Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2004
Hamilton caravan honored Joe Nuxhall in June 1955
By Jim Blount
Some residents of northern Hamilton County and Cincinnati thought the Cold War had gone over the brink Tuesday evening, June 21, 1955. As they watched a caravan of 53 buses and 33 cars with police escorts speed south on Hamilton Avenue, it appeared Hamilton was being evacuated in that tense era of Brinkmanship. The diplomatic style of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was "to take chances for peace" as the United States, Communist China and the Soviet Union vied for world power. Dulles said "if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost."
The Journal-News said "farmers stopped plowing, kids stopped running and grandma stopped rocking on the front porch to watch the train of motor vehicles that stretched for nearly two miles." The cavalcade that assembled on Neilan Boulevard at 6:25 p.m. completed the trip in 35 minutes -- mostly over two-lane U. S. 127 via New Burlington, Mount Healthy and North College Hill.
There was no I-75 then. It wasn't until June 29, 1956 -- a year later -- that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956, authorizing the interstate highway network. The proposed roads -- whose purpose was Cold War defense -- were officially named National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
About 3,500 Hamiltonians weren’t leaving town because of a bombing threat June 21, 1955. They were on their way to salute a native son on the first Hamilton Night at Crosley Field as the Cincinnati Reds beat the New York Giants, 10-1.
The community trek also was called "Go for Joe Night" -- a time to honor Joe Nuxhall, who had first pitched for the Reds 11 years earlier as a 15-year-old just out of Wilson Jr. High School. He still ranks as the youngest person to play in a major league baseball game.
Nuxhall didn’t pitch that special night. He had hurled a complete game shutout two days earlier as the Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-0. Only one runner reached third base as Hamilton Joe won his sixth game of the season.
Nuxhall had an outstanding season for Cincinnati in 1955, one of the best of his 16 years in the major leagues. He pitched five shutouts and hurled 14 complete games while compiling a 17-12 won-lost record and a 3.47 earned run average. As a batter, Joe hit three home runs and batted in 30 runs. He also helped the National League win the 12-inning All-Star game that year.
Nuxhall was a bright spot as the 1955 Reds finished fifth in the eight-team National League with a 75-79 record. He pitched in 50 games, including 33 starts, and was credited with three saves as a reliever.
Crosley Field attendance June 21, 1955, was 13,628. The 25-minute pre-game program featured a parade around the field, led by the Hamilton High School band. Marchers included about 800 players from Hamilton Little League, Farm League and Babe Ruth teams and the Big Blue’s Famous 100 cheering section. Mayor Arthur Fiehrer presented Nuxhall the key to the city.
The caravan and program were sponsored by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Heading the planners were Ryan Hall, chamber president, and Bud Lotz, chairman of the chamber recreation committee.
Nuxhall’s 17 wins in 1955 was his single-season high. He had a 135-117 won-lost record in a career that started Saturday, June 10, 1944, when he pitched part of the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals before 5,469 fans at Crosley Field. After that game, the Reds sent the 15-year-old lefthander to the minor leagues to improve his control and gain experience.
In 1946 he was granted amateur status and excelled in baseball, football and basketball as a Hamilton High School senior, earning all-Ohio honors in the latter two sports.
Nuxhall returned to the Reds in 1952 and played most of the next 15 seasons in the major leagues. In April 1967, before the opening game, 38-year-old Hamilton Joe announced his retirement as a player and started a second career as a Reds broadcaster. (Cincinnati will pay tribute to Nuxhall’s 60 years as a player and broadcaster Saturday night, Sept. 18, when the Reds play the Cubs.)
Hamilton Night continued for several years after the 1955 debut. The 1956 event also honored a Butler County baseball hero, Darrtown’s Walter (Smokey) Alston, then the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Alston had led the Dodgers to their first World Series victory in 1955. His Dodgers would win three more series titles after moving to Los Angeles.
