Hamilton to commemorate Lincoln visit in September
By Jim Blount
The 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth is next week, but Hamilton will honor the 16th president in September on the 150th anniversary of his only appearance in the city. Lincoln -- not yet a declared presidential nominee -- delivered a brief speech Sept. 17, 1859, while passing through the city on a Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad passenger train.
Hamilton joins other communities in recalling connections with the Civil War president during the two-year Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial. The national observance started Feb. 12, 2008, near Hodgenville, Ky., where the 16th president was born Feb. 12, 1809. Bicentennial events will continue until Feb. 12 next year.
The Illinois lawyer -- known later to admirers as "Father Abraham" and "the Great Emancipator" -- had challenged incumbent Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 for an Illinois seat in the U. S. Senate.
In a series of face-to-face political appearances -- known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates -- the rivals traded views on a number of issues. The debates extended from Aug. 21 and Oct. 15, 1858, in the Illinois towns of Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton.
Spotlighted in the confrontations were their differing opinions on slavery. Lincoln had framed his position in accepting the Republican nomination for the senate race. "A house divided against itself cannot stand," he declared. "I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free."
During his Hamilton stop, one report paraphrased Lincoln as saying "your sons may desire to locate in the west; you don't want them to settle in a territory like Kansas, with the curse of slavery hanging over it. They desire the blessings of freedom, so dearly purchased by our Revolutionary forefathers."
Ohio Republican leaders invited Lincoln to speak in the state after Sen. Douglas had campaigned on behalf of Democratic candidates earlier in the month.
Lincoln delivered two speeches in Columbus Friday, Sept. 16, 1859. The next day he spoke in Dayton before his brief comments in Hamilton. He concluded his Ohio swing with a fifth speech that night in Cincinnati.
Lincoln and Douglas didn't face each other on the same platforms in their separate Ohio tours, but historians consider their speeches an extension of the 1858 Illinois debates that preceded Douglas being re-elected by the state legislature. Senators weren't elected by vote then.
In May 1860, Lincoln gained the Republican presidential nomination, won the November election and from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865 guided the divided nation through the Civil War.
A newspaper said about 1,000 people heard Lincoln speak in Hamilton the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1859. The site was near the present intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, South Fourth Street and Ludlow Street. The tracks along Fourth Street were moved during construction of the High Street underpass in the 1980s.
The 150th anniversary program Sept. 17, 2009, will include unveiling an Ohio Historical Society marker at High Street and MLK Boulevard in the plaza in front of One Renaissance Center and the Government Services Center. The marker will be about 785 feet north of the speech site, which is not readily accessible. The City of Hamilton has agreed to place a sign identifying the 1859 location.
A marker dedication program will be held in the atrium on the High Street side of the city and county government buildings. Tentative plans include an appearance by a Lincoln re-enactor, period music by a brass quartet and a summary of Lincoln's remarks..
The day will be designated Abraham Lincoln Day in Hamilton, including a Lincoln speaker that evening as part of the Michael J. Colligan History Project at Miami University Hamilton.
Members of the Lincoln in Hamilton Committee include Carla Fiehrer, James Irwin, Jim Blount, David Belew, Tim Evans, John Moser, Peggy Furmon, Craig Keller, Paul Thoms, Susan Myers, Neil Sohngen, Mary Slocum and Martin P. Johnson.
Contributions to cover the cost of the marker and related expenses may be sent to Lincoln in Hamilton Committee, Hamilton Community Foundation, 319 North Third Street, Hamilton, OH 45011.
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1929 stock market collapse slow to have local impact
(This column is the first in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
Desperate investors jumped from upper floors of Hamilton's highest buildings, others without income sold apples on street corners, factories laid off workers, storekeepers stopped ordering merchandise and fired clerks, banks were depleted of cash as customers cleared out savings and checking accounts and Butler County farmers shot most of their worthless pigs and burned unwanted wheat to save money.
That didn't happen. That's the highly exaggerated description of the reaction -- here and elsewhere -- to shock waves that wiped out fortunes, large and small, with collapse of the U. S. stock market in October 1929, the common, but disputed starting date for what would be called the Great Depression.
"Black Thursday" Oct. 24, "Black Monday" Oct. 28 and "Black Tuesday" Oct. 29 saw negative records set for the loss of stock values, shares sold in panic and rapid declines in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other market indexes.
Despite the dramatic images of the economy's sudden collapse, there were few signs of disaster in the Hamilton area during the final two months of 1929. No one was calling it the Great Depression then.
"There are millions of people . . . to whom the mad scramble of the stock market with its paper profits and paper losses mean but little," observed a Journal editorial two weeks after the market crash.
"None realized" [then], the Journal recalled a few years later, "that the golden decade of the '20s, when all had work at high wages and spent their money freely, was at an end"
"Orders in factories began to taper off and within a few weeks, the problem of unemployment was being openly discussed. Hundreds in Hamilton found themselves going to banks and building associations and withdrawing money to buy necessities. Among the industrial cities of America, Hamiltonians, because of the multiple products manufactured here, found themselves among the last to join the rapidly increasing horde of unemployed," the newspaper noted.
