Journal-News Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005
Alston’s major league playing career was brief
(This is the last of a three-part series on Walter Alston, a Butler County native who became one of baseball’s most successful managers .)
By Jim Blount
Walter Emmons (Smokey) Alston, a rookie first baseman, didn't expect to play Sunday, Sept. 27, 1936, as the St. Louis Cardinals faced the Chicago Cubs on the last day of the National League season.
The teams were battling for second place money after the New York Giants had clinched the pennant three days earlier. Players recently called up from the minors -- including the right-handed Alston -- weren't likely to be used by Manager Frankie Frisch in the season finale at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.
But circumstances led to Alston making his major league debut. He had to play when Johnny Mize, the Cards' regular first sacker and the team's batting and home run leader, was ejected from the game in the eighth inning after arguing with an umpire.
Alston, the 195-pound, 6-2 rookie replacement, wearing number 21, had two chances in the field, committing an error on one of them. He was struck out by the Cubs' Lon Warneke in his only time at bat as Chicago won, 6-3, and the clubs finished in a second place deadlock.
For the Butler County native, it was his first and last game as a player in the big time. When he returned to the National League 18 years later, it was as a manager, not a player. This time Alston stayed for 23 seasons as manager of the Dodgers in Brooklyn (1954-57) and Los Angeles (1958-76).
During those years, Alston guided the Dodgers to seven National League pennants and four World Series championships. Alston -- born Dec. 1, 1911, near Venice (Ross) and a long-time resident of Darrtown -- was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
The 1929 graduate of Milford Township High School and 1935 graduate of Miami University, played baseball in Sunday leagues in Hamilton in the early 1930s before signing a professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1935. Alston’s minor league stops, 1935-44, included Greenwood, Miss.; Huntington, W. Va.; Portsmouth, Ohio; Columbus, Ga.; Springfield, Ohio; and Rochester, N. Y.
After being released by St. Louis in 1944, he played in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system at Trenton, N. J.; Nashua, N. H.; and Pueblo, Col.
Branch Rickey -- who was familiar with Alston from his tenure as the Cardinals general manager -- signed Smokey as player-manager at Trenton of the Interstate League July 28, 1944. starting Alston's 33-year career as a manager in the Dodgers' organization. Before the 1950 season, Alston was promoted to manage Brooklyn's top minor league club at Montreal. In four seasons in Canada -- where he developed many future Brooklyn stars-- Alston's Royals never finished below second place.
After the 1953 season, Brooklyn wasn't expected to change its manager. Chuck Dressen had finished his third successful season. His 1951 team was second in the National League, one game out of first. Although the Dodgers had lost to the New York Yankees in the 1952 and 1953 World Series, Dressen was expected to direct the team in 1954 -- until a contract dispute led to his departure.
Dressen asked for a three-year contract, but Brooklyn management bulked. Dressen was fired Oct. 14, 1953. Nearly six weeks later, Nov. 24, GM Walter O'Malley named Alston to the top post.
Some baseball writers speculated that Alston -- who hadn't applied for the job -- was an interim manager, perhaps for only a year. When the 1954 Dodgers finished second, a skeptical New York press thought the quiet Alston would be fired. Instead, he signed another one-year contract -- the second of 23 one-year pacts with the Dodgers before his retirement.
Alston’s 1955 Dodgers beat the Yankees in a seven-game World Series. Oct. 4, 1955 -- 50 years ago -- Brooklyn celebrated its first series triumph after losing seven times between 1916 and 1953.
Alston’s usual starting lineup included Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jim Gilliam, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Sandy Amoros. Starting pitchers were Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Johnny Podres, Billy Loes and Russ Meyer. Top relievers were Ed Roebuck, Clem Labine, Jim Hughes, Don Bessent, Karl Spooner and Roger Craig.
There were two other familiar names on the roster that year -- Tommy Lasorda and Sandy Koufax, both pitchers. Lasorda -- a coach under Alston (1972-76) and his successor as manager (1976-96) -- was demoted in May 1955. That made room on the roster for Koufax, a 19-year rookie, who became a Dodger pitching great and entered the Hall of Fame in 1972.
