History of Butler County Roads & Highways
Compiled by Jim Blount
Indians, soldiers and hog drovers developed Butler County's earliest roads. For their mutual survival, both farmers and millers sought roads to the mill sites in the county's formative years. "Farm-to-market" was part of transportation nomenclature for more than a century. An early Ohio law authorized millers to collect tolls at their mills for the purpose of paying for maintenance of roads leading to them.
Many of the early paths -- once strewn with stumps and ruts -- remain in use, covered over many times with concrete and asphalt.
Gone are the stagecoaches and most of the covered bridges which later generations added to the area's transportation system. Cars, trucks and vans have replaced the horse-drawn carriages and wagons of the 19th century.
Indians and U. S. Army developed earliest Butler County roads
Indians developed some early Ohio roads, blazing narrow paths that also served the region's first traders and settlers who arrived on foot and horseback. In Butler County, the United States Army opened the first road that, in part, followed an old Indian thoroughfare.
In 1791, General Arthur St. Clair -- also governor of the Northwest Territory -- was determined to stop Indian raids on the settlements of Columbia, Losantiville (Cincinnati) and North Bend along the Ohio River between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers.
The object of his campaign was Kekionga, a Miami village at present Fort Wayne, Indiana. His plan was to build a chain of forts in the 150-mile area between Fort Washington at Cincinnati and Kekionga.
Fort Hamilton was the first link. It was completed Sept. 30, 1791, a little more than a month before the Miami, Shawnee and other Indians almost wiped out the frontier army.
Road-building slowed the advance of St. Clair's poorly equipped, inexperienced and untrained army of about 2,300 men. It took three days to cut an 18-mile road through the wilderness from Ludlow Station (in northern Cincinnati) to Fort Hamilton. After leaving the fort Oct. 4, 1791, the army moved only about 80 miles in 30 days.
The forest, according to a captain, included "white oaks from four to six feet through and from 50 to 70 or 80 feet high" and "white ash from two to four feet through and very tall." Other obstacles included thick underbrush, swampy low land and many streams and ravines.
In Butler County, the army's 1791 route followed present Dixie Highway (Ohio 4) north to about the site of Symmes Road in Fairfield. The 1791 course continued northwest to the site of Fort Hamilton (around present High Street and Monument Avenue) on the east bank of the Great Miami River.
In 1791, after crossing the river, St. Clair's troops followed a route west along present Main Street (Ohio 177 and Ohio 129), then north on what became Eaton Avenue and Eaton Road, proceeding west of present Seven Mile, Collinsville and Somerville.
Later, General Anthony Wayne's army stayed east of the river after leaving Fort Hamilton. His northern course was through Seven Mile and considerably east of Collinsville and Somerville. The approximate route was over what is Wayne's Trace Road. That road extends north from Hamilton-Eaton Road (U. S. 127) in the village of Seven Mile and continues through the west part of Wayne Township to the Preble County line.
Later, St. Clair's military road became a trail for the packhorses and wagons of the people who settled in the former Miami lands secured from Indians in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.
Early territorial and state laws permitted counties to establish roads. The most needed connections were to the sites of mills and ferries and the county seat.
In 1803, the year Ohio became a state, Congress provided some federal aid for building roads. It mandated that 3 percent of the money from the sale of public lands go to the state for "laying out, opening and making roads within the said state, and to no other purpose whatever."
Road work, including repairs, was to be done with little cost for labor. Farmers were expected to maintain the primitive roads running along or through their property.
"Work on roads was required from every male citizen over 16 years of age for not more than 10 days a year," observed William E. Smith in his History of Southwestern Ohio, The Miami Valleys. Under that territorial law, Smith said, "if the citizen failed to work, he paid a fine of 50 cents for each day missed." In 1799, the work requirement was reduced to two days a year and the minimum age to 21 years.
In 1804, the Ohio General Assembly earmarked some of this money for creating 17 state roads, each to be 56 feet wide. State funds went to laying out the roads while counties and townships assumed the burden of building and maintaining the routes.
The 1804 Ohio road law required that "all timber and brush shall be cut and cleaned off at least 20 feet wide, leaving the stumps not more than one foot in height."
