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"Linking the Past with the Present for the Future"

Miami Valley Vignettes
by George C. Crout

The Growing Miami Valleys


Mineral Water and Whiskey

On West Market Street in Germantown stands a beautiful old house, the David Rohrer Mansion, now restored to its former magnificence. The first section of the house was built in 1865, and the Victorian style mansion was finally completed in 1880. It is the only reminder of the once rich and noted Rohrer family of Germantown and Mudlick.

Samuel Rohrer came to Ohio in 1826 and three years later started a brewery in Germantown, which turned out a special brand of beer. His son, Christian, decided to manufacture something that produced a better profit, and in 1858 built a distillery at Mudlick.

Mudlick was a small hamlet near Germantown along the banks of Mudlick Creek, a source of pure, clear water. For many years Miami Valley citizens had traveled by horse and buggy and later by automobile to fill jugs of water from Mudlick Springs, water which was tested and showed it contained certain valuable minerals for health. In the early history of the Miami Valley, springs had been important. Almost every county had at least one noted spring. Springfield sprang up around a spring, which gave it, its name. Yellow Springs in Greene County became the most famous of them all. Water from some of the springs was bottled and sold around the state, and the spring water from Tallawanda Springs near Oxford can still be purchased.

But it wasn't the water that brought national fame to Mudlick. It was the whiskey made at the Mudlick Distillery. Its formula was a secret with the Rohrer family. The distillery prospered and grew, and Mudlick became a village within itself, with grain storage bins, aging warehouses, offices, homes for workers, barns and stables. About 20,000 barrels of whiskey were kept aging at a time, representing a $1 million inventory. David, Christian's son, joined his father in the business and built a new home on the road to Mudlick, the one now in Germantown.

Paper Valley

Although the first paper in the state was produced in 1807 by the Ohio Paper Mills at East Liverpool, within three years, Christian Waldschmidt had begun making paper along the Little Miami at Milford. His fieldstone house is maintained as a memorial by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The Miami Valley soon became the center of the paper industry in Ohio, a position retained until the present day. Ohio now ranks third in U.S. paper production, half of it being made in the Miami Valley, with most mills located in Butler, Montgomery, Hamilton, Warren and Miami counties.

The industry was well suited to the valley. In early years much of the pulpwood came from the forests of the region. A major resource of the Miami Valley is its filtered, underground water supply, so pure that it would not discolor the paper. The first pulp mill west of the mountains was built by the Mead Paper Company, beginning as a small Dayton firm and growing into a national corporation.

The Miami Valley was near to a great market center. The first paper machines supplied newsprint for the many newspapers of the area, as well as book papers for the printers at Cincinnati. In the early part of the last century, the Queen City ranked fourth in the nation as a publishing center, producing millions of textbooks, including the famous McGuffey Readers.

By 1880 the Tytus Paper Company, now part of Diamond International was the largest paper mill in the west. In the early 1900's the Champion Paper Company had grown to the largest mill in Ohio, specializing in slick, coated papers for magazines. Among the earliest valley paper companies still operating are Crystal Tissue and Sorg at Middletown; Beckett Paper at Hamilton; Fox Paper at Loveland; and the Oxford Paper Co. of West Carrollton.


Pretty Seed Packets

Bright, little packets of flower and vegetable seeds practically sell themselves, and this idea of merchandizing was started by the Shakers, probably the most unusual group of people to ever live in the Miami Valley. They were a religious group who settled on an area of rich farmland in Warren County, now the site of Otterbein Retirement Village, near Lebanon.

As far as historians can discover, the Shakers of Ohio were the first to put seeds in paper packets, not only to improve sales, but to protect the seeds. Before that, storekeepers had kept seeds in open barrels or in sacks, weighing them out for customers. At first the Shakers used plain paper packages with well-written directions for planting, also a new idea. After the Civil War, the Shakers put their seeds in brighter, more attractive packages. The Shakers sent out delivery wagons loaded with high-quality, fresh seeds, and these were placed in attractive wooden display boxes filled with the individual packages. They were left with the storekeeper on consignment, and when the Shaker salesman returned, he picked up the money for the seeds sold, less a 25-percent commission for the store keeper. He took back the unsold seeds.

The first Shaker seeds were produced in Ohio in the early 1830's. Some of the boxes they used are on display in the Warren County Museum at Lebanon, along with other Shaker items of interest. The Museum is located at Harmon Hall on South Broadway, not far from the Golden Lamb tavern or Glendower House, all places of historical interest. The large Shaker collection was assembled here since Union Village, the Shakers' home, was just four miles from Cedar City. Seeds represent only one of the many contributions of this group to American fife.

