Journal-News , Wednesday, March 7, 2001
Editor killed on the job in 1891
By Jim Blount
An editor’s job has its risks, as do all occupations. The printed word -- either fact or opinion -- can ignite tempers and spark vengeful actions. In the 1890s, journalism in Butler County and elsewhere was competitive, partisan and often bitter. Publishers didn’t hide the fact. It was common practice for a newspaper to champion one party’s platform and its candidates while highlighting the inadequacy and misdeeds of political rivals.
The afternoon of Jan. 22, 1891, no one was mad at John K. Aydelotte, editor of the Hamilton Democrat. He hadn’t received any threats.
His death had nothing to do with what he had written or edited, or the political slant of his newspaper. He was the victim of a freak accident in the newspaper plant.
Aydelotte had left his office to dress for a Masonic event in Oxford that evening. At about 4 p.m., on his way from his house to the railroad station, he decided to check on an erratic engine. The device -- the source of power for the printing press -- had been malfunctioning for several days.
The editor and a pressman concentrated on a rod that regulated the flow of gas to the engine. The flywheel and pulley were next to wall. As Aydelotte reached across the engine to check the rod, his overcoat became entangled in a small wheel turning 350 revolutions a minute. "No eyewitness can tell what then happened," a reporter said.
"His coat was cut from the deadly wheel, the poor man was turned on his back, and the alarm given," the Democrat reported. "A corps of doctors soon arrived, but they pronounced Mr. Aydelotte as being beyond all human aid and skill."
The 37-year-old editor, a native of Sharonville, had come to Butler County to teach in the West Chester school. Later, he moved to Hamilton to assume a principal’s position.
In May 1883 he switched careers, although he remained interested in education, including service on education boards. Byron K. Brant, owner of the Democrat, hired Aydelotte. Soon he purchased an interest in the newspaper and became its editor. In 1886 he married Kate Rodefer of Hamilton. They became the parents of a son.
Under Aydelotte’s direction, the Democrat switched from weekly to daily publication Dec. 20, 1886. As a weekly, it had borne several names before becoming the Butler County Democrat.
The Daily Democrat evolved into the Democrat-Sun in 1907; the Evening Journal in 1908; and acquired the Republican-News, a longtime competitor, Feb. 6, 1933, forming the Journal-News.
Heading the combined newspaper in 1933 was Homer Gard, its owner, president and publisher.
Gard’s journalism career of 65 years began in 1887 when he joined the Hamilton Daily News as a reporter. Later, he clashed with his editor over confidential information Gard had obtained. The disagreement led to his firing in September 1890.
The next day, Gard was hired as a reporter by Aydelotte at the Democrat. When Aydelotte was killed Jan. 22, 1891, Gard became editor.
Gard’s career took a series of turns in the 1890s, starting with his 1895 departure from the Democrat after an ownership change. He worked at a newspaper in Canton, Ohio, for 18 months before returning to Hamilton in 1896 as editor of the Daily News, his original employer. His tenure there was short.
In 1897, the Democrat needed an editor. Gard rejoined the newspaper June 1, 1897, and Sept. 21, 1901, acquired its outstanding stock and became the sole owner of the newspaper. He directed the Democrat, and its successors, the Democrat-Sun, the Evening Journal and the Journal-News, until his death Oct. 8, 1952.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, March 14, 2001
Flying bank bandit struck Hamilton in 1959
By Jim Blount
What started as an ordinary bank holdup in Hamilton the morning of March 2, 1959, quickly turned into a bizarre crime labeled the "case of the flying bank bandit."
Six employees and three customers were in the First National branch bank in the Hamilton Plaza Shopping Center on Dixie Hwy. when a polite man flashed a revolver, walked behind the counter and grabbed more than $25,000 in cash. "Good-bye and thanks," he said as he exited the bank and headed for a green and white car in the parking lot.
He drove away as police were notified, but he didn’t go far. The empty getaway car, which had been stolen in Dayton, was soon found at the nearby Hamilton Airport on Bobmeyer Road.
Missing from a hangar there was a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza, a discovery that helped the FBI narrow the list of suspects.
Later that day bank employees identified the robber as Frank Lawrence Sprenz, who had been on the FBI 10 most wanted list for seven months. His previous crimes ranged from juvenile delinquency and wife beating to auto theft, airplane theft, several robberies and jail breaking.
The 29-year-old Akron man had taken flying lessons near Seattle, Wash., and Scranton, Pa. Soon after that Sprenz -- who never obtained a flying license -- stole a seaplane near Toronto, Ont., and flew it to Baltimore, Md., and then swiped a plane in Scranton and landed it in Vermont.