One of the earliest, if not the first state road extended from Chillicothe -- then the state capital -- to the college lands in Butler County. Funds were allocated in 1804 for the College Township Road, which followed a route similar to present Ohio 73 through much of Butler County.
It ran through Lebanon in Warren County before entering Butler County on present Greentree Road (at the southeast corner of Middletown). Oxford State Road and Trenton's State Street take their names from their origin. The county's first state road ended in the center of the College Township, which in 1811 became Oxford Township.
The road to the college was authorized five years before the college. The Ohio General Assembly chartered Miami University Feb. 17, 1809. Oxford was chosen as the site, and lots were placed on sale in 1810. Collegiate instruction began in 1824.
In December 1808, Butler County commissioners ordered a road built from Rossville (now Hamilton's West Side) through the college lands at Oxford to the Indiana border. This road was surveyed by James McBride, Hamilton's first mayor, who also designed the first bridge over the Great Miami River (Miami Bridge, 1819). Others involved in the Rossville-Oxford road were Samuel Dick, William Blackburn, William Crooks, Benjamin Davis, Cyrus Timbrel and Hampton Adkins.
Another early busy route through western Butler County was between Lawrenceburg in Indiana and Oxford, also known as the Lawrenceburg and Columbus State Road. "This road was also called the Post Road, from the fact that it was over this route that the early mails arrived," said the History and Biographical Cyclopedia of Butler County (1882). The same source said this state road "was in constant use in 1811."
A trail had been cut by 1795 between Hamilton and Dayton. A survey along the trail in 1807 formally set the route for a road, the basis for what became Hamilton-Middletown Pike in southern Butler County.
There have been many realignments in nearly 200 years, but Ohio 4 between the two cities generally follows the course set in 1807. It started from the ferry site at the western end of present Dayton Street in Hamilton and extended east along Dayton Lane (later Dayton Street).
It was called the Big Road or the Prairie Road, the latter because of the extensive grassland near present Erie Highway (Ohio 4). Spelling variations for the road included "Perara" and "Perari."
Another popular early northern route from Hamilton was west of the river over present North B Street. This trail forked after crossing Four Mile Creek (in what is now the village of New Miami), one branch continuing north through the future sites of Seven Mile and Jacksonburg.
The other headed east to a river crossing, Gregory's Ford, between Woodsdale and LeSourdsville.
Because water remained the most efficient way to transport goods, most early Ohio roads led to the Ohio River or a navigable tributary. One was the Great Miami River, which bisects Butler County.
Through the 1820s, much of Butler County's abundant agriculture found its way to market on flatboats that traveled the Great Miami, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. After the opening of the Miami-Erie Canal in 1827, canal boats supplanted the risky one-way flatboats, which had been so crucial to the local economy.
The canal quickly diminished the importance the north-south road between Hamilton and Jacksonburg, the early commercial centers in southern and northern Butler County, respectively. Because of its location on the Miami Canal, Middletown supplanted the crossroads town of Jacksonburg as the trade center in the northern part of the county by 1830.
About 25 years later, railroads became the key to the area's commerce. These improvements increased the demand for local roads as farmers sought access first to points on the canal and later to the railroads.
Farmers and millers influenced road-building
Joel Williams has a solid claim as Butler County's first real estate agent. He also may have been the area's pioneer businessman and banker. In his varied, but related lines of work, he also influenced road-building.
The Pennsylvania millwright was an enterprising frontiersman was one of the original settlers in Losantiville (the original name for Cincinnati) in December 1788.
Williams worked as an agent for John Cleves Symmes, who had purchased the land north of the Ohio River between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers from the federal government.
In what became Butler County in 1803, Williams combined his previous milling experience with his real estate skills.
Mills were essential in the settlers' struggle to convert their land from a debt to an asset. Their financial survival depended on access to grist mills, saw mills and carding mills -- which were the trading complexes and community centers on the Ohio frontier until about 1830.
Williams came to the Butler County area in the 1790s when it was unsettled. His mission was to explore the Great Miami River and its tributaries, seeking the most promising sites for water-powered mills.
He scouted the banks of Indian Creek and Four Mile Creek before Butler County land west of the river was placed on sale by the federal government.