Hamilton Night in 1956 included 103 buses in a five and a half mile procession that took 11 minutes to pass. About 6,000 participants saw the Dodgers beat the Reds, 6-5, Wednesday, July 18 -- two days before an imaginary enemy plane dropped a hypothetical atomic bomb on Hamilton in a Civil Defense test. Hamilton was one of 76 target cities in "Operation Alert 1956," a Cold War exercise.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004
Did Underground Railroad operate in Butler County?
(This column is the first in a series on the slavery issue and the Underground Railroad in Butler County in conjunction with the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati).
By Jim Blount
How active was the Underground Railroad in Butler County before the Civil War? County histories published in the 19th and 20th centuries don’t mention the system of aiding and transporting slaves who had escaped from bondage in states south of the Ohio River.
The lack of written evidence is not surprising because of the secret nature of the network. While fleeing African-Americans feared capture by slave hunters, the Ohioans operating the Underground Railroad faced prosecution under state and federal laws. Keeping records or diaries increased the risks.
Another mystery is why the humanitarian effort is not mentioned in biographical sketches and obituaries published after the Civil War, when admission of participation in the Underground Railroad would have caused no legal repercussions.
Some stories about hiding places in the area -- often based on accounts passed orally through a few generations -- fail tests for accuracy. Some of the houses -- having secret rooms or chambers, concealed crawl spaces, or hideaways niches or tunnels leading from basements -- were built after the Civil War when such refuges weren’t needed.
If used for clandestine purposes, it is likely the allegedly stealthy places hid untaxed beer or whisky in the late 1800s or, later, bootleg liquor during Prohibition, 1919-1933. More likely, the underground passages were cellars for storing vegetables or cooling wine.
One of the enduring Hamilton legends was that a large house at the northwest corner of South Second Street and Pershing Avenue was a station on the Underground Railroad. It was reputed to have a tunnel running west to the banks of the Great Miami River. If so, that passage would have been dug under almost three blocks, or nearly a quarter of a mile. The house was demolished about 50 years ago.
"Although the Underground Railroad was a reality, much of the material relating to it belongs in the realm of folklore rather than history," wrote Larry Gara in his 1961 book, The Liberty Line, the Legend of the Underground Railroad.
One of the stereotypes of the system is that it was created and operated by sympathetic whites. But free blacks also were involved in helping slaves reach Canada, where they would be beyond the reach of U. S. fugitive slave laws. Despite it name, the escape network wasn’t a railroad and wasn’t a system of tunnels.
The Spread Eagle Tavern, a Butler County site reportedly associated with the Underground Railroad, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The tavern, now privately owned, is at 9797 Cincinnati-Columbus Road (U. S. 42) in West Chester Township.
In the early 1940s, the former stagecoach stop was called the Colonial Farm Restaurant or Colonial Inn.
The one-story brick house, also known as "the House of Seven Chimneys," was placed on the registry because of its Underground Railroad connection and its architectural style, Jeffersonian Classicism, according to Mary Ann Olding, a professor at the Union Institute and University and a historic preservationist.
An Ohio Underground Railroad web site says the Lebanon Pike stagecoach stop -- midway between Cincinnati and Dayton -- is the property mentioned in chapter nine of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The brief reference doesn’t mention the stop by name.
The building was once owned by the Rev. James D. Conrey, a Methodist minister and an active abolitionist. Conrey was said to be an associate of people known to have been involved in the Underground Railroad in Southwestern Ohio.
The site was owned by Jonathan Conrey and his second wife, Mary Ford Parish Conrey, from 1815 to 1827. It was sold in 1827 to his son, James D. Conrey and first wife, Anna Layman Conrey. They owned it until after the Civil War, reports the Ohio Underground Railroad Association web site.
"The Seven Chimenys is probably the oldest house still standing" in the township, wrote Virginia Shewalter in her 1976 book, History of Union Township, Butler County, Ohio. (Union Township was renamed West Chester Township in June 2000.
