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Journal-News Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006
Ohio River steamboats transformed Butler County economy
By Jim Blount
Cincinnati's sixth Tall Stacks Music, Arts & Heritage Festival is this week on the city's riverfront. The event, first held during the city's 1988 bicentennial year, celebrates the Queen City's river history. Its position on the Ohio River was the key to Cincinnati development.
Steamboats never plied the Great Miami River, but those on the Ohio River were vital to Butler County's economy for several decades in the 19th century.
Luxurious passenger accommodations have been glamorized in print, in movies and on TV. But steamboats were more than "floating palaces" and casinos. Their major accomplishment was hauling more freight and mail and at a greater speed than their predecessors, the horse-drawn wagon and stagecoach and crude flatboats.
When the Miami-Erie canal opened between Middletown and Cincinnati in November 1827, it combined with the Ohio River, via Cincinnati, in expanding markets for the county's agriculture bounty and the output from mills and factories in Hamilton, Middletown and other canal ports.
Canal boats and steamboats rapidly replaced risky flatboats in transporting local products. Long, dangerous one-way trips over the Great Miami, Ohio and Mississippi rivers on crude craft were no longer necessary for local farmers and merchants.
In 1811 the first steamboat on the Ohio River started at Pittsburgh and visited Cincinnati, Louisville and other points before entering the Mississippi and completing its slow trip at New Orleans. But the War of 1812 and technical obstacles delayed the start of regular steamboat traffic.
According to one report, in 1820 the passenger fare was $25 for an eight-day, 1,480-mile down stream trip from Cincinnati to New Orleans. The up stream voyage took 16 days and cost $15.
In the early 1820s, the Miami Canal promised several advantages over the shallow Great Miami River. Because its mouth was on the Ohio River at the Ohio-Indiana line, 17 miles west of Cincinnati, the current-propelled flatboats on the Great Miami couldn't haul Butler County products to the Queen City.
Steamboats -- despite flat bottoms and shallow draft -- couldn't navigate up stream on the Great Miami, which had an average fall of about three feet per mile.
In 1825 -- the same year Miami Canal construction started south from Middletown -- work began on the Louisville & Portland Canal to bypass the Ohio River falls at Louisville. Until that canal was complete, passengers and freight had to change boats there, or wait until high water enabled navigation over the rapids. The $1 million L&P Canal -- including $230,000 in federal help and about $200,000 from Cincinnati investors -- opened in December 1830.
By December 1830, a 67-mile stretch of the Miami-Erie Canal between Dayton and Cincinnati was complete at a cost of $77,850.
Hamilton was connected to the state-financed waterway by the Hamilton Basin that ran west from the canal (at present Erie Highway between High Street and Maple Avenue) to South Third Street. The basin -- about seven-tenths of a mile in length -- was lined with wharves, mills, factories and warehouses.
In one week in March 1928, before it was fully utilized, Hamilton Basin exports included 991 barrels of flour, 482 barrels of whisky, 138 barrels of pork, 86 barrels of oil and 576 kegs of lard.
Middletown and Hamilton meat-packing plants soon relied on the canal. Hogs were brought to local packers for slaughter and processing, then sent over the canal to Cincinnati for steamboat transport to markets along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their navigable tributaries.
Also profiting by the canal-river combination were paper mills in Hamilton, Middletown, Franklin, Miamisburg and Lockland.
Materials and finished products were more plentiful and cheaper in Butler County because of shipments that arrived at Cincinnati by steamboats and were hauled here by canal boats.
In the month of April 1850 – when basin exports were peaking – 40 canal packets departed Hamilton and 2,433 passengers left the city bound for Cincinnati.
In 1852 -- as railroads began to be built in the region and take traffic from canals and steamboats -- Cincinnati reported 8,000 steamboat arrivals that year.
