Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004
Shaker community once rivaled Hamilton in size
(This is the first in a seven-part series on Shaker communities in the area.)
By Jim Blount
With 242 residents in 1810, Hamilton was one of the most populace towns in the southwest corner of the seven-year-old state of Ohio. Because of its status as Butler County's seat of government and its location on the Great Miami River, the village on the site of the former Fort Hamilton was assured steady growth. But a newer community -- not on a river and without the economic boost of government activity -- was adding population faster than Hamilton. By 1812, the settlement just east of Butler County had attracted 370 residents, drawn there by a religion and way of life new to the Midwest.
Union Village -- between the present cities of Middletown, Monroe and Lebanon -- was established in 1805 by converts to the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. They were better known as Shakers, a derisive name reflecting their actions during worship.
By 1819 Union Village included 600 men, women and children. A year later, the federal census recorded 660 people in Hamilton and 314 in Middletown.
The Shakers, an offshoot of the Quakers, started in Manchester, England, in 1747. A group sailed for the American colonies in 1774. Among those arriving on the eve of the American Revolution was their spiritual leader, Ann Lee. Shakers settled in several New England towns. The Mount Lebanon Society at New Lebanon, N. Y., became their spiritual center and the largest Shaker community.
"The Shakers in America lived a communal life based on common ownership of property and goods, celibate purity and confession of sins," explained a National Park Service web site. "The Shakers did not believe in procreation and therefore had to adopt children or allow converts into their community. The adopted children were given a choice at age 21 whether to remain with the Shaker community or go their way into the world." The NPS said the Shakers also "had advanced notions of equality between the sexes and the races."
"Good sanitation, simplicity in dress, speech, and manner were encouraged, as was living in rural colonies away from the corrupting influences of the cities," the NPS said. "Like other Utopian societies founded in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Shakers believed it was possible to form a more perfect society upon earth."
The Shaker move into the Midwest was sparked by the Great Revival, or the Second Great Awakening, in the 1800-05 period. The event is described as "a series of religious revivals, beginning in Kentucky, that swept across the southern states," according to the Kentucky Encyclopedia.
Shakers weren't present, but news of the Great Awakening reached their leaders at Mount Lebanon and three missionaries were sent into western states. After visiting Kentucky, the Shakers -- John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs and Issachar Bates -- arrived at Beedle's Station (at the present intersection of Ohio 63 and 741) in western Warren County March 22, 1805. They met with the Rev. Richard McNemar and members of his Turtle Creek New Light Presbyterian Church.
Beedle Station -- sometimes spelled Bedle and Bedel -- was the first settlement in Warren County. William and Esther Beedle, their five adult children and families built houses and a blockhouse there in 1795. They also helped start the Turtle Creek New Light Presbyterian Church in 1798. McNemar (1770-1839), the second pastor, arrived in 1802. The recent participant in the Kentucky revivals was described as a well-educated, charismatic leader.
The Rev. McNemar led his congregation and others into the Shaker faith. The first meeting of Believers was held May 23, 1805, on a farm about a mile southwest of what became Union Village.
In 1901, John P. MacLean reported their "industries consisted of raising garden seeds, preserving and packing herbs, manufacturing woolen goods, brooms, flour, oils, extracts of roots for medicine, sorghum and cattle," plus wine for medicinal purposes.
Although Union Village was the name recognized by postal officials, people in neighboring areas also called it Shakertown and Turtle Creek. According to the Ohio Historical Society, Union Village was the first and largest Shaker community west of the Allegheny Mountains. "Nearly 4,000 Shakers lived in Union Village, the last continuing to live here until 1920. They owned 4,500 acres of land with more than 100 buildings," the OHS said. It was the parent to other Shaker communities in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia, including one that extended into the southwest corner of Butler County.
One of the earliest reports on Union Village was by a Hamilton pioneer who visited the Warren County community in 1811. His account will be the basis of a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004
Hamilton leader recorded Shaker observations in 1811
(This is the second in a seven-part series on Shaker communities in the area.)
By Jim Blount
"The regularity and neatness of their farms and gardens" impressed James McBride on his first visit to Union Village, a Shaker community established in 1805 on the western edge of Warren County, near the Butler County line. Today remnants of the 4,500-acre Union Village are part of the Otterbein Retirement Community, three miles east of I-75 on Ohio 63 and a half mile north on Ohio 741. McBride, who arrived in Hamilton in 1807 with no formal education, became the area's first resident historian. He wrote his Shaker observations in July 1811.
The Shaker church -- that they called a meeting house -- was "destitute of seats, except four or five rows of wooden benches on the west side of the house, between the two doors," said McBride, who later was Hamilton's first mayor, Butler County sheriff, designer of Hamilton's first bridge and instrumental in establishing Miami University.
