Journal-News Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005
Canal super highway would have included Hamilton
(Highway improvements have always been a priority in Butler County. This is the last of a seven-part series on road developments in the area between the 1890s and the 1950s.)
By Jim Blount
Several communities in western Ohio in the 1920s shared a vision of a super highway extending from Toledo on Lake Erie to a southern terminus at Cincinnati on the Ohio River. Precedent for such a transportation network had been set by the Miami-Erie Canal nearly a hundred years earlier. The official abandonment of the canal boosted planning for the north-south highway. Using state-owned canal land would mean drastic savings in building about 250 miles of new roadway.
The Miami-Erie Super Highway Association met Nov. 1-2, 1929, in Middletown as part of the city's Towpath Jubilee. That celebration, marking the official close of the Miami-Erie Canal, included dedication of a marker at the Yankee Road canal bridge where canal construction had started 104 years earlier.
A purpose of the Towpath Jubilee was to "rededicate it to its original purpose -- transportation." Its rebirth would be a modern Toledo-Cincinnati roadway. That day members of the Miami-Erie Super Highway Association formed a sub committee to cooperate with the Ohio Highway Department in developing plans for the canal super highway.
Cincinnati had already started work on Central Parkway on the abandoned canal. But the Great Depression of the 1930s both hurt and helped the project. While state highway funds dwindled, some cities utilized federal Depression-relief programs to built highway sections. Included were Erie Highway in Hamilton, Verity Parkway in Middletown and Patterson Boulevard in Dayton and continued progress on Central Parkway in Cincinnati.
In 1940, under the leadership of the Butler County Automobile Association (AAA), the canal super highway -- or, at least, a portion of it -- was revived. It came when state and federal government agencies considered upgrading U. S. 25 (then Cincinnati-Dayton Road through Butler County) to a military road.
Improving Ohio 4 between from Hamilton to Middletown and Franklin was an alternative route.
Instead of relying on existing roads, a Butler County coalition recommended building a new highway on the state-owned canal corridor between Hamilton and Cincinnati. An obstacle, said federal and state planners, was periodic Millcreek flooding, mostly in the Port Union and Rialto areas.
New hope came in January 1941 when the Journal-News reported "the canal super highway plan has been adopted in Hamilton County as a means of handling automobile traffic of thousands of workers who will be employed by the new Wright Aeronautical plant [now General Electric] now being constructed at Lockland, a short distance south of the Butler-Hamilton county line."
That $1 million highway was built from Paddock Road, near Longview State Hospital, north through Lockland to Glendale-Milford Road (Ohio 126). A northern connection into Hamilton would have required about another 10 miles of roadway.
W. W. Finlay, manager of the Wright Aeronautical Plant, supported the idea, noting that about 1,000 cars a day were expected to travel to and from the plant. Employment between 5,000 and 6,000 was projected by July 1941, with the total jumping to between 10,000 to 12,000 with full production. Some of those workers were expected to come from the Hamilton area.
In July 1945, a month before the end of World War II, the Butler County Automobile Club renewed the campaign for the canal super highway. A new reason was the proposal to build a Greater Cincinnati Airport at Blue Ash, plus industrial development along the corridor.
Advocates said it would provide a needed third route between Hamilton and Cincinnati, taking much of the load off Ohio 4 (Dixie Highway) and U. S. 127 (Pleasant Avenue and Hamilton Avenue). State Sen. Raymond H. Burke, a former Hamilton mayor, said "in order to get to Cincinnati on either of these two routes, we must pass through congested areas in suburbs of Cincinnati. The proposed route for a new highway would lead directly into the downtown area of Cincinnati over a much quicker route."
The proposed route from Grand Blvd. in Hamilton to the Cincinnati suburb of Hartwell was three miles shorter than Ohio 4 and U. S. 127.