Although most of the glamor is gone, the Ohio River remains a vital transportation link too complex to explain here. The Iowa Department of Transportation offers this example: one 1,500-ton barge on the river displaces about 58 trucks on the roads. The load on a 15-barge tow -- with a 22,500-ton total capacity -- would require about 870 trucks.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006
Disasters tarnished glamor and romance of steamboat era
By Jim Blount
The Tall Stacks Music, Arts & Heritage Festival in Cincinnati last week recaptured some of the glamor of the Ohio River steamboat era that helped boost Butler County's economy in the 19th century. Steamboats -- in their heyday and now in folklore -- suggest romance, comfort, elegance, adventure and speed. But there was a flip side to that positive image of floating palaces that once carried people and freight up and down the Ohio River.
"The early boilers were little more than metal tanks filled with water, under which heat was applied to generate steam," explained R. E. Banta, an Ohio River historian. In this primitive form, Banta said, they resembled "giant teakettles with the lids riveted on," and with safety valves "sometimes deliberately held down to produce extra power," or which "stuck when needed most." Exploding boilers exposed passengers and crew to death and maiming from jagged bits of flying wood and metal, scalding water, fire and drowning.
An early calamity involved the Moselle, a Cincinnati-built steamboat, that exploded the afternoon of April 25, 1838, soon after starting its scheduled trip from Cincinnati to St. Louis. The boat, launched 25 days earlier, was reputed to be the fastest on the river.
Reports vary, from about 150 to 300 passengers aboard when the Moselle's boiler exploded, scattering debris and bodies in the water and on shore. The death toll varies, from 85 to 160 or more, including at least two Middletown residents. They were listed as Miss Mary Parker and a B. Furmon.
At the time, the Moselle explosion ranked as the worst steamboat disaster on the Ohio River. Its destruction -- which came with no warning to passengers, crew or on shore observers -- brought congressional attention to the danger of steamboat travel.
Despite a new federal law and technical improvements, there were more than 20 explosions or accidents on the Ohio River in the 30 years following the Moselle's demise.
In the 1860-1869 decade, 19 explosions on the Ohio River claimed 283 lives and 26 people died in 24 fires. Collisions also imperiled steamboaters. Thirty-three crashes were reported on the Ohio
in the 1860-1869 period. Deaths totaled 105 people, most of them in a disaster on a curve between Gallatin County, Kentucky, and Switzerland County, Indiana.
The Dec. 4, 1868, tragedy involved two steamboats owned by the same company, the U. S. Mail Line, which in 48 years of operation had never lost a boat. The accident has been called the worst head-on collision on the river, although the death toll is uncertain. Estimates have ranged from 70 to more than 100 people. The uncertainty was because "no passenger lists were kept at the offices of the company," said the Hamilton Telegraph.
Most accounts attribute some of the blame to poor visibility. Some paint the night as foggy with little or no moonlight. Other reports cite wind as a complication.
It happened about 11:30 p.m. as the America, built in Cincinnati in 1867, and the United States, launched in Cincinnati in 1865, attempted to pass opposite the mouth of Bryant's Creek near Florence, Ind., and opposite Warsaw, Ky.
The 315-foot America -- which hauled passengers between Cincinnati and Louisville -- was headed southwest toward Louisville. The 294-foot United States -- one of several vessels that bore that name -- was headed northeast from Louisville to Cincinnati. Its cargo included about 600 barrels of coal oil and whiskey.
As usual, participant and witness accounts differ. Most agree that both boats sounded the signals required for passing. Some believe the whistles overlapped, which may have caused confusion in at least one pilothouse. It is possible the customary signals came too late to avoid a collision. Another factor could have been that one of the boats was in the hands of an inexperienced pilot.
Whatever the cause, the America's steel helm plowed into the United States, puncturing the cargo area. The crash toppled and broke open barrels. Spilled coal oil and whiskey quickly ignited and wind helped spread the fire. The America burned to the water line, but with little loss of life. Two or four people died, depending on which report is accepted. The United States burned and sank with at least 70 passengers perishing in the rapidly spreading flames or drowning in the cold river.
