Journal-News, Wednesday, April 6, 2005
Last run on Miami-Erie Canal unheralded event
By Jim Blount
There was no ceremony and little notice when the last canalboat pulled out of Hamilton almost 90 years ago. In fact, later the man who claimed to have been the pilot on the final run wasn’t sure of the date. Bertus Garfield Havens recalled his unheralded experience on the Miami-Erie Canal decades later.
"She was the Lady Hamilton," a boat built in Hamilton," Havens said in a letter written in 1974, recalling what he believed was the last trip from Hamilton. "I pulled her (from what is now the intersection of High Street and Erie Highway in Hamilton) . . . down to Lockland’s collector locks" where "another crew took her to Cincinnati, just below 12th Street," said Havens, who wasn’t sure if the year was 1914 or 1915.
In Cincinnati, wheels were placed under the Lady Hamilton and she was towed a short distance to the Ohio River. From there, she was transported to Chicago for service on a canal in that area.
Havens -- who insisted he was "the last of the old canal boatmen" -- was born Jan. 27, 1882, in Hamilton, when the canal was already in decline. It had opened from Middletown south to Hamilton in the summer of 1827, and extended to Cincinnati later that year. Eventually it connected the Ohio River at Cincinnati and Lake Erie at Toledo.
Canal use peaked as the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad opened in 1851. The bulk of passenger and freight soon transferred from the canal to the railroad. The 249-mile state-funded Miami-Erie system gradually fell into disrepair. By the 1870s, communities along the waterway considered it a health hazard instead of an important transportation system.
At age 21, Havens was in Troop H, 8th U. S. Cavalry, at Jefferson Barracks, south of St. Louis, about to start an 18-month term in the Philippines. Later he was a mounted policeman in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before returning to Hamilton to work on the canal in its final years.
"The canal was about 90 years old when I was on it," he said. "The traffic was light and about to end." He said drivers were paid $18 a month, plus board, while he was employed.
"I worked on what they called the electric mule, which was a failure," he recalled. "They tried to pull two and three boats at a time," which, he said, "was okay if they went slow, each boat behind the other."
"But when they would go fast, it would push all the water out of the canal and ahead of the boats, and then the back boats slid on the mud in the bottom and the tow line would break. Then the boats would stop, the water would rush back, and boats would bob around."
The electric mules were small locomotives that replaced horses and mules to pull boats. The new system also required installation of rails and overhead trolley wires.
The Miami-Erie -- which wasn’t officially closed until 1929 -- once had at least eight ports in Butler County: Middletown, Amanda, Excello, LeSourdsville, Hamilton, Port Union, Rialto and Crescentville.
In the mid 1930s, Erie Highway in Hamilton and Verity Parkway in Middletown were built over the former canalbed. Patterson Boulevard in Dayton and Central Parkway in Cincinnati also were constructed over the former canal right-of-way.
Havens later was employed by the U. S. Navy as an instrument maker for 30 years, working at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from 1940 to 1952.
His wife, Lillian Havens, died in Honolulu Sept. 17, 1951. Mrs. Havens had served in the Woman’s Army Corps (WACS).
He died Nov. 12, 1981, in Campbell, Calif., less than three months before his 100th birthday. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton under a tombstone that proudly proclaims that Havens was the last of the canal boatmen in this area.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Frechtling-Wilmurs building core of Hamilton retailing
By Jim Blount
The core of downtown Hamilton retailing for more than 130 years is vanishing. The northeast corner of Second and High streets was best known as the site of the Frechtling store for 78 years, Wilmurs for 32 years and a part of the Elder-Beerman complex for about 28 years. Demolition of the building also is taking away part of the structure that housed local and traveling stage shows and musical events, dances, lectures, public and political meetings and conventions.
In 1854 Robert Beckett built a three-story brick building that included a bank and a dry goods store on the first floor, and a piano dealer and a newspaper on the second floor.
The third floor was an auditorium, Beckett's Hall, complete with a stage and dressing rooms. A Presbyterian congregation met there in 1854 while building a new church. The hall was used extensively into the 1870s.
The first of many community events was a Christmas Eve firemen's ball, attracting about 300 people. Horace Greeley, a New York newspaper editor, lectured March 9, 1855, the first of many national personalities to appear in Beckett's Hall. During the Civil War (1861-65) frequent dime-a-dance parties helped fund the local relief commission that supported families of Butler County soldiers.
Brothers Henry and William C. Frechtling started the retail succession with their popular "double store" -- a term meaning they sold both groceries and dry goods, a rarity in the 1850s.