The Valley Sings

Singing Societies became popular in the 1850's. In 1849 the first Singing Fest was held in Cincinnati with groups assembling from the entire area. Being a center of music-loving Germans, it is not unusual that the first great music festivals in America were held in the Queen City.
As the number of participants grew, along with the audience, by 1867 an Exposition Hall was erected, which, though plain and rough, could seat almost 5,000 people. Over 500 gas jets lighted the auditorium. The news of the festival spread and visitors came from all over the Miami Valley, and even from the East coast. The best singers practiced in their hometowns on the numbers, and then gathered at appointed times for rehearsals at Cincinnati. The great choruses had over 1,000 voices.

By 1873 it was known as the May Festival, and ran for three days. As association was formed. It was felt that such a program needed a better haU, since one Festival had to be held up until the rain pounding on the tin roof, stopped. One of the frustrated listeners was a wealthy merchant who suggested that a real auditorium was needed. For this purpose, Reuben R. Springer said he would put up $125,000 if the people of the Miami VaUey would match it. Match it, they did, and in time for the May Festival of 1878, when Springer Music Hall was opened. In it was a $30,000 organ, one of the five largest in the world. Out of this same interest in music, money was raised to establish the Conservatory of Music in 1878. The next step came in 1895 when the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was organized, growing into one of the seventh largest in the nation, and ranking as the fifth oldest.

In the early 1930's the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra began its work in the Dayton area, and led to the founding of the Springfield Philharmonic a few years later. Both Hamilton and Middletown have Symphony orchestras.

Dayton's Courthouse Plaza

It still stands at the corner of Third and Main Street as the symbol of Dayton. Montgomery County's Old Courthouse, is an Ohio architectual landmark, and while the buildings around it were demolished to make way for the new downtown, it remains. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers and a Plaza, it is the centerpiece of the Gem City. It is only a few steps from Dayton's Arcade, recently restored to its former beauty.

When the nine-foot wide stone foundations of the Courthouse were laid in 1847, Daytonians planned a building that would last. It was completed three years later in 1850 with an expenditure of $100,000. This made it the most costly public building constructed until that time in the Miami Valley. But it was so well built that modern architects after examining it, stated its unusual strength would still withstand a bombing or earthquake.

The Courthouse is in the Greek Revival style of architecture, but displays great originality. Made of white limestone, it was of fire-proof construction, using wood only in its doors, window frames and furniture. Planned with vaulted masonry throughout, even the unique stone staircase, winding up to the second floor is self supporting. The former courtroom is lighted by an elliptical dome, 43 feet from the floor.

Citizen Horace Pease of Dayton had in his personal library a book of sketches of the Acropolis in Athens, which showed the Temple of Theseus, which he admired. Pease showed it to the Montgomery County Commissioners, who also were favorably impressed, and agreed it would be a good model for the new Courthouse. They hired architect, Howard Daniels of Cincinnati to draw the plans in which he captured the form and beauty of the ancient Greek temple. The building restored and well maintained, stands as a tribute to the leaders of old Dayton and to the artisans of the Miami Valley who built it.

Sweet Sap of Hueston's Woods

Each Spring visitors to Hueston Woods, a state park located in Preble and Butler County, relive pioneer days to see the making of maple syrup, one of nature's real treats. Since its beginning, Ohio ranked high in maple sugar production, and is still among the top five. While the present output is greatest in northeastern Ohio, the Miami Valley has always produced maple sugar. Its virgin forest contained great stands of sugar maple trees. As early as 1807, Elizabeth Van Horne of Lebanon wrote in her diary, "We now burn our own firewood, eat our own sugar." In 1872 a report showed that Warren County produced over 5,000 gallons of maple syrup.

Maple syrup begins with the sweet sap of the maple tree, usually found in groves called sugar bushes. The tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter, or about 30 years old, before being tapped. A hole is bored about four feet above ground, about three inches into the trunk, using a 3/8th inch bit. The average taphole produces around ten gallons of sap. A spout or spile is put in the hole, and the sap flows out into a bucket. The buckets are emptied as the flow dictates, into gathering tanks and then taken to a large storage vat. At Hueston Woods about 240 buckets are used and the sap is put into an underground storage tank. A small pipe leads from it to the evaporator in the sugarhouse. In pioneer days large iron pots over open fires, boiled and bubbled until the evaporation produced syrup or sugar.

As the rich, yellow syrup began to send up its golden bubbles, it was time for the wax pulling, which brought shreiks and howls from the children who misjudged and suffered burned fingers and scorched tongues. Neighbors gathered in pioneer times at a common sugar house in the woods, and the "stewing off" time was spent in telling stories and jokes. Maple syrup came to the pioneers through the Indians, who had discovered the sweet sap, and had used it in their cooking.

