established an academic reputation that earned the Oxford institution recognition as "The Yale of the West." But hard financial times hit the school after the Civil War ended in 1865.
"Finally the demands of advancing education became such that the limited resources failed completely to meet them," observed Alfred H. Upham in his 1947 book, Old Miami, The Yale of the Early West.
"The trustees confessed the absolute necessity of closing the university until land rents had accumulated to a working capital," Upham said. "With the commencement exercises in 1873, the doors of Miami were formally swung for the last time on their clumsy hinges, and the village livestock invited to feed at will upon the luscious campus they had coveted so long. Faculty and students drifted into other centers of learning throughout the land, and old Miami became a glorious memory."
Eventually, influential graduates of "Old Miami" came to its rescue with Calvin S. Brice among the most prominent.
The Civil War veteran and 1863 graduate had built a fortune in railroading in the 1870s and early 1880s, working with and in competition with America's most moneyed capitalists, including names like Gould, Morgan and Vanderbilt.
During his career, Brice planned, financed, built, reconstructed, managed and sold more than a dozen railroad companies from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and between the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi River. His first taste of railroading had been as a Civil War soldier when he guarded or helped rebuilt lines in Tennessee and North Carolina.
In 1881 -- when the school had been closed for eight years -- Brice was appointed a Miami trustee by his business partner and friend, Gov. Charles Foster. Brice's political connections and financial influence were keys to the state approving a $20,000 appropriation in 1885 for the reopening of the Oxford institution.
Supplementing that grant was a pledge from Brice, who had first entered Miami as a 13-year-old student in its preparatory school.
From his own bank account, Brice contributed $5,000 annually for three years to pay the salaries of the president and one professor at "New Miami."
In 1890 Brice offered to match any appropriation made by the state legislature for a science hall at Miami University. The state approved $15,590, and Brice promptly wrote a check for the same amount. When completed, it was christened Brice Hall.
Brice's wife, the former Olivia Meily of Lima, shared her leadership and wealth with another Oxford institution. In 1866, three years before their wedding, she was graduated from Oxford Female College (later Western College for Women, which in 1973 was merged into Miami).
In 1887, when the school became a college, Mrs. Brice was named a trustee, the first woman appointed to that position.
In appreciation for her appointment, Mrs. Brice "generously offered the first $5,000 toward a fund of $50,000 to be raised for a new library and laboratory," said Narka Nelson in her 1954 centennial history of Western College. Construction was authorized in June 1889.
After commencement in 1892, Mrs. Brice, on behalf of the 11-member graduating class of 1866, presented a large memorial stained-glass window for the new building, which had been named Alumnae Hall.
"Its central figure," said Nelson of the impressive window, "was a young woman standing beside an altar with a lighted and uplifted torch in her hand. She was intended to symbolize the new type of inspired and independent womanhood now coming to the fore as well as to illustrate the motto of the class of 1866 (Per aspera ad astra), suggesting that success is achieved at the price of hard work."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 14, 1999
Jonson's Restaurant popular memory
By Jim Blount
For more than half of the 20th century, Jonson's Restaurant was a popular spot in downtown Hamilton. Even though it closed nearly 30 years ago, it is often a topic when high school friends gather for reunions in Hamilton.
Many Jonson memories go back to childhood, especially the caramel apples, as much a part of Hamilton's Halloween tradition as shutting off several blocks of High Street for the annual community celebration.
Others recall Jonson's as a convenient lunch break while shopping, particularly on busy Saturdays when it seemed almost everyone was in downtown Hamilton.
For most of its existence, the restaurant was at 235 High Street, on the south side between Journal Square and Third Street, just a few steps east of the popular Robinson-Schwenn Department Store (1907-1964).
Nicholas (Nick) Jonson -- one of several natives of Greece who found a new home in Hamilton -- operated a downtown business for 53 years. His restaurant at 235 High Street operated in that location from 1929 until 1970.
