Journal-News, Wednesday, April 7, 2004
Gypsies 'aroused curiosity' during 1904 Hamilton visit
By Jim Blount
"A crowd of Arabian gypsies aroused the curiosity of Hamilton people a few days ago," a reporter noted in April 1904. "They descended on the town as though they had fallen from the clouds and from the many colored dresses which they wore, it might be said that they brought part of the sunset with them." During their Hamilton visit, the article said, "they entered homes and places of business in search of some victim for their fortune telling fake."
The traditional description of gypsy is a Caucasian with dark skin and black hair who travels in close-knit migrant groups, seeking income as a fortuneteller, musician, jewelry merchant, short-term farm worker and other temporary services. Some groups operated what today would be called traveling flea markets.
Gypsies have visited this area for more than a century. Until the 1930s, most groups traveled in horse-drawn caravans and established temporary camps beyond the city limits. After World War II, they graduated to small trailers pulled by automobiles. In recent decades, gypsies haven't been as obvious since they drive vans, trucks and recreational vehicles, patronize motels and wear more conventional clothes.
"After making a thorough canvas of the town, they went out by the Frog and Switch Works where they camped and are still there," the 1904 article said. This temporary camp would have been on Main Street near its present intersections with McKinley, Western, Cereal and Haldimand avenues. The industry was the American Frog & Switch Company that operated on the north side of Main Street at the Belt Line Railroad from 1901 until 1949.
Because their unorthodox lifestyle raised suspicion and prompted surveillance, gypsies usually established their camps in rural areas where sheriff deputies and constables weren't as numerous as city police. Some communities had laws that prohibited gypsy camps.
"Their camp is a busy looking place," the Republican-News said in 1904. "It is infested with child, dog and horse life; of the children there are any number, all hardy looking, dirty little creatures. Some of them had yarn balls while others had hands and pockets full of cheap marbles."
The reporter said "the members of the tribe all resemble each other as far as general features . . . very dark complexion, straight black hair, piercing black eyes and high cheek bones. The women, had they taken more care with their dress, would have been picturesque to say the least. They were all dressed in bright colors and literally covered with ornaments, mostly of coins. Some of them," he wrote, "wore $20 gold pieces around their necks and wrists."
The uncomplimentary report reflected the prevailing attitude toward gypsies. The nomads faced contempt because they maintained their own languages, music, social customs, traditions, and political and economic organization. Except for conducting necessary business, they had little contact with people outside their groups.
The Republican-News reporter said he "did not meet with a very warm reception" at the camp west of Hamilton in 1904. "When he approached the camp, he was met by half a dozen women who wished to tell his fortune. They all claimed to possess the greatest powers along this line . . . ."
The article said "the reporter asked to see the chief, but was told that he was in Cincinnati. Just at this juncture an old wrinkled up woman, who was sitting on the ground preparing some kind of weeds or grass for supper, spoke up and said, 'I am his wife and can tell your fortune better than anyone.' "
The reporter's attempt to "learn something of the tribe and their manner of life . . . was overheard by one of the men" and in about two minutes, the entire camp, numbering about 75, gathered around the writer. A spokesman, playing a violin, explained "that the affairs of the tribe were private matters so far as the outside world was concerned, and that they [the gypsies] had nothing to say."
Gypsy is believed to have been short for Egyptian, although they possibly originated in India, not Africa, before moving into eastern Europe. They are found throughout the world today.
Not all American gypsy bands are alike in heritage, practices or name -- with Rom, Romnichels, Black Dutch, Ludar and Travelers as examples of the latter. European gypsies were second only to Jews as victims of the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler branded gypsies racially inferior and worthless in justifying their annihilation (about half a million people) after he gained power in Germany in 1933.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 14, 2004
County responded to controversial Mexican War
(This is the first in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
Although it led to expansion of the United States, the Mexican War is one of America's forgotten conflicts. Butler County supplied its share of volunteers, despite objections to the political motives for fighting a neighboring nation that posed no threat to Ohio in 1846.