Williams bought several of the best creek-side locations. At some, he built mills on speculation for sale later. In other places, he sold the land to persons who were interested in building mills. In some cases, he sold the site and contracted to build a mill for the land buyer.
He is believed to have completed the first mill in Butler County by 1798. It was in the southern end of Fairfield Township at the mouth of Bank Lick, where it empties into the east side the Great Miami River. Today, it would be near River Road in the vicinity of Burns and Georgetown roads, near the county line and east of U. S. 27.
For their mutual survival, both farmers and millers sought roads to the mill sites throughout Butler County. "Farm-to-market" was part of transportation nomenclature for more than a century. An early Ohio law authorized millers to collect tolls at their mills for the purpose of paying for maintenance of roads leading to them.
Some western county roads began as trails for hog drovers
Herds of hogs moseying along narrow roads were once familiar winter sights in Butler County, one of Ohio's leading swine producing areas in the 19th century. "The growing of hogs was a lucrative business," reported the 1882 county history, as "many a man made his fortune in raising corn, fattening hogs and driving them to Cincinnati."
"In driving to market, two or three weeks were often consumed, men returning covered with mud and pockets filled with bank notes or silver," said the History and Biographical Cyclopedia of Butler County.
The marketing process quickened in autumn when farmers in Butler and Warren counties and neighboring Indiana rounded up and penned their pigs. For five or six weeks, they gorged on corn to add weight and firm fat.
The heaviest of the lot were butchered for home use. The leaner, long-legged hogs were best suited for the tedious drives to the slaughterhouses. The animals were at least two years old before being sent to market. The trips started after the first frost, usually in October, and continued into March.
Butler County hog raisers prospered because of their proximity to Cincinnati. By the mid 1820s, Cincinnati was known as "Porkopolis" because of the city's expanding pork-packing business.
In 1840, there were 2.44 pigs for each of Butler County's 28,207 residents. That year Butler County boasted Ohio's largest swine population with 68,828, followed by bordering Warren County with 56,847 head.
Pork was packed in Cincinnati, Hamilton and other towns during the winter months and shipped down river while colder weather helped preserve the product.
Hog drives from Butler County, especially the western part, were annual events by 1810. Within a few years, after settlement in the Whitewater Valley, the county also was on the route to Cincinnati for Indiana farmers.
Several roads in western Butler County began as hog trails, most leading to a natural crossing of the Great Miami River at Dick's Ford. The spot near present Wade Mill Road, south of Ross, also was known as Dick's Mill.
One of the popular routes followed present Layhigh Road through Morgan and Ross townships. Another was along the courses of present Ross-Millville Road, Reily-Millville Road and Indian Creek through Oxford, Reily, Hanover and Ross townships.
Taverns catering to hog drovers were at St. Charles, Bunker Hill and other locations. Some taverns provided yards or pens for the hogs in addition to food and lodging for drovers.
After crossing the Great Miami, drovers guided their charges up twisting Colerain Pike to slaughterhouses in Cincinnati.
The herds traveled about five to seven miles a day, depending on the weather and the terrain. Drovers favored wet, soft ground because a hard frozen surface tended to cut the hogs' feet.
Usually, several farmers teamed on a drive. Most walked with the pigs, some were on horseback to better control stray animals and a few drove wagons, hauling supplies and often transporting stubborn hogs that refused to move or keep pace along the trail.
Herds varied in size, most in the range of 200 to 300 head. One of the largest, numbering 1,800 was reported to have passed through Hamilton in 1830.
In a 12-month period in the mid 1820s, more than 40,000 hogs on their way to market crossed the Miami Bridge connecting Rossville and Hamilton. In November 1834, a Brookville newspaper noted more than 30,000 hogs, bound for Cincinnati slaughterhouses, had passed through that Indiana town in about three weeks.
By 1830, the trip was shortened for many Ohio farmers who were able to send pigs to market via the Miami & Erie Canal from Hamilton and Middletown. In the 1850s, new railroads began hauling hogs.