Monument to a Pig

Standing beside the road between Blue Ball and Franklin in Warren County near Towne Mall is perhaps the most unusual monument in the world. It is a monument to a Pig, and has been featured in many "believe-it-or-not" collections.

In the early 1800's western hogs were wild and rugged, often known as razorbacks. Some raised in the Miami Valley were driven in droves to Detroit for sale, while others were walked to Cincinnati. Along the way, the hogs had to root out their own food, often finding nuts for their diet. Even on farms they often ran wild, and thus the phrase originated, "root, hog, or die."

Times began to change, and the housewives demanded big fat hogs, which made better pork and produced more lard then the main shortening in America's kitchens. Farmers began to pamper their pigs, by feeding them surplus corn on the farms. It was said that for every seven or eight pounds of corn a pig ate, he gained one pound, so the pig could be considered a food production factory. In early times it was easier to transport the meat than corn, and cheaper.

Soon the demand for the tough, skinny western hogs was gone, for consumers wanted hogs that made fine hams, tender pork chops and other cuts. Western hogs were selling at half the price per pound as the more desirable Eastern breeds.

The Shakers, near Lebanon, went East and bought some Big China stock, transported them back to Warren County and began to mix them with other breeds. A farmer near Blue Ball bought some hogs from the Shakers and began his own experiments. Soon all this work produced a new kind of hog. The Swine Breeders' Association gave it the pedigreed name of Poland-China. This hog became nationally famous. On June 15, 1922 a special ceremony was held in tribute to the Poland-China breed, and a monument was dedicated to - of all things - a Pig.

Plugs and Cigars

Few town people realize that the annual value of Ohio's tobacco crop is over $25 million dollars and that the state ranks 11th in the nation in production. Tobacco is grown in the southwestern section of Ohio, particularly along the Ohio River and in the lower valleys of the Great and Little Miami Rivers. Some 22 million pounds of tobacco, mostly Burley, is produced, largely for cigar filler.

White or Bright Burley, really a soft, bright, yellowish-brown leafed tobacco plant, may have been first discovered in Brown County, around 1860, but it was soon being grown in Montgomery County, which became the leading tobacco producing county in the state in the last century. Based on this production, Middletown developed a tobacco processing industry based on chewing and smoking tobacco that grew into the third largest in the nation. Paul J. Sorg was the leader of the tobacco industry. Germantown became not only a tobacco warehouse center, but also a cigar producer. Carlisle was also a major center for tobacco production, with its farm tobacco sheds bulging every fall, curing tobacco for the farmers to strip during the winter.

While tobacco processing has gone from the Miami Valley, the aromatic plant is still grown and sold in the area, but in much smaller quantities than formerly. The public switched from cigars and chewing tobacco to cigarettes, which require another variety of tobacco.

From Thanksgiving week through February, Ripley in Brown County is the sales center for the valley's annual crop. Located here are four big warehouses, and both American and foreign tobacco companies have representatives in this small southern Ohio town during the auction period. Sales reach into the millions. While most of the people come to buy, some tourists look in just to see the tobacco and listen to the chant of the auctioneer.

Horsey to School

In the early part of the 20th Century, it used to be giddy-up to school, for school buses were powered, not by engines of so much horsepower, but by horsepower itself. The team of horses pulled wagons especially designed for the safety of children.

The front wheels of the school wagons, or wagonettes as they were sometimes called, were smaller than the rear wheels, so they would cramp under when the bus was turning, preventing an upset. The wagons were set low on the wheel base to keep high winds from toppling them over. Wide rims and tires were preferred to the narrow ones, for they could get through the mud and snow easier. The winter ride to school was a long, cold one, and feet were kept warm with hot soapstones. Some had charcoal heaters, or even small stoves. With only heavy canvas rolled down over the sides of the wagons, the wind roared in.

Country roads were dusty in the fall, and muddy in the winter and spring, for paving was not yet common. Many small streams had to be forded. Farmers finally realized the need for improved McAdam roads to get the children to school, to accommodate the mailman, and for their own convenience in getting crops to market.

When school boards began to consolidate the one-room schools, children had to travel farther to school, so the need for the school wagons. The one-room district schools of the 19th Century were so located that no child had to travel over a mile to school. In the 1920's with improved roads, the school boards began to buy motorized buses, first for the longest routes, wearing out the wagons for the shorter ones. When snows closed the country roads to the motor bus, the sharp-shod horses made it through and at times had to come to the rescue of those stranded in the motor bus. Improved roads and motor buses soon ended the days of the horse-drawn vehicles. The yellow school bus had driven into American life.