War opponents feared defeating Mexico would add territory to the U. S. that would be divided into new states permitting slavery. The leading spokesman against the war was an Ohio senator, Thomas Corwin of Lebanon.
"In no part of the United States did the people spring to arms more willingly in the Mexican war than Butler County," recalled a county history published nearly 30 years later. "The county was Democratic, and the war was a Democratic war," explained the 1882 history. "But, although many prominent Whigs held aloof, the masses of the people, uninformed as to the reasons that should induce them to fight or refrain from fighting, only knew that Mexico was in conflict with us, and that our flag must be sustained."
Among the issues dividing the U. S. and Mexico was American annexation of the Republic of Texas Dec. 29, 1845, and the unresolved dispute over the Lone Star State's southern boundary. Texas had won its independence from Mexico in 1836. Texans claimed the Rio Grande was the southern border of their new state. Mexico argued it was the more northern Nueces River. Another vexing question was the future of California. Mexico, suspicious of a U. S. annexation attempt, had ordered the expulsion of American settlers from California.
After unproductive diplomatic wrangling, Mexican and U. S. forces clashed April 25, 1846, near Matamoros, but word of the action didn't reach Washington until May 9. President James K. Polk, in his May 11 war message to Congress, said "Mexico has . . . shed American blood upon the American soil" because the encounter, which cost the lives of 11 American soldiers, had been north of the Rio Grande. Congress approved a declaration of war and Polk signed it May 13, 1846.
Congress appropriated $10 million for the war and authorized increasing the regular army from about 8,500 men to 15,540, and added a regiment of mounted riflemen and a company of sappers, miners, and pontooniers. The President was empowered to call for 50,000 volunteers for a term of one year or the duration of the war. Ohio was asked to provide three regiments.
"As soon as the news reached Hamilton the excitement became intense," said the 1882 history of Butler County. "A public meeting was called in the courthouse square for that night, and Judge Elijah Vance made an eloquent and successful appeal for volunteers, announcing that John B. Weller, a young and eloquent lawyer, was ready to organize a company at once."
"That night and the next day," the account continued, "the names were handed in, until the company was full. As soon as formed, the company -- afterwards designated Company I, Second Rifles -- went into temporary camp in the old sycamore grove, then standing a half mile below the river bridge."
"But little drilling was performed, as nearly all the officers were inexperienced, and none more so than Captain Weller, who was elected to that position during the rendezvous in the grove. James George, then county recorder, was elected first lieutenant, and [county prosecutor] Oliver S. Witherby second lieutenant. George was colonel of the Second Minnesota Regiment in the late rebellion [Civil War] . . . and Witherby afterwards became United States judge at San Diego, Calif.," the 1882 history continued.
"Company I went from the sycamore grove to Camp Washington, near Cincinnati, embarking on a canalboat moored near the head of the [Hamilton] basin, which in those days reached nearly as far [west] as [South] Third Street. The embarkation was witnessed by nearly every man, woman and child in Butler County, and the cries of the women mingled with the shouts of the men made a strange mixture of grief and jollity.
"On reaching Camp Washington the new troops were assigned to the First Ohio Regiment, of which I. M. Mitchell was elected colonel, and John B. Weller lieutenant-colonel. George became captain and Witherby first lieutenant. William Wilson, a brother of John K. Wilson, of this city, was elected second lieutenant, and Jonathan Richmond third lieutenant. Ferdinand Van Derveer, who rose to the rank of brigadier-general in our late war for the Union, was appointed orderly sergeant.
"Company I contained about 13 young lawyers of this city [Hamilton], and it was said by a local wag, that during their absence, Hamilton was more peaceable than it had ever been before," the 1882 history said.