Stagecoach travel wasn't pleasure; journey slow, uncomfortable, dirty
The stagecoach, usually associated with the American West, transported early Butler County residents -- or at least the few who had the time and compelling reason to venture away from their farms and businesses. The typical Ohio coach, usually pulled by six horses, could carry nine to 12 people, plus baggage and mail.
Unlike those glamorized in movies and on TV, local coaches were slow, uncomfortable and dirty. Necessity -- not pleasure -- provided a limited clientele for the stage lines.
The stagecoach era peaked in Ohio from 1815 -- at the close of the War of 1812 when primitive road-building accelerated -- until the mid 1850s, when railroads boomed.
Many of the earliest lines didn't publish schedules, and most operated strictly in daylight. Some ran only in the summer and fall, avoiding the mud and other hazards of winter and spring.
As early as 1805 a stage line ran from Cincinnati to Dayton via Hamilton, Franklin and Dayton.
By the late 1820s, there were as many as 20 stages making daily trips between Cincinnati and Dayton by various routes through Butler County. Monroe, as the mid point on one route, became a major overnight stop.
According to an 1825 schedule, it took a stagecoach 14 hours for the trips between Hamilton and Cincinnati, and between Hamilton and Dayton. Northbound stages were scheduled to leave Cincinnati every Monday at 4 a.m. and arrive in Hamilton the same day by 6 p.m. The next day, the times were the same for the Hamilton-Dayton leg of the trip, and for the two-day return from Dayton through Hamilton to Cincinnati. If the schedule was maintained, the coaches averaged about two miles an hour.
That year the Cincinnati and Dayton Mail Line -- that made an overnight stop in Hamilton each way -- completed one round trip a week.
As roads in the area improved, travel times shrank. For example, in the early 1840s the Eastern Stage Coach Company advertised nine hours for its 40-mile runs between Richmond, Indiana, and Hamilton. That would be an average of less than four and a half miles per hour.
In 1847 there were at least three daily coaches between Hamilton and Cincinnati.
In their heyday, stagecoaches linked several Butler County communities.
In May 1849 a Hamilton newspaper ad reported two daily departures from Cincinnati to Hamilton -- a 7:30 a.m. departure through Symmes Corner (now Fairfield on U. S. 127) to Hamilton and Rossville; and a 2 p.m. start through Carthage and Springdale to Hamilton and Rossville. That U. S. Mail Stage ad boasted of coach connections in Hamilton with a line serving Darrtown, Morning Sun and Fairhaven in Ohio and Boston, Richmond, Centerville and Cambridge City in Indiana.
The same company also offered daily service, except Sunday, from Cincinnati through Venice (Ross), Millville, Stillwell, Oxford and College Corner in Ohio, and Liberty, Brownsville and Connersville in Indiana. Before road improvements, it took three days to make the Cincinnati-Connersville trips.
Another stage linked Cincinnati, Venice (Ross) and New London (Shandon) three times a week.
Passenger fares varied during the era. In 1805, it cost $5 for the entire one-way, two-day trip from Cincinnati through Hamilton and Dayton to Yellow Springs. For partial travel, it was six cents a mile.
In 1828, a Cincinnati-Dayton line charged eight cents a mile, allowing a passenger up to 14 pounds of baggage without additional charge.
By 1848, fares from Hamilton included 50 cents for a one-way trip to Cincinnati, and 75 cents to Eaton.
Most stage lines in this region disappeared by the start of the Civil War (1861). At least one stage line still operated when the History and Biographical Cyclopedia of Butler County was published in 1882. "For 40 years or more there has been an omnibus run daily between New London (Shandon) and Cincinnati," the 1882 history said. "The Western Stage Company carried on staging 35 years ago," it explained. "John R. Bevis was an early proprietor; from him it passed into the hands of his brother, Jesse C., who quite recently sold out to Charles Shields, who, in turn, sold to Clements Butterfield."
The arrival of a stagecoach, bringing mail and visitors, stirred excitement in Hamilton during the first half of the 19th century. "It was in the days of the stagecoaches that the Hamilton Hotel (or Hamilton House) obtained its greatest prestige," wrote Dr. Henry Mallory in his 1895 book, Gems of Thoughts and Character Sketches.
