Journal-News , Wednesday, June 6, 2001
Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine area had close Hamilton connections
The Over-the-Rhine neighborhood -- the focal point of recent unrest in Cincinnati -- played a prominent role in Hamilton's history. It was a stopover for many German immigrants who settled in Hamilton, and an important business and social connection for local residents for several decades.
Over-the-Rhine (OTR) is bordered by Central Parkway on the west and south, Reading Road on the southeast, Liberty Street on the northeast, and Main and McMicken streets on the north. The district has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983, recognized for its history and its architecture.
Germans started coming to the Midwest in large numbers in the 1830s during political upheaval in their native European states. By 1850, when Cincinnati was among the 10 most populous cities in the nation, German immigrants were 27 percent of its inhabitants.
Hamilton, on a smaller scale, mirrored Cincinnati development more than any other Butler County community. The biographies and obituaries of many German-born residents of Hamilton in the late 19th century indicated they had spent anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years in Cincinnati before relocating to Hamilton.
After moving north, they periodically returned to Over-the-Rhine to visit family and friends, conduct business, enjoy German customs and cultural events or simply seek fun.
After 1827, the Miami-Erie Canal connected Hamilton and the Cincinnati neighborhood. It was the four-foot deep canal that was equated with the Rhine River. The predominantly German community evolved east and north of the L-shaped canal, suggesting the name Over-the-Rhine.
At best, the one-way canal trip from Hamilton was seven hours. In 1851, travel time was reduced to an hour with the start of passenger service on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad.
For most of the next 70 years, there was hourly train service most of the day between the Queen City and Hamilton. A popular feature was the "theater trains," whose specially-timed schedules permitted a round trip within an evening. In 1898, electric-powered interurban cars connected Hamilton with College Hill, where streetcar service was available to the OTR area.
It was in the 1840-1850 period that the area had "filled up with Germans," said Cincinnati, A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, compiled during the Depression by workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration.
"This neighborhood was happily named Over-the-Rhine," noted the WPA guide. "Here, especially along Vine Street, several generations of Germans made merry at the restaurants, beer gardens, theaters, singing halls and gymnasiums that abounded everywhere." It also was the home of German churches of various denominations, German-language newspapers and other reminders of the homeland.
Employment was available in breweries, meat-packing plants and other industries clustered along the canal and the nearby railroads. Many Butler County products -- including grain and ice for the breweries -- was transported to OTR by the canal. Some of the OTR businessmen had Butler County connections. For example, Christian Moerlein and Conrad Windisch, who operated breweries in the OTR area, owned farms and summer homes in Fairfield Township.
"Early in the [20th] century, however, the neighborhood began to change," said the WPA guide. "Theaters went dark; war came; the automobile broke up the camaraderie of other years. With the advent of prohibition [in 1919], Vine Street's dearest institution, the beer garden, passed out of existence," the guide said. "The term Over-the-Rhine was heard less frequently now."
As the Depression ended, the "Rhine" disappeared. In the 1930s, the canal closed and was filled and Central Parkway was built over the former waterway.
Alvin F. Harlow took note of the neighborhood's enduring significance in his 1950 book, The Serene Cincinnatians. "Over-the-Rhine, as decades passed, came to a beloved and indelible part of the city's nomenclature and folklore, and eventually, only a happy memory," he said.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, June 13, 2001
Matandy transforms South Hamilton brownfields
By Jim Blount
The east side of Central Avenue opposite Knightsbridge Drive has been transformed with the completion of Matandy Steel and Metal Products at the South Hamilton location. During the last century and a half that area has had several names -- official and unofficial, wanted and unwanted.
The recent change combined private enterprise and the brownfields program, a government plan that encourages redevelopment. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields as "abandoned, idled or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination."
The City of Hamilton -- with several tracts matching the EPA description -- has been an active participant in the brownfields program approved by Ohio lawmakers in 1994.
The private investment was headed by Frank Pfirman, a 1969 Badin High School graduate and no stranger to the Central Avenue neighborhood. He opened the 20,000 square foot Matandy Nail Co. plant at 1140 Central Avenue in 1997. It is just north of the 65,000 square foot steel processing center that opened this year at 1200 Central Avenue. Pfirman founded Matandy in 1987.
As early as the mid 1800s, a distillery was on part of the present Matandy site. Apparently its early owners were careless with their waste because the area around the distillery was known as "Sloptown," a label prompted by appearance and odor.