July 2 the unit left Cincinnati on two steamboats. After a three-day rest at New Orleans, the regiment was transported by steamer to Brazos Santiago, described by the 1882 county history as "a small piece of land almost surrounded by water, lying at the mouth of the Rio Grande." The men marched about 15 miles to Camp Belknap, where they resumed training while awaiting their first combat.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Butler Boys fought for possession of Nueces Strip
(This is the second in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
The first Butler County soldiers sent into the Mexican War (1846-48) fought for possession of the Nueces Strip, an area about 150 miles wide between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River claimed by both nations. In annexing the Republic of Texas, the U. S. asserted that the Rio Grande was the southern border. Mexico contended that the Nueces River, farther north, divided the combatants.
Fighting and military maneuvers ranged from Texas to California and in Mexico, but Butler County volunteers served only in the Texas-Mexico region after combat started April 25, 1846. President James K. Polk signed the declaration of war approved by Congress May 13.
The first local troops -- commanded by John B. Weller, a Hamilton lawyer -- were assigned to Company I of the First Ohio Infantry Regiment. After organizing in Hamilton in May 1846, the company moved by canal boat to Camp Washington north of Cincinnati.
The First Ohio was transported by steamboat, first to New Orleans and then to the mouth of Rio Grande in the contested Nueces Strip. The regiment moved inland about 15 miles to Camp Belknap where it continued training for about a month.
As part of Gen. Zachary Taylor's army, it participated in the campaign that led to the Battle of Monterey in Northern Mexico. On that march, Company I "endured great privations," said the 1882 county history. "Water was scarce, and at times the troops marched a whole day without a drop of that liquid. From Camargo the troops marched through Ceralvo and Main to the Walnut Springs, three miles out of Monterey."
U. S. forces, numbering about 3,000 men, attacked the garrison at Monterey, manned by 11,000 Mexican soldiers. Despite the uneven numbers, the three-day siege (Sept. 19-21, 1846) ended with an American victory.
Among the wounded was Captain James George, who was sent back to Hamilton to recuperate. He was succeeded by Lt. Ferdinand Van Derveer. Three members of Company I were killed -- John Pearson of Darrtown, and Oscar Boehne and Samuel Freeman, both of Hamilton.
"After the company was mustered out," the 1882 history noted, "Captain Van Derveer exhumed the bodies of the three soldiers, and brought them home for burial. The funeral services were held in the [Butler County] Courthouse square, which was thronged with people, the services being preached by the Rev. Wilson Thompson, a Baptist preacher, who was very eloquent. The three bodies were buried in one grave in Greenwood Cemetery" in Hamilton.
The regiment saw additional action in the area, but nothing of the scale of Monterey. The "Butler Boys," as Company I was known, were in reserve during the Feb. 22-23, 1847, Battle of Buena Vista, and not involved in the fighting there.
Starting two days after that battle, Captain Van Derveer led Company I in two rescue missions. In the first, at Marin, three companies of the Second Ohio Regiment were surrounded and outnumbered by Mexican forces. In unison with volunteers from other units, the men from the First Ohio fought their way into to the town to relieve the trapped Americans.
While returning to Monterey, the Butler Boys joined in freeing another encircled group. "Captain Van Derveer's company had marched 80 miles, and fought the enemy on two meals and four or five hours of sleep," said the 1882 county history.
The same source said "at the end of the year for which they had enlisted the regiment was ordered to New Orleans and mustered out, Company I reaching Hamilton about the 20th of June, when a reception and banquet was prepared for them in the courthouse yard, which drew an immense concourse of people, proud to honor their soldiers, fresh from the field of battle." The account said "two weeks after, a great Fourth of July celebration was held at Middletown."
During its service, the entire regiment lost 24 men killed and 42 who died of disease.
Before Company I returned to Butler County, another group of local volunteers prepared to join American forces in Mexico. The new unit was known as "Butler County Boys No. 2" while organizing. It would become part of the Fourth Ohio Regiment before leaving the state.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Hamiltonians opened their pocketbooks in late 1920s
By Jim Blount
Hamiltonians were in a giving mood in the late 1920s, climaxed by the 1929 opening of Fort Hamilton Hospital. The 75th anniversary of that event is being observed this week. The 142-bed hospital on Eaton Avenue was the result of citizen initiatives that began 11 years earlier. Through community generosity, a public golf course and a hotel also had been completed during the previous two years.
