Miami University tried to become agricultural and mechanical college
By Jim Blount
Legislation approved during the Civil War promised to bring Miami University a new source of revenue after struggling for almost 40 years without state funding. When the war ended and states began taking advantage of the federal program, the Morrill Act seemed to be the answer to the mounting financial problems facing the Oxford university.
Before the Civil War, Miami was established as Ohio’s most prestigious college and reputed to have the largest enrollment west of the Alleghenies. In 1839, it was the fourth largest school in the U. S. -- behind only Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. But Miami faced uncertainty when fighting ended in 1865. I
It had been chartered by the Ohio General Assembly Feb. 17, 1809, but, after opening in 1824, received most of its support from the Presbyterian Church. James H. Rodabaugh, a Miami historian, said the school "was virtually a Presbyterian stronghold during its first 50 years of existence."
The Morrill Act -- enacted in July 1862 -- was first introduced by Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont in 1857 and vetoed by President James Buchanan in 1859. In the midst of the war, and with President Abraham Lincoln’s backing, it was reintroduced and approved in 1862.
It mandated that states remaining in the Union would be granted 30,000 acres of public land for every member of its congressional delegation, meaning a minimum of 90,000 acres for each state.
Funds from the sale of the land were to be used to create colleges in engineering, agriculture and military science. It led to formation of more than 70 land grant colleges under the original Morrill Act and others created after a second act in 1890 included southern states that had seceded by 1862.
Ohio allocation was 630,000 acres, accepted by the state in 1864. Although the federal legislation suggested the land be sold at $1.25 an acre, Ohio legislators authorized it for sale in 1865 at a minimum of 80 cents an acre. With little response, the state waived the minimum and eventually realized a profit of $342,450.80, or about 50 cents an acre.
After the Civil War, the Presbyterians decided to establish a church-supported school in Ohio -- a direct blow to Miami’s financial stability. Land donated in 1866 became the College of Wooster, which opened in September 1870.
The next step in Ohio pursuing terms of the Merrill Act came in 1867 when the General Assembly approved formation of a state agricultural and mechanical college without designating a location.
Miami University -- then under the leadership of Robert L. Stanton, the sixth of seven Presbyterian clergy who served as president of the institution -- sought the land grant funds. Stanton directed the university from 1866 until 1871.
"Miami with its spacious campus and botanical gardens seemed an attractive site for such a college," wrote Walter Havighurst in his book, The Miami Years, 1809-1984 . "University officials invited a delegation from Columbus. They met them at the railroad depot, showed them all the rural advantages of Oxford, and gave them a formal reception," Havighurst said. "When they escorted the visitors to the train, the Miami future looked brighter."
"That night the students were busy," Havighurst said. "When the faculty filed into chapel next morning, they found a haystack in the middle of the floor and beside it a plow, a harrow and a farm wagon. Nibbling at the hay were a cow, two horses, pigs, ducks and chickens. Across the platform hung a sign, Agricultural College."
Oxford was confident the pastoral Miami campus would become the site of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, or possibly Miami A&M.
Miami wasn’t alone in seeking the federal land money. The Civil War had taken a toll on most institutions of higher learning. Havighurst said Miami in 1865 was among "104 living colleges in the United States" while 412 didn’t survive the war.
Securing the land grant money was crucial for Miami’s survival. "The reasons were several," said Havighurst. "Since the war Miami had lost its substantial number of students from the southern states. A postwar inflation had shrunk the real income from the university land rents, and in a period when private benefaction was flowing into American colleges, Miami had no benefactors."
President Stanton had another idea for boosting Miami’s treasury. That proposal and the fate of Ohio’s share of the Morrill land grant money will be covered in a future column.
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Ohio legislators rejected Miami’s bid for A&M funding
By Jim Blount
Obtaining Ohio’s $342,450.80 share from land-grant sales under the Morrill Act would have gone far to relieve Miami University’s increasing financial problems after the Civil War. Allowing for inflation, that 1860s jackpot would be equal to more than $4.3 million in 2006 dollars.
Ohio had sold 630,000 acres of western under the 1862 federal legislation. The law said proceeds from the sale of the federal land in the west were to be used to create colleges in engineering, agriculture and military science. More than 70 land grant colleges were formed under the original Morrill Act and others when a second act was passed in 1890.
It took several years before the impact of the 1862 legislation was apparent. It wasn’t until 1867 that the Ohio General Assembly designated the $342,450.80 to form a state agricultural and mechanical college, and officials began looking for a site.
Under the leadership of President Robert L. Stanton (1866-71), Miami sought the Morrill income and courted state leaders.
Although it had been chartered by the Ohio legislature Feb. 17, 1809, the Oxford institution had relied on financial support from the Presbyterian church -- not state funding. Starting with Robert H. Bishop, an ordained Presbyterian minister who was Miami’s first president, the school had attracted a heavy share of Presbyterian scholarship money.