"The stage office was in the hotel (at the northwest corner of Second and High streets) and the drivers, when within a mile or two of the town, would crack their long whips and the horses knew by instinct that they would be changed and have a rest," Mallory recalled.
"No matter how badly they were loaded, the (horses) would start on a sweeping trot and never let up until the front of the hotel was reached. And, while a fresh relay of horses was being hooked on, the passengers would alight, register their names and take refreshments," the doctor explained. "Then, when the postmaster changed the mails, they were ready to start again. But if the postmaster was a little slow, the stage driver would cry out in rather dictatorial tones, 'Hurry up that mail and be quick about it, too,' " Mallory recalled.
Unlike movie and television portrayals, most Ohio stagecoaches were one-man operations. No one "rode shotgun" to guard against a robbery between stops. To many people in that era, including Dr. Mallory, stagecoach drivers were heroes. They "were a dignified set," Mallory said. Drivers were idolized for several reasons, including their independence, the opportunity to travel, skill with a whip, horsemanship and their command of their vehicles and passengers.
Hamilton's first tavern opened to travelers in 1796
Taverns -- essential to the earliest residents who had to travel -- were numerous in Butler County. State law required licensing, the cost depending on location. In 1805, an annual license cost $12 for taverns in the towns of Hamilton, Rossville and Middletown, and $6 for those operating elsewhere in the county.
McClellan's Tavern is regarded as the first in Hamilton. William McClellan, recently of the army, opened the tavern in about 1796 in one of the buildings in abandoned Fort Hamilton. It was a store as well as a tavern, and when Butler County was formed in 1803, McClellan became the first elected sheriff, operating out of his tavern.
Torrence Tavern was built by John Torrence -- also an army veteran -- who had purchased two lots in 1798 at the southeast corner of Dayton Street and Monument Avenue. He built the tavern at the east landing for the Upper Ferry, which connected Hamilton and Rossville. Torrence also operated the ferry until about 1805 or 1806.
When Ohio became a state in March 1803, the tavern was chosen as the meeting place for Butler County's first court.
Old military road became first Cincinnati-Hamilton state route
The military road opened in 1791 between Fort Washington and Fort Hamilton became the first state road between Cincinnati and Hamilton in 1817.
Although named The New Hamilton Road, it was better known as the Great Road. It followed the Millcreek Valley through Hamilton County into Butler County over what today is Ohio 4.
From the center of Hamilton, the Great Road went south on the east of the Great Miami River to about present Knightsbridge Drive. There, it turned east, passing the big pond that was in that area. After crossing the area now known as South Hamilton (at Central Avenue and Grand Boulevard), it merged into the present Dixie Highway and headed south and southeast.
The site for Fort Hamilton was chosen in 1791 because of a ford then at the approximate site of the present High-Main Street Bridge. That shallow crossing was believed to have been on an old Indian trail.
The Great Road established in 1817 was one of two early connections between Cincinnati and Hamilton. The other was via Pleasant Avenue and Hamilton Avenue (present U. S. 127).
In 1795 Ephriam Kibby, Benjamin Davis and Charles Bruce helped open a road that followed the river to Colerain, a community once located where the old Colerain Pike met the river (west of present U. S. 27 and south of Ross).
What became Nilles Road in what is now Fairfield opened in 1806 between the Great Miami River and present Dixie Highway (Ohio 4). Nilles Road was built to connect mills in Fairfield Township and some west of the Great Miami River to the Great Road (The New Hamilton Road).
Present U. S. 127 -- Hamilton Avenue in Hamilton County and Pleasant Avenue in Butler County -- wasn't opened until about 1830.
It was formerly called Mount Pleasant Pike. Mount Pleasant was the original name for Mount Healthy. In 1817 Mount Pleasant was platted around Hamilton Avenue and Compton Road in what is now Mount Healthy. It was Mount Pleasant until 1893 when incorporation proceedings started. The name was changed when postal officials pointed out that Ohio already had another Mount Pleasant. Instead, it became Mount Healthy Oct. 10, 1893.
More than 20 turnpikes connected Butler County towns and villages
Because it couldn't afford to build roads to satisfy every Ohio community, the state granted franchises to turnpike companies. The private enterprises were given the right to erect tollgates and charge fees in exchange for promising to keep their roads in repair.
