Journal-News, Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Rising river major concern during winter of 1958-59
By Jim Blount
The highest river level and most serious flooding since 1913, Hamilton's official all-time low temperature and an ill-timed 12-inch snow in late March highlighted the area's three worst winters from 1958 through 1968. Two of the seasons are candidates for a listing of the area's most severe winters.
The winter of 1958-59 didn't get started until Jan. 15. A 54-degree temperature drop started that afternoon, plunging to a low of zero the morning of Jan. 16, accompanied by an inch of snow. Thermometers jumped to 33 that afternoon, then down to three below zero Sunday, Jan. 17. A byproduct of the yo-yo weather was icy streets and sidewalks and a rash of frozen car doors and locks. A sign of impending trouble was the appearance of some ice floes in the Great Miami River.
About two inches of snow fell early the next week, turning to rain the morning of Jan. 20. The next 24 hours brought three inches of rain in Hamilton and 4.1 inches in Oxford. The Great Miami River at Hamilton rose from a docile 2.6 feet at 8 a.m. Jan. 20 to a threatening 11.46 feet 24 hours later as the rain continued.
The frozen ground couldn't absorb the rain and melting snow, causing flooded basements, streets and low-lying areas. A state of emergency was declared in Fairfield where Pleasant Avenue (U. S. 127) was under water north of Symmes Road.
It was raining up river, too -- including 4.81 inches of rain Jan. 20-21 in Dayton, most of it on the 21st. The Great Miami River in Hamilton peaked at 11 p.m. Jan. 21 at 21.8 feet, its highest level since the March 1913 flood. This time Hamilton was protected by the flood-protection works of the Miami Conservancy District -- dams, reservoirs, levees and channelization. Previous post-1913 highs had been 17.4 feet twice, Jan. 22, 1937, and March 20, 1943.
Hundreds of families were forced out of flooded areas in New Miami and Ross Township, including some who had to be rescued. A five-year-old Ross girl drowned during a rescue attempt. Later, the Hamilton Chapter of the American Red Cross reported assisting more than 400 people in 100 families in Ross and about 1,750 people in 400 families in New Miami.
Two bridges washed out on state highways -- Ohio 128 north of U. S. 27 at Indian Creek in Ross Township and Ohio 127 north of Hamilton at Seven Mile. High water also blocked Ohio 73 at the Trenton bridge, U. S. 127 between Seven Mile and Collinsville, and Ohio 128⁄U. S. 50 Bypass south of Ross.
Jan. 27-28, 1959, hazardous driving and walking conditions continued with more snow, freezing rain, fog and a low of seven degrees the morning of Jan. 28. The good news was that by 8 am. that day the river had dropped to 5.96 feet..
The winter of 1962-63 produced record low temperatures mixed with periodic snow and freezing rain. Hamilton readings included minus 16 Jan. 24, 1963, breaking a 26-year-old record; and 21 below Jan. 28, an all-time local record, exceeding the minus 20 low of Jan. 19-20, 1918. The Jan. 29 low of minus 12 was the seventh day below zero since Dec. 12. Snow totaled 7.5 inches in Hamilton in January.
February produced more snow, starting with 2.5 inches Feb. 1. The season's eighth sub-zero low came Feb. 22, a record minus five.
Nine Cincinnati lows and six for Dayton from 1962-63 remained records for those dates as 2005 started.
The winter of 1967-68 saved a major punch for March 22-23. Twelve inches of snow fell in the Hamilton area the afternoon and evening of Friday, March 22, as the temperature fell from 41 to 20.
That created problems for Garfield High School fans trying to drive to Columbus for the Ohio high school basketball semifinals. The Griffins beat Lima that night to advance to the finals, but many of their supporters missed the game. Some were slipping and crawling along I-71. Others turned back before reaching Lebanon.
Less than an inch of additional snow fell here Saturday, March 23, but roads remained slippery as Garfield lost to Columbus East in the championship game that night.
