Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2002
Hamilton audiences boosted future stage idol, Edwin Forrest
By Jim Blount
Entertainment-starved Hamiltonians got lucky in July 1822 when three actors arrived unannounced in the town without a theater. Leading the troupe was a 16-year-old actor, a rising star with two years of stage experience. The Philadelphia native had joined a theater company with scheduled engagements in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The company folded in Cincinnati, leaving the unpaid actors to fend for themselves.
For some unknown reason, the teen-age actor decided Hamilton would be a good place to resurrect his career. He persuaded a mother and daughter -- also professional actors -- to join him in the risky venture. He could afford only an old horse and a rundown wagon, so small that the young actor had to walk to Hamilton.
With the help of the local Thespian Society, the trio scheduled shows in a candle-lit barn on the northeast corner of North Second and Dayton streets -- later the site of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church, and, more recently, the St. Julie Billiart parish.
That night was noteworthy because it was the first time women were seen on a local stage. Mrs. Riddle and her daughter, Miss Riddle, broke the gender barrier. Previously, female parts in Hamilton productions had been played by males, usually young men or boys.
The show attracted more than 300 people, who were generous with their ovations and financial support. Opening night receipts of about $50 persuaded the troupe to offer more shows, ranging from comedy to Shakespeare.
Although audiences were appreciative, the professionals left town still owing one bill. The male actor gave his IOU to the owner of a boarding house and paid it later.
After leaving Hamilton, the group played in Dayton, Franklin and other towns before the company ran out of luck and money while performing in Lebanon, where they pawned their costumes and other assets -- including the horse and wagon. The 16-year-old actor joined a circus, capitalizing on his athletic ability and strength, until getting another chance on the stage.
That young actor was Edwin Forrest (1806-1872), later described as "the first national idol of the American theater" and "first American-born actor to gain the stature of an international celebrity." He attracted national fame in his New York debut as Othello in 1926.
Forrest was a bold, dashing and forceful actor with a heroic build and "athletic style." He was known as a disciplined, hard worker who adhered to a strict diet and exercise routine. He was especially popular with working-class Americans.
Forrest became embroiled in a nationalistic 27-year feud with William Charles Macready (1793-1873), the most celebrated British actor of his era. Their rivalry peaked in May 1849 when both actors starred in competing New York City productions of Macbeth at the same time -- Forrest at the Broadway Theater and Macready at the Astor Place Opera House.
On opening night, May 7, Macready heard hoots and catcalls and the stage was pelted with bottles, coins, apples, lemons, potatoes and eggs. The hostile greeting was reported as retaliation for a similar reception accorded Forrest in London in 1845.
During the May 10 performance, an angry crowd of 15,000 people gathered outside the theater. Bricks and stones were thrown and Macready had to escape the theater in disguise. When 250 police couldn’t quell the disturbance, the state militia was called. Shots were fired into the unruly crowd. Casualty reports varied, ranging from 22 to 31 people killed and more than 100 injured in the Astor Place Riot.
Forrest’s popularity continued until 1865, when poor health limited his career. The 66-year-old actor died in 1872 -- 50 years after his popular performances in the Hamilton barn. Forrest -- who commanded $1,000 a night at his peak -- was said to have often expressed appreciation for the Hamilton audiences that gave a struggling 16-year-old actor an emotional boost in the summer of 1822.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2002
High-speed chase ended Mosler payroll robbery attempt in 1929
By Jim Blount
On paydays in the 1920s, it was common for Hamilton factory workers to collect their wages in cash, not checks. Thursday morning, Aug. 1, 1929, most patrons of a neighborhood restaurant on Grand Boulevard in East Hamilton were anticipating receiving their pay envelopes later that day.
The usual breakfast clientele included employees of nearby safe companies -- Mosler and Herring-Hall -- and residents of the blue-collar neighborhood. Four strangers who entered the restaurant that warm morning didn’t fit the customer profile. The four well-dressed men looked like businessmen, not factory workers.
Vigilant residents noticed that their car had been parked on Mosler Avenue, just off Grand Boulevard, not in a factory parking lot.
After observing the men for about 40 minutes, a regular restaurant patron -- either because of what he heard or intuition -- slipped into a backroom to use the telephone. He told the Hamilton police officer who answered the call that he believed the four men were planning to rob the Mosler payroll car.
The call was just in time. Charles W. (Dutch) Hermann, a former Hamilton detective, was on his way to the First National Bank to obtain about $43,000 in cash when the warning call came to police headquarters. The bags of money were always ready at 9 a.m. when the downtown bank opened. It was Hermann's job to haul the cash for paying Mosler workers from the bank in a taxi.