At least 20 turnpike companies were chartered to serve Butler County.
The Ohio General Assembly adopted a turnpike law in 1809 and passed major revisions in 1817 and 1836. One of the 1836 changes permitted the state to invest in the private road companies, a factor that spurred formation of new companies in the 1830s and 1840s.
"Where well built and kept in good repair, the turnpikes provided fine hard-surfaced roads, which were a great improvement over the usual public roads," said George Rogers Taylor in The Transportation Revolution, 1815-1860. "To travelers, whether by carriage or stagecoach, they were an unquestioned blessing. But for long freight hauls," Taylor said, "the value of turnpikes was sharply limited. Even where tolls were very low or nonexistent, transportation by heavy wagons with four to eight-horse teams proved profitable only to a very limited extent."
In Ohio, Taylor discovered that the state owned much of the stock in some turnpike companies. "For the year ending Nov. 15, 1848," he wrote, "only nine of these companies paid dividends on their stock. By far the best of these was the Colerain, Oxford and Brookville Turnpike Company [in Butler County], which brought the state about 9 percent on its investment," Taylor noted.
Only a few Butler County turnpikes had been incorporated by 1836. They included:
The Hamilton, Rossville, Summerville, Newcome and Eaton Turnpike was built in 1833-1834. John Woods was its first president. He was succeeded by John M. Millikin. (Summerville is now Somerville. Camden in Preble County formerly was known as Dover and then Newcome or Newcomb until 1835.) Its route extended north from Rossville on the west side of the Great Miami River through Seven Mile and Collinsville.
The Cincinnati and Hamilton Turnpike started in Hamilton at the southern end of Second Street and ran over Central Avenue (then Cincinnati Street) to Symmes Corner (now part of Fairfield). It became known as Mount Pleasant Pike because of the original name for Mount Healthy in Hamilton County. Although not the original road between the two cities, it eventually became the more popular one. It is now U. S. 127 through Hamilton, Fairfield and Mount Healthy.
The Hamilton, Rossville, Darrtown, Oxford and Fairhaven Turnpike is now Ohio 177, or Hamilton-Richmond Road. It was incorporated in 1830, but work was slow until 1838. After seven miles were built, the 1832 cholera epidemic caused an extended delay. Another holdup was debate over extending the road into Oxford. Hamilton and Rossville men headed the 20-mile project. John Woods was its president for at least 23 years, and John W. Erwin, John C. Skinner and Henry S. Earhart were engineers.
Cincinnati, Oxford and Brookville Turnpike was incorporated in 1832. The 28-mile ancestor of present U. S. 27 was one of the most prosperous turnpikes in the county. One branch ran west from Venice (Ross) through Shandon and Okeana; another northwest from Venice to Millville and Oxford.
Other turnpikes connecting Hamilton included:
Hamilton, Springfield and Carthage Turnpike, mostly over the Millcreek valley route cut by Gen. Arthur St. Clair's army in 1791, or present Ohio 4. Springfield in Hamilton County changed its name to Springdale after incorporation of the company.
Hamilton and Stillwell Turnpike was a branch of the Hamilton, Rossville, Darrtown, Oxford and Fairhaven company.
Hamilton and Princeton Turnpike extended east from the county seat, generally along the present corridor of Ohio 129.
Hamilton and New London Turnpike extended west from Hamilton. New London is now known as Shandon.
Hamilton and Tylersville Turnpike ran through Fairfield Township into West Chester Township (formerly Union Township.
Hamilton and Gregory Creek Turnpike ran north to the LeSourdsville area, generally along the route of present Hamilton-Middletown Road (Ohio 4).
Hamilton and Lebanon Turnpike was planned to connect the county seats of Butler and Warren counties.
Rossville and Millville Turnpike, along the alignment of Ohio 129 west of Hamilton.
The turnpikes radiating from Oxford included:
Oxford and College Corner Turnpike, along the U. S. 27 corridor.
Oxford Western & Connersville.
Oxford and Fairfield Turnpike extended from Oxford to the Indiana line.