"The house has an unusual structure of 14 rooms built in a U-shape," she said. "A fireplace is in every room. In a basement room, which was probably the kitchen, there are two fireplaces. The walls are three bricks thick." Shewalter added. "There is a belief that before and during the Civil War, the tavern had been a stopover for slaves who fled north via the Underground Railroad."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2004
Levi Coffin directed 29 fugitive slaves through area
(This column is the second in a series on the slavery issue and the Underground Railroad in Butler County in conjunction with the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati).
By Jim Blount
Levi Coffin was known as the president of the Underground Railroad, a title reflecting his deep commitment to helping escaped slaves traveling through western Ohio and eastern Indiana. In recalling his experiences, Coffin told of a bold plot that successfully secreted 29 runaways through Butler County.
Their adventure began when the group, originally 28 people from the same part of Kentucky, crossed the Ohio River in darkness opposite the mouth of the Great Miami River, east of Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Leaky and overloaded boats nearly ended their flight before it began.
"The entire party waded out through mud and water and reached the [Ohio] shore safely, though all were wet, and several lost their shoes," wrote Coffin, who had started helping slaves escape while a teenager in his native North Carolina.
As daylight approached, "their plight was a most pitiable one," Coffin said. "They were cold, hungry and exhausted; those who had lost their shoes in the mud suffered from bruised and lacerated feet, while to add to their discomfort a drizzling rain fell during the latter part of the night."
"They could not enter the city [Cincinnati], for their appearance would at once proclaim them to be fugitives," explained Coffin, who eventually assumed responsibility for the fugitives.
Coffin had moved to Indiana in 1826, where he opened a store in Newport (later renamed Fountain City) in Wayne County, north of Richmond. Coffin’s house in Newport became a key station on the Underground Railroad. He and his family moved to Cincinnati in 1847, where his humane efforts continued, including his role in the passage of the Kentucky slaves.
To bypass Cincinnati, Coffin said he "suggested that someone should go immediately to a certain German livery stable in the city and hire two coaches, and that several colored men should go out in buggies and take the women and children from their hiding places, then the coaches and buggies should form a procession, as if going to a funeral, and march solemnly along the road leading to Cumminsville, on the west side of the Mill Creek."
The 28 escapees and their escorts headed for a cemetery, but didn’t stop there. Coffin said they were told to "continue on the Colerain Pike till they reached a right-hand road leading to College Hill," where "they would find a few colored families, living in the outskirts of the village, and could take refuge among them."
Coffin and Jonathan Cable, a Presbyterian minister and abolitionist who resided in College Hill, rounded up clothes, shoes and blankets from sympathetic residents and from the depository of the
Anti-Slavery Sewing Society. Coffin and Cable decided to forward the group to Canada "by way of Hamilton, West Elkton, Eaton, Paris, and Newport, Ind."
"I wrote to one of my particular friends at West Elkton [north of Seven Mile in Preble County], informing him that I had some valuable stock on hand which I wished to forward to Newport," Coffin said, "and requested him to send three two-horse wagons -- covered -- to College Hill, where the stock was resting."
"The three wagons arrived promptly at the time mentioned," Coffin explained, "and a little after dark took in the party, together with another fugitive who had arrived the night before, and whom we added to the company."
"They went through to West Elkton safely that night, and the next night reached Newport, Ind. With little delay they were forwarded on from station to station through Indiana and Michigan to Detroit, having fresh teams and conductors each night, and resting during the day," Coffin wrote.
Coffin’s story of his life, 1798-1877, was told in "Reminiscences of Levi Coffin." Coffin’s former residence in Fountain City, Ind., was purchased by the state in 1967 and opened to the public in 1970 after restoration. The Levi Coffin Historic Site on U. S. 27, nine miles north of Richmond, is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday until Aug. 31, and 1 to 4 on Saturdays in September and October. Call 765-847-2432 for information.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004
Ohio wasn’t safe haven for escaped slaves
(This column is the third in a series on the slavery issue and the Underground Railroad in Butler County in conjunction with the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati).