On the Indiana shore, Eli Rayl and his wife converted their home into a hospital for shivering survivors. For several months, bodies of victims were found along the banks. Later, a lighthouse was erected at Rayl's Landing near the disaster site, misnamed "Rail's" Light by the Coast Guard's lighthouse service.
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Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006
Area braced for Soviet missile attack in October 1962
By Jim Blount
The Monday afternoon, Oct. 22, 1962, edition of the Journal-News said President John F. Kennedy would speak to the nation that evening on "a subject of the highest national urgency." Most Americans who watched or heard that speech recall it as the most terrifying moment of the Cold War. That tense period was quickly labeled the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Cuba had been under a communist government since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Castro quickly developed a close partnership with the Soviet Union. Soviet officials had denied plans to place offensive weapons in Cuba, 90 miles from the United States. But photographs from high-flying U. S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance planes confirmed bases were being built for intermediate-range missiles. The Cuban sites were within striking distance of the U. S.
President Kennedy placed the U. S. armed forces on alert. He publicly announced details of the dangerous situation in his Oct. 22 address. He ordered "a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba" from the Soviet Union
At first, it wasn't clear if Cuba was the main event or a sideshow, aimed at diverting attention from Berlin where the U. S. and its allies had been sparring with the Soviet Union since the end of World War II.
If war developed in October 1962, it was assumed Butler County would be hit. Considered the area's prime industrial target was Fernald -- the short name for the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) built and operated for the Atomic Energy Commission and in later years by the U. S. Department of Energy.
The uranium processing center -- southwest of Ohio 126 and west of Ohio 128, about 10 miles southwest of Hamilton -- covered 1,050 acres with about a fifth of its area in Ross Township in Butler County. Uranium production continued there from 1951 through 1989.
The county's top military target was the Oxford missile base, north of U. S. 27, off Todd Road, about two miles west of Oxford. Missiles had been ready there in four underground launching silos since 1960. It was one of four missile bases that defended the Greater Cincinnati area until 1970.
While U.S.-Soviet negotiations continued, additional training was ordered for local members of the Ohio National Guard and reserve units, and military personnel on furlough were recalled. Civilians also were on alert, paying close attention to every aircraft flying over the area.
Some local businesses, industries and institutions took special precautions, including disaster drills designed for Cold War situations.
Despite international tension, scheduled events continued in the Hamilton area -- including the United Way campaign, Civic Theater rehearsals, preparations for Halloween trick or treat, high school football games, homecoming dances and campaigning for the November election.
Coincidentally, leading the Miami University homecoming parade down High Street in Oxford Saturday, Oct. 27, was a Hound Dog Missile, a supersonic air-to-surface weapon that could be carried under the wings of B-52 intercontinental bombers. The missile was trucked to Oxford from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base under sponsorship of Miami's Air Force ROTC unit.
Mrs. Irene Lewis, director of the Butler County Civil Defense Corps, reported her office "swamped with calls." Most inquiries concerned articles that should be placed in private shelters and, for those who hadn't acted earlier, how to improvise shelters. She reminded citizens of the uniform signal system: alert, a steady continuous siren blast for three to five minutes; and take cover, repeated short blasts of the siren.
Sites of Hamilton's 11 Civil Defense Public Fallout Shelters were the Municipal Building on High Street; Strauss Furniture, 220 S. Third St.; Lindenwald Church of Christ, 648 Forest Ave.; Ringel's Furniture, 38 High St.; Dollar Federal Building, Third and High Sts.; Engine Co. 6, Laurel and Benninghoften avenues; Engine Co. 7, Shuler and Bender avenues; Moose Lodge, 327 S. Second St.; American Legion Hall, 112 N. Second St.; Hamilton Dairy Co., French-Bauer, 551 N. Sixth St.; and the Beckett Paper Co., N. Fourth and Buckeye Sts.