Police alerted Hermann at the bank. He waited there until police in unmarked cars could escort him to the plant. Other officers were dispatched to East Hamilton to set a trap for the would-be bandits. Police Sgt. Earl Welch, in plain clothes in an unmarked car, spotted the gang in their car. He recognized one man, who waved at the officer.
The robbers apparently sensed a trap. As Hermann's escorted taxi approached the plant, the car containing the gang shot from its parking place and darted west on Grand and then sped south on Dixie Highway with police in pursuit.
Near Bobenmeyer Road -- either by design or by coincidence -- a car got between the fleeing bandits and the lead police car. Police believed that car had been waiting for the gang, possibly to be used as a second getaway car, if necessary.
When the first car raced past Schenck's Crossing (now the St. Clair Avenue intersection), its speed was estimated at 80 miles an hour. The second car was doing only about 45, effectively screening police pursuit on the narrow two-lane road through Fairfield Township.
The chase continued into Hamilton County, but frustrated officers gave up south of Glendale. It may have been fortunate that police didn't get closer. Witnesses who saw the car in East Hamilton said a machine-gun was mounted on the vehicle.
Police were able to obtain license numbers of both cars. The gang had escaped in a vehicle owned by a Dayton man. The second car was registered to E. A. (Buck) Brady of Cincinnati -- a name familiar to police throughout Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Brady had been director of transportation for the whisky empire of George Remus, a notorious Cincinnati bootlegger in the Prohibition era.
Brady also had been a passenger in the car when Maurice (Joe) Johnson, a Cincinnati bootlegger, was shot to death July 26, 1928, in Union Township (now West Chester Township).
The man recognized by Sgt. Welch was David Jerus, formerly of Toledo and recently of Covington, Ky. Jerus was suspected of being involved in gang activities in the Tri-State region.
No arrests were ever made in the aborted Mosler payroll robbery. Other than speeding, no crimes were committed.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002
Colonel Minor Millikin fell at Stones River
By Jim Blount
Colonel Minor Millikin may have been Butler County's most widely mourned casualty during the Civil War. The 28-year-old Hamiltonian died New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 1862, while leading his troops in the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee.
His battle death evoked lavish tributes in newspapers in and outside of Butler County. Writers of memorial articles believed the colonel of the First Ohio Cavalry Regiment may have known no limits to his achievements -- business, political, etc. -- if he had survived the war.
A chronicler of Ohio's varied contributions to the war said of Millikin's death "that by no single blow during the war did the country lose, among her younger officers, one braver, more devoted, more unselfish, more cultured, purer in character, or loftier in honorable ambition."
Those were the words of Whitelaw Reid, who witnessed much of the war as a newspaper correspondent and later wrote more than 2,000 pages about the conflict in a two-volume classic, Ohio in the War.
Reid, an 1856 Miami University graduate, and Millikin became close friends while students in Oxford. Ohio in the War has been regarded for its objectivity, but Reid said he couldn't be objective about Millikin in the introductory paragraph to his biographical sketch on Millikin. Reid called the loss "the cruelest personal bereavement which the war brought to me."
"He (Millikin) ranked foremost among all the students then in that honored old institution," Reid said. "He was not known as a remarkable scholar, nor was he ever popular. But there was about him an individuality so intense and so striking that wherever he was placed, he was the center of attention." Reid said Millikin also "was known as the athlete of the institution."
The colonel -- born July 9, 1834 -- was the son of John M. Millikin, a promising Hamilton lawyer, and Mary Greenlee Hough Millikin. He was educated in Hamilton schools before attending Hanover College in Indiana for two years. He completed his education at Miami in 1854. He obtained his law degree at Harvard in 1856.
For almost two years (1858-59) he was a proprietor and editor of the Hamilton Intelligencer.
Millikin was married to Mary Mollyneaux of Oxford, and their honeymoon was a seven-week cruise to England. During the trip, he couldn't resist a challenge to his athletic skills.
Millikin contacted the editor of the leading sporting paper while in London to inquire about the prevailing world record for the standing broad jump. Millikin believed he could top the mark and, with the British editor as a witness, went to a nearby gymnasium and exceeded the record by seven inches.
At the start of the war an independent cavalry unit was formed in Butler and Hamilton counties by Captain Henry W. Burdsall of Cincinnati, although the federal government had not called for cavalry. Burdsall and First Lieutenant Millikin formed the unit anyway, and it eventually became the First Ohio Cavalry, serving much of its three-month term in western Virginia in the summer of 1861. Millikin rejoined the regiment as a major when it became a three-year unit. He later rose to the rank of colonel, commanding the First.
"Not until the Battle of Stones River was the effectiveness of the cavalry demonstrated in the Army of the Cumberland," said a regimental history, "when the First Ohio, led by their intrepid young commander, Colonel Minor Millikin, made their first saber charge, holding at bay a large force of the left wing of the rebel army by their bold charge."
At a critical point in the Battle of Stones River, Millikin ordered five companies of his regiment to attack Confederate infantry and cavalry to cover retreating Union forces.
During the struggle, Millikin reportedly was engaged in a one-on-one sword contest with an enemy soldier when another Confederate -- later identified as Private John Bowers of Company K of the Texas Rangers -- shot and killed the Hamilton officer.
Contemporaries believed Millikin's death was not only a loss for Hamilton and Butler County, but possibly for the state and nation.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2002
Hydraulic canal provided power for Hamilton’s industrial growth
By Jim Blount
The Hamilton Hydraulic -- officially the Hamilton & Rossville Hydraulic Company -- spurred Hamilton's greatest period of industrial and population growth, the 1840-1860 era. The locally-financed system -- built to supply power to shops and mills -- was a risky project because there were no shops along its course when the company was formed in 1842. The gamble paid off and Hamilton quickly developed into a prosperous industrial community.
For at least 30 years after its 1845 opening, the hydraulic was a reliable and relatively cheap source of power. It powered many Hamilton industries through the 1870s when the coal-fired stationary steam engine became affordable.
The system relied on a steady downhill flow of water that rotated millstones in the hydraulic channel. The revolving axles in the stones connected to a network of wheels, pulleys and gears that powered machinery inside each shop.
The hydraulic began on the Great Miami River about four miles north of Hamilton. A dam was built to divert river water into the system. Two reservoirs stored water for the hydraulic, whose main canal continued south along North Fifth Street to Market Street (then Stable Street). There it took a sharp right turn west to the river at the intersection of Market Street and North Monument Avenue. Today that point is between the old Hamilton Municipal Building and the Hamiltonian Hotel.
Later, other branches were established. The hydraulic network -- coupled with the Miami-Erie Canal and its Hamilton Basin -- gave Hamilton the appearance of a miniature Venice, Italy, from the 1840s through the 1870s.
Henry S. Earhart, a merchant and civil engineer, is credited with recognizing that water could be brought from the river north of Hamilton into the town as a source of power for future industries. Much of the preliminary work was by John W. Erwin, an engineer who also had collaborated with Earhart and John C. Skinner in building turnpikes, railroads, other waterway projects and civic improvements.
Joining Earhart, Erwin and Skinner in directing the company were William Bebb (later governor), Lewis D. Campbell, John Woods, Laomi Rigdon, Dr. Jacob Hitell, Andrew McCleary, Jacob Matthias and other community leaders.
The first water passed through the system in January 1845. Several small industries were built along the hydraulic in the 1840s. One was the Miami Paper Mill, later known as the Beckett Paper Company and more recently as International Paper.
Hamilton had 1,409 inhabitants in the 1840 census. By 1850, the total had jumped 127.8 percent to 3,210 -- much of the increase attributed to people attracted to new jobs created by the 1845 opening of the hydraulic. Growth continued in the 1850s, the 1860 census of 7,223 representing a 125 percent population increase in 10 years.
When planned, the hydraulic canal was to be solely a power source, not a transportation system. But city fathers saw a secondary purpose, and Mayor Jonathan Pierson signed an ordinance Nov. 14, 1842, assuring the city of another valuable benefit.
That agreement between Hamilton and hydraulic owners guaranteed that the city "shall at all times be permitted, quietly and peaceably, to use water from" the hydraulic "by pipes or otherwise for the purpose of extinguishing fires" in the community. That made property along the hydraulic more attractive to entrepreneurs seeking sites for new or expanded industries. It promised improved fire protection in addition to a reliable source of power.
Decades later, most of the hydraulic canal within the city would be covered or filled. Northern sections remain visible west of Joe Nuxhall Blvd. and Campbell Drive in Hamilton and Canal Road in Fairfield Twp.
The presence of the hydraulic attracted Henry Ford to Hamilton in 1919 when he sought a site for a tractor factory. Ford built a plant -- quickly converted to producing auto parts -- at the north end of North Fifth Street so it could take advantage of power provided by a branch of the hydraulic.
The Ford plant closed in 1950, but the hydraulic branch remains, now owned by the City of Hamilton. The waterway -- just north of the municipal electric generating plant -- supplies a small portion of the city’s electric needs.
Future columns will report more details on the Hamilton & Rossville Hydraulic Company.