Soap that Floats

William Proctor and James Gamble, brothers-in-law, arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1830's. By 1837 they founded a partnership to make candles and soap. The porkhouses and hotel kitchens provided them with the surplus fat that they needed. Being a canal terminus, as well as a developing railroad center, Cincinnati, by 1850 had become the fifth largest city in the nation, and was a good distribution point for Proctor and Gamble's household products.

Rapidly increasing demands for soap, led Proctor and Gamble engineers to install power-driven paddles to stir the soap mixture, a job previously done by men, using long-handled ladles. The new machine made soap faster and cheaper. But one day in 1879 an absent-minded worker, either fell asleep at the controls, or stepped out for lunch, the point is not clear. His it crutcher" or soap-mixing machine, went on beating the mixture longer than was scheduled, giving the contents a much lighter consistency.

The workers returned to find an overflowing vat of fluffy, foaming soap. Angry plant officials considered it a costly mistake leaving them with 900 pounds of worthless soap. But a P. and G. chemist in analyzing the mixture stated that the only difference in this batch was that the soap floated. Thinking the consumer might not even notice, the company shipped the soap to market. But the floating quality of the new soap was the first thing puchasers noted, and soon Proctor and Gamble were flooded with orders for the soap that floats.

Storekeepers ordered a soap that didn't even have a name. Proctor's son was assigned to come up with a name. One Sunday as he sat in church, pondering a name for the new soap, he listened to the minister read from the Book of Psalms, ". . out of Ivory Palaces." Struck by the phrase, young Proctor, even before the singing of the final hymn, sneeked out the side door of the church, with a new name for the soap.

Those Singing Sisters

Alice and Phoebe Cary, the Singing Sisters of poetry, were popular writers during the 19th Century. They were born in Cincinnati - Alice in 1820 and her sister in 1821 - and they died only a few months apart in 1871. Their father had come to Ohio from New Hampshire as a pioneer in 1803. The sisters lived in the family homestead, known as the Old Gray Farmhouse, in North College Hill. It has since become the Clovernook Home for the Blind, and remains today as a national center of activities for this group.

Alice was known for her poems about Ohio life, found in the collection called, "Clovernook Papers, " followed by a companion volume, "Clovernook Children." Few women have ever attained the popularity of Alice. She and her sister lived for many years in New York City, where their home was a gathering places for writers. Alice also became the first president of America's first women's club, and the Cary sisters are given credit for starting the women's club movement.

Alice began writing at 17, and did more of this than her sister. Alice's romantic poetry was widely read, but was often sad and has little appeal today. However, her most famous poem, "Pictures of Memory," is still read and can bring a tear to the eye. Alice was also a novelist.

Phoebe, being stronger than her sister, physically, carried on the task of housekeeping and had less time to write, although she was about as good a poet as her sister. A collection of her writing was published in the book, "Faith, Hope, and Love."

The two sisters works reflected the life of the times in which they lived. They exerted a good influence upon their generation, reflecting the pioneer spirit of their Miami Valley forefathers. Phoebe is best remembered today, not only for her witty parodies, but for a beautiful hymn, "One Sweetly, Solemn Thought. "

Prowling Cats

Only one zoo in the United States is older than the one at Cincinnati, which was founded in 1875. The Philadelphia Zoo opened one year earlier. Today the Cincinnati Zoo is world famous for its collection of over twenty species of cats. It is known for its clever display of wild animals in simulated natural habitats.

This Miami Valley institution is the result of one man's hobby. Andrew Erkenbrecher dreamed of a zoological garden. When he retired from the business of manufacturing starch, a useful household product, he began to collect animals for his zoo. He received some unwanted publicity when a Eon escaped. The Eon attacked a donkey which refused to run, standing and fighting it out. Badly clawed the brave donkey, despite the applause of the nation, who read the story in the newspapers, later died. Not knowing how to catch the dangerous Eon in the days before the tranqualizing gun, the Eon was shot. Then a leopard died.

Despite these disappointments, Erkenbrecher saw the Zoological Garden open in 1875 with great crowds coming in on foot. Others arrived on horsecarts, so overloaded that the horses had to strain to pull them. As long as the autumn weather permitted, the curious people poured in. Area residents took the railroads from outlying Miami Valley cities to visit the new zoo.