By Jim Blount
The free state of Ohio wasn’t a haven for escaped slaves. Crossing the Ohio River didn’t guarantee freedom or safety for runaways from southern states. Ohio and federal laws, if enforced, favored slave owners who pursued stray property, the legal term for those in servitude. Later, the law made everyone responsible for capturing fugitives. Freed African-Americans also were in peril.
A 1793 federal law granted slave owners and their agents -- commonly known as slave hunters or bounty hunters -- wide authority in all states. Warrants or the assistance of local authorities weren’t required. Interfering with the capture of an escapee could bring a fine up to $500 and a year in jail. The same penalties applied to people hiding a fugitive.
The law required that a captive be taken before a court. Proof of ownership had to be produced, but the word of the owner or hunter prevailed. The alleged fugitive didn’t have the right to testify in his or her defense -- even if the person was a free black, not a fugitive slave.
Less than a year after statehood, the Ohio General Assembly supplemented federal strictures.
"The presence of fugitive slaves in Ohio was evidently one of the reasons for the enactment of the Black Laws by the General Assembly in January 1804," wrote historian Wilbur H. Siebert. "These laws provided that any one harboring or secreting such ‘objectionable’ intruders, or obstructing their owners in retaking them should be fined from $10 to $50 for each offense. It also provided that the claimant, on making satisfactory proof of ownership of a slave before a magistrate within Ohio, would be entitled to a warrant directing the sheriff or constable to arrest and deliver the runaway to the claimant."
The 1804 Ohio law discouraged random apprehensions. Kidnapers -- those who didn’t have a title or proof of ownership -- were subject to a fine of $1,000, half for the state and half for the informer. A kidnaper also was liable to a damage suit by the injured person. The penalty was toughened in 1819 with conviction exacting from one to 10 years of hard labor in the Ohio Penitentiary.
In 1807, legislation required that no black or mulatto could migrate and settle in Ohio without giving, within 20 days, a $500 bond, with two competent sureties, to guarantee good behavior and to pay support if the person was unable to sustain himself. A person employing or hiding a person of color would forfeit not more than $100, half for the informer and the other half for the use of the poor of the township. That law remained in effect until 1849.
In February 1839, at the urging of representatives from the Kentucky legislature, "Ohio had a new law, The Ohio Fugitive Slave Law," wrote Ann Hagedorn in her 2002 book, Beyond the River, the Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad. Provisions included a maximum penalty of 60 days in the county jail and a $500 fine for anyone who prevented a law officer from arresting a runaway slave.
The penalties were the same for those convicted of aiding in the rescue of a fugitive from a law officer, slave owner or slave hunter; two or more people assembled with intent to stop the return of a fugitive; and anyone encouraging a slave to leave another state.
"Ohioans were largely indifferent to the law," Hagedorn wrote, and "saw the new law as weak, ineffectual, and little more than a business transaction between Ohio and Kentucky. It was designed to pacify their sister state along the river, and intended solely for political effect."
Slave states pressured the U. S. Congress in 1850 to approve a new fugitive slave law, aimed at crippling the Underground Railroad. It ordered fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail for persons aiding the flight or obstructing the arrest of fugitive slaves. It added $1,000 liability for runaways that couldn’t be reclaimed. Several previous clauses were retained, including denying fugitives a trial and their right to testify.
The federal law provided appointment of commissioners in all states. They could demand any person to aid in catching alleged fugitive slaves. Failure to cooperate included fines and imprisonment. When a slave was returned to the owner, the commissioner approving the order earned $10. If no return, the commissioner received only $5. A U. S. marshal or deputy allowing a fugitive to escape could be fined up to $1,000.
"The law threatened the freedom of all people of color in the North, whether or not fugitives," Hagedorn wrote. " And it obstructed the civil liberties of all persons, black or white, by demanding the participation of bystanders."