Future columns will look back at earlier severe winters in the Hamilton area.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Public whipping drew crowd to courthouse square
By Jim Blount
A public whipping of a criminal in the courthouse square in Hamilton attracted a curious early morning crowd in the early 19th century. The culprit was a horse thief in what is reported as the only legal use of the punishment in Butler County. The exact date isn't listed, but the account in the 1882 county history identifies the judge and the sheriff involved. It also explains the humane role of the sheriff's wife.
Circumstantial evidence places the case to between 1813 and 1817. James McBride was elected Butler County sheriff twice, in 1813 and 1815. Judge Francis Dunlevy was appointed to the common pleas bench in 1803 and served 14 years.
Dunlevy's circuit included more than Butler County. It extended from Hamilton and Clermont counties on the south to Miami and Champaign counties on the north. His work required crossing both the Great Miami and Little rivers "at every season of the year, then without any bridges, in all that time he only missed one court," said the 1882 history. "He often swam these rivers on horseback, when very few others would have ventured to cross them."
The 1882 county history said "a boarder at the tavern of William Murray, on Front Street, went one morning to the stable of the tavern to see to his horse. He found the stable and the stall, but the horse was missing. The sheriff was informed of the facts, and the officers were put upon the scent.
"After a few days' search, horse and thief were found at Lebanon, and at once brought back to Hamilton. The thief, whose name was William Gray, was taken before the court, Judge Dunlevy presiding, and his guilt plainly proved.
"In those days Ohio had no penitentiary, and punishment of criminals was generally a public cowhiding. Judge Dunlevy sentenced Gray to 39 lashes on his bare back, to be inflicted by the sheriff in the courthouse square, allowing the culprit a few days to prepare himself for the ordeal," said the 1882 history.
Why 39 lashes? Possibly because some New England colonial laws had set the limit at 40 lashes. That maximum is believed to have been based on a Biblical source (Deuteronomy 25:2 and 25:3: "And it shall be, if the wicked man [be] worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten . . . . Forty stripes he may give him, [and] not exceed . . . .").
It was Sheriff McBride's responsibility to secure the whip and to administer the whipping. "In those days," the 1882 history said, "cowhides were the only whips in use, and could be found in bunches of 25 and 50 hung up for sale in every grocery. Selecting a good stiff whip, the sheriff returned home and laid it by."
Apparently without his knowledge, the sheriff's wife, Hannah Lytle McBride, took action.
"She thought the punishment excessive and anti-Christian, and thought she could devise some method to render the punishment less painful," noted the 1882 history. "She thought that if the stiffness should be taken out of the cowhide, the blows would be less painful, and the idea no sooner reached her brain than she put it into execution. The cowhide was placed in a pan of grease and thoroughly soaked and then tied up and placed away in greasy rags."
"The day before the culprit was to undergo his punishment," the account continued, "Mrs. McBride turned over the doctored cowhide to the sheriff."
The day before scheduled whipping, "people began flocking into the village from all points within a radius of 60 miles. They came in wagons and on foot from Connersville, Liberty and Brookville, Indiana, and from Warren and Montgomery counties, Ohio."
Some of the visitors missed the spectacle because "Sheriff McBride arose from his bed before it was light and hastily made all the arrangements necessary, and before the sun was fairly up William Gray was tied to a scaffold post on the south side of the courthouse, which at that date was not finished," said the 1882 history.
"The doctored cowhide was brought out, and the horse thief received his 39 lashes while yet half the people were in their beds. Several of the blows brought the blood to the surface, but owing to the wit of Mrs. McBride the punishment was by no means as severe as it could, and perhaps should, have been.
"Notwithstanding the early hour, however, the punishment was witnessed by a large number of persons who had reached the square early, anticipating such a move on the part of the sheriff."
After the whipping, Gray was held in jail several days while his back healed. When released, he was ordered to leave Butler County. He was the first and last person subjected to a public whipping in the county, according to the 1882 history.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Mason growth erased its popular farm town image
By Jim Blount
The visible evidence that agriculture once dominated the economy and lifestyle of southeastern Butler County and southwestern Warren County has almost disappeared. Residential and commercial development in both areas have met at the county line. Mason -- a symbol of a small farming town for decades -- was Ohio's sixth fastest growing city between 1990 and 2000, and the pace has continued into the 21st century.