Henry Frechtling -- born Dec. 2, 1823, in the former German state of Hanover -- went to work full time at age 15 and learned stone masonry by 17. He migrated to the U. S. in 1845, working briefly as a lamplighter in New Orleans before moving to Cincinnati and Liberty, Ind. He came to Hamilton in 1853, utilizing his stonemason skills in supervising the building of the Junction Railroad's bridge over the Great Miami River between Hamilton and Rossville.
William C. Frechtling -- born May 19, 1837, also in Hanover -- came to Hamilton at age 18. He had learned cigar-making while living in Cincinnati, but in Hamilton he clerked in the store of Conrad Getz, formerly a neighbor in Germany.
In 1856, the brothers opened the H. & W. Frechtling Co., a partnership that continued for 23 years. It became W. C. Frechtling & Co. in 1879 when William bought Henry's share of the business. The business continued under family direction after the death of William C. Frechtling July 1, 1902. In April 1931, the store at Second and High streets marked its 75th anniversary with the fourth generation of the family involved in its operation.
The store closed Dec. 24, 1934 -- during the Great Depression -- and furnishings and equipment were auctioned Dec. 28. The next day it was reported that a new company, Wilmurs Inc., had leased the Frechtling building at 202-206 High Street.
Wilmurs opened Thursday, March 14, 1935. An ad said "because we will sell for cash only, we will be able to offer you merchandise at the lowest possible prices." The entire staff of the Frechtling store was among the original 40 Wilmurs employees.
Also retained was "the weighing scale which for so many years was in the W. C. Frechtling Company Store for Hamiltonians to use free of charge." It was loaned to Wilmurs by the Frechtling family, and was "given a place of honor in the new store" for many years.
In 1950 -- before malls started competing with downtown stores -- Wilmurs full-time employment reached 200 with another 100 hired during peak periods. The store had 12 buyers who doubled as department managers. "Each of these persons also waits on customers to keep in touch with what the public wants," the company explained.
Wilmurs was named by William Murstein, who gave parts of his name to the popular department store he operated for 32 years. Murstein, a World War I marine, had learned retailing in Youngstown and Cleveland before coming to Hamilton.
Murstein expanded the business several times. The largest was in 1956, when the entire store was remodeled and realigned, and property at the northeast corner of Second and Market streets was acquired and converted into a 3,000-square-foot home furnishings department. Also added then was a free customer parking lot with parking attendants on the north side of Market Street.
Murstein died June 6, 1967, less than a month after he sold the business. May 11, 1967, Wilmurs had been purchased by Elder-Beerman Stores of Dayton. In the $2.5 million transaction Beerman acquired Wilmurs stock from Murstein and members of the Murstein family.
Elder-Beerman used part of the Frechtling⁄Wilmurs site until the late 1990s. The property was purchased for $65,100 at auction in June 2004 by a developer.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Celebration closed Miami-Erie Canal in 1929
By Jim Blount
Optimism overshadowed nostalgia in 1929 during Middletown's Towpath Jubilee, a celebration of the closing of the Miami-Erie Canal, the waterway that once connected the Ohio River and Lake Erie. The event climaxed with dedication of a marker at the Yankee Road canal bridge, the spot where the first spade of earth had been turned 104 years earlier.
Two governors -- DeWitt Clinton of New York and Jeremiah Morrow of Ohio -- had headlined the notables participating in the July 21, 1825, groundbreaking ceremonies at that same Middletown location.
Two years later, the state-owned canal reached south to Hamilton and Cincinnati. It eventually stretched north to Dayton and Toledo, opening new markets for farmers and businessmen along its 249-mile course.
Traffic on the Miami-Erie and other Ohio canals peaked in the 1850s before newly-built railroads took away much of their business. By the early 1900s, the seldom-used canal was considered a health hazard in the communities it had once helped to prosper.
In 1927, the Ohio General Assembly approved a bill introduced by Sen. Dave DeArmond of Hamilton that permitted draining and filling of the canal.
Middletown's canal closing activities began at midnight the evening of Friday, Nov. 1, 1929, when water was turned off at the state feeder dam north of the city. The next day, Saturday, Nov. 2, the Towpath Jubilee included a luncheon at the Manchester Hotel, a parade with a transportation theme and ceremonies at the 1825 groundbreaking site.
While noting the historic economic significance of the waterway, the emphasis at all events was on the future. The Middletown Journal said the purpose of the canal "memorialization ceremonies" is to "rededicate it to its original purpose -- transportation."
"We are here to speed the passing of the old and defunct form of transportation and to welcome a coming institution which we foresee in the proposed super highway," said George M. Verity. "We celebrate the passing of an old, slow form of travel and witness the instigation of a new form of travel which is suited to the time and is most necessary to modern needs," said the president the American Rolling Mill Co. (Armco).