Miami was left out in 1870 when the General Assembly created the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College on the northern edge of Columbus. Ohio A&M opened Sept. 17, 1873. Five years later it was renamed the Ohio State University.
Before the 1870 decision, President Stanton tried several ideas to reduce Miami’s mounting debt. One was "to liven the curriculum" and attract more students to Oxford with a new military science department, explained Walter Havighurst in his book, The Miami Years, 1809-1984.
"In May 1869, as an official visitor to West Point, [Stanton] was assured by President Grant that an officer of the regular army would be assigned to Miami," Havighurst wrote. Colonel Caleb H. Carlton arrived in September 1869 and Miami men "studied military law and engineering and dragged a cannon across the college yard."
The Cleveland native had impressive credentials. He was graduated from West Point in 1859 and was serving in the infantry in California when the Civil War began. His combat experiences included the Peninsular campaign and the battles of Second Manassas and Antietam in the eastern theater, and Chickamauga, Kenesaw Mountain and Atlanta in the West.
After the Civil War, Carlton was on frontier duty in Nebraska, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Texas and Oklahoma. He retired as a brigadier general in 1897, after nearly 30 years of service.
"Colonel Carlton was one of the most capable officers it was my fortune to meet during all my experience in the service," said Joseph B. Foraker -- later an Ohio governor and a U. S. Senator -- who served under him in the 89th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
"He was a strict disciplinarian, a fine drill officer, brave and cool in battle, and always dignified and courteous in his intercourse with both officers and men," recalled Foraker. "He quickly acquired and never lost the confidence, admiration and affectionate regard and esteem of the entire regiment."
But Carlton’s stay at Miami was brief. In December 1870, Havighurst said Carlton "was called to Omaha to answer charges that as commander of a post in Wyoming Territory he had irregularly disposed of commissary stores -- bacon, mackerel and beans -- to the amount of $7,000."
"In Oxford the military program collapsed," Havighurst wrote, "until a restless night in April when the artillery squad dragged the cannon through the moonlight to Western College and fired a blank charge at Peabody Hall. Next day the Western girls pushed it into the pond, a maneuver which attracted newspaper notice as far away as Boston."
Havighurst said "Colonel Carlton returned that spring and the military classes were resumed. He stayed another year, with small success. The students in tranquil Oxford had lost their interest in field fortifications and military law."
Miami also lost its battle for funding. Financial problems forced the university to close from 1873 until 1885, when the state began direct monetary support.
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Prestigious alumni revived Miami University in 1885
By Jim Blount
"All nature seemed to have conspired to make the day a perfect success," said Judge Samuel F. Hunt, an 1864 Miami University graduate, as he welcomed alumni, former faculty members and townspeople under sunny skies Wednesday morning June 17, 1885. This wasn’t the usual gathering of Miami University alumni. They were in Oxford to praise "Old Miami" and recall pleasant times on the campus. But their purpose that day was to help resurrect the college that had closed in 1873.
Twelve years after the closing, men who had taught and men who had studied at "Old Miami" from 1824 through 1873 came to Oxford to instill new life into their college with their collective loyalty, enthusiasm, wisdom, wealth and influence.
Participants in the rally included Dr. John W. Scott, then 85, who had been a faculty member at "Old Miami" from 1828 to 1845 before organizing Oxford Female Institute in 1849 and Oxford Female College in 1854.
The old and the new also were linked by the appearance of Judge John W. Caldwell of Cincinnati. According to the Oxford Citizen's account of the program, Caldwell had "assisted at the organization of Miami University in November 1824, graduated in 1827, and had not been to Oxford before for the last 45 years."
Also offering an impromptu speech was Sen. Benjamin Harrison, class of 1852. Harrison was in the fifth year of his six-year term representing Indiana in the U. S. Senate. Three years later (June 1888), Harrison would be accorded the Republican nomination for president, and in less than four years (March 1889) he would move into the White House.
An Indianapolis newspaper reported that "Sen. Harrison was accompanied by his wife, whose girlhood days were passed in Oxford." Caroline Scott Harrison was the daughter of the previously mentioned Dr. John W. Scott. In 1928, by action of Miami trustees, the name of Caroline Scott Harrison would be added to Miami's alumni records.
"Miami University was a famous institution in its day," said the Indianapolis Journal, and "the influence this university has had upon the progress of the West and South is incalculable." Those statements weren't hyperbole by an enthusiastic Oxford correspondent. The collective accomplishments of the alumni gathered in Oxford was proof.
But it was the future that concerned the men of "Old Miami" in June 1885. The reunion was called to generate moral and financial support following a decision by Miami trustees that there was enough money to pay the university's debts and permit the resumption of college instruction. The school had closed in 1873 because of financial problems.