Nick Jonson wasn't the first Greek in Hamilton, according to a son, George Jonson, but he "was the first Greek immigrant in this community to become an American citizen. He then served on the Americanization Committee of the American Legion, urging and helping not only Greeks, but other nationalities to become citizens."
Appropriately, a familiar fixture in his restaurant was a neon American flag, a salute to his adopted nation.
He departed Greece as a 16-year-old farm boy, arriving in Cincinnati in 1908. He left Sparta not knowing a word of English. Although he had the equivalent of about a fifth-grade education, he eventually mastered five languages -- Greek, English, Spanish, French and Italian. He served as an interpreter in the U. S. Army in World War I.
In Cincinnati, Nick Jonson learned the candy business from a friend. Then he and a brother, John, opened their own business.
They relocated to Hamilton in 1915, opening Jonson's Sweet Shop at 221 High Street (now the site of the Firstar Bank). They added restaurant service in 1919, and in 1929 moved across Journal Square to 235 High Street. In 1964, Jonson bought the building that housed his restaurant.
In earlier years, Nick joined his brothers, John, Charles and George, in operating other downtown establishments, including the Ideal Confectionery, the Boston Bakery and the Mayflower.
Customers entering Jonson's Restaurant usually were greeted by Nick Jonson, who obviously enjoyed the role of goodwill ambassador to patrons of all ages.
His restaurant served various clienteles, and he welcomed them all. It was a favorite meeting place for downtown workers and shoppers. In the afternoons, it was a high school hangout -- mostly teenagers who had first visited Jonson's with their parents for a meal, or to buy a caramel apple during the Halloween season.
Some local places that served alcoholic beverages didn't want the high school crowd. At Jonson's, they felt welcome. "My dad often closed the bar when the kids came in," George recalled.
Not as visible was his wife, Evangeline, who had been born in the same Greek village. While Nick ran the business, she raised eight children -- Chris, Jim, George, Denny, Stella, Mary, Venus and Virginia. Seven of them worked in the restaurant. Evangeline died in 1984.
Nick Jonson died Dec. 27, 1968, and his restaurant closed a little more than two years later, Dec. 31, 1970. It was sold to John Kurlas and George Mitchell of Cincinnati and was operated as a Skyline Chili franchise from June 1971 until August 1997. It has been High Street Chili in recent months.
More on Greek immigrants in Hamilton in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 21, 1999
John Calvin Skinner shaped Hamilton
By Jim Blount
John C. Skinner "assisted in laying the foundation of the mercantile and manufacturing industries of Hamilton," observed the Hamilton Democrat in reporting his death in 1889.
In many endeavors, Skinner cooperated with John W. Erwin, who was his friend and neighbor on North Third Street for more than 40 years.
Erwin, a founder and designer of Greenwood Cemetery, and Skinner, a cemetery trustee in the 1850s, died only two days apart. They are buried side by side in the cemetery.
With Henry S. Earhart and others, Skinner and Erwin transformed Hamilton into a manufacturing stronghold.
Their efforts provided power for new factories and transportation systems to reach national and international markets
Skinner, the oldest of five children, was born Nov. 9, 1816, in Lebanon, Ohio. As a boy, he assisted his father, who was a weaver.
According to an obituary, Skinner paid his way through school by sweeping and taking care of the building, and eventually earned enough money to enroll in Hanover College in Madison, Ind.
He remained at Hanover for three years, majoring in math and engineering. He supported himself by working in the print shop that published the Presbyterian Standard.
He left college to become an assistant engineer on the Whitewater Canal in Indiana, a job he held for about two years.
Skinner -- who was civil engineer for the town of Hamilton for three years -- laid out several turnpikes in the area, and assisted John W. Erwin in fixing the route for the Hamilton & Eaton Railroad.
He also assisted Erwin in planning the Hamilton Hydraulic in the 1840s. When Erwin withdrew as construction started, Skinner remained as engineer at a salary of $400 a year.