Negative reaction in Ohio included the General Assembly adopting a resolution protesting the federal law and urging its immediate repeal.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 29,2004
Miami University 'storm center' of slavery debate
(This column is the fourth in a series on the slavery issue and the Underground Railroad in Butler County in conjunction with the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati).
By Jim Blount
Miami University traces its origin to a federal land grant and an 1809 charter by the Ohio General Assembly, but the Oxford institution operated without state and federal funding during its "Old Miami" period. It "was virtually a Presbyterian stronghold during its first 50 years of existence," said James H. Rodabaugh. Church dominance involved the university in two debates -- "the strife which split the Presbyterians" and the direction of the anti-slavery movement, according to Rodabaugh.
"All of its presidents up to 1873 were Presbyterian ministers, and its trustees and professors were, in general, members of that denomination," said Rodabaugh, a Miami history professor, in a 1938 address.
The seven university presidents during that span were Robert Hamilton Bishop, 1824-41; George Junkin, 1841-44; Erasmus D. McMaster, 1945-49; William C. Anderson, 1849-54; John W. Hall, 1854-66; Robert L. Stanton, 1866-71; and Andrew D. Hepburn, 1871-73.
Miami wasn't unique, observed Walter Havighurst, a more recent writer on the school's history. "In those years the Presbyterian Church dominated state-created colleges in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana," he noted.
Havighurst said Bishop, Miami's first president, was "a national leader in the church," and "chairman of a committee which awarded Presbyterian scholarships to college students. In the 1830's the Presbyterian Education Society sent scores of students to Miami and contributed nearly $2,000 in the form of scholarships."
"Miami became a storm center of two great controversies which rocked the national church," Rodabaugh said, "first, the controversy between liberal and orthodox Presbyterians; second, the struggle between slavery and anti-slavery forces of the church; with each group fighting for the control of the university."
Bishop, a native of Scotland, taught at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., from 1804 until coming to Oxford in 1824.
"The anti-slavery movement was accepted by the social reformer, Bishop, with open arms," said Rodabaugh. He said the professor of moral philosophy, logic and criticism "was involved in difficulties at Translyvania which were so unsettling as to force him to welcome an opportunity to leave the institution." One of his transgressions was forming Sunday schools for blacks in the Lexington area, actions that "more than once" called him before a grand jury.
Three years after arriving in Oxford, Bishop was the first vice president of the newly-formed Ohio State Colonization Society, a group that advocated relocating freed slaves to Africa.
Among Bishop's supporters was the Rev. John W. Scott, a Miami professor whose daughter, Caroline Scott, would become First Lady in 1889 as the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, an 1852 Miami graduate. Rodabaugh said Bishop and Scott "wished to see the church declare slavery a sin" and believed "that the problem of abolition was an educational one, and it was therefore the responsibility of the church through its ministers to teach some means of abolishing slavery."
Among those disagreeing with Bishop were some faculty members and some trustees, including people on both sides of the slavery debate. Rodabaugh said "the colonizationist and pro-slavery groups condemned him [Bishop] because he was too radically opposed to slavery."
Using his liberal discipline policies as an excuse, trustees ended Bishop's presidency in 1841.
During its turbulent formative years -- up to the start of the Civil War -- Miami trustees from Butler County included 29 men from a range of professions and businesses, leaders in a variety of civic endeavors and elected officials at the local, county, state and national levels of government..
Butler County trustees serving between 1809 and 1861 were John Reily, Thomas Irwin, James McBride, James Shields, David K. Este, Daniel Millikin, Henry Weaver, Matthew G. Wallace, Benjamin Collett, James Clark, Arthur Elliott, Alexander Proudfit, Stephen Gard, David MacDill, Michael R. Sargeant, John C. Dunlevy, John B. Weller, E. D. Cruikshank, James Graham, Elijah Vance, Robert B. Millikin, Fergus Anderson, Herman B. Mayo, John W. Scott, James B. King, William R. Kinder, William Beckett, Calvin G. Goodrich and John M. Millikin.
Bishop's controversial successor will be the topic of a future column.