In 1946, state highway officials encouraged continued planning, but didn't provide funding. The proposal remained on a back burner until the mid 1950s when the federal interstate highway system was born. As I-75 was planned, some local officials believed it would follow the suggestions of the
Miami-Erie Super Highway Association, including a path through Hamilton over the former canal (Ohio 4). Instead, when I-75 opened in 1960, it bypassed Hamilton 10 miles to the east.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005
Industrial fire raised suspicion during World War II
By Jim Blount
A Butler County industrial fire that raised suspicion during World War II would now cause health concerns and possible evacuations. The blaze Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 8, 1943, destroyed the Sall Mountain Co. asbestos factory at Rockdale in the southwest corner of Lemon Twp., near the Liberty Twp. line.
The Journal-News said "agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) already have begun inquiry to determine if the disaster might be traced to sabotage." A sabotage probe was routine after industrial and transportation fires, explosions and accidents during the World War II years, 1941-45.
State fire inspectors also investigated the fire at the rural site, identified in news accounts as six miles north of Hamilton, at the end of Rockdale Road west of Ohio 4 (Hamilton-Middletown Road).
The asbestos factory -- known as Sall Mountain’s Hamilton plant -- was on the east bank of the Great Miami River along the former Miami-Erie Canal and on the former Louisville, Cincinnati & Dayton Railroad (in 1943 part of the Baltimore & Ohio, now the CSX New Miami-Middletown line).
Employees tried to douse the fire that was discovered about 2:15 p.m. Assistance came from fire departments in Williamsdale, Monroe, Trenton and New Miami, but "they were powerless against the odds," the newspaper said. "Homes at Rockdale, mostly residences of mill employees, were unscathed."
"The factory was nearly 100 percent on orders for war needs," the article said, "chiefly asbestos products for the army and navy," working two shifts seven days a week. The loss included "an inventory of raw materials and completed products worth about $200,000."
Sall Mountain’s 93 employees were retained as the company installed converting equipment in several temporary locations in Hamilton. Machines salvaged and repaired from the Rockdale building and equipment obtained elsewhere enabled the company to continue to produce rolls of paper, millboard and insulation -- marketed as Sal-Mo products -- until Rockdale rebuilding was completed in 1945.
In 1956-57 the Rockdale operation became the Sall Mountain Division of Nicolet Industries Inc. Later, the local plant was known only as Nicolet Industries.
Asbestos became popular during the early 20th century in thousands of products by dozens of manufacturers. According to a Webster’s dictionary, asbestos consisted of "minerals that separate into long, threadlike fibers" and "because certain varieties do not burn, do not conduct heat or electricity, and are often resistant to chemicals, they are used for making fireproof materials, electrical insulation, roofing, filters, etc."
In the 1970s concern mounted nationally about the health problems of people exposed to asbestos fibers, described as invisible, colorless, odorless and tasteless. Those suffering from related illnesses -- and filing law suits against producers -- extended beyond employees of processing companies. Those with respiratory problems, including cancer, included persons involved in asbestos installation and people who worked in buildings that contained asbestos products.
In November 1977, a Nicolet spokesman announced the start of the "phase down" of the 100-employee Rockdale plant and transfer of its work to a Norristown, Pa., facility. "It’s purely a decision based on the fact that the impact of asbestos and health has had a negative impact on our business" he explained.
As health claims against producers accumulated in the 1970s and early 1980s, several asbestos firms filed for bankruptcy protection, including Johns-Manville, the pioneer in the industry, and Nicolet.
Sall Mountain had been formed in Chicago in 1899 with asbestos manufacturing plants in Chicago, Porter, Ind., and Scranton, Pa. The Rockdale paper mill was acquired and converted to producing asbestos paper.
The company name came from the Sall Mountain area of Georgia, the site of the first large-scale production of asbestos in the eastern U. S. in 1894, according to a report by the U. S. Geological Survey. The Sall Mountain founder was Cecil M. Clarke, who had been employed by the H. W. Johns Co., a predecessor of Johns-Manville.