Maintaining a zoo was an expensive project. The wild animals almost ate themselves out of house and home, for by 1898, despite the appreciative crowds, the zoo was broke. Some wealthly people joined to save it, and kept it in operation until the Depression. In 1931 it was purchased by the city, which with the aid of the Cincinnati Zoological Society cooperates to keep the zoo with its valuable wild life collection open to the public. Many citizens of the Miami Valley hold memberships in the Society, receiving several special privileges such as free admission to the zoo.

Martha Pigeon

She died September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo, and with her a whole race went into oblivion. When John J. Audubon, the noted artist of bird life, first described this species in 1813, he estimated that one flock alone contained a billion birds, and that the passenger pigeon made up forty percent of the total bird population of the United States.

Only 101 years later, Martha, the last passenger pigeon in America was dead, and her body was sent to the Smithsonian Institution to be mounted. Martha died at age 29, being hatched in 1885 at the Cincinnati Zoo. Fearing the breed's extinction, the Zoo had bought ten pairs of the passenger pigeons in 1878, and while the wild birds produced offspring, their offspring did not reproduce.

Nature lovers of the Miami Valley were grieved to hear of Martha's passing, for thousands had visited her in the Zoo and knew of her tragic story of being the last of her species. Miami Valley farmers remembered their grandfathers telling them of the great flocks of the passenger pigeons that migrated across the valley. Hunters went out and clubbed them to death as they rested on the low-lying branches of trees. The birds were carried in by the bagful, dressed and put in salt brine to be shipped down the Miami Erie Canal and sold along the Mississippi river towns all the way to New Orleans as a delicacy.

The last passenger pigeon in the wild was killed in 1900 by a boy in Pike County, Ohio. When the public heard of Martha's passing, the story was told in all the newspapers. The people felt that they had lost something important. She was the sole relic of a vanished race, who had lived as a captive and lonely daughter of a gentle tribe whose wings would never again fly through the lovely, blue autumn skies of the Miami Valley as they migrated southward for the winter.

See You at Chautauqua

Patterned after the Chautauqua in New York state, the Miami Valley Chautauqua located on the bend of the Great Miami River, north of Franklin grew into the second largest in the nation. Chautauqua came to mean a place where people could go for a summer vacation, living in semi-permanent cottages or tents, and enjoy an educational program every day. The Miami Valley Chautauqua became a center of summer culture and enlightenment. In 1908 an attendance record was set of 18,000 in one day. The most famous people of the day lectured at the Miami Valley Chautauqua, including William Jennings Bryan, considered America's most famous orator. Dr. Russell H. Conwell delivered his famous "Acres of Diamonds" speech, the most popular lecture in the U.S. for two decades. Billy Sunday, the great evangelist, appeared on the stage, as did Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The national Chautauqua movement began in 1873 at an assembly held on the shores of Lake Chautauqua, New York. The Miami Valley Chautauqua was founded in 1896 by a Methodist minister. It started at the Fairgrounds at Franklin, but in 1901 moved to its own site along the Great Miami, where a great auditorium and dining hall was constructed.

First the visitors came by horse and buggy, then by automobile. The electric traction line, which ran from Cincinnati to Lake Erie, had a stop at Chautauqua along the east side of the Great Miami River. A three-span iron foot bridge was erected over the river to accommodate these passengers. As radio developed, bringing famous voices and speeches into the living room, attendance began to fall off. The talking picture also cut into the demand for live plays. Slowly, Chautauqua programs ended. The summer cottages were winterized and modernized. The community still exists.

Electric Trolleys

The old traction car began winding its quiet way through the Miami Valley in 1897 and for two generations its unique electric-driven cars were a familiar sight. The cars ran on a frequent schedule, often on half-hour schedules, and at their peak many side lines connected with the main trunk line. This network of traction lines tied together almost every community in the Miami Valley.

It was the Traction to most valley residents, but it went by several official names during its existence. At one time it was the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton line, being owned by the railroad by that name. Some, however, interpreted the C.H. and D. letters, symbol of the railroad to mean Curves, Hills and Ditches. In later years the Traction was the C. L. & E., for it reached from Cincinnati to Toledo on Lake Erie.

Before the 1920's each unit had a motorman and a conductor, but when the buses began to take away passengers, the Traction line remodeled the cars, so that one man could handle the job. Only the motorman remained, thus saving one man's salary. It was charged that this action meant sacrificing some degree of safety, and there were some serious accidents that took place on the line. Through the years the cars changed in appearance. At one time there was one section with seats for regular passengers, with the back section petitioned off as a smoker. A ticket within the city limits sold for 5 cents, but the fee varied with the distance traveled.