The afternoon of March 2, 1959, the red and white plane stolen from the Hamilton Airport was found at an airport east of Coshocton, Ohio, as the search for "the flying bank bandit" extended into Canada and Mexico and across the U. S.
Eventually, the chase centered in the Caribbean and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Sprenz stole more planes -- and crashed one -- before he was cornered while fishing off the resort island of Cozumel. The man of many disguises and identities was posing as a prosperous American highway engineer when arrested April 14, 1959, six weeks and a day after he robbed the Hamilton bank.
Sprenz was taken to Cincinnati for disposition of federal charges in the U. S. District Court there before coming to Hamilton to face state charges. He entered a guilty plea May 20 to the federal charges.
June 4, 1959, he was found guilty of bank robbery by Judge Fred B. Cramer in Butler County Common Pleas Court. He sentenced Sprenz to 20 years in the Ohio Penitentiary. In separate action, he was found guilty of grand theft for stealing the plane and was ordered to serve one to seven years in prison. Both state penalties had to await completion of his federal confinement.
During the Butler County trial, testimony indicated that Sprenz had visited the Hamilton Airport before robbing the bank. He told federal agents he warmed up the getaway plane for 10 minutes while at the airport, then drove the short distance to the shopping center.
The defendant said he robbed the Hamilton Plaza branch because he "found the bank was convenient to the airport." He said when he noticed the bank earlier, he also saw a highway sign on Ohio 4 pointing to the airport.
When questioned by Judge Cramer as to why he was in Hamilton, Sprenz said he "was on his way to Cuba to join Castro’s army as a flier." Fidel Castro, a communist revolutionary since 1953, had become premier and head of Cuba’s government in February 1959.
June 25, 1959, Sprenz started serving his sentences for federal bank robbery and unlawful flight at Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. He was moved to federal prison in Atlanta in 1963. Upon release from federal custody Dec. 9, 1968, he was returned to Akron and Dec. 18, 1968, entered the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.
Nov. 25, 1970, Gov. James A. Rhodes commuted his sentence from 10 to 25 years to two to 25 years, making the "flying bank bandit" eligible for parole. Federal and state authorities recommended the commutation because Sprenz -- described during his fugitive days as a charming person with "the cool poise of a stage professional" -- had been an ideal prisoner for 11 years.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, March 21, 2001
Hamilton on 'Great Broad Gauge Route' linking New York City and St. Louis
By Jim Blount
The Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad -- which opened through Hamilton in 1851 -- was unique in its early years because it had two gauges from Dayton through Hamilton to Cincinnati. The CH&D was the middle link in the "Great Broad Gauge Route" of the 1860s and 1870s.
According to the Association of American Railroads, "gauge is the space, in feet and inches, inside of the parallel rails in a track, the gauge line being 5⁄8ths of an inch below the top of the rail." Standard U. S. railroad gauge is four feet eight and one half inches. Broad gauges are wider; narrow gauges have less space between the rails.
Besides the CH&D, the "Great Broad Gauge Route" included the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad and predecessors of the Erie Railroad. Together, the companies provided six-foot broad gauge travel between New York and St. Louis.
The early components were: New York to Salamanca, N.Y., over the New York & Erie; Salamanca to Dayton, Ohio, over the Atlantic & Great Western; Dayton to Cincinnati over the CH&D; and Cincinnati to St. Louis over the Ohio & Mississippi.
The CH&D's Cincinnati-Dayton mainline had two sets of tracks -- one four feet 10 inches, the other six-foot broad gauge.
The Atlantic & Great Western (later the Erie) completed construction into Dayton June 20, 1864. The next year, it leased the CH&D's six-foot gauge route. The CH&D, observed an 1868 company report, "is constructed with four rails to accommodate the four feet 10 inch and six-foot gauges," the latter used by the Erie.
In 1871, there were at least 23 different U. S. railroad gauges, ranging from three feet to six feet and complicating freight or passenger interchanges. By 1887, most railroads had switched to standard gauge.
The "Great Broad Gauge Route" gave Hamilton area passengers direct access to New York and St. Louis, plus intermediate points. The service continued after 1878, when the O&M and Erie converted to standard gauge (4 feet, 8 1⁄2 inches).
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, one of Erie's prime passenger trains, the Vestibuled Limited ran between New York, Chicago and Cincinnati.
In 1897, the northeast-bound limited left the CH&D Hamilton depot at 7:02 p.m. daily with Pullman service to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Binghamton, Albany, New York and Boston. "Only line from Hamilton with through sleepers to Cambridge Springs, Boston and New York," boasted Erie advertisements published in Hamilton newspapers in 1903.