Later in the 19th century, South Hamilton was a proposed residential area then outside Hamilton. Its boundaries were south from Knightsbridge Drive (formerly South Avenue) to Woodlawn Avenue, and east from the Great Miami River to the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad (now CSX). South Hamilton was annexed to the city in 1908.
A focal point in the area was the South Hamilton Crossing where Central Avenue crosses four railroad tracks originally built by the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad (later the Baltimore & Ohio and Chessie System). The Pit Yard was located there from 1851 until 1989, when most of the storage tracks were removed.
For more than a century, the busy railroad switching activities in Pit Yard reflected Hamilton's extensive industrial economy. The railroad crossing was the scene of many fatal accidents involving horse-drawn carriages and later motor vehicles. It was Hamilton's No. 1 traffic problem. Through the 1950s, there were periodic campaigns to build an underpass at the treacherous crossing for safety and to ease traffic congestion.
In 1890, the building that formerly housed the Hamilton Distilling Co. was leased to the Columbia Carriage Co., manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages. Its production expanded from 1,683 carriages in 1890 to more than 13,000 in 1898, when a four-story, 7,400-square-foot addition was built on the site listed as 1210 and 1316 Central Avenue. With automobiles gradually replacing horse-drawn vehicles, Columbia went into receivership in 1912 and closed its Central Avenue plant by the end of that year.
In the early 1920s, city directories listed occupants of the buildings on the east side of Central Avenue, opposite South Avenue, as the Fisher Can Co., the Hooven Automatic Typewriter Co. and the Leshner Paper Stock Co. In 1930, all three companies remained, but 1230 Central Avenue was listed as both the Leshner Paper Stock Co. and the Hamilton Felting Co.
By 1940, the Fisher firm at 1168 Central Avenue had become part of the National Can Corp.; Leshner at 1230 Central was listed as manufacturer of wiping cloths and a division of the Philip Carey Co.; and the Hooven Automatic Typewriter Co. had relocated.
In 1974, the Leshner Corp. acquired the entire five-building complex and remained in business at the 3.5-acre site until 1996. After demolition of the former Leshner buildings through the Brownfields program, construction started in 2000 on the Matandy factory.
Streets in the area also have changed. Until the early 1960s, the street ending at Central Avenue opposite the Matandy property was South Avenue. In 1961, after Champion Papers opened Knightsbridge, its new corporate headquarters, on South Avenue at Neilan Boulevard, the city renamed South Avenue as Knightsbridge Drive. Kruger Avenue -- which ran east from Central to a dead-end near the railroad -- has been abandoned to make room for the Matandy expansion.
What a few years ago was an unproductive community eyesore has evolved into a well-groomed new business and a model for other brownfields sites.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, June 20, 2001
Chester Park attracted Butler County patrons
By Jim Blount
Among the businesses that fell victim to the Depression was Chester Park, a Cincinnati amusement complex that had been a popular and handy attraction for Butler County residents since it opened in 1875 as a trotting horse race track. The park was in Winton Place on the north side of Spring Grove Avenue near Mitchell Avenue, opposite the Winton Place railroad station.
Passenger trains on two Butler County railroads -- the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (B&O) from Hamilton and the Big Four (New York Central) from Middletown -- stopped within a few yards of the park entrance. It also was accessible from Butler County by a combination of interurban lines and Cincinnati streetcars.
Although briefly renamed Rainbow Park from 1929 to 1931, it was back to Chester Park by popular demand when it suddenly closed Aug. 18, 1932, because of an unpaid bill.
Chester Park -- named for a horse -- had exercised and entertained patrons in many ways during its 66-year history. This included being a destination for bicycle outings and races that originated in Hamilton after the mid 1890s.
"The park, originally planned as a driving resort, was named in 1875 by its founder, Captain George N. Stone, after one of his race horses, Lady Chester," explained Cincinnati, A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, compiled by workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration, published in 1943. "During the late 1870s and early 1880s the park was the headquarters of the Queen City Jockey Club."
The WPA guide also said "one of the first prize fights held under Marquis of Queensbury rules was presented here on Aug. 29, 1885, when the famous John L. Sullivan of Boston was awarded the decision over Dan McCaffrey of Pittsburgh."
In 1897, a Hamilton newspaper described "the long expected and eagerly waited for road race between Hamilton and Chester Park" as "the great cycling event of the season." A field of 76 bicyclists started that afternoon from Lindenwald as officials and judges -- plus trainers and spectators -- rode ahead on a CH&D train to the park.
