Oxford Female College last of five schools formed in Oxford
(This is the last of a four-part series on women's colleges in Oxford.)
By Jim Blount
Disagreement over land offered to the Oxford Female Institute led to the formation a new school of higher education in Oxford with a familiar leader. The Oxford Female College was chartered Jan. 19, 1854, with the Rev. John Witherspoon Scott as principal.
Scott, who was ordained in 1830 while an Oxford resident, taught at Miami University for 17 years, 1828-45. In 1830 he had supported establishment of the Oxford Female Academy, which was more of a high school than a college. He also was one of its incorporators in 1839.
In 1849 -- after a brief period at Farmers College near Cincinnati -- Scott returned to head the new college, a post he held until 1855. Its course work had a "scholarly trend as opposed to that offered in the so-called finishing schools of the time," wrote Olive Flower in her 1949 book, The History of Oxford College for Women.
In the early 1850s, Ebenezer Lane offered money and acreage in northeast Oxford for a college. Flower said "great dissatisfaction and heated arguments arose" among leaders of the Institute, then housed in a new structure at the southwest corner of High Street and College Avenue. [Later known as Ox College for decades.]
When the Institute rejected the offer, Lane's gift was accepted by the new school, the Oxford Female College. The new building was dedicated Sept. 3, 1856. [Later, when acquired by Miami, it was named Fisher Hall.]
In 1856 -- five years before the start of the Civil War -- Oxford College was one of three female schools of higher learning operating in Oxford, a town of about 1,000 people..
The others were the Oxford Female Institute, started in 1849, and the Western Female Seminary, established in 1853. Neighboring all-male institutions included Miami University (1824) and the Oxford Theological Seminary (1839). All had some relationship to the Presbyterian Church.
Rev. Scott -- its head until 1859 -- was determined that Oxford Female College graduates would have "minds well disciplined by study." Other objectives included "first and chiefly to glorify God in edification of his church and the conversion of the world," and "to train young ladies for all the high and holy responsibilities developing upon them in social and domestic life."
The Civil War years, 1861-65, were disastrous for higher education. About 80 percent didn't survive the war -- only 104 out of the nation's 516 still functioning by the end of the fighting.
In June 1867, Oxford Female College and Oxford Female Institute united under the name Oxford Female College. For a few years, the Female College building (later Fisher Hall) housed boarding students and the Female Institute (later Ox College) served as a day school.
When financial burdens forced Miami to close in 1873, Oxford was left with two women's schools -- the recently merged Oxford Female College and the Western Female Seminary.
Miami reopened in 1885 and, starting in 1887, gradually admitted women, providing competition for the town's two female schools.
Three years later, April 29, 1890, the Oxford Female College changed its name to Oxford College. In another reorganization, a new corporation was formed June 6, 1906, known as the Oxford College for Women.
In 1925, Miami purchased the original Oxford Female College building, converted it to a men's dormitory and renamed it Fisher Hall in 1927. After multiple uses for 54 years, it was demolished in 1979.
Oxford College for Women formally ended Dec. 8, 1928, when the school property and mounting debts were assumed by Miami University.
The Oxford College building -- originally used by the Oxford Female Institute -- was known as "Ox College" for 70 years while a Miami women's residence hall. It was believed to have been the oldest surviving women's college building in the United States in the 1990s. It was closed in 1998, and two years later became the Oxford Community Arts Center.
The consolidation of Oxford higher education was completed in 1974 when Western College (originally the Western Female Seminary) was merged into Miami.
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Three bridge collapses mark Butler County history
By Jim Blount
Butler County has never experienced a bridge disaster on the scale of the Aug. 1 tragedy in Minneapolis. The failure of the eight-lane, 1,907-foot I-35W bridge -- which opened in November 1967 over the Mississippi River -- has focused attention on the integrity of spans across the nation. There have been three notable bridge collapses in local history, one each in Hamilton, Millville and New Miami.
In the past 200 years, floods and fires -- not structural failures -- have taken a heavy toll on Butler County bridges.
In 1894 a farmer was killed when a steam tractor crashed through the wood floor of a Millville bridge. The covered wooden span over Indian Creek -- on what is now U. S. 27 and Ohio 129 -- had been built in 1849.