Four years later, Erie passenger fares from Hamilton included Buffalo, $8.50; New York, $14.30; and Boston, $16.30.
In 1894, when it appeared the CH&D-Erie agreement would end, the Hamilton Democrat said the report was "a great disappointment to Hamilton residents as it removes our only means of eastern travel without going to either Cincinnati or Dayton."
Why weren't U. S. railroads built with standard gauge from the start? Maury Klein, in his book, Unfinished Business, The Railroad in American Life , offered this explanation: "In many cases early railroad promoters deliberately chose a different gauge than that used on neighboring lines. Having conceived of the railroad as a means for bringing trade and commerce to their town, they wanted traffic to stop there rather than pass through to another city."
"The fondest commercial hope of every town," Klein wrote, "was to become a major terminus; the greatest fear was that it might become only a way station."
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Journal-News , Wednesday, March 28, 2001
George A. Rentschler built Hamilton industrial complex
By Jim Blount
The Rentschler name has been familiar here since the arrival about 125 years ago of George Adam Rentschler, a German native who was credited with being one of the people who "helped lay the foundations" for Hamilton's "enviable position in the manufacturing world." His numerous business ventures also included erecting Hamilton's first high-rise office building.
He was born July 8, 1846, in Schmei in the former German state of Wurtemberg. His mother, Catherine, died when he was an infant, and later, in 1852, his father, Jacob, brought his seven children to the United States.
George resided in Newark, N. J., until 1864, where he was educated and learned the molder and patternmaking trades after being orphaned at the age of 10. During the next nine years, employment took him to Peru, Ill., Indianapolis and Cincinnati and back to Indianapolis before coming to Hamilton in 1873.
While in Peru, his first wife, Katharine, died, leaving him with two sons, George, later a farmer near Fulton, Ind., and Henry A., who became a Hamilton industrialist and banker.
In March 1873, when the Variety Iron Works moved from Indianapolis to Hamilton, George A. Rentschler also relocated here to become a foreman in the plant.
Two years later, he decided to start his own shop, but had only $200 to invest. "His integrity and determination were the only collateral the Second National Bank had for the loan that was the start of a small foundry business," his obituary recalled.
With that loan, he joined Henry C. Sohn and John V. Balle in forming the Ohio Iron Works, specializing in light gray iron castings. Six months later, Balle retired and the shop at the northeast corner of North Fourth and Vine streets became Sohn & Rentschler.
Later, Rentschler's local enterprises included the Phoenix Caster Co. and the Hamilton Foundry & Machine Co. and associations with the Hamilton Dime Savings Bank and the Citizens' Savings Bank & Trust Co.
A newspaper said a monument to his success "is the Rentschler Building, the first building of any unusual proportions ever erected in Hamilton." Rentschler started construction of the eight-floor structure at the southeast corner of Second and High streets in 1904.
He was best known as the president and leading force in the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co., a firm that traced its local origins to 1845 and Hamilton's leading employer during most of its existence. By 1910, Rentschler's Hamilton complex was regarded as the largest machine tool operation in the world.
In addition to divisions with separate corporate identities, HOR had several names as it expanded and acquired other firms.
Rentschler died May 24, 1923, in his Dayton Street residence. Five years later, HOR and the Niles Tool Works, both Hamilton operations, were incorporated with interests elsewhere as the General Machinery Corp. After World War II, mergers transformed GMC into Lima-Hamilton and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton before BLH removed its Hamilton operations to Eddystone, Pa., by January 1960. In August 1960, BLH sold the majority of its Hamilton Division property to Champion Papers.
HOR and successor companies produced machinery and large components for the nation's basic industries -- steel and iron, railroads, shipping, utilities and manufacturers of autos, appliances and munitions, including guns, tanks, ships and other defense products.
Rentschler's second marriage was Jan. 25, 1883, to Phoebe Schwab. They were the parents of five children -- Robert, Gordon S., Frederick B., Helen D. and George A. Jr. -- whose accomplishments and connections are too numerous to detail in this space.
In 1882, apparently in anticipation of his marriage, a house at the southwest corner of Dayton and North Seventh streets was designed by Charles Eisel for Rentschler. Some 90 years later the remodeling of that house at 643 Dayton Street by Dr. Sherry Corbett became the catalyst for the Dayton Lane Historic District.
Also in the 1880s, Rentschler acquired a large farm in Fairfield Twp. from the Millikin family. Known as Maplewood, it had been built in the 1830s or 1840s east of Hamilton-Middletown Road (Ohio 4). It was owned by Rentschler heirs until the mid 1990s when the 20-room, 10,325-square-foot mansion was renamed Walden Ponds Mansion, the centerpiece of a recent golf course and residential development on the former Rentschler estate.