The locations had been inspected and authorized by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Other buildings had been approved, but owners hadn't completed the paper work to become public shelters.
Fortunately, good judgment prevailed. Oct. 28, 1962 -- six days after President Kennedy's dramatic speech -- the nuclear showdown ended. That day Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the offensive missiles and medium range bombers being assembled in Cuba. Later, it was estimated the U. S. was ready with more than 25,000 nuclear weapons, about twice the Soviet number.
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Journal-News Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006
Main Street business doubles as museum of automotive history
By Jim Blount
There's a museum on Hamilton's Main Street. There's no sign declaring it a museum, and thousands of people pass it every day without recognizing it as such. Some who patronize it, don't realize it is a functional, interactive piece of automotive history. If you've been driving only a few years, you're not likely to appreciate it as a unique throwback to the 1960s.
Day's Sunoco, 1275 Main St., at Westbrook Drive, is believed to be one of the few, if not the only surviving full-service station in the area, open seven days a week, 6 a.m. until midnight.
Bob Day started the business in 1962. Today it is officially Day Son Inc., the name reflecting that it has become a family business in recent years.
Besides filling your gas tank, you can have the air in your tires checked, have the vehicle lubricated and serviced, get help with automotive problems, buy tires, use the restroom and obtain directions. Day's also operates a towing business.
About the only things missing from a stop at Day's in the 1960s are free road maps and trading stamps earned with a purchase.
You can buy candy, gum, soft drinks, potato chips, other snacks and cigarettes. As in the 1960s, don't expect to buy beer, bread, milk, ice cream, groceries and the impulse items that temp you in the convenience store super stations, where their workers specialize in operating the cash register and selling lottery tickets. At Day's station, the 10 employees actually know something about the automotive business.
Bob Day has vivid memories of his first day in business, July 20, 1962, at 990 Main Street.
"A customer came in with a $20 bill and I didn't have enough money in the cash register to change it," he said. "At that time, two people would come out [of the station], pump your gas, clean your windshield and, if desired, check your oil and tires."
"Most customers asked for five gallons and it cost them only a dollar," he recalled. Paying for gas has changed, too. Credit cards were rare in 1962. "It has gone from paper to electronic -- with 50 percent now paying with credit cards," he explained.
When he started, Day said, the average length of survival for independent station owners was three months. A check of Williams' Hamilton city directories shows the local casualties.
In 1965, the directory listed 76 stations in the city. In the 1989-90 edition, there were only 27.
Along Main Street, from the bridge west to Old Oxford Road (Ohio 130), there were 13 gas stations in 1965, including Day's Sinclair at 990 Main. By 1989-90, the list dropped to seven. Now there are only four.
Day said his business has survived because of loyal customers, including "some from Indiana who we see almost every Saturday or Sunday." Day also credits his relationship with Sunoco as a factor in enabling him to continue to operate a 1960s-style full-service station instead of a big store that also has gas pumps.
The 1970s was an era of many changes in the service station business, starting with the 1973 oil shortage. "Doors started slamming shut then," he said, and not all were related to the shortage.
Self-serve -- or pump it yourself -- arrived in Ohio in the mid 1970s. Day accepted the change. At first, his station "had two islands -- one self-serve and the other not," he said, "and there was a 20-cent difference between the two."
Day's offers self-service and pay at the pump, but employees will still pump gas for customers. "We have regular customers, who, for some reason, can't or don't want to pump gas. If we recognize the car, we go out. If not, if they honk the horn, someone will respond and pump their gas."
"We still put air in bike tires for kids," he added. " They're potential customers, and when they get old enough to drive, we hope they remember that we helped them."
Another change since Day opened more than 44 years ago was the switch from leaded to unleaded gasoline. "That changeover was slow," he recalled, and he predicts a switch to alternative fuels, if it is necessary, won't be quick.