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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2009

Chamber of Commerce accomplishments many in 100 years

By Jim Blount

"It was a great meeting – the best getting together of the men of this town in the history of all her numerous movements," said the Republican-News in covering the March 23, 1910, birth of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Friday evening, Jan. 29, the chamber will mark its 100th anniversary with a dinner program at the Courtyard by Marriott.

A century later, chamber members will be challenged to generate the same enthusiasm reflected in the report of the 1910 kickoff meeting in the Butler County Courthouse.

"The men of Hamilton were there," the 1910 account said, "to organize an intelligent, aggressive and permanent body to boost this town and to get for her what her importance as a manufacturing center and her advantages as an industrial location entitle her to."

Hamilton population had increased 47.5 percent in 10 years – from 23,914 in 1900 to 35,279 in 1910. Its 20-year growth exceeded 100 percent (100.8) from 17,565 in 1890. Total Butler County population increased 30.8 percent in those two decades.

The newspaper said 138 people were in the meeting room "and 30 or 40 more in the corridor" when the 1910 session began. Before it was officially organized, the new chamber had 230 members.

The 15-member organization committee combined civic leaders from business, industry, retailing and the professions. They were Samuel D. Fitton, First National Bank; C. U. Carpenter, Republic Motor Car Co.; Armin Berkowitz, wholesaler in wine, liquor and cigars; C. E. Hemp, Bender Co. construction; John E. McCarthey, Grand Theater; John Eberson, an architect who specialized in theater design; Gordon S. Rentschler, Hamilton Foundry & Machine Co.; Ben Strauss, Strauss Clothing and Shoe Co.; M. O. Burns, lawyer; Walter L. Tobey, Republican News; Dr. Mark Millikin, physician and surgen; George T. Reiss, Niles Tool Works; Homer Gard, Daily News; Charles J. Graeser, Mosler Safe Co.; and George Krebs, clothier and furniture businesses.

In December 1936, the Journal-News said the chamber "has become the focal point for all civic activities; it is the clearing house for every conceivable project" in the city. For at least its first 60 years, the chamber – not the city – promoted economic development and encouraged new business and industry to locate in Hamilton.

Causes and projects started and backed by the chamber have ranged from parks and recreation and appearance improvements to efficient street lighting, public transit, railroad freight rates, utilities upgrades and expansions; traffic changes and revised regulations; flood protection; river enhancement; zoning and building codes; and school levies and bond issues.

Specific projects have included the Anthony Wayne Hotel in the 1920s and the Hamiltonian (now the Courtyard by Marriott) in the 1980s; Washington Boulevard in the 1920s and 1930s; the Hamilton Municipal Building in the 1930s; and the Potter Park Golf Course in the 1920s.

The Chamber office – at 201 Dayton Street since 1987 – was previously in the Rentschler Building at the southeast corner of S. Second and High streets, and in a wing of the Anthony Wayne Hotel at Court Street and Monument Avenue.

Chamber responsibilities expanded beyond its normal civic functions twice within its first 10 years. Its second floor location in the Rentschler Building became a high and dry nerve center for recovery and relief during and after the March 1913 flood. It served a similar function in helping to coordinate home front response to World War I in 1917-18.

Its committee structure expedited local action in meeting basic human needs during the Great Depression and in managing rationing and civilian defense programs during World War II.

Before 1920, the chamber stressed the need for a local airport, and in the 1970s and 1980s, when its future was in doubt, led the drive to convert the Hamilton Airport from private ownership to a public facility From the late 1960s through the mid 1990s, the chamber was among several local organizations that kept alive the successful campaigns for the High Street underpass and the new 10.7-mile Ohio 129 extension that, since 1999, connects Hamilton to the interstate highway system (I-75).

Space doesn’t permit a complete listing of projects and improvements initiated and supported by the chamber during the last 100 years while continuing its original mission of advancing the interests of business and industry in the city.

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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010

1913 riverfront improvement plan quickly forgotten

By Jim Blount

Several plans for riverfront development have been presented to Hamilton officials during the last 100 years. Pieces have been implemented, but other ideas have languished because of scarce funds, lack of public enthusiasm, or both. The plan "soonest forgotten" was offered in 1913.

The design covered an area from Dayton Street on the north to the railroad at Sycamore Street on the south, and from the Great Miami River east to the alley between and parallel to Front Street and Monument Avenue, north and south of High Street.

The Republican-News said the plan "represents the best thought and the hard work of a group of Hamilton’s public spirited citizens." It was a joint effort of the city plan committee and the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. It was prepared by Frederick G. Mueller, an architect who was involved in local planning for more than 40 years.

The proposal had two purposes: (1) group public buildings in a convenient location and (2) improve the appearance of the river bank. It highlighted reclaiming part of the river front for an extensive park.  The latter would have created a dramatic change. At that time, an unsightly mix of industrial, commercial and residential buildings lined the edge of the river. They had been erected in the 1800s before Hamilton and other cities began considering long-range, comprehensive planning.

City plans came into vogue nationally early in the 20th century. Some attribute its acceptance to the planned White City, a popular feature at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The first U. S. national city planning conference was held in 1909.