As 1933 ended, residents of Hamilton and New Miami, were eager for a new road connecting those communities. The 2.5-mile North Third Street Extension had been approved by voters in 1920, but legal challenges delayed the project more than 10 years. Jan. 1, 1934, was the scheduled opening date, but severe weather hampered work and the contractor asked for more time.
The project -- including a bridge over a hydraulic outlet just north of Hamilton and a larger span over the Great Miami south of New Miami -- became urgent Jan. 9, 1934. That afternoon a 194-foot steel bridge collapsed just south of New Miami on Seven Mile Pike (now North B Street in Hamilton and Seven Mile Avenue in New Miami).
Two men escaped injury when their northbound truck, hauling six tons of waste paper, tumbled into Four Mile Creek. The bridge, built in 1891, was then part of the only road linking Hamilton and New Miami and areas north of the village formerly known as Coke Otto.
With the Seven Mile Pike bridge down, work was expedited on the North Third Street Extension. It opened to traffic five days later, Jan. 14, 1934, without any formal ceremony.
Almost exactly 12 years later, near the end of World War II, a small portion of the two-lane High-Main Street Bridge collapsed. That bridge, the predecessor of the span dedicated in May this year, had been completed in 1915.
Jan. 13, 1945, a section of the north sidewalk crumbled under a Hamilton woman, who fell 45 feet into the river. Fortunately, a Hamilton police officer was nearby and went into the cold water to rescue the victim, who suffered only minor injuries. That mishap led the state and county to spend $87,000 to repair and widen the bridge to four lanes.
There were at least 50 covered bridges in Butler County in the 19th century, most designed and built by carpenters or novices, not by qualified architects or civil engineers.
Seven wooden structures in the county crossed the Great Miami River. The first completed, the Miami Bridge, opened in Hamilton in 1819. It was at the approximate location of the present High-Main Street Bridge. The two-lane wooden covered bridge -- designed by James McBride, who had no formal education -- stood until destroyed by a flood in 1866.
Until late in the 19th century, the wooden bridges in the area were financed and built by private companies, including turnpikes, not by local governments. Most builders learned the business by the trial-and-error method. There were no government standards and little research on stress, weight limits and other factors related to stability and endurance.
An Ohio railroad accident Dec. 29, 1876, helped spotlight the need for design standards and government oversight. On that snowy, windy night an iron bridge owned by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway collapsed as a three-car passenger train crossed. There were about 160 passengers and crew aboard when the train plunged an estimated 60 to 70 feet into a ravine and creek near Ashtabula in northeast Ohio.
Casualty reports vary -- from 83 to 92 killed and 60 to 70 people injured. Some accounts say the Ashtabula bridge was an experimental version of the Howe truss design that had been popular with wooden covered bridge builders for decades.
Some reports say Amasa Stone, the bridge designer, and Charles Collins, chief engineer on the project, had differed on safety questions. Both later committed suicide, possibly in reaction to the 1876 disaster.
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Retiring congressman died in stagecoach accident
By Jim Blount
There are no statistics on stagecoach accidents for the half century that the horse-drawn coaches served Butler County communities. Early histories don't detail the mishaps caused by broken wheels, road washouts and careless handling. At least one person died because of a crash in the county. He was James Shields, who had represented the area in the U. S. House of Representatives from March 4, 1829, until March 3, 1831.
Shields died less than six months after completing his term in Washington. "Killed through the accidental overturning of a stagecoach near Venice" [Ross], reports the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress .
He was born April 13, 1762, in County Down, Ireland, was graduated in 1786 from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and attended a medical college for two year before coming to the United States in 1791. Shields taught school in Frederick County, Va., before moving to Butler County in 1801. He returned to Virginia, became a U. S. citizen in 1804 and was back in Ohio about a year later. Accompanying him was his new wife, who would be the mother of their 12 children.
In 1805, according to the 1882 Butler County history, he was residing in Morgan Township in the east part of Section 36, "where he had previously purchased land. He began farming in the midst of a dense forest, surrounded by few settlers, and these entire strangers. It must be confessed that from the natural disposition and former habits of Mr. Shields, he was little qualified for this course of life."
"But while he was reasonably successful in his undertaking," said the 1882 account, "he speedily rose to a commanding influence among his fellow citizens, that must have recompensed him for the failure to reap great pecuniary success. His immediate neighbors soon discovered that they were blessed with a friend of superior acquirements, and they uniformly looked up to him for counsel, but never in vain."