The bicycle route was over what is now Ohio 4, Springfield Pike, Vine Street and Spring Grove Avenue through Wyoming, Hartwell, Carthage and Elwood Place to Chester Park. Accidents along the way eliminated some of the competitors. The winner, whose prize was worth $100, completed the run in less than an hour.
"In the early 1900s grand opera was presented at the park, with the actors staying at a tavern on Chester Avenue," the WPA guide said.
Another local connection was a young vaudeville musician who performed at Chester Park in the 1914-1915 era. He was Johnny S. Black, who left the park in June 1915 when he decided his career was stalled. The 23-year-old Hamilton song writer went to New York to seek a show business break and later had two hits songs, "Dardanella" (1919-20) and "Paper Doll" (1943-44).
During the 1920s, as an amusement park, Chester Park competed with Coney Island, which was located east of Cincinnati on the Ohio River.
The WPA guide described Chester Park this way: "In the center was a large lake bisected by a midway, so that boating could be enjoyed on one side and swimming on the other. Circling the lake was the boardwalk with all the fun devices and eating places necessary to produce a carnival spirit."
"In 1932 it was closed because of an unpaid water bill, and the many rides and concessions were dismantled," the guide said. "For a while only the swimming pool and skating rink were kept in operation; then, in 1941, these were abandoned."
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Journal-News , Wednesday, June 27, 2001
Kings Island replaced Coney Island in 1972
By Jim Blount
Butler Countians experienced a change in summer entertainment destinations in the early 1970s. Coney Island, on the north bank of the Ohio River east of Cincinnati, closed as an amusement park on Labor Day 1971. Taking its place in the spring of 1972 was King’s Island Amusement Park on I-71, near Mason and just a few miles east of the Butler County line.
Coney Island -- which traced its history to 1867 -- had previously been known as Parker’s Grove and Ohio Grove.
As it developed, it attracted fun-seekers of all ages -- children enjoying rides and games along its midway; teens attracted to the large swimming pool; young people and adults dancing to the music of big bands; and patrons of all ages attending company picnics, church outings and family reunions.
"The park site was owned by James Parker and exploited as a picnic spot until 1886, when it changed hands and was called Ohio Grove. Later that same year it was advertised as 'The Coney Island of the West,' " explained Cincinnati, A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, compiled by workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration.
The WPA guide, published in 1943, offered this description of Coney Island:
"In the park itself are many amusement devices: a large ballroom for dancing to the music of big-name orchestras; a popular-priced cafeteria and a more formal dining room supplied with an orchestra; an extensive picnic grove with many tables and shade trees for group outings; an artificial lake for canoeing; an athletic field laid out for such games as baseball and softball; and ample parking space for automobiles. In addition, the park includes what is said to be the largest tiled, recirculating-water swimming pool in the world, measuring 200 by 400 feet, with a capacity of four million gallons of water."
For many patrons, the most memorable part of a Coney Island outing was the trip. "Not the least of the many attractions is the boat ride on the Ohio River from the city and return aboard the oil-burning steamer, Island Queen," the WPA guide said.
That pleasurable experience disappeared after Coney Island's 1947 summer season.
An explosion and fire in Pittsburgh Sept. 9, 1947, ended the entertainment feature popular with Butler County residents. The 286-foot Island Queen was destroyed while docked on the Monongahela River. Twenty people died in the disaster.
The Island Queen had been transporting people between downtown Cincinnati and Coney Island since the summer of 1925. The green-and-white steamer carried as many as 4,000 passengers at a time on its frequent 30-minute trips.
"Nearly everybody in Hamilton has been on that boat at one time or another," observed the Journal-News in reporting the loss of the popular five-deck excursion boat.
For most of its years, only white people could enjoy Coney Island. During the civil rights movement of the early 1950s, the park's policy became a target. After several years of law suits, picketing and other protests, African-Americans were admitted in May 1961.
But Coney Island had physical problems, too.
Its position on the banks of the Ohio River made the park susceptible to frequent spring floods. The high water -- although seldom interfering with the park's opening -- imposed high costs for cleanup and repairs.
With the loss of the Island Queen, the river was no longer a transportation link for visitors. By the 1960s, the vast majority of customers arrived by motor vehicles, and adequate highway access and plentiful parking were major considerations.
Taft Broadcasting -- which purchased Coney Island in 1969 -- decided to relocate the park to a high, dry site. It purchased land off I-71 near Kings Mills in Warren County, and April 29, 1972, opened a new amusement park, Kings Island, combining the name of the new location with that of the familiar park.