Oxford, Mixerville and Brookville Turnpike, also running west from Oxford into Indiana.
Other Butler County turnpikes included:
Middletown and Chester Turnpike.
Middletown and West Alexandria Turnpike.
Dayton, Germantown and Middletown Turnpike, incorporated in 1842, and the Hamilton, Middletown and Germantown Turnpike, chartered in 1846 and completed two years later.
New London and Millville Turnpike connected Millville and Shandon (Ohio 748).
Millville and Scipio Turnpike, predecessor of present Ohio 129 to the Indiana line.
Glendale and Port Union Turnpike covered a portion of present Ohio 747 in west Chester Township (formerly Union Township).
Great Miami Turnpike ran from Cincinnati to Dayton via Sharonville and Monroe, following the approximate alignment of old U. S. 25.
Between 1882 and 1900, Butler County bought the right-of-way from 20 turnpikes, converting them to toll-free public roads, according to Pete Groh, a former county tax map supervisor. "The cost of these were from a low of $272 per mile for the Hamilton and Princeton Turnpike (4.5 miles) to a high of $1,200 per mile for the Rossville and Millville Turnpike" (4.86 miles), Groh said. "Most of these 138 miles are now state highways," he added.
Turnpike rates were set by the state in 1844. The costs for each 10-mile segment were:
*5 cents for a horse and rider.
*15 cents for a four-wheeled vehicle drawn by two horses or oxen, and five cents extra for each additional horse or ox.
*15 cents for a four-wheeled pleasure carriage with one horse; 25 cents if two horses.
*10 cents for a two-wheeled gig with one horse; 15 cents if two horses.
*10 cents for cart driven by horse or ox.
*10 cents for a two-horse sled or sleigh.
*3 cents for each horse or mule over six months old, led or driven.
*One cent for each head of meat cattle.
*A half cent each for sheep and hogs.
Rural Free Delivery came to Butler County in 1896
Butler County farmers were among the first to benefit from a new federal service in 1896. That's when the U. S. Post Office Department introduced RFD -- Rural Free Delivery -- on a limited basis. The first experimental rural routes began in West Virginia. RFD started Oct. 15, 1896, from Collinsville in Butler County under the direction of John E. Lohman, Hamilton postmaster.
RFD was the second major postal improvement in the county in less than 10 years. Door-to-door mail delivery in Hamilton and Middletown had been launched July 1, 1887, the same year first class postage doubled from one to two cents. Until then, city residents had to collect their mail at the local post office.
Although Rural Free Delivery obviously was vital to speeding business and social communications for farmers and their families, it wasn't an easy sell.
Congress had been reluctant to authorize RFD because of its anticipated costs. Some congressmen claimed it could bankrupt the government because rural delivery would require adding thousands of postal employees. Critics also feared the system would necessitate federal spending for new and improved roads to make it work.
Extending delivery into the U. S. countryside was a challenge. Farmers made up about half the U. S. population in the 1890s.
Supporters emphasized the isolation and hardships imposed on country residents by the absence of direct mail delivery six days a week. Radio and television were decades away. In the 1890s, farmers seeking weather and market information had to rely on newspapers and other printed sources.
Before RFD, rural customers had to go to the nearest post office to pick up their mail and newspapers. The nearest PO, in many cases, was several miles away over poor roads.
For farmers, a trip to the village post office also meant sacrificing valuable time away from crops, animals and other chores necessary to maintain the family business. Depending on distance and demands on their time, it could be days or weeks between PO visits. When rain or snow complicated travel on unpaved roads, the intervals could be longer.
RFD advocates -- in addition to citing potential financial benefits to farmers and refinements in rural lifestyle -- believed they had a legal precedent in the U. S. Constitution, written in 1787 and ratified a year later. Clause seven of section eight says Congress shall have the power "to establish post offices and post roads." Creating RFD routes seemed a logical exercise of that power.
Some areas were denied service on proposed RFD routes then and later because of deplorable road conditions and unsafe bridges -- factors that pressured some townships and counties to begin improvements years before the appearance of the first gasoline-powered motor vehicle in their areas.
"Early rural letter carriers made their rounds on horseback, in buggies, and during winter months, in sleds