The Warren County city -- with 4,727 residents in 1970 -- experienced a 92.2 percent population increase in the last census, from 11,452 people in 1990 to 22,016 in 2000. Of its 8,127 housing units, 47 percent (3,808) were built in the 1990s. The census also noted that 42.6 percent of Mason's residents were living outside the county as recently as 1995.
With updated estimates of at least 25,000 people and about 500 businesses, Mason has shed the farm town image that it cherished for much of its existence.
Its history started in 1803 -- the year Ohio became the 17th state -- and shortly after the newly-formed Ohio General Assembly created some new counties, including Butler and Warren.
Major William Mason, a U. S. Army veteran of the 1790s Indian wars in this region, paid $1,700 for 640 acres June 1, 1803. In 1815 he platted 18 lots on what became downtown Mason. He called the village Palmira. Later, it was spelled Palmyra, but the small settlement also had another name.
When a post office was created July 27, 1829, William N. Kirkwood was the postmaster. As often the practice, the town was called Kirkwood. Residents petitioned postal officials to rename it Palmyra, but were rejected because Ohio already had a PO by that name in Portage County.
Instead, the new name honored the community's founder. Effective April 25, 1835, the post office was renamed Mason. It was incorporated as a village Jan. 22, 1839.
By 1900, Mason had 629 inhabitants and most of its business relied on agriculture in surrounding Warren County. It was on the route of the Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern Railroad Co., incorporated in 1885 to operate from Cincinnati north through Mason and Lebanon to Waynesville. The CL&N, with the Dayton, Lebanon & Cincinnati, formed a 54.2-mile link between Cincinnati and Dayton.
In 1922, Cincinnati's pioneer radio station, WLW, was licensed. After surviving its infancy, Powell Crosley Jr., its owner, was determined that WLW would be a super station.
In 1933, Crosley began building an 831-foot transmitter for "The Nation's Station." The tower was on the outskirts of Mason at the northwest intersection of Tylersville and Reading roads (Ohio 42). WLW started broadcasting on the superpower transmitter in dramatic style. May 2, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a golden key in the White House to initiate broadcasting. It was the same key President Woodrow Wilson had used to open the Panama Canal.
The powerful transmitter was more than visible to Mason residents. Rose Marie Springman, a Mason historian, said WLW "programming could be sent for thousands of miles, but in Mason those living near the station had a constant light supply automatically from the facility. Those familiar with electricity rigged wiring to light up their yards. The radio programming could be heard whenever a person stood near a downspout on a building in the vicinity." She said "after five years, the wattage was dramatically decreased and the free power was ceased."
The proximity of the WLW transmitter was a factor in deciding the site for the Voice of America transmitters in Butler County during World War II. Bethany Station -- the VOA's original name -- in adjacent West Chester Twp. used 10 transmitters to broadcast to Europe, Africa and South America. The government built VOA in 1943 with the aid of Crosley Broadcasting Corp.
After the war -- when gas and tires were no longer rationed -- the VOA and WLW transmitters attracted local sightseers. But the towers weren't the only reason people drove to Mason.
Just south of Mason on Ohio 42, Powell Crosley Jr. bought a working farm in 1940 to provide a realistic background for the station's farm programs. From 1941, WLW's daily agriculture shows originated from the Little White Studio on the farm, described on the air as "Everybody's Farm," that expanded to 750 acres. Thousands visited the farm annually to watch the programs and tour the facility.
The Little White Studio, "Everybody's Farm," the Voice of America towers and most of the farms that surrounded them are gone. Only the WLW transmitter remains, overlooking more than 100,000 people who, according to the 2000 census, now reside in West Chester and Liberty townships in Butler County and the adjoining City of Mason in Warren County.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Severe 1935-36 winter added to Depression problems
By Jim Blount
The winter of 1935-36 was a cruel one with prolonged freezing spells dotted by moderate snow and conditions that coated surfaces with ice and created menacing ice jams in creeks and the Great Miami River. It caused costly damage to private property and public facilities when residents and local governments were beginning to realize some relief from the Great Depression.