Journal-News Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005
New Orleans once vital to county’s economy
By Jim Blount
New Orleans’ recovery after Hurricane Katrina concerns Butler Countians in 2005, but rebuilding the Crescent City would have been vital to the local economy 200 years ago when the flatboat was the key to southwestern Ohio commerce. New Orleans, then as now, is a deep water port about 100 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River. Its access to the Gulf of Mexico enabled agricultural products from the first Midwest farms to reach markets around the world. An Internet site calls the Mississippi "America’s first interstate."
For about 30 years, starting in the 1790s, local flatboat trips began in late winter or early spring when river levels were adequate. The duration of the weeks-long voyage varied, depending on weather and river conditions along the Great Miami, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. There is no evidence Butler County traders encountered hurricanes that damaged New Orleans in 1794, 1812 and 1831.
Official traffic counts weren’t compiled, but early county histories report at least 79 flatboats passing through Butler County in 1823.
That same year, freight from Hamilton totaled 6,495 barrels of flour, 1,424 barrels of pork, 945 barrels of whisky, 50 barrels of pickles and cucumbers, 28 barrels of beans, 15 barrels of sauerkraut, 950 kegs of lard, 7,000 bushels of corn, 1,400 bushels of potatoes, 80 kegs of butter, 200 dozen chickens and 30,000 feet of cherry lumber.
The flatboat made only one downstream journey. After it was unloaded, it was sold as lumber or abandoned. The Butler County farmer or merchant, if the trip was profitable, could buy a horse for the return trip of about 950 miles, or pay for passage on a ship to an eastern port and then walk to Ohio. Walking home from New Orleans or Natchez was another alternative.
Political control of New Orleans and the Mississippi was a major concern for pioneer merchants in Butler County. At first it was a French possession, including the vast Louisiana territory extending from the river’s west banks. France ceded the land west of the river in 1792 to Spain. Eight years later, France regained control.
American merchants who relied on the river and the port as an outlet for their goods faced periodic obstacles, including government prohibitions, fees and bribes. Other risks were cargo spoilage, water levels in the river -- too much or too little -- and outlaws who preyed on flatboaters.
Some of those concerns were erased -- on paper, at least -- with the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo in which Spain granted Americans the right to use the river, the port and access to other trading centers along the Mississippi.
The 1803 Louisiana Purchase -- with the U. S. acquiring New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory from France -- was welcomed by traders in Ohio and neighboring areas.
Flatboats bound for New Orleans, Natchez or Memphis were not a few logs strapped together. "In size, flatboats varied greatly," said Charles H. Ambler in A History of Transportation in the Ohio Valley. "Those in most general use were rectangular structures boarded up at both sides to a height of from two to three feet."
Ambler said "those used for longer trips were known as New Orleans boats and were covered throughout their entire length. As a rule, these were more substantial than those built for local use."
"All forms of flatboats were propelled by sweeps alongside, a long oar astern, which served as a rudder, and by a short oar in front known as the gouger," Ambler explained. "Sails or oars were sometimes used, but main reliance was upon the current. Every flatboat was provided with a hawser which was used to ‘whip’ it over sandbars and riffles. The hawser was simply a strong rope which was made fast to a tree or stump on shore and wound by a reel on board the boat," a system known as cordeling on the Mississippi.
The capacity of larger boats was reported as ranging from 20 to 40 tons. In 1817, the Hornet, a flatboat built in Middletown, claimed 120 tons of cargo.
New Orleans remained a prime destination for Butler County products as steamboats gradually replaced flatboats in the 1820s. There’s no record of the last flatboat passing over the Great Miami River, but some traffic was reported in the 1830s, when the canal -- a modern efficient alternative to the river -- expedited shipments to Cincinnati and transfer to steamboats.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005
Federal highway signs first appeared in county in 1927
(Highway improvements have always been a priority in Butler County. This is the sixth in a series on road developments in the area between the 1890s and the 1950s.)