The origin of the Rockdale plant is uncertain. It is believed to have been built in the 1860s by the Fox Paper Co. to produce strawboard, or cardboard. The owners also were associated with paper mills in Rialto and Crecentville in southern Butler County and Lockland in Hamilton County, all located on the Miami-Erie Canal.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005
Other problems complicated rugged winters of 1913-14 and 1917-18
By Jim Blount
Without a doubt, the winters of 1913-14 and 1917-18 were the worst Hamilton has experienced. The weather was severe in both periods, but residents faced more than numbing cold and treacherous ice and snow drifts. They also battled exceptional conditions -- the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1913-14 and the sacrifices of a world war in 1917-18.
"Remember the promises we made in the attic" was the slogan as winter approached in 1913. That was the vow of survivors of the March 1913 flood along the Great Miami River. The river -- which crested at 44.1 feet March 26 -- became a lake as much as three miles wide, destroyed or damaged thousands of buildings, washed away four bridge and claimed about 300 lives in the city.
Hamilton was still recovering Nov. 8-9, 1913, when "one of Ohio's greatest blizzards" introduced winter. Fortunately, the area was on the edge of a storm that dropped up to 20 inches of snow on parts of Ohio. The Hamilton Republican News said Saturday night, Nov. 8, "the wind raved and howled and there was a light snow fall, but to no appreciable depth."
The area wasn't as lucky in mid February 1914 -- almost 11 months after the flood. Feb. 13, 1914, seven inches of snow and below zero lows and high winds crippled Hamilton. The blizzard stopped vehicle and railroad traffic and froze the Great Miami River.
Ice jams threatened the temporary High-Main Street Bridge in Hamilton. The city's only public bridge -- the others still hadn't been replaced after the flood -- was closed as the frigid blast disrupted communications, travel and utility services. The only fire truck stationed on the west side was trapped on the east side before the bridge snapped. Ice in the river was 15 to 16 inches thick with piles several feet high. Feb. 22 officials detonated 500 pounds of dynamite, but it failed to break the ice jam.
During the 15-day crisis residents conserved dwindling supplies of food and coal as the cold continued and the snow total hit 20 inches. An inch or more of snow was on the ground for 21 days in February and March. Fortunately, no local deaths were attributed to the winter siege.
The December-January 1917-1918 period was the yardstick for measuring local winters until the back-to-back seasons of 1976-77 and 1977-78.
Almost 500 Hamilton families were without coal to heat their homes Dec. 8, 1917, when 10 to 11 inches of snow fell and the temperature was 12 below zero. Coal then heated homes and powered local industries. Desperate citizens had to resort to looting coal cars on local tracks.
The four coldest days were 18 below zero and minus 16 Dec. 10 and 11, 1917, and a pair of 20 below readings Jan. 19 and 20, 1918. Lows were below zero 11 of 31 days in December with 16.5 inches of snow between Dec. 6 and Dec. 28, 1917. January lows plunged below zero 14 days, including nine in a row, and snow totaled at least 30.5 inches during the month. The daily high topped freezing only four times in 31 days.
War complicated weather hardships. The U. S. had declared war on Germany in April 1917. Home front sacrifices were required to arm and feed men headed into battles in Europe. With coal supplies already scarce, pipes froze, trains and interurban lines stalled, mail delivery was disrupted, and stores, offices, schools and churches closed. Since October, municipal electric and waterworks operations had to use coal of poor quality, causing a reduction in street lighting. .
To assure coal for residences, hospitals and public utilities, the federal government ordered a five-day national industrial stoppage Jan. 18-22, 1918. It mandated 10 consecutive "Heatless Mondays," Jan. 21-March 25, closing stores, offices, saloons, schools and theaters and reducing streetcar and interurban service. Hamilton’s five-day industrial recess was supposed to save 200,000 tons of coal. It also cost more than 5,000 workers at least $225,000 in lost wages.
Later, other sacrifices -- related to the war, the weather and transportation problems -- included "Wheatless Days," one meal a day without a wheat product on Mondays and Wednesdays; "Meatless Tuesday," also one meal; and a "Porkless Day" on Saturdays. Some restrictions, mostly voluntary, were suspended after several weeks.