"Any lack of confidence in the economic future or the basic strength of business in the United States is foolish," said President Herbert Hoover a month after the stock market collapse. Belying his confident statement was his series of White House meetings with a who's who of industry, business, finance, labor and government. He sought their ideas for stabilizing employment and wages and boosting consumer spending.
A state report said Hamilton and Marion -- both with 84 percent -- tied for first in placing applicants in jobs in November. In Hamilton 126 of 149 job seekers were hired. In nearby cities 636 of 1,047 in Middletown, 987 of 2,217 in Cincinnati and 1,114 of 2,066 in Dayton were employed.
A bright spot was Coach Dana King's undefeated Hamilton High School football team. Its 10th victory was 39-7 over Cincinnati Hughes on Thanksgiving Day. In two previous games, HHS blanked Norwood, 52-0, and Springfield, 83-0. Halfback Stan Lewis scored four touchdowns against Norwood and eight against Springfield.
More good news came early in December when Henry Ford announced pay increases for his employees, including those at the Hamilton wheel plant that had opened in 1920. Ford said local employment would increase by 400 to 4,000 positions. The minimum starting pay went from $6 a day to $7. Workers already receiving between $7 and $10 daily realized a five-cent an hour boost.
By mid December more than 4,468 Hamiltonians had contributed $330,500 to build a new YWCA at North Third and Dayton streets.
Hamilton's Community Christmas program served more needy citizens than in 1928. Baskets of food, clothing and toys were delivered to 464 families totaling about 2,500 men, women and children. A year earlier, 378 families (1,735 individuals) received baskets. In addition, Salvation Army baskets went to 300 Hamilton families in 1929.
As 1929 ended, Oxford prepared to open and dedicate a new $125,000 school, William Stewart High School. The first major event there was the Jan. 3 basketball game between Stewart and Darrtown high schools, said to be special because it "is the first time in history that Oxford's public school students have ever had a gymnasium."
Hamilton officials looked forward to 1930 with optimism. Several city projects and improvements were expected to start and plans had been announced for two new bank buildings and a new theater.
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Local projects and jobs appeared plentiful as 1930 began
(This column is the second in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
There was plenty of optimism in Hamilton as 1930 began, despite the world being in the early stages of the Great Depression. The city, the schools and private interests were planning several building projects that promised to keep people employed and local businesses prospering.
The stock market had crashed at the end of October 1929, but began to stabilize a month later. President Herbert encouraged governors of the 48 states to expand public works spending to keep employment high. "Any lack of confidence in the economic future or the basic strength of business in the United States is foolish," Hoover said.
"The general opinion of supposedly informed people early in 1930 was that the United States had experienced no more than a minor recession, a typical stock market panic," wrote John A. Garraty in his 1986 book, The Great Depression.
The 1930 census reflected confidence for the booming Hamilton area. It reported 633 businesses and 109 manufacturing plants operating in the city. Hamilton's 1930 population was 52,176 people after a 31.5 percent increase during the 1920s. That was 12,501 more than the 1920 census of 39,675.
Hamiltonians represented 45.7 percent of Butler County's 114,084 residents in 1930. County inhabitants increased 31 percent (27,059) in the 10-year span from 87,025 in 1920.
Several Hamilton construction projects were announced or began in late 1929. Work had started in October at the northeast corner of Third and High streets on a new First National Bank, estimated to cost at least $1 million. Another million-dollar job announced in December was a new downtown 1,800-seat theater (the Paramount) covering half a block bordered by South Second and Court streets and Journal Square.
The Hamilton school system was in the midst of expansion. Three new elementary schools had opened in 1929 -- Buchanan, Fillmore and Pierce. The first of two junior high schools, Roosevelt at South 12th and Walnut streets, was under construction in 1930, and the other, Wilson on Eaton Avenue, was being planned.
A bad news⁄good news report in November was that Henry Ford was leasing 500 acres north of his Hamilton wheel plant to farmers and closing the Ford Airport on that land. Not included in the lease was an adjoining Ford farm that was proposed as the site for a Hamilton municipal airport.
The federal government in November 1929 said it would allocate up to $500,000 for a new post office in downtown Hamilton. After a survey of potential sites, it was revealed June 17, 1930, it would be built at the southeast corner of South Front and Court streets. The land was purchased for $135,000, but construction didn't begin in 1930.
The formal closing of the Miami-Erie Canal was observed Nov. 1-2, 1929, in Middletown, where ground had been broken 104 years earlier. At the same time, plans were announced for a Cincinnati-Toledo super highway over the canal route. Some links would be built in the 1930s.