"The men were all dressed in gray homespun cloth, their coats somewhat in the Quaker fashion, or of that cut and fashion which was probably the mode some 50 or a hundred years ago. The females were still more uniform in their dress. In the first place, from the little girl of six or seven years of age, to her old grandmother of 70, they all wore long-eared caps, clean and white as snow, and which set close to their heads all round, without a single ribbon or bow-knot about them, except two short pieces of white tape at their ears to tie them under the chin."
McBride said "they all wore petticoats fastened around their waists, and a garment made something in the manner of a Dutch woman’s short gown, but so long as to come within a finger-length of their knees. These were all white muslin. Around their necks each wore a plain, clean, white, three-cornered handkerchief, but no beads, no lace, no ribbon or superfluity whatever." Their shoes were "rather heavy or clumsy" and "this completed their dress, except a bonnet of black or brown muslin.
"They were all in the same dress, every mother’s daughter of them; not a single exception was to be seen in the whole society. In coming to the church they all walked in single file, like a flock of ducks coming from the creek in the evening."
Hats and bonnets were hung on pegs as the Shakers entered the building. "They then took their seats flat on the floor – not cross-legged, as the Turks do, nor with their feet extended at full length before them, to incommode their neighbors, but sitting flat, with their feet at a convenient distance before them, and their petticoats drawn under their knees," noted the Hamilton observer.
"After sitting some time silent, they all rose at once . . . and commenced singing a tune, in which each one joined, and sang so loud that it made my very ears tingle. In short, I think if noise could crack the ceiling of the house, this would have long since been fractured although it is the strongest frame building I have ever seen, perhaps the strongest of the kind ever erected.
"In their singing," McBride said, "I could not discover that they sang any particular hymn or song, as I could not distinguish any words, but merely a humming sound to make the tune.
"An elderly gentleman then stepped from amongst them, advanced to the space between the members and the spectators who sat on the benches, and delivered a discourse about as long as a common sermon."
Next, McBride said, "the men immediately went to their end of the building, took off their coats, put them away, and returned; in the meantime, about half a dozen men singers and an equal number of women singers arranged themselves along the side of the house opposite their respective sexes, and commenced singing a lively air of a tune, on which the whole assembly joined in a dance, but without running any regular figures, or the men and women intermingling together, each dancing on the space which they occupied, keeping exact time to the music, and, at each turn of the tune, turning half round and facing their next rank.
"At this they continued 10 or 15 minutes at a time, when a pause took place long enough for the singers to change the tune, when at it they went again.
"At certain times during their dance, some of them would jump up, clap their hands, whirl round on their toes or heels, like a top, cutting all kinds of extraordinary capers, and sometimes the whole assembly shouted so loud that I thought, beyond all doubt, they would bring the house about our ears.
"The tunes which they sung were brisk, lively airs, such as I have often heard played on the violin at a country dance. They kept dancing in this manner for about two hours" and "their clothes were as wet with sweat as if they had been engaged in a harvest-field," wrote McBride.
Communal life in Union Village survived for 105 years, despite outside opposition and internal troubles. Some of the Shakers problems will be addressed in future columns.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004
Three hydraulic canals operated in Butler County
By Jim Blount
The community was ready for a big celebration 160 years ago. It was the planned Dec. 14, 1844, opening of the Hamilton hydraulic. Officers of the Hamilton & Rossville Hydraulic Company were present. So were members of a local militia unit and a German band. Water was expected to rush from the Great Miami River four miles north of town, flow into two reservoirs, and continue through a channel five feet deep along North Fifth Street and Market Street before returning to the river at Monument Avenue. But it didn’t work that way -- not that day.
The band played, dignitaries marched in a parade and speeches were heard, but the hydraulic didn’t fill with water and demonstrate its power that day. Adjustments were made and water flowed from the river into the hydraulic canal Jan. 27, 1845.
Four days later, Friday, Jan. 31, a steady current turned the millstones that transferred power to machinery in the Tobias Brothers Machine Shop at the northeast corner of Market Street and Monument Avenue. The factory -- the nucleus for what later became the Long & Allstsatter Co. -- had been built in anticipation of the opening of the hydraulic. It was one of several businesses erected in Hamilton in the 1840s because of the availability of cheap power.
Opposite Tobias was the Hamilton Hydraulic Flour Mills built by William Hunter and John W. Erwin, the latter one of the hydraulic planners. Cotton Row, a cotton factory, was erected on the east side of North Fourth Street between Dayton and Heaton streets by William Bebb and Lewis D. Campbell, both officers of the hydraulic company. The People’s Mill, also a cotton mill, was built in 1845 on the northeast corner of Fifth and Dayton streets by Ezra Potter.
Owens, Ebert & Dyer Co., a machine shop, opened in 1845 west of the hydraulic near Fifth Street. Hittel’s Mill, on Fourth Street between High and Market streets, started in 1845 by Dr. Jacob Hittel, a director of the hydraulic company.