By Jim Blount
The first of four numbered federal highways came to Butler County in the summer of 1927. Starting July 5, two area roads were designated parts of U. S. 25 and U. S. 27. One survives today. The other -- mostly a secondary road after the opening of I-75 in 1960 -- was terminated north of the Ohio River in 1974.
The national numbering system was the work of two agencies -- the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) and the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Public Roads. Their work began in 1924. Proposed routes were offered for review Oct. 30, 1925. Agreement was reached Nov. 11, 1926, on a list of U. S. highways totaling 96,626 miles.
The U. S. numbered roads gradually replaced the named highways that had been designated by private road or trail associations. Their dues-paying members included chambers of commerce, hotels and related travel businesses that sought the benefits of increased tourism.
The associations posted some of the first highway markers. But by the mid 1920s, motorists wanted uniform direction and warning signs, not the confusion of signs customized for each named route. To gain clarity, more confusion had to be endured as state and federal numbers were assigned, changed and relocated in the late 1920s.
The Hamilton Daily News, in announcing the appearance of federal numbered highways in Butler County July 1, 1927, said "one road is U. S. 25 from Port Huron, Mich., to Augusta, Ga., [792 miles] via Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Bowling Green, Findlay, Lima, Wapakoneta, Sidney, Piqua, Troy, Dayton, Franklin, Monroe and Cincinnati."
"This is the route of the Dixie Highway, cutting off Middletown and Hamilton, and using the Cincinnati-Dayton Pike to Cincinnati," the newspaper said. Eventually, U. S. 25 linked Port Austin, Mich., and Brunswick, Ga., a distance of 1,151 miles.
"The other is U. S. 27, Cincinnati to Cheboygan, Mich., via Dunlap, Ross, Millville, Oxford, College Corner and Richmond, Ind. This is the route of the Colerain Pike," the newspaper said. Cincinnati was the southern terminus of the original 516-mile highway. When continued north to Mackinaw City, Mich., and south to Miami, Fla., its length was 1,749 miles.
A third federal road extended through the southeast corner of West Chester Twp. When opened U. S. 42 was a 251-mile Cincinnati-Cleveland link. With the addition of a Cincinnati-Louisville leg, it was 349 miles. Northeast of Butler County, U. S. 42 serves Mason and Lebanon in Warren County. To the south, Reading Road is its entry into Cincinnati.
Later, a fourth federal road would bisect Butler County. But in 1925, U. S. 127 only ran 77 miles between Lansing, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio. When lengthened south to Cincinnati, it was 275 miles. It is Pleasant Avenue in Fairfield and Hamilton and continues north through New Miami, Seven Mile, Camden and Eaton. To the south, it enters Hamilton County on Hamilton Avenue and continues on Central Parkway.
The 1927 article said "the United States highways will be marked by the standard U. S. route marker, which is a shield bearing the name 'Ohio' and the letters 'U. S.' with the number of the United States highway. The background color of the shield is white and the design is black. Smaller shields with the letter 'R' or the letter 'L' mounted beneath the marker indicate a turn to the right or left at the next intersection."
U. S. 25 was combined with I-75 in 1960 when the interstate opened through the eastern part of the county. Cincinnati-Dayton Road -- a two-lane highway when it was U. S. 25 -- remains in use as a busy local road, not a state or federal highway. U. S. 25 no longer exists in Butler County. The northern terminus of U. S. 25 is now the north end of the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge that connects Covington and Cincinnati.
Other federal routes in the area include:
U. S. 22 was a 490-mile connection between Elizabeth, N. J., and Cleveland in 1925. Later it was reported as 663 miles between Newark, N. J., and Cincinnati, entering the latter over Montgomery Road.
U. S. 50 crossed 13 states and the District of Columbia, 2,856 miles from Annapolis, Md., through Cincinnati, to Thistle, Utah. Its length became 3,231 miles when operated between Ocean City, Md., and San Francisco, adding two more states.