Another disaster had hit in the fall, muting celebration of the Nov. 11 armistice that ended World War I -- a conflict that claimed 94 local lives. The world-wide Spanish flu epidemic struck Butler County in October. In about three weeks, at least 216 people died in Hamilton and at least 100 in Middletown, plus uncounted victims in rural areas. Public "congregations of persons" were banned in Hamilton until Nov. 18 in an attempt to curb the spread of the flu.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005
Winter of 1950-51 delivered one-two punch in area
By Jim Blount
The winter of 1950-51 struck in two phases -- a Thanksgiving weekend blizzard and a February ice storm -- both crippling much of the nation. The November blast was tabbed "the Great Appalachian Storm" while the February assault was called "the greatest ice storm of record in the U. S."
The two-day "Great Appalachian Storm" hit 22 Eastern and Midwest states, dumping 30 inches of snow on Pittsburgh and two feet on Cleveland. East of the mountains, it turned to heavy rain with winds topping 100 miles an hour in New Jersey and New Hampshire. Reports on storm related deaths vary from 160 to about 300. In Butler County, no deaths were blamed on the storm that disrupted the holiday weekend.
In Hamilton, the temperature dropped to five degrees Friday morning, Nov. 24, 1950. Frozen fuel lines and stubborn batteries frustrated motorists with a low of two degrees Saturday morning. The afternoon high reached 15 as the snow and wind increased, but the worst was still to come.
Saturday night a blizzard stalled transportation and shutdown most activities as snow measured six to seven inches in Hamilton and 10 inches in the Dayton area. High wind produced drifting and complicated snow removal.
Sunday morning, with a low of 14 degrees, church attendance was poor because of travel conditions. Local governments hired private contractors to help plow streets and roads. The job was complicated by abandoned cars, estimated at nearly 1,000 in Hamilton that morning. City bus schedules were disrupted and some routes changed. Intercity bus and railroad services were delayed, including a passenger train that arrived 12 hours late in Hamilton.
Monday, Nov. 27, only a third of Miami University students attended classes while the remainder struggled with transportation problems as they tried to return from Thanksgiving break. Western College for Women in Oxford extended its holiday recess until Wednesday. Hamilton postal officials said some mail couldn't be delivered because some streets and roads remained impassable. Two days later, county and township crews were still clearing roads. Some rural roads had only one lane open. One road had been blocked by a nine-foot drift.
What the national press called "one of the most severe blizzards in history" was relatively mild in Butler County. By mid week, official snow totals in the area were much less than the 50 inches reported in part of West Virginia. Cincinnati reported 6.9 inches Nov. 24-28 and Dayton 11.9 inches in the same period.
Two months later, Jan. 24, 1951, Ohio was described as "an ice-sheathed world" causing death and hampering the state economy, but most of the problems were north of this area.
Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 27-28, rain turned to ice on Butler County surfaces, making travel dangerous. Even salt trucks slipped off streets and roads as they tried to treat them. Only a fifth of an inch of rain fell as the temperature ranged between 23 and 28. The worst was still to come.
Thursday night, Feb. 1, two hours of freezing rain preceded an overnight snowfall of 7.5 inches in Hamilton, bringing the winter total to 32 inches. A low of 11 degrees caused a coating of ice. That day Ohio declared a state of emergency as six deaths were reported in the state. The storm had created a four-inch glaze of ice from Texas to Pennsylvania, killing 25 people and interrupting utilities and communications in some regions for a week to 10 days.
Friday, Feb. 2, the official Hamilton low was a relatively warm six below zero, mild in comparison with an unofficial minus 24 in Shandon and an official 16 below in Dayton, a record for that date. Hamilton officials announced a shortage of natural gas, and 10 major industries were ordered to stop using gas. Within two days, the natural gas shortage had spread across the state. At the same time, Hamilton industries were impacted by a wildcat strike by railroad switchmen against 33 railroads.
Hamilton had another low of six below Saturday, Feb. 3, as ice continued to make some roads in the county dangerous, including U. S. 27 between Oxford and College Corner and Ohio 73 between Middletown and Oxford. The hard freeze continued through Feb. 9, as did the natural gas shortage. An inch of snow overnight brought Hamilton's winter total to 33.5 inches.