The Miami Paper Mill at North Fifth and Buckeye streets arrived in 1849, built by William Beckett and F. D. Rigdon. It was the basis for what later became the Beckett Paper Co. and continues in operation as a division of International Paper.
Hamilton ballooned from 1,409 people in 1840 to 3,210 in 1850. That growth was the result of an industrial boom fueled by a combination of factors, highlighted by low-cost energy supplied by the Hamilton hydraulic and cheap transportation provided by the Miami-Erie Canal.
A Rossville hydraulic was built, but it never achieved the success of the Hamilton system. Work started in 1849 with a dam across the river near the present intersection of North B Street and West Elkton Road. The canal continued south along the west bank of the river to present Wayne Avenue, where the borrowed water was returned to the Great Miami River.
Three years later, a third hydraulic canal started operation in Butler County. John W. Erwin -- who had helped plan the Hamilton Hydraulic -- was a key figure in developing the Middletown Hydraulic. Middletown leaders authorized construction in April 1852. Heading the project were John W. Erwin, Thomas Sherlock, J. B. Oglesby, Richard H. Hendrickson and Joseph Cooper. Erwin, an engineer, had also designed the Hamilton Hydraulic.
The two-mile system drew water from the Great Miami River north of the town, starting near the site of the present Miami River Preserve along Ohio 73. The waterway paralleled the Miami-Erie Canal (now Verity Parkway) before turning west and returning to the river at the west end of Fourth Street.
In a few years, there were several paper mills along the channel, in addition to other industries. "The building of the hydraulic laid the foundation for the prosperity of Middletown," said the 1882 county history. John W. Erwin built two paper mills in Middletown, including one on the hydraulic while the waterway was under construction. That mill later became the Sorg Paper Company that operated until May 2000.
Erwin also built hydraulic systems in Franklin and Troy in Ohio; Goshen, Elkhart and Bristol in Indiana; and in Constantine, Mich. The native of New Castle, Delaware, was a resident engineer on the Miami-Erie Canal from 1837 until 1879.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004
Union Village Shakers faced many obstacles
(This is the third in a seven-part series on Shaker communities in the area.)
By Jim Blount
The Shakers at Union Village in Warren County were attracted to its communal religious life by their desire for a more perfect society. They gave up their property, accepted celibacy and shared a belief in sexual and racial equality in becoming members of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, that started in England in 1747. Union Village, founded in 1805, expanded to about 600 residents in 1819.
Union Village was the center of Shakerism west of the Allegheny Mountains. It fostered other Shaker towns in Ohio, including Watervliet, east of Dayton in Montgomery and Greene counties Whitewater, north of New Haven in Hamilton and Butler counties; and North Union at Shaker Heights, near Cleveland, in Cuyahoga County.
American Shaker population peaked in 1840 with more than 6,000 believers in 19 communities, but several problems already threatened their survival.
Occasional disagreements and defections cost Union Village some members. Drought, floods, fires and a caterpillar infestation were among other calamities as its population dropped to 502 in 1830, to 255 in 1859 on the eve of the Civil War, and to 152 in 1867, two years after the war ended.
Shaker adherence to celibacy restricted the growth of the faith. Communities could expand only two ways -- by adding adult converts or adopting children. Adoptees often were temporary residents. At age 21 they had the choice of remaining in the faith or leaving.
"Among the first Shakers were men of education, but these were few in number," noted John P. MacLean, a sympathetic student of Union Village history. "The intellectual status of the church was not of a high discriminating order. Consequently there was a pronounced antagonism to every kind of literary, scientific or other intellectual attainment."
MacLean said "the number of books and periodicals permitted by the trustees was extremely limited. But few books, outside their own publications, could be found among them, and only one or two periodicals, for the entire community." Young people seeking an education had to leave to realize their goal. Transportation advances -- canals in the 1820s and 1830s and railroads in the 1840s and 1850s -- made it easier for 21 year olds to reach tempting employment in the nearby industrial towns of Cincinnati, Hamilton, Middletown, Lebanon, Franklin, Miamisburg and Dayton.
MacLean -- whose Shaker findings were shared in Ohio Historical Society publications in the early 1900s -- cited an 1878 society document that lamented the quality of new members willing to accept strict Shaker rules.
The Union Village statement said "we began to feel seriously, during this year, the want of more members and greater efficiency and talent among those who from time to time come in among us. They seemed to belong to a class that were not in possession of either talent or strength of purpose."
Union Village -- located between Monroe and Lebanon on what is now Ohio 741, a half mile north of Ohio 63 -- added some residents in 1889, but it was caused by the demise of another Shaker community. North Union near Cleveland dissolved after 67 years, effective Oct. 15, 1889. Remaining members were moved to Union Village or Watervliet, near Dayton.