U. S. 52 was originally 343 miles from Huntington, W. Va., to Fowler, Ind., via Cincinnati. As revised, it covered 2,121 miles between Charleston, S. C., and Portal, N. D. It parallels I-74 between Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005
Bootleggers airlifted whisky into Hamilton area in 1922
By Jim Blount
Airplane sightings were rare in Butler County in the early 1920s. Each fly over, takeoff or landing attracted attention and generated talk A 1922 flight rated unwanted publicity when a newspaper reported that "bootleggers are using airplanes to transport regular bonded whisky to Hamilton."
Prohibition -- imposed to stop the manufacture, transport, sale and even possession of intoxicating beverages -- had started in Ohio in May 1919. Before it ended in December 1933, the Hamilton area became "Little Chicago." By the early 1920s, Hamilton -- like Chicago, Ill. -- was known for its bold and open defiance of state and federal prohibition laws.
The May 1922 airlift was an example of that boldness. The news report said the airplane -- after "circling in the clouds above the city" -- landed southeast of Hamilton, deposited the booze and took off. "The cargo was carried away in the direction of Hamilton a short time later in a high-powered automobile," the newspaper said.
No airport had been established in Butler County by 1922. The first airport -- the Ford airport just north of the Hamilton Ford plant -- opened in 1924. Local and state law enforcement, including prohibition agents, had no access to aircraft.
The newspaper didn’t identify the landing site -- probably a farm field -- but said "many residents south of the city" witnessed the event. "Conjecture has it that the air bootleggers are securing their whisky from Canada, 300 miles away, and making a direct run to Hamilton and other cities," the article said.
"A leak in the alleged [rum running] ring which operates in Southern Ohio divulged the information today that a second airplane is due this week with another cargo of liquor," the newspaper said. "The day of the said visit has not been announced, but it is said that there are some in Hamilton who know the date the plane will land and the landing place."
The newspaper said "general belief is that the air route has been resorted to in view of the great influx of nationally known prohibition men [bootleggers] at Cincinnati for the Remus trial," a reference to George Remus, who had reigned as undisputed "king of the bootleggers" in the early 1920s.
He was a pharmacist and a criminal lawyer in Chicago before moving to Cincinnati in 1919 at the start of Prohibition. "After surveying the entire country," Remus explained, "I picked Cincinnati as my headquarters because 80 percent of the bonded whisky in the country was within 300 miles of that city."
His empire covered at least eight states -- including Butler County -- and his annual income was several million dollars. He organized phony drug companies to receive "legal" whisky. He also purchased warehouse certificates -- paper that gave him ownership of whisky stored in bonded warehouses (certified by the government and guaranteed by a bonding agency). He paid $1.50 a gallon for the warehouse certificates, then sold the whisky for as much as $30 a gallon.
Remus acquired nine distilleries and had financial interests in several others. He reportedly had invested $10,000 to start the largest bootleg operation in the nation, employing about 3,000 people. He paid more than $20 million in bribes to sustain his whisky empire.
His downfall began in October 1921 when Remus whisky was discovered during a traffic arrest in Hammond, Ind. That led a team of federal officers from Chicago and Indianapolis -- not included in the protection payoffs -- to raid the operational center of the Remus whisky-drug empire in Cincinnati.
In April 1922, a federal grand jury indicted Remus for transportation of liquor, forgery of warehouse withdrawal permits and bribery of federal prohibition officers. Trials for Remus and 13 employees started May 8, 1922, in U. S. District Court in Cincinnati. May 16, a judge fined Remus $10,000 and sentenced him to two years in the federal prison in Atlanta.
Remus returned to Cincinnati in 1925, and was back in court in 1927, this time charged with the Oct. 6, 1927, murder of his wife. While trying to bribe the agent who had sent her husband to prison, Imogene Remus and the agent became lovers and schemed to transfer the Remus fortune to their control.
A jury found Remus "not guilty on the sole ground of insanity." He was sent to the Lima State Hospital for the Criminal Insane, but in June 1928, by a 4-3 vote, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered his release. He returned to Cincinnati, his money gone, and opened a real estate business. He was residing in Covington, Ky., when he died in 1952.