Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Citizens raised funds for first swimming pool in 1920s
By Jim Blount
Hamilton citizens raised most of the money for the first municipal swimming pool in the 1920s. The Eastview Pool at Hensley and Parrish avenues in East Hamilton was dedicated Wednesday, Aug. 13, 1924, less than two years after the project was proposed.
The 82-year-old pool probably won't open this summer. Earlier this year, city officials were told it would require about $2.3 million to bring four neighborhood pools to modern health and safety standards. Most of that money would be required to upgrade Eastview and the Lindenwald pool on Hoadley Avenue.
Two pools -- Wilson, off Cleveland Avenue near Haldiman Avenue, and North End, on Nuxhall Blvd. at N. Seventh St. -- are scheduled to open this summer. But their futures are in doubt.
Hamilton City Council could close four existing pools, and replace them with a centrally-located municipal aquatic center with features of recently-built water parks. The estimate cost of that option has been reported as $1.5 million.
Hamilton isn't alone in facing the choice of (1) closing older pools, (2) spending large sums to modernize and improve them, or (3) replace them with one or more new facilities with a variety of water slides and other aquatic features. After the 2004 season, Middletown closed its pools rather than spend scarce city funds on improving or replacing them.
In the early 1920s, a municipal pool with trained lifeguards and adult supervision was seen as a way to reduce drownings in the Great Miami River, the unused Miami-Erie Canal and other local waterways. Every summer most of victims were in their teens or younger.
The 1924 Eastview dedication program said there had been "many suggestions for the building of a municipal swimming pool, the first of which appeared in the Palace Theatre Magazine of September 1922."
The Hamilton Lions Club, chartered in 1920, took the lead in promoting the idea. In 1922, the Lions pledged $1,000 for building a municipal pool. The club also headed the campaign to collect contributions from individuals and businesses. The Lions' goal was $10,000. Instead, donations from more than 1,200 people and businesses topped $17,000. A 1924 report said "the smallest subscription was 50 cents, and the largest $1,000." The city appropriated an additional $13,000 for the project.
Eastview was designed by W. Bintz, a civil engineer based in Lansing, Mich. The bathhouse was designed by Frederick G. Mueller, a Hamilton architect.
When it opened in 1924, Eastview pool was 150 feet in length. It narrowed from 100 feet wide at the shallow end to 70 feet at the deepest part. Depth ranged from three to nine feet. A separate wading pool was 40 feet at the widest end and 24 feet on the other with the depth rising from eight to 18 inches. A 45 by 89-foot bathhouse was part of the complex built by C. A. Ervin & Co., a Hamilton-based general contractor. Costs were stated as $18,200 for the pools and $5,800 for the bathhouse.
The opening night pageant -- attended by more than 6,000 people -- included demonstrations of swimming and diving for fun and pleasure, sport and safety. The program was described as a "scene comparable to that of a water carnival at Venice." The more than 250 participants included young people from the Boy Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, American Red Cross and boys from Camp Kee-Way-Den. A band concert preceded the pool activities.
The dress rehearsal the previous night attracted more than 1,000 spectators, according to Dana King, playground director, who also was the football coach at Hamilton High School.
In conjunction with the pool opening, the Auto Accessories Co., 38 High Street, advertised one and two-piece swim suits from 50 cents to $5 each. The Heyman-Fisher Co., at the southwest corner of High and S. Third streets, featured 25 percent off its one-piece men's and women's bathing suits.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Miami overwhelmed by veterans 60 years ago
By Jim Blount
Except for temporary dishevel around a construction site, Miami University's Oxford campus is noted for its tidy appearance and consistent architecture. That wasn't the situation 60 years ago when the university suddenly had more students than its facilities could accommodate.
After 1930, when the Great Depression began, there had been few physical changes on the campus that, at the most, served 3,500 students a year. In September 1946, at the start of the first full academic year since the end of World War II, enrollment jumped nearly 20 percent -- to about 4,100.
The major reason for the sudden enrollment spike at Miami and other colleges was the GI Bill. About half of the 4,100 Oxford students in 1946 were World War II veterans. "The GI Bill guaranteed that those who wished to go to college after military service would have their way paid by the government," explained Dr. Phillip R. Shriver in his 1998 book, Miami University: A Personal History. "Many who had never aspired to a college education now had the opportunity, making the GI Bill one of the landmark pieces of legislation in American history," wrote the former Miami president.
Veterans were eligible for a year of full-time training, plus time equal to their military service, up to 48 months. The Veterans Administration paid up to $500 per year for tuition, books, fees and other costs. It also provided a small living allowance while veterans were in school. The Servicemen's Readjustment Act, the GI Bill's official title, also included loan programs for homes, farms and businesses and $20 weekly unemployment pay for up to 52 weeks for vets who couldn't find jobs.