Other speakers -- representing government and business -- echoed the idea of converting the state-owned canal right-of-way into a super highway.
Officials wasted no time in pushing the project. As crowds dispersed in Middletown that Saturday afternoon, members of the Miami-Erie Super Highway Association started a meeting. The group approved a motion to appoint a sub committee to cooperate with the Ohio highway department in developing plans for a modern roadway linking Toledo and Cincinnati.
But dire events of the preceding days dampened the enthusiasm of the jubilee. Earlier that week, the stock market had suffered a dramatic setback, known as "Black Tuesday" (Oct. 29, 1929), the date generally regarded as the start of the Great Depression.
Eventually, the collapse of the nation's economy would both aid and hinder plans for the north-south super highway over the canal route.
Depression-fighting programs initiated by the federal government provided funds to several Ohio cities to build portions of the desired highway. This included Erie Highway in Hamilton, Verity Parkway in Middletown, Patterson Boulevard in Dayton and Central Parkway in Cincinnati.
But lengthy rural links remained two-lane roads. Hopes for filling those gaps faded as the Depression of the 1930s ran into construction restrictions of the World War II years (1941-45).
In the mid 1950s, when the interstate highway system was designed, the federal government's plans for I-75 didn't incorporate the completed sections of the proposed canal super highway.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, April 27, 2005
1950 merger made Fairfield name available in Butler County
By Jim Blount
The City of Fairfield will observe its 50th anniversary in October, but there was a Fairfield, Ohio, for many years before the Butler County community became a municipality Oct. 20, 1955. Fairfield in Greene County ceased to exist before Fairfield in Butler County was formed. The "old" Fairfield and the "new" Fairfield have caused some confusion for genealogists and researchers checking old newspapers, official records and others documents.
The "new" Fairfield was part of -- and took its name from -- Fairfield Township, one of the five original townships established in Butler County May 10, 1803, a little more than two months after Ohio became a state.
Fairfield started as the Village of Fairfield, created when township voters approved its incorporation in a special election July 10, 1954, to stop Hamilton from annexing land in the township. The City of Fairfield was formed 15 months later after a special census set its population at 6,202 people.
If that sequence of events had happened about five year earlier, the Fairfield name wouldn't have been available to founders of the new Butler County community.
Fairfield -- formerly a village in Greene County, east of Dayton -- traces it history to a log house built in 1799. Forty acres with 151 lots were plotted in 1816 on the road between Dayton and Springfield. Village population peaked at about 500 people in 1850.
In June the previous year, the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad -- that had started at Sandusky in northern Ohio -- had laid 134.5 miles of track, reaching Springfield. When the railroad sought an extension to Dayton, it met resistance in Fairfield. Instead, the MR&LE right-of-way was built about a mile west of the village.
The railroad that entered Dayton in 1851 would later combine with the Cincinnati, Dayton & Eastern, the first line to enter Middletown (July 1872), to become part of the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway (CCC&I), better known as the Big Four. Corporate successors for the line that runs through eastern Butler County include the New York Central, Penn Central and Conrail before control passed June 1, 1999, to the Norfolk Southern.
When Fairfield rejected the railroad, others welcomed it. A new village was laid out in 1850 about a mile and half northwest of Fairfield -- including a 300-foot wide street straddling the Mad River tracks.
The new town -- recorded in 1851 and incorporated in 1876 -- was called Osborn, taking its name from a railroad superintendent. It gradually surpassed neighboring Fairfield in population. Henry Howe, in his 1888 book, Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio, said Fairfield had 380 residents while Osborn numbered 656 people.
About 25 years later, two events transformed Fairfield and Osborn. They were the March 1913 flood and the development of an army flying school and aviation depot in 1916, the start of what became Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The flood led to the creation of the Miami Conservancy District, charged with building a flood prevention system along the Great Miami River corridor. The MCD plan included retarding basins formed by earthen dams.
Because it was in the flood plain that would form behind the Huffman Dam, Osborn had to be demolished or moved. Village leaders chose relocation, and the Osborn Removal Co. was formed. About 400 buildings were moved about two miles to the new village site on Fairfield's eastern border. Meanwhile, Fairfield gained recognition as the home of the military flying field, known in 1918 as the Fairfield Air Depot.
Fairfield and Osborn operated side by side as separate villages until voters approved a merger in 1949. Effective Jan. 1, 1950, the combined village became Fairborn, taking parts of the names of the former neighboring towns.
The merger made it possible to adopt the name Fairfield for the new Butler County village in 1954 that a year later became a city.