A modern waterway had been discussed for about 10 years -- a barge canal with dams and locks, possibly on part of the Great Miami River, between the Ohio River at Cincinnati and Lake Erie at Toledo. The route would include Hamilton. In December 1929, a bill was introduced in Congress to revive the plan. The multi-million dollar project was expected to employ about 7,000 construction workers for two years.
Work was expected to start in 1930 on the elimination of two dangerous railroad crossings. Local officials favored highway underpasses at "dead man's" crossing at Schenck's Station (near present St. Clair Avenue) in Fairfield Township and at the busy South Hamilton crossing (Central Avenue) in Hamilton.
Hamilton awarded a contract March 20, 1930, for a new West Side fire station at Main Street and Millville Avenue, and dedicated the structure Oct. 9, 1930.
The city had a long list of improvements and additions for start or completion in 1930. They included developing a new well supply field and other water system upgrades totaling $784,600, rebuilding electric distribution lines, repairing gas system leaks, a new city garage and replacement of lighting on High Street. In March city electric rates were reduced, saving consumers $31,000 annually.
The good news of late 1929 and early 1930 eventually yielded to somber reports while economic analysts debated if the U. S. and the world was in a recession or a depression.
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Hamiltonians assisted city's unemployed in 1930
(This column is the third in a series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)
By Jim Blount
Hamilton government and civic leaders weren't convinced in March 1930 when an optimistic President Herbert Hoover predicted that "all the evidences indicate that the worst effects of the crash upon unemployment will have passed during the next 60 days."
In Butler County, there were increasing signs that the October 1929 stock market crash was affecting more than the relatively small number of investors. The market collapse may not have caused the Great Depression, but by early 1930 it was clear the economy was in decline and impacting local business owners and their employees.
"By the late summer of 1930," the Journal-News reported a few years later, "there was no indication that the depression had spent its force; there were indications, however, that it would grow in intensity, so city officials and civic leaders prepared to meet a greater emergency during the winter."
President Hoover refused federal intervention. He believed it was the responsibility of state and local governments and social service agencies to assist the unemployed in their communities. Hamiltonians accepted the president's challenge. City government, service agencies, the chamber of commerce, the schools, businesses and individuals formed the Hamilton’s Unemployment Committee (HUC) to assist the destitute.
Its mission wasn't to disperse money to indigents. Instead, HUC collected funds to provide wages for jobless people hired to work on community projects. "At that time the idea of relief -- or charity, as it was called -- was repugnant to most families. A number of cases of destitution had come to the attention of authorities because men were too proud to ask for public assistance," the Journal-News recalled later.
HUC set relief employment guidelines, including (a) preference for Hamilton residents, (b) priority for men or women with dependents, (c) employ married women who have no other means of support, (d) rotate work when possible to provide employment for more people, (d) obtain additional labor through other agencies; and (f) maintain a verified list of unemployed needy.
In September 1930 Hamilton City Council transferred $2,500 to fund relief of indigents. The city also authorized $25,000 in bonds to build the first part of Potter Drive (later Washington Boulevard). The 1.25-mile project between New London Road and Millville Avenue was meant to provide jobs.
In October the city had $29,863 remaining in its street fund and expected $12,765 in added revenue before the end of the year. Instead of ending street work in early November, as usual, the city said it would keep men employed as long as long as weather permitted. That enabled the hiring of two crews to alternate three-day work schedules.
HUC received a financial boost when employees of the city, schools, business and industry pledged 2.5 percent of their pay to the program. Local businesses also contributed.
Nov. 24 HUC hired 40 men at $3 a day; and added 21 later that week. They were heads of families that included 350 women and children. They supplemented the work of city employees. The city provided tools and trucks as the men cleared the abandoned Miami-Erie Canal and cleaned and repaired city parks. That $3 a day, allowing for inflation, would be equal to about $37 today.
The 61 were among at least 700 unemployed men in Hamilton. Those hired had the most dependents and had been jobless for the longest time.
In December, as donations increased, HUC hired an average of 80 men a day, who worked from two to five days, based on family size. Late in the month, 34 women -- who were living alone or had disabled husbands -- were hired to clean schools during the holiday break.
Thanks to major contributions from the Champion Coated Paper Co., Ohio Casualty and Columbia Machine Tool Co., HUC said that in the first week of January 1931 it would have $2,200 a week available for hiring more unemployed Hamilton men at the $3 a day rate .
By June 1931, donations to HUC totaled $58,259, providing 735 men and 171 women with part time employment.
Looking back in 1936, the Journal-News said "many worthwhile projects had been started, some of them completed. The most noteworthy . . . was the building of Washington Boulevard." The $48,000 first section of the boulevard -- proposed in the 1920 city plan -- was dedicated Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, 1932.
"Not a cent of the money thus raised [by HUC] was used for administration," the Journal-News noted. "City officials not only gave of their time, but provided all equipment necessary; the Chamber of Commerce paid incidental expenses and provided headquarters."