Shields -- in addition to supervising schools in Morgan Township -- was a trustee of Miami University from 1810 to 1812, before the Oxford institution opened, and again from 1830 until his death.
The 1882 Butler County history said "excepting Professor McGuffey [William Holmes McGuffey of Miami University], he was perhaps the best educated man in the county, taking a leading part in all educational enterprises."
Shields' attributes were quickly recognized by local voters. "He was successful in political life," said the 1882 history. "He never took a step, wrote a line, or dropped an expression to obtain preferment, yet the public demonstrated their conviction of his superior worth."
In 1808 he began the first of 12 consecutive terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. He served until he was elected to the U. S. Congress as a Jacksonian in 1828, the same year Andrew Jackson won the first of two terms in the White House.
While in Congress, the 1882 history noted, Shields became ill, but "would not allow himself to be absent from any session." He didn't seek reelection in 1830.
"He had returned home from Washington, with extreme difficulty, " said the same source, "and from the day of his arrival was generally confined in bed." Shields died "after a lingering sickness," said the 1882 history.
That account didn't mention a stagecoach accident. It is possible that the stagecoach mishap -- instead of being the sole cause -- contributed to the death of the ailing 69-year-old Shields, who is buried in Venice Cemetery.
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Did Johnny Appleseed plant trees in Butler County?
By Jim Blount
Did Johnny Appleseed plant trees in Butler County? The origins and details of folklore are difficult to trace and often contradictory. Johnny Appleseed -- whose real name was John Chapman -- is no exception. Accounts vary on his life, motives, methods, realm and even his death and burial place. It appears no one paid much attention to his tree planting compulsion until several years after his death.
States said to have benefited from his pomological passion include Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and western Pennsylvania. Several sources say most of his activity was in Ohio and eastern Indiana. Some writers claim he eventually visited every part of Ohio.
He isn't mentioned in early Butler County histories. According to one researcher, records in Fort Wayne, Ind., indicate he possessed 18.5 acres about 15 miles south of Butler County. Estate documents show Chapman owned land on the ox bow of the Great Miami River on the Ohio-Indiana line near the mouth of the river, according to an Ohio Archaeological & Historical Society article. But owning the land doesn't prove he was there or here.
There is agreement he was born in Leominster, Mass., but the date is in doubt. Most sources use Sept. 26, 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution. Others say the year was 1775.
Most accounts say he left home to plant apple seeds as a source of food for people moving to the frontier. Another version is that he departed Massachusetts because of heartbreak after a romance soured. He was silent about his past and is believed to have never married. One writer said Chapman was "reticent about himself."
A third motive may have been religion. One of the earliest mentions of Chapman was in a Swedenborg publication in England in 1811. It described him as "a very extraordinary missionary" for that faith. That is consistent with reports that he read the Bible to families he visited.
His arrival in Ohio varies from 1800 to 1806, probably first near Steubenville and later settling in the Mansfield-Ashland area. He is depicted arriving on the Ohio River in two canoes loaded with bags of apple seeds procured from cider presses in western Pennsylvania.
He traveled at ease because he was trusted by the Indians and he trusted them. There were still Indian troubles when he roamed the frontier. The gentle, courageous man reportedly didn't carry a gun or knife.
There are references to Chapman planting more than apple trees. He also has been called a healer, or "Medicine Man," because he spread the seeds of medicinal plants. He was a vegetarian who wouldn't kill an animal and subsisted mostly on berries, nuts, herbs and corn mush. The mush was supposedly cooked in a tin pan that often doubled as his hat. He's also been illustrated with a broad-brimmed hat.
His clothing has been described as old, ragged, shabby or a potato sack. He was barefooted in all seasons, traveled alone and preferred sleeping outside. Estimates of his lifetime travels range from 10,000 to 100,000 miles in less than 50 years.
He's been labeled eccentric, reclusive and a nomad who was 5-foot 9-inches and scrawny.
Numerous stories, poems, songs and legends focus on Chapman planting apple trees wherever he went. But his activities involved more than sprinkling seeds from a sack on his back.