At intervals along the route were the car barns, such as at Lindenwald and Trenton, where electric cars were serviced. The traction cars ran on power delivered to them from the trolley which touched the electric feeder wire over the tracks, thus no fumes were exhausted. Finally buses replaced these traction cars, and in April, 1939, all operations in the Miami Valley were ended.

Big Bill Taft

When William Howard Taft, the only man to serve his country as President and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was a boy, he made a big splash when he swam in the old Miami-Erie Canal at Brown's Basin near his Cincinnati home. As a man Taft was one to be reckoned with, both mentally and physically - at one time he tipped the scales at 350 pounds. When he was born, according to his mother, he had such a large waist that no baby dresses with a belt would fit him.

William Howard, known by his friends as Bill, enjoyed going on a picnic down by the canal - and then skinny dipping in its waters. One morning he was awakened by a friend at about 4 A.M. who had thrown a stone through the open bedroom window. In a few minutes Bill was with his friends on the way to the canal basin.

After spending the morning fishing, then eating a picnic lunch, the boys' interest turned to swimming. Just as they were enjoying their swim, a canal boat came along. The pilot wore a fancy coachman's hat with a brass button on the side. One of Taft's companions picked up a ball of clay and threw it at the pilot, who dodged, and lost his prized hat as it toppled off into the canal.

The red-headed pilot headed his boat toward the bank. He caught Taft, intending to spank him. Just then Billy's friend, the one who had actually thrown the clay ball, jumped up on the other bank of the canal, yelling at the pilot. The angry pilot seeing the boy who had toppled his hat, picked up a brick to throw at him. Just then Bill Taft jerked loose from the pilot's other hand, and made his escape.

Cradle of Presidents

No other section of Ohio, nor the United States, has produced as many presidents as that of the Miami Valley. A 75-foot sandstone shaft at the Ohio River Town of North Bend in Hamilton County marks the gravesite of William Henry Harrison. He was buried here at his own request in 1841, after dying in office as the ninth U.S. President.

On General Harrison's estate at North Bend, his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was born on Aug. 20, 1833. Benjamin graduated in 1852 from Miami University. He then moved to Indiana, built up a law practice, and later entered politics, finally becoming the nation's 23rd President.

North Bend is still a small Ohio River town, but even smaller is a nearby river town, Point Pleasant. This was the birthplace of the country's 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant, who made his mark in history as a great Civil War General. Both his humble birthplace and the small schoolhouse he attended, are now maintained as memorials.

Certainly the biggest president of the United States, who weighed 332 pounds on Inauguration Day, came from the Miami Valley. He was born on Mt. Auburn, Cincinnati, Sept. 15, 1857. Taft served not only as the nation's 27th President, but upon his retirement from that office became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. His Cincinnati birthplace has been restored and is a national historic landmark.

It took the rest of Ohio to match Miami Valley's record. Rutherford B. Hayes, although he spent many years as a Cincinnati lawyer, was born at Delaware. James A. Garfield was born at Orange, and William McKinley at Niles. Warren G. Harding came from the village of Corsica. Ohio is the State of Presidents, and the Miami Valley, the Cradle of Presidents.

Sons of Daniel Boone

Daniel Carter Beard was born in Cincinnati in 1850. As a young boy, Beard played along the Ohio River and its surrounding woodlands, exploring the caves along the hillsides. His favorite stories were of pioneer Daniel Boone, and Beard tried to imagine how Boone lived and traveled through the very land he was exploring. When Beard became a writer and illustrator for magazines, he often recalled his boyhood days. He began to write books about nature and crafts, giving detailed descriptions of how to make various items.

Beard soon discovered that American boys were still interested in the outdoors, even though many lived in cities and had little opportunity to go on hikes and exploratory trips. He decided to start a club for boys with activities stressing nature and hiking. Beard called his club, the Sons of Daniel Boone.

When President Theodore Roosevelt, an outdoor man himself, heard about the Sons of Daniel Boone, he requested Beard come to the White House. He told Beard, "I think you have a bully idea. I want to help." Then Beard was asked to present his idea to the Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, who approved it.

Meanwhile in England, Lord Baden-Powell had read about the Sons of Daniel Boone. He had been interested in a club for boys, and had started a similar organization in England, which he called the Boy Scouts. Since both clubs had the same general objectives, Beard thought if the two groups would merge, the idea had a better chance of spreading around the world. Beard decided to rename his group, the Boy Scouts of America.

Beard watched the Boy Scouts grow, and was seen at many of their meetings. He became known as Uncle Dan, America's first and most famous Scout. He lived to be an old man, dying in 1941.