Four years later, the Hamilton civic center plan proposed a new city hall, new library, memorial hall, new high school, central fire station, other public buildings and "possibly an aquarium." The compact area would have included the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument. On the civic center border were the Butler County Courthouse, churches and Mercy Hospital.

A concrete retaining wall was suggested along the river. A sketch of the area incorporated extensive walkways, numerous trees and large open spaces for parks. Of the river wall, the newspaper said "its erection would reclaim a much greater area than now exists." In 1913 that land sloped to the river, subjecting buildings there to periodic flood damage.

The Republican-News said "with Judge Warren Gard in Congress plugging for the establishment of a federal park in Hamilton, directly south of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Hamilton may reasonably be assured that the next two years will see a federal park" within the civic center.

Justification for the national park wasn’t reported. It could have been an attempt to preserve the land where Fort Hamilton had stood (1791-95) during campaigns against the Indians in this region.

The newspaper said the "plan will give a much larger and more beautiful park south of High Street, and will be a big step in the further extensions of the beautification of the river front."

Projected costs for the civic center weren’t mentioned in the news story. Planners said some tracts could be obtained by trading land instead of purchase. Private land between Market and Dayton streets – "now [1913] occupied by manufacturing buildings, a lumber yard and residences" – was expected to be available "at a comparatively low cost."

The civic center proposal was announced at a Hamilton City Council meeting Feb. 26 and was reported the next day in local newspapers – complete with a large sketch. Less than a month later, the impressive plan faded into obscurity.

March 25, 1913, Hamilton suffered its worst natural disaster. That morning the Great Miami River began flooding 75 percent of Hamilton’s homes, factories and stores. By that evening, the river stretched three miles from present Erie Highway (Ohio 4) on the east to C and D streets on the west, displacing most of the city’s 35,000 residents. More than 200 people died in two days and at least 85 perished later.

For several years, flood protection – not riverfront beautification – was Hamilton’s top priority.

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Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010

Book explores good and unsavory aspects of Northern Kentucky

By Jim Blount

The recently-published Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky ranges from Maysville to Carrollton through Newport and Covington and by way of the smaller towns of Rabbit Hash and Slip Up. It includes highlights and some unsavory elements in what its editors say was an attempt "to include, as objectively as possible, those people, places and events that have fashioned Northern Kentucky." Some stories have connections to Butler County, Ohio.

Edited by Paul A. Tenkotte and James C. Claypool and written by numerous contributors, it covers 11 counties -- Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Mason, Owen, Pendleton and Robertson.  Its 1,047 pages are two more pages than were in the 1992 edition of The Kentucky Encyclopedia, also published the University Press of Kentucky, which explored Kentucky's 120 counties.

Those who experienced or have been told of Northern Kentucky's era of organized crime -- which allegedly extended across the Ohio River into Butler County -- will find plenty to read. There are sections on gambling, prohibition, burlesque and exotic dancing, the gourmet strip, Lookout House, Glenn Rendezvous, Beverly Hills, Mayfield Road Gang, Cleveland Syndicate, Tito Carinc, Frank (Screw) Andrews and other persons and places.

Northern Kentucky was mentioned during the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, 1950-52, headed by Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. The televised Kefauver hearings, the encyclopedia notes, "were key events in the successful cleanup" of crime in the area.

About 10 years later, successful Northern Kentucky reform was led by George Ratterman, a former Notre Dame and NFL quarterback, TV football commentator and lawyer, who was elected sheriff of Campbell County in 1961. The Ratterman entry explains an underworld attempt to frame the sheriff.

Major events recounted include the May 28, 1977, Beverly Hills Supper Club fire that killed 167 people, including several Butler County residents, and the January 1937 Ohio River flood when Hamilton sent assistance.

A lesser known event is an Aug. 11, 1944, World War II military plane crash at East Bend Bottoms in Boone County, still shrouded in mystery 65 years later.

There are entries for several Civil War personalities and events, including the extensive fortifications built when Confederate forces approached in September 1862.

The variety of places profiled includes the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, the Kentucky Speedway, the Dixie Highway, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington.

Music topics range from country music and the Boone County Jamboree to blues, bluegrass, jazz, ragtime and a biography of country singer Skeeter Davis, born Mary Francis Penick in Glencoe.

One Miami University president, Robert W. McFarland, is included in the book as are Steve Cauthen, the Triple Crown winning jockey; TV-radio personality Bob Braun; Brent Spence, whose name is attached to the I-75 Ohio River bridge; William Goebel, a governor assassinated in Covington; Ron Ziegler of the Nixon White House staff; and Mayville's Clooneys, Nick, Rosemary and George.

Contributors from Butler County include John H. White of Oxford, who wrote about the Cincinnati Southern Railroad Yard; Post & Co., railroad supply manufacturer; James Meehan, railway inventor; Ortner Freight Car Co., railroad car builder; and boatyards (steamboats).

Terry W. Lehmann of Hamilton contributed five articles: Dixie Terminal, Dixie Traction Co., Green Line, streetcars and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK).

The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, released in November, is available in area book stores and other locations. For information, contact the University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, on the Internet at www.kentuckypress.com.

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