Good news came Monday, Feb. 12, when about 3,500 workers returned to their jobs at the Fisher Body plant in Fairfield. They had been idled seven days because of the railroad strike. About 1,000 Fisher Body employees had worked through the shutdown.
That week the ice and snow cover began to melt and the worst of the winter of 1950-51 -- that began Thanksgiving weekend -- had ended.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005
South Hamilton crossing back on city agenda
By Jim Blount
An improvement shelved nearly 50 years ago has regained the attention of Hamilton leaders. Safety and inconvenience drove previous efforts to eliminate the bottleneck at the South Hamilton railroad crossing. Now economic development -- which translates into new jobs and more tax income -- is an added incentive.
For more than 100 years, there have been periodic campaigns to resolve the conflict of trains and vehicles where Central Avenue crosses what is now a busy mainline carrying both CSX and Norfolk Southern rail traffic. On the west side of the crossing is the complicated northbound merging intersection of Central and Pleasant avenues.
Present discussions have centered on an overpass that would connect Central, East Avenue and Grand Blvd. east of the tracks with Central and Pleasant west of the railroad. An element not in previous plans is a possible extension west to University Boulevard (formerly Peck) and Knightsbridge Drive.
The extension would improve access to Miami University Hamilton and the Vora Technology Center (formerly Knightsbridge). It would increase the attractiveness of development and redevelopment of land and buildings in the MUH-Vora area.
The railroads would benefit by not having an at grade crossing between Belle Avenue on the south and Hanover Street on the north.
South Hamilton crossing has been there since the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad started serving Hamilton in 1851. Although the site of frequent accidents for 40 years, public concern increased in the 1890s with industrial and residential development in East Hamilton and Lindenwald. The city’s steady industrial growth also led to more rail activity, including around-the-clock switching operations in yards north and south of the crossing.
A few years later, the demand for an underpass or overpass increased as automobiles became more affordable and numerous. Public outcry peaked in 1910 after 12 people died in a series of collisions at the angular crossing. At that time, horse-drawn vehicles still outnumbered cars there.
One complaint was the frequent long delays caused by combinations of switching moves and busy through traffic on the railroad mainline. A more serious matter was safety. Driver visibility of fast-moving passenger and freight trains was obscured by strings of idle freight cars on tracks near the crossing.
A watchman was stationed at the crossing, remaining for almost three decades after flashing warning lights and gates were installed in the late 1930s. But some frustrated drivers ignored the signals, or were too quick to cross after one train passed, unaware that another was approaching.
Over the decades, there have been numerous plans for an underpass or overpass -- all killed by a lack of money, changing priorities and faltering public support.
The railroad proposed a plan in 1911. City officials studied it for six months, but took no action as public outrage calmed.
Council was considering six alternatives in December 1916. Three underpass proposals were estimated at $88,000, $155,000 and $164,000 and three overpass plans at $193,000, $223,000 and $332,000. Variances in the width of roadway and sidewalks, building materials and roadway patterns accounted for the cost differences.
Hamilton’s 1920 master plan urged combining the railroads -- the Pennsylvania and the Baltimore & Ohio -- south of the city and elevating the busy mainline tracks through the city, eliminating all grade crossings, except for local switching.
A 1929 underpass proposal -- estimated at $150,000 -- would have been eligible for some state funding because two state highways used the crossing. It was unveiled a few weeks before the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression.
Hopes revived after World War II, but cost estimates had jumped to $2.5 million for an underpass. At the same time, the railroad share dropped from 50 percent to 15 percent and the state was not obligated because state routes had shifted to other roads.
The last try was in November 1957 when Hamilton voters were presented seven bond issues, totaling $10 million. One of them would have provided $2.5 million for a South Hamilton underpass. It was supported by only 23 percent of the voters -- 4,176 out of 18,191.
After that setback, the city’s priority turned to the High Street underpass, a project that started in September 1981.
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