Little Sure Shot

With her rifle, she shot her way to fame. The legendary Indian Chief, Sitting Bull, gave her the name of "Little Sure Shot." Born in 1860 near Greenville in a log cabin, as a child she loved to roam the woodlands of Darke County. The death of her father left the family, a mother and five children, with no means of support. But Annie took her father's gun from over the fireplace, much too heavy for a ten-year old girl, and went hunting for a rabbit to provide fresh meat for the family. As her aim improved she began to hunt quail, and became expert at shooting the small birds through the head. In this way, the good meat was saved, and those who ate the meat did not have to bite into buck shot. A friend suggested that Annie send some of the quail to Cincinnati on the stagecoach. The manager of the hotel was glad to purchase the quail, for the bird was considered a delicacy. He only knew that the quail was shipped in by A. Oakley.

When the world's most famous marksman came to Cincinnati, the hotel manager invited Oakley to the Queen City to enter the shooting match against the champion, Frank Butler. It was quite a surprise to the manager when a girl stepped off the stagecoach, and he discovered A. Oakley was in fact, Annie Oakley, in a gingham dress.

Frank Butler was amused, too, until Annie outshot him to win the prize, with a perfect score of 100 hits out of 100 shots. Butler missed one. But he was a good sport, congratulated Annie and invited her to join his act. She did, and later they fell in love and were married. The act became a feature of many big circuses, and finally a part of the most famous of all - Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Upon ending their long professional career, the Butlers returned to Greenville, where Annie died in 1926. Mementoes of her career are on display at the Garst Museum in Greenville.

Dayton's Poet Laureate

Paul Laurence Dunbar is remembered not only as one of Ohio's greatest poets, but as the "poet laureate" of his race. The black writer's home at 219 N. Summit Street, Dayton was purchased upon the death of his mother, Matilda Dunbar, by the Ohio Historical Society and is maintained today as a museum.

Although the family was poor, the mother was convinced that her son had talent. When he was only six years old, he was writing short verses. He learned to read when he was only four. At school the teachers soon found that Paul had the rare ability of creative writing. In some of his works he used the Negro dialect. His aim was always to give an accurate, understanding portrait of his people.

From the time of the publication of his first book of poems, he was a success. His work was admired by William Dean Howells, a famous Ohio critic, who as a boy had lived at Hamilton. Howells wrote for Harper's Magazine and then became editor of the Atlantic Monthly. His support brought Dunbar to the attention of the literary world.

Dunbar traveled around the United States reading his poetry, and was invited to England for similar appearances. When he returned to his native land, he was given a staff position at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, Dunbar contacted tuberculosis and died at the age of 34. Before his early death, Paul Laurence Dunbar had completed eighteen volumes of fiction and poetry in addition to his uncollected poems and magazine articles. It is his poetry which continues to live on. One of his verses is found on a plaque at the Museum and this same verse is inscribed at the main entrance to the Dayton-Montgomery County Library. It reads:
Because I have loved so deeply, Because I have loved so long God in his great compassion, Gave me the gift of song.

Flight Brothers

Back in the Spring of 1904 Miami Valley newspaper editors were hearing of strange happenings at Huffman's Prairie, a cow pasture. Located east of Dayton, it is now part of Wright-Patterson Field. Reporters were sent out to see if those crazy Wright Brothers were really flying, a feat which everyone believed impossible at the time. Orville and Wilbur Wright had just returned from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where it had been reported that they actually flew, and now at Huffman's Prairie people could see for themselves.

The Wright Brothers became interested in flight as boys growing up in Dayton, where their father was a minister. A toy glider sparked their interest. Being mechanically inclined, the two brothers opened a bicycle shop in the Gem City and even manufactured some bicycles. But they continued their interest in airplanes. To discover the principles of flight they read books, watched the birds on the wing, and experimented with kites. Each experiment with kites taught them something new about the action of air against surfaces.

The next step was the building of a man-carrying glider. The U.S. Weather Bureau told the Wrights that the best place for testing it was along the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Here they began their flight tests in 1900. To further their glider experiments they built a wind tunnel at their Dayton shop, testing over 200 wing designs. In 1902 they made a larger glider that needed only an engine to make it self powered. They built the engine designed like an automobile engine, but of lighter aluminum. Back to Kitty Hawk. Orville had the honor of being the first to fly the 750-pound plane, powered by a four-cylinder, 12-horsepower gasoline engine, with a wing span of just over 40 feet. That flight was for 12 seconds and the plane traveled 120 feet. The date on the calendar, Dec. 17, 1903. The original Kitty Hawk is on display at the Smithsonian, but a 1905 Wright plane can be viewed at Wright Hall, Carillon Park, Dayton.