The hydraulic -- which borrowed water from the Great Miami River north of Hamilton -- provided the inexpensive, reliable source of water power that enabled Hamilton to develop as an industrial center.
Skinner was treasurer of the Free Soil Jeffersonian Club, which in 1848 started the anti-slavery Free Soil Banner, an abolitionist newspaper. It was edited by his friend, Erwin.
Also in 1848, Skinner began 10 years in the grocery and hardware business while continuing his public service. He was a Butler County deputy sheriff for two years, starting in 1849, and at the same time a member of Hamilton City Council.
In 1861, he purchased a paper mill on the Hamilton Hydraulic. He operated the Skinner & Tweedale mill, built by John Erwin, until 1884.
May 3, 1842, Skinner married Jane H. Gregg. They were the parents of 10 children.
Skinner died April 19, 1889, the night before the funeral of his friend and frequent colleague, John W. Erwin.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 28, 1999
Henry S. Earhart envisioned progress
By Jim Blount
Henry S. Earhart -- a Hamilton resident for 60 years -- is credited with envisioning the Hamilton Hydraulic and the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad, two 1840s projects that shaped the city's future and character. With John W. Erwin and John C. Skinner, he was part of a three-man team that developed much of the region's transportation systems.
Earhart was born Feb. 17, 1800, east of Franklin in what later became Warren County. He moved to Butler County in 1822 when he and an uncle, John L. C. Schenck, established a store in Jacksonburg in Wayne Township.
March 10, 1823, he married Elizabeth Tapscott. They became the parents of four sons and a daughter. The family moved to Hamilton in 1826.
Earhart became a volunteer fireman in 1828 and remained active in Hamilton fire companies for many years. His work was related to those duties. As a representative of the Protective Insurance Company of Cincinnati, he is regarded as Hamilton's first insurance agent.
He was one of the Hamilton trustees when a brief Hamilton and Rossville merger failed in 1831. Later, he was a Hamilton city council member (1854 to 1859) when a permanent merger became effective in 1855. He also served the city as an engineer.
In the 1840s, he was one of the original trustees of Greenwood Cemetery and assisted John W. Erwin in its planning and layout.
Earhart's major interest was civil engineering, a profession for which he had no formal training. It was in that role that he left his mark on the area. In the 1830s, he was involved in building turnpikes in the area, including the Hamilton, Rossville, Darrtown, Oxford and Fairhaven Turnpike (now Ohio 177 northwest to the Indiana border).
The idea for the hydraulic came as Earhart searched for a lost cow north of Hamilton. As he walked, he noted that the countryside there was higher than the land in downtown Hamilton. He surmised that the dramatic fall in the river -- with some of its water diverted into a canal -- could provide power for mills and factories in the city.
At his urging, the Hamilton and Rossville Hydraulic Company was formed. Water started flowing through the system in 1845. Earhart was treasurer of the company, a private venture, and involved in its construction.
Completion of the hydraulic attracted industries looking for affordable, reliable power and cheap transportation, the latter in the form of the Miami-Erie Canal that had been serving the city for about 17 years.
While still working out kinks in the new hydraulic, Earhart began promoting the idea of a railroad to provide faster passenger and freight service to Hamilton. The railroad promised to become a link in a developing national transportation system.
Earhart broached his railroad plan to John Woods, who, in addition to contributing his political and financial leadership, also interested other local leaders in the project.
After the railroad was chartered and financed, Earhart initiated the original survey south from Hamilton toward Cincinnati. When the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad opened into Hamilton Sept. 19, 1851, Henry S. Earhart sold the first ticket. He remained as the CH&D's Hamilton agent for 25 years.
A son, John S. Earhart, followed in his footsteps, designing the bridge and stone arches that carried another railroad over the Great Miami River and the lowland on Hamilton's west side.
Henry S. Earhart -- who remained a Hamilton civic leader until slowed by poor health -- died Dec. 4, 1886, at age 86. He is buried in the cemetery he helped form and design.
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