Since 1930, individuals, families, businesses, institutions and county, city, village and township governments had lost income. Federal relief programs had provided some help to the unemployed. But local governments also had to assume some financial responsibility for relief and recovery. They didn't need the added expense that came with a severe winter.
The 1935-36 winter began with some frigid December days -- one below zero Christmas Day 1935; minus six Dec. 26, with 3.5 inches of snow in Hamilton in four hours and drifts three to four feet high; and a record low of nine below Dec. 29. That was followed by about three mild weeks with temperatures ranging between 32 and 57.
Cincinnati shivered at minus 16 Jan. 21, 1936, the coldest day there since Feb. 9, 1899. Hamilton reported 16 below the next morning, Jan. 22. Snow and wind also hit the area that morning, representing the southern edge of a blizzard over west-central Ohio. Snow reports that morning varied from three inches in Okeana and Shandon, to four inches in West Chester, and an inch and a half in Hamilton. Drifts of more than a foot clogged some rural roads and visibility was less than 50 feet for about 30 minutes. The 16 below was called Hamilton's coldest night since 1917.
Hamilton posted another 16 below Jan. 23, wiping out the previous record of 12 below Jan. 18, 1930. Lower readings included minus 24 at West Chester, minus 20 at Oxford and Collinsville, and 19 below in Ross. Hamilton schools reported 50 percent attendance. County schools closed because buses had frozen radiators and brakes. Passenger trains through Hamilton were running three hours late.
It was just the start. Jan. 31 the low was seven below -- the sixth time in nine days it was under zero. The high in that period was 10 above. The average temperature for the month was 24.41 degrees, the coldest January since 1918. Only one death was reported, a man, 65, who died of exposure after he was found on a road near Ross.
A newspaper said the "frost is going deeper and deeper into the soil" and "city water lines have been damaged and farmers are anticipating the muddiest spring in years." More than 900 city meters froze and there were no new meters to replace them. Large cakes of ice were floating in the Great Miami River.
February followed the January pattern -- some snow, freezing rain, sleet and more freezing temps. The ice became so thick in some fields and yards that people cut blocks to use in their ice boxes. Dealers were able to supply coal for heating, but they weren't overstocked.
Feb. 13-14 the focus turned to the rising river as rain helped melt ice and snow. Blocks of ice up to 19 inches thick were seen on the Great Miami between Middletown and Hamilton. The Journal-News said "hundreds of persons lined the river banks late Thursday afternoon [Feb. 13] when the ice jam broke above the dam north of Black Street, and cakes of ice began to flow downstream."
Elsewhere, 28 county roads were impassable because of water ranging from 15 inches to four feet deep and ice chunks up four inches thick.
The most serious situation was southwest of Middletown and northeast of Trenton where a Cincinnati & Lake Erie Traction Co. bridge crossed the Great Miami River. At 8 p.m. Feb. 13 the ice jam above the C&LE bridge was dynamited, but that didn't prevent the loss of a 50-foot section of the 325-foot bridge. Interurban passengers had to be bused around the disruption.
The bridge collapse was one of several factors that led to abandonment of interurban service in May 1939. (The bridge piers remain visible west of South Main Street near Barnitz Stadium in Middletown.)
The low Feb. 20 was minus five -- the 12th and last time the low was below zero since Dec. 25, 1935. Feb. 25 the temperature reached 62 degrees, the fourth straight day above 50 and the warmest since 63 on Nov. 11, 1935.
Besides the C&LE bridge, the winter of 1935-36 left people, businesses and local governments facing costly repairs caused by the sequence of freezing and thawing and the force and weight of ice and snow. The list included damaged streets and roads, broken and damaged water mains and gas lines, utility repairs and sagging roofs.