The size of Union Village -- 4,500 acres of land and more than 100 buildings -- became a burden as population declined and as talent and work ethic were lacking.
"The membership [at Union Village] having not only decreased (60 in 1897), but also in all other communities, and the majority becoming old, the buildings began to show the effects of time in so much so as to need repairs," wrote MacLean. By 1895, MacLean said much of the agricultural land at Union Village had been rented to neighboring farmers who weren't members of the society.
Writing in September 1901, MacLean said "the discipline of the Believers has been greatly relaxed. Even assent to the Shaker faith is no longer required." . . . "Owing to the paucity of their numbers," MacLean wrote, "public meetings are no longer held and their meeting house is practically abandoned." . . . "There appears to be a general feeling among the Shakers of Union Village that the days of their existence as a community is drawing to a close." Bankruptcy came in 1910.
The Warren County Shakers also had faced opposition from people outside their society in their early years. The mobs that threatened the Believers will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2004
Hamilton Belt Railroad serving industries since 1898
By Jim Blount
When Champion began producing coated paper in May 1894, cases of paper started to customers on horse-drawn wagons over Hamilton's unpaved streets, either to a dock on the Miami-Erie Canal at the east end of High Street or to a railroad siding east of North Third Street. Incoming coal and raw materials was hauled by horse-drawn two-wheeled carts from the same rail siding to the paper mill on the west bank of the Great Miami River.
That clumsy, time-consuming system limited Champion and other West Side businesses until November 1898 when Champion shipped the first boxcar of paper over the tracks of the newly-built Hamilton Belt Railway.
The HBR looped from the Hamilton-Indianapolis mainline of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad near Millville and Edgewood avenues, across Main Street and along Two Mile Creek to North B Street, then south to the Champion and Semler mills.
The rail line was suggested in 1893 by Conrad Semler of the Semler flour mill on North B Street at Wayne Avenue. Semler found an ally in Peter G. Thomson, Champion's founder. Both men became directors of the railroad.
HBR was incorporated April 30, 1896, but continued to face obstacles. For example, county commissioners agreed March 30, 1897, to grant the railroad the right to cross county roads in its path, but rescinded that action the next day.
Aug. 3, 1898, Champion signed a contract guaranteeing to receive and dispatch at least 600 rail car loads a year.
The Belt Line gave Champion direct access to Hamilton's excellent rail network. in 1898, the CH&D north-south mainline linked the city to Cincinnati and the Ohio River to the south, and Dayton, Toledo and Detroit to the north. The Erie Railroad -- which had trackage rights over the CH&D -- provided service to Cleveland, New York and other eastern cities.
The Hamilton-Indianapolis mainline of the CH&D offered connections to St. Louis, Chicago and other western and upper Midwest cities. The Pennsylvania Railroad's Cincinnati-Chicago mainline also passed through Hamilton and connected to PRR western and eastern lines.
Under contracts with the HBR, the CH&D and later the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad operated one of Ohio's shortest railroads. Only three of Ohio's 90 railroads in the 1890s had fewer miles than the Belt Line's 2.95 miles of mainline track and 1.53 miles in yards and sidings. It cost $95,474.55 to build, an average of $21,311 per mile.
In November 1898. the Belt Line's first inbound train brought coal to the mill. Because of the unsteady condition of the new track, it took a steam switcher locomotive and a single coal car three hours to travel the five miles from the CH&D's South Hamilton yard. The first train crew included Billy Smith, conductor; Peter Brannon, engineer; C. W. (Dutch) Herman, fireman; and James (Dido) Smith, helper. At Champion, Samuel Mench, Joe Heitzman and Joe Fisher loaded paper on the first outbound cars to Chicago.
The Belt Line became Champion's lifeline, delivering raw materials and coal, hauling paper to printers, and later transporting customers on special trains to Hamilton for tours of the mill and promotion of its products.
The Belt Line acquired a new customer in 1901 when ground was broken along Main Street between Lawn and Cereal avenues for the American Frog & Switch Co. that manufactured railroad products there until 1949.
Jan. 1, 1926, the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized the B&O to take over ownerhsip of the Belt Line. Later, it passed to B&O successors, the Chessie System and CSX.
By 1926, Champion was dispatching 18 to 20 cars of paper daily, and bringing in an average of 144 box cars and 55 coal cars each week. By 1940, the Hamilton mill rail yards had more than 20 miles of track with several steam locomotives shuttling cars around the clock.
After World War II, trucks gradually replaced boxcars in Champion's transportation plans. By the early 1990s, the mill shipped no paper by rail. But the Belt Line continues to operate, bringing coal and materials to Smart Paper, a company that acquired the paper mill Jan. 8, 2001.
Since Oct. 1, 1988, switching service at the North B Street complex has been handled by the privately-owned Great Miami Railroad.