A.B.G. and the 4-H'S

Millions of young people have been, or are now, members of the 4-H Clubs, and know that the 4-H's stand for Head, Heart, Hand and Health. It enrolls both rural and city youth in its many programs. It was begun as an agricultural club for farm boys and girls in Clark County. School Superintendent, Albert B. Graham, called the first meeting of what became the 4-H Club on January 15, 1902. It was held in a basement room of the Courthouse at Springfield.

Graham's plans for the club were to provide fellowship for the young people who lived in isolated rural areas, as well as to help them learn how to improve farming methods and livestock care. Each member had to choose a project of special interest and develop it over a limited period of time. The club members exhibited their projects, often a favorite animal, at the county and sometimes, the state fair.

A.B. Graham knew farm life, having been born in 1868 on a Champaign county farm, not far from St. Paris. He attended a one-room school, and after graduating from high school and college, became a teacher and school administrator. When his work on behalf of farm youth and Ohio agriculture became known, Dr. Graham was invited to join the staff of Ohio State University as its first Director of Agricultural Extension. He published a monthly agricultural bulletin, and one of the things he discussed was the value of agricultural clubs for farm youth. In 1930 these clubs became part of the national organization under the name of the 4-H Clubs.

Until his death in 1960, A.B. Graham maintained his contact with the 4-H Club organization. Springfield has honored the contribution of this native Ohioan with historical markers, with many of his original manuscripts and other memorabilia stored at the Clark County Historical Society Museum in Memorial Hall, Springfield.

The 1913 Flood

As an eyewitness described it at the time, as the "terrible flood of 1913." He wrote that not since the Civil War had Ohioans been so grief stricken. At the time, the Flood of 1913 was placed among other such disasters as the San Francisco Earthquake, the Johnstown Flood and the Titanic disaster. While it took more lives than the earthquake, it did not compare with the other two. It was a major catastrophe, and is still recorded in the fact books and almanacs. It is listed under Ohio and Indiana Flood of 1913. Total loss of fife was 730 people, while property damage topped $300 million dollars.

On March 23, 1913, the rain began to fall and continued through the next 72 hours, causing the rivers to overflow and flood the surrounding plains, reaching a peak on March 26th. The Miami Valley, especially the City of Dayton, was hardest hit. In the Miami Valley alone the flood claimed 360 lives, with property damages of over $100 million dollars.

However, this flood also struck other sections of Ohio and parts of neighboring Indiana. Columbus officials counted over 4,000 buildings that were flooded by the Scioto River. In Ohio 20,000 homes were destroyed, and almost double that number were damaged. At the height of the flood, the Red Cross provided food for over 200,000 people.

As a result of the 1913 Flood, the people of the Miami Valley banded together, vowing it would never happen again. To prevent such another disaster, the state legislature enacted the Ohio Conservancy Act, which permitted the people of the Miami Valley to organize a Conservancy District. A plan was drawn up by the engineer Arthur E. Morgan of Cincinnati and five great dams were constructed - Englewood, Lockington, Taylorsville, Huffman and Germantown. The original Miami Conservancy system was completed in 1922, and since that time flood waters have never again touched the valley. Areas around the dams serve as recreational areas.

Govenor Jimmy Cox

He was born in 1870 on his father's farm located on the western edge of the Butler County village of Jacksonburg. The old Cox homestead can still be seen from the road. After completing his grade school education in a rural school, young Jimmy Cox moved into Middletown to stay with his sister, while he obtained his high school diploma. His brother-in-law owned a local newspaper, and young Cox, when not in school, worked as a printer's devil, reporter and delivery boy. One of his articles came to the attention of the Cincinnati Enquirer editor, and Cox became a reporter for that famous newspaper. However, he saved his money, and purchased the Dayton Daily News, followed by the Springfield News. Eventually he had a chain of newspapers to which he added radio stations and television stations.

One career wasn't enough for this active man. He first went to Washington as a personal aide to Congressman Paul J. Sorg, and in 1905 launched his own political career, being elected to Congress. Returning to Ohio politics, he became Governor in 1913, serving three terms. Under his administration, state school laws were revised. Cox knew about schools first hand, for he had served a few years as a teacher and principal. Cox was responsible for many labor laws such as workman's compensation and minimum wage laws. It was he who saw that the Conservancy Act was passed to prevent another flood.

His record as Governor was so outstanding, that he was nominated for the Presidency in 1920. His defeat did not worry him, as he just went back into the newspaper business and built up a vast communications empire. Historians credit him with being one of the best Governors in Ohio History. The Miami Valley is proud of his record and that of the 20 other Governors who came from this section of Ohio.

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Last Update  04/17/2007
1982 Middletown Historical Society