In 1947, veterans were 49 percent of U. S. college enrollment. Nationally, 7.8 million veterans trained at colleges, trade schools and in business and agriculture training programs. When Congress created the program it expected half a million veterans to pursue the education option.
The Oxford student crunch was pictured in the Oct. 6, 1946, edition of Life magazine. The photo showed about 400 men in double-deck beds on the floor in Withrow Court, where Miami teams played basketball. That was one of several short term measures that for a few years made parts of the campus resemble a World War II military camp.
Miami had hosted training programs for the U. S. Navy during the war. A building used by the navy continued in use in 1946 as a dormitory. The two-story frame structure had been built in 1942 for the Civilian Pilot Training program. It was built between Withrow Court and Swing Hall on the east side of Tallawanda Road between the eastern ends of Withrow and Church streets.
Because it housed the navy's cooks and bakers school, it was nicknamed Grease Hall. The building stood for more than 30 years. As a dorm, it was McMaster Hall, honoring Miami's third president, Erasmus D. McMaster. In 1964 it was moved and used for physical education classes. It was demolished in 1974.
Surplus military buildings -- mostly barracks pre-fabricated on a common plan -- provided Miami and other schools with temporary relief.
Veterans Village -- also known as Vet's Village and Vetsville -- developed north of Chestnut Street between Oak Street and Campus Avenue, including the present site of the Recreational Sports Center. The double units, built in 1946, housed 196 married veterans and their spouses and children.
Another nearby complex was Miami Lodges, former army barracks transported from Fort Knox, Ky., in 1946. The lodges, east of Veterans Village, were north of Chestnut Street between Oak Street and Maple Avenue. They housed about 200 single veterans and, because of their color, were called the Green Mansions.
There were "other quick conversions," Shriver wrote. "Quonset huts from the Willow Run bomber plant near Detroit, from Camp Perry near Port Clinton on Lake Erie, from Fort Knox and Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky and from Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana were transported to the Miami campus and reassembled as emergency housing, faculty offices and emergency classrooms."
Gradually, space problems lessened as government restrictions on building materials, imposed during the war, were eliminated. Miami opened two new dormitories in 1948.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Private John Walker survived war and river disaster
By Jim Blount
The horror of the Civil War seemed behind them, thought Privates Louis Hesser and John L. Walker as they continued toward home in the first hour of Thursday, April 27, 1865. They had survived the suffering of battle and the hardships of Confederate captivity.
Hesser (also spelled Heser) enlisted in Company K of the 47th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment in Hamilton in August 1861. He was captured during the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain near Atlanta in June 1864. Walker had enlisted in Company B of the 50th Ohio in Shelby County in 1861. Confederates over ran the 50th OVI Nov. 30, 1864, at Franklin, Tenn., taking Walker prisoner.
Hesser had been in two notorious military prisons — Libby in Richmond, Va., and Andersonville, about 100 miles south of Atlanta. Walker spent most of his confinement in Cahaba Prison near Selma, Ala.
When prisoners were exchanged at war's end, both men were sent to Vicksburg, Miss. Union army officials had arranged to send released prisoners home to the Midwest on passenger packets that normally operated on the Mississippi River.
Monday evening, April 24, Hesser and Walker boarded the Sultana to return to Ohio. About 1,300 to 1,400 men were expected, but it grew to 1,866 because of the anxiety of the freed prisoners and speedy processing of paper work. With crew and other passengers, the Sultana boarded about 2,020, not counting some horses, mules and pigs also being hauled on the steamboat.
"But after being in Southern prisons for so long, we did not complain," Walker said. "We were willing to endure almost anything in order to reach home," noted the native of Scotland who would reside in Hamilton after the war.
Walker was on the hurricane deck (top deck). He said "everything went well until we reached Memphis, about 6 o'clock that evening, where we remained unloading and loading freight until midnight. I may also say 'loading' the officers and crew of the boat with whisky, for it seemed to me that every man connected with the boat was filled with it, the captain being so 'overloaded' that he had to be carried to his stateroom," Walker recalled.
Not familiar with the steamboat, Walker didn't notice extra supporting beams had been installed because of the weight on the upper decks. He also didn't know that the Sultana had boiler problems, delaying it at Vicksburg for 33 hours while repairs were attempted.
"We left Memphis a little past midnight, April 27, and had reached a point about eight miles above, known as the Hen and Chickens," Walker said. In the dark, it wasn't evident that the river had flooded. The water was several miles wide. An estimate said there was as much as 50 miles between dry land.
"We were awakened by a terrific explosion and crash of timbers," Walker said. "We were so covered with debris of all kinds that it took us some moments to understand just what had happened and to realize fully that we were on a burning deck with no help at hand.