The Ohio General Assembly chartered Miami University Feb. 17, 1809. Collegiate instruction didn’t start in Oxford until 1824. For almost 50 years, Miami received most of its financial support from the Presbyterian Church, not the state. When that source and other funding dwindled in the late 1860s, the university was forced to close in 1873.
Robert W. McFarland -- who had been a professor at "Old Miami," then at the new Ohio State University -- was designated president of the "New Miami" that reopened in 1885. McFarland was Miami’s eighth president and its first leader who wasn’t an ordained Presbyterian minister.
The state had agreed to provide support in addition to the meager income from rents of university lands in western Butler County. An initial appropriation of $20,000 was assured for the 1885-86 college year. The advent of annual state support to Miami University was welcomed. But to one graduate, that wasn't enough.
Calvin S. Brice, class of 1863, had prospered as a railroad organizer, developer and manager. Brice, who attended the June 1885 reunion, announced he would pay the salaries of two professors. His generosity financed 40 percent of the five-man instructional staff that welcomed about 50 students to the rejuvenated campus Sept. 17, 1885. Later, Brice contributed funds to pay half the cost of a science building that bore his name.
"New Miami" would retain much of the tradition, charm and prestige of "Old Miami." The revived institution also would face some familiar obstacles and problems, including the perpetual struggle with powers in Columbus to assure adequate state financial support.
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Early residents competed for use of Great Miami River
By Jim Blount
The Great Miami River was an asset for early residents of Butler County. It also was the source of bitter debate as rivals for its various uses contended for access to the water. The combatants included those who harvested fish, operated mills and piloted flatboats in the early 1800s.
Most complaints came from flatboaters who hauled the area’s surplus agricultural products to markets in the south via the Great Miami, Ohio and Mississippi rivers until the 1830s.
Their crude boats "were only used in descending streams, and floated with the current," wrote Henry Howe in Historical Collections of Ohio . "Long, sweeping oars fastened at both ends of the boat, worked by men standing on the deck, were employed to keep it in the channel, and in navigating difficult and dangerous places in the river."
Their spring journeys were dependent on river conditions. They couldn’t depart when the river was too high or too low. Normal depth and flow were required for a safe, profitable trip that took as much as two months one way to New Orleans.
Howe said "the boats were often loaded with produce taken in exchange for goods, work, or even for lots and houses, for businessmen, instead of having money to deposit in bank or to invest, were frequently obliged to send cargoes of articles received in place of cash" to outlets along the rivers.
As population increased along the streams and rivers, flatboat operators faced increasing obstacles to safe navigation. One problem was devices placed in the river by fishermen.
Starting with soldiers at Fort Hamilton (1791-95), there were reports of the abundance of fish in the Great Miami. Besides the pole, line and hook method, others gathered fish with spears, pitchforks, nets, blankets, barrels and baskets.
The most controversial was the fish basket, usually left unattended after placement.
"Fish baskets, of which there is frequent mention in the newspapers of the day," reported Howe, "were made by building a dam on the riffles so as to concentrate the water at the middle of the river, where an opening was made into a bog constructed of slats and placed at a lower level than the dam. Into this bog the fish ran, but were unable to return."
Fisherman objected when flatboats damaged or destroyed the baskets. Boaters feared that large, sturdy baskets could alter river conditions and, if struck, could harm their vessels and cause a loss of cargo.
Much of the flatboat loads were processed at mills along the river and its tributaries, and millers often operated the craft. But the power system for mills posed risks for the boaters.
Mills were seldom built directly on the banks of the river. Instead, they were as much as 100 to 150 yards from the river. The water that turned their waterwheels, buhrstones, saws, pulleys and other machinery was diverted from the river over a man-made millrace, also called a raceway. Another man-made waterway, the tailrace, funneled the used water from the mill back to the river.
To channel water into the millrace, the miller usually built a low, crude dam in the river. The dams -- some extending only partially into the river -- were constructed of combinations of stones, logs and brush.
Boaters considered the dams obstructions to navigation. Experienced pilots -- who knew the location of the mill dams -- could maneuver around them. But the danger was compounded when the fragile dams were washed away by high water or a swift current, scattering logs and stones, often partially submerged, along the stream.
The conflicts caused the complaints to demand government action. Boaters sought clear, safe navigation routes and fishermen and millers requested protection for their baskets and dams.
In 1815, a Dayton newspaper sided with the boaters. "The wealth and increased population of the waters of the Great Miami demand immediate attention to the navigation of that stream, without which the country loses half of its value," the newspaper declared. "Will the people tamely submit to suffer a few men so essentially to injure the country? The obstructions in the river must be removed. All are interested in an object so important, and it is hoped the settlers on the waters of the Great Miami will immediately turn their attention to improving its navigation."
The conflict began to disappear in the mid 1820s when Ohio started building a state canal system that eventually took the burden of hauling freight off the Great Miami River.