The crippling costs of the winter of 1935-36 continued into the unusually hot summer of 1936 that included 13 days of 100 or above and six deaths attributed to the extreme heat.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Fate of John Filson one of area's earliest mysteries
By Jim Blount
One of the region's earliest and lasting mysteries is the disappearance of John Filson, a man of varied talents and interests who was involved in the settlement of Kentucky and the Symmes Purchase in the late 1780s. Unlike most of his colleagues on the frontier, the Pennsylvania native was not an Indian fighter. His reputation wasn't based on scalps. He earned regard as a surveyor, cartographer, teacher and historian. Filson's legacy includes recording and popularizing the exploits of Daniel Boone.
Filson was born Dec. 10, 1753, at East Fallowfield in Chester County, Pa. He was educated in Chester County schools and, according to some sources, at West Nottingham Academy in Colora, Md. He returned to Chester County to teach. Some historians note that Filson, a pacifist, continued to teach rather than fight during the American Revolution. His first trip to Kentucky, then part of Virginia, was in the fall of 1783. He acquired thousands of acres of land in the unsettled area. In addition to surveying, Filson taught school and began interviewing early settlers. Within a year he completed a map and a book about the rugged wilderness. The Discovery, Settlement, And Present State Of Kentucke was published in October 1784. They were sold separately and as a package, and were available in French and German editions. Profits from the book and map weren't Filson's only motive. They were intended to promote interest in settlement in Virginia's western county and create buyers for Filson's Kentucky land, reported at more than 12,300 acres.
The most popular part of the Kentucky book was "The Adventures Of Colonel Daniel Boon" , an appendix. Although described as autobiography, it was written by Filson in a first-person style with information and tales obtained in interviews with the frontiersman. Contemporaries agree that Boone, who lacked formal education, could not have written it. The ghostwritten autobiogrpahy was responsible for elevating Boone to hero status. Boone promoted the book by vouching for its accuracy.
Daniel Boone was born Nov. 2, 1734, in Berks County, Pa. In 1751 or 1752, he moved to the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina.
The first of his several ventures into the Kentucky wilderness was in the fall of 1767. Later, Boone directed axmen in cutting a road -- Boone's Trace -- through the Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River where in the spring of 1775 the frontiersmen built Fort Boone, later called Boonesborough.
In early 1778, at Blue Licks in northeastern Kentucky, Boone and others were captured by Indians and taken north of the Ohio River. After more than five months in captivity, Boone escaped June 16, 1778, making the 160-mile trip to Boonesborough in four days.
In 1881, while a Virginia legislator, Boone was captured when the British stormed Charlottesville, Va. Later that year he was back in Kentucky fighting Indians. His men were caught in an Indian ambush at Blue Licks Aug. 19, 1782. Boone escaped, but his son, Israel, was killed in what is considered one of the last battles of the American Revolution.
In 1799 -- seven years after Kentucky became a state -- Boone moved to Missouri, then a Spanish possession. He died there Sept. 26, 1820. About 25 years later his body was removed to a plot in Frankfort Cemetery overlooking the Kentucky capitol. In the mid to late 1780s, Boone's biographer alternated between the East and the Kentucky and Indiana frontier. In 1788 Filson surveyed a road from Lexington north to the mouth of the Licking River. Filson and partners Mathias Denman and Robert Patterson bought 800 acres north of the Ohio River opposite the mouth of the Licking River. Filson laid out the town he called Losantiville, a name formed from the Latin "os," mouth, the Greek "anti," opposite, arid the French "ville." But he didn't live to see the town develop.
Oct. 1, 1788, Filson was part of a group exploring land along the Great Miami River, including present Butler County. The group split and when they regrouped, Filson was missing. He wasn't seen again and his body was never found. It was assumed he had been killed by Indians. Other fatal possibilities included drowning, exposure, an accident or an attack by wild animals.
Later, Losantiville became a military center and the site of Fort Washington. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, relocated there and gave the town a new name -- Cincinnati.
Filson's one-third share of the town property was assumed by Israel Ludlow, who also would be instrumental in the founding of the cities of Hamilton and Dayton.