"The night was dark, a drizzling rain was falling, and the bright light of the burning vessel presented a weird and awful sight, one never to be forgotten," he observed. "I thought the sights on the battlefields terrible, and they were, but they were not to be compared with the sights of that night when the animal nature of man came to the surface in the desperate struggle to save himself regardless of the life of others," Walker said.
Many died when the boilers exploded, others in the fire, some trampled in the panic and more drowned in the cold water that immobilized those who couldn't float on debris. Loss estimates were as high as 1,900. An official army report listed 1,101 soldiers lost, including Pvt. Hesser, who had survived Libby and Andersonville. There were 137 others aboard who died, raising the total to 1,238 lives.
(Deaths totaled 1,517 when the Titanic sank after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic April 14-15, 1912, and 1,198 when the Lusitania was torpedoed off Ireland by a German submarine May 7, 1915.)
An official investigation listed 2,021 Sultana passengers, including 1,866 military men.
Overload contributed to the death toll, but the explosion was blamed on defective boilers. The problem had intensified when the crew allowed the water level in the boilers to drop. Pvt. Walker's assertion that the crew and officers were intoxicated wasn't mentioned in the reports.
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Cinco de Mayo origin significant in United States in 1862
By Jim Blount
The Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo -- May 5 -- has received more attention in the United States in recent years, the result of increased Hispanic population and commercial hype of the commemoration. Although neglected in brief explanations of its significance, there is reason for Americans to celebrate the holiday.
Some mistakenly identify May 5, 1862, as Mexico's independence day. It was Sept. 16, 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo, a rebellious priest, later executed in Chihuahua, launched Mexico's struggle to end Spanish rule. It took 11 years to gain independence from Spain.
May 5, 1862, was when a mismatched Mexican army repelled one of several foreign threats. The Battle of Puebla pitted the Mexicans against France, then regarded as the strongest army in the world. Although outnumbered, about 6,000 to 4,000, the untrained Mexicans won the battle, making the date an important one in Mexican history. It honors the bravery of Mexicans who fought at Puebla.
In the spring of 1862, the Civil War in the U. S. was entering its second year. Its outcome remained in doubt. President Abraham Lincoln and his administration were concerned about the French invasion of Mexico, but could do nothing about it, except offer President Benito Juarez moral support.
Lincoln couldn't spare any soldiers or sailors to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In 1823 President James Monroe had declared that European nations shouldn't interfere in affairs in the Americas, indicating that the U. S. would enforce the edict.
In 1862, French intentions were uncertain. Were French troops in Mexico just to force payment of overdue debts? Would France colonize Mexico? Would the Confederacy seek an alliance with France, possibly bringing French troops into the Civil War against the North? Would France stop its forces at the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, or advance into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California?
After its independence in 1821, Mexico had amassed debts to several nations. Spain, England and France, under the leadership of Napoleon III, pressed for repayment and the three nations landed forces in Mexico in 1861, but Spain and England soon withdrew.
The 1862 Battle of Puebla slowed the French advance toward Mexico City, but didn't stop it. French troops remained in Mexico, and France in 1864 designated Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria as emperor of Mexico.
When the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865, soldiers on both sides wanted to go home. But bringing the Confederacy back into the union wasn't the only problem facing the U. S. The French army in Mexico, exceeding 30,000 men, still threatened the U. S. while strengthening its hold on Mexico.
After the Civil War, Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, an Ohioan, commanded 50,000 U. S. troops sent to Texas as a show of force against Maximilian's French-sponsored regime. Other Union army units remained in the bordering states of Arkansas and Louisiana, ready to move to Texas, if needed.
Sixteen Ohio infantry regiments and two Ohio artillery batteries went to Texas, some for several months. At least 175 and possibly more than 200 Butler County men had served in those units from 1861 through 1865, most in the 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the 83rd OVI. It is unknown how many local soldiers remained in their ranks in 1865. Regiments, usually 900 to 1,000 men, shrank during the war because of death, injury, illness and transfers.
Most Mexicans were hostile to Maximilian, and French forces continued fighting with soldiers loyal to President Juarez. Napoleon III began withdrawing French troops in 1866, but the struggling Maximilian remained in Mexico City.
During an offensive he commanded against Juarez forces, Maximilian was captured and executed by a firing squad June 18, 1867. The foreign threat to the mostly undeveloped southwest U. S. ended, and was seldom mentioned later in histories of the Civil War.
Eventually, details of secret Confederate efforts to capitalize on the French presence in Mexico, or to ally with France or Mexico, revealed that a Butler County native had been a key figure in that southern intrigue during the Civil War. His involvement will be covered in a future column.