Some researchers say he planted nurseries where permitted. He would return later to prune the saplings. He would leave some trees for the land owner and transplant the others. He is said to have donated some seeds and saplings, and sold others.
When the legend began, Chapman was known as Appleseed John. Later, he became Johnny Appleseed. The first report on his life of 70 to 73 years is believed to have been an article in November 1871 in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, titled "Johnny Appleseed, A Pioneer Hero." It prompted others to recall stories they had heard about Chapman.
That illustrated article was published at least 25 years after he died in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he had resided about 17 years. The Harper's story ignited a debate about detai0ls of Chapman's life, including the date of his death and his burial place. March 11 or 18, 1847, seems to be the consensus, but other March dates are often mentioned. The year has been reported as 1843, 1845 and 1846.
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Wilderness Road's role in populating Butler County unknown
By Jim Blount
It's unknown how many early Butler County residents moved west through the Cumberland Gap over the Wilderness Road, a major route to the frontier north and south of the Ohio River. According to one estimate, more than 300,000 people migrated over the Wilderness Road between 1775 and 1800. That number is greater than the population of all American colonies in 1700.
The Wilderness Road had several names, including the Kentucky Road, the Road to the Old Settlements and the Warrior's Path, the latter reflecting its use by the Cherokees and Shawnees. The Indians are believed to have followed it to hunting grounds in Kentucky.
On the eastern side of the mountains, the road began in what is now southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee. The gap -- a natural passage -- is about 800 feet below the highest point in the mountains (between 2,400 and 2,500 feet).
Besides Virginians, it was a western migration route for residents of Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and other eastern and southeastern colonies and states.
The road's best known traveler was Daniel Boone, a native of Pennsylvania and a North Carolinia resident. Boone had been in Kentucky in 1767 and 1769, but in the spring of 1775 he led a group through the gap to establish settlements in Kentucky. Boone directed about 30 woodsmen who improved and marked the road. Soon after that passage the road also was known as Boone's Trace or Boone's Road.
Although the road and the gap are often associated with Boone, historians of the region identify Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750 as the first white man to see the gap. Walker, in addition to being a physician, was a surveyor and land agent. He was exploring the area in search of land suitable for a settlement.
He built a cabin at what is now the Dr. Thomas Walker Historic Site, five miles southwest of Barbourville on KY 459. It is east of I-75, accessible by exit 29 and U. S. 25E to Barbourville.
Once through the rugged Cumberland Gap, the Wilderness Road led to the interior of Kentucky, then a part of Virginia before gaining statehood in 1792. From Middleboro, at the base of the gap, the route varied in direction and length. Some branches extended north to the Ohio River.
In 1779, while still part of Virginia, the legislature funded improving the road because of heavy traffic through the gap. Kentucky Historical markers on U. S. 25 and U. S. 25E say the Wilderness Road "opened Kentucky and the West to rapid settlement and major development. First wagon road built by Kentucky (1796), Crab Orchard to Cumberland Gap. A principal highway, maintained as a turnpike toll road for 80 years."
In October 1796, a pioneer newspaper, the Kentucky Gazette, said the "road from Cumberland Gap to the settlements in Kentucky is now completed. Wagons loaded with a ton weight, may pass with ease, with four good horses."
The Wilderness Road was a factor in Kentucky's rapid population growth -- from 73,000 in the first census in 1790 to more than 220,000 in 1800. Kentucky settlers also had the option of traveling from the east on the Ohio River, starting from western Pennsylvania.
A reason for the popularity of the Cumberland Gap trail was the belief that it was a safer route to the west. Although the Wilderness Road was not without danger, travelers on the Ohio River were more likely to face Indian assaults than those who took the mountain route.
Others relocating chose the Wilderness Road because they were experienced handling horses and wagons, but not in guiding heavily-loaded boats on a long river trip.
The absence of information on Butler County residents who relied on the Wilderness Road is partly because early historians tended to report the birthplace or point of origin in brief biographies of pioneers, but seldom mention how they or their family reached Ohio from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey and other locations.
The peopling of Southwestern Ohio was slow until Gen. Anthony Wayne's 1794 victory over the Indians at Fallen Timbers, near present Toledo. Indian raids on river traffic didn't subside until Wayne negotiated a treaty with the Miami, Shawnee and other Midwest tribes a year later.