In 1918, the deadly Spanish flu epidemic renewed interest in a second hospital in Hamilton. The movement gained momentum in January 1925 with formation of a Butler County Welfare Club by 21 women. The group sought local pledges for land and construction for a Martha Washington Hospital, a name later discarded.
That group evolved into the Fort Hamilton Hospital Association, incorporated Dec. 17, 1925, by James E. Bell, J. B. Cavitt, Mrs. Emma Sohn, Peter Benninghofen, Mrs. Marie L. Stroble, C. L. Langerhans and C. F. W. Allwardt. In 1926 the association bought 58 lots east of Eaton Avenue between Haldimand and Cereal avenues. Albert Wood of Detroit and Frederick G. Mueller of Hamilton were hired as architects. A 1926 fund-raising drive realized nearly $500,000 from about 8,500 contributions.
The general contractor was A. Benzing & Sons of Hamilton. Ground was broken Nov. 7, 1926. Fort Hamilton admitted its first patient, Mrs. Marie Campbell, May 1, 1929.
The Fort Hamilton campaign was similar to other late 1920s projects when Hamiltonians reached into their pocketbooks for community improvements.
In 1925 Ellis M. Potter -- a Hamilton native and a successful businessman in Cincinnati and New York -- offered the city 100 acres of undeveloped land. The donation came with two stipulations: (1) the city had to take quick action, and, (2) develop the scenic acreage into a municipal golf course.
A public campaign raised $15,000 from about 4,000 people, enabling the city to earn Potter's gift. Nine holes of the course formally opened May 26, 1927, with the second nine completed Oct. 5, 1927.
Potter -- who had prospered in processing and marketing baking powder, spices, tea and coffee -- had never played golf. He believed Hamilton needed a golf course. His business experience and personal observations had convinced him that in the 1920s, for a city to grow and prosper, it needed a municipal golf course.
In 1927, Potter made another contribution to the city -- a strip of land 100 feet wide that became the first part of the city's planned circular boulevard system. It was called Potter Drive, but later renamed Washington Boulevard.
Overlapping the Potter and Fort Hamilton campaigns was a project born in December 1924
when the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce selected a consultant to survey hotel needs and evaluate possible sites.
A March 1925 report recommended 100 to 150 rooms, estimating the cost at $700,000 to $750,000. The name and the site on Monument Avenue, south of High Street and opposite the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument, were chosen before a Nov. 17, 1925, kickoff of the drive to sell stock.
In three days 746 persons and groups subscribed to $537,600 in shares. Incorporation was completed Dec. 3, the first stockholders meeting and election of officers was held Dec. 9, and architects were chosen Jan. 5, 1926. Plans developed by Fred G. Mueller and Walter H. Hair, local architects, and George H. Post & Sons of New York were accepted March 11, 1926.
The site, costing about $71,000, extended 200 feet along South Monument Avenue and 85 feet on High and Court streets. Demolition of existing buildings began May 4, 1926. The F. K. Vaughn Building Co. of Hamilton, the general contractor, began work on the $650,000 seven-story, 100-room hotel in September 1926.
It was named for the general who won a frontier Indian war in Ohio (1792-1795) after two previous military campaigns (1790 and 1791) had failed. Anthony Wayne's army had relied on Fort Hamilton as a supply base. The hotel was built on a portion of the fort site that Wayne had ordered enlarged after he assumed command in 1792.
The Anthony Wayne Hotel opening in the fall of 1927 was a three-day event. It started with an Oct. 27 banquet.
Potter Park Golf Course and Fort Hamilton Hospital have served the community without interruption for 77 and 75 years, respectively. The Anthony Wayne closed as a hotel May 10, 1964. In the last 40 years it had several owners and periods of vacancy before restoration and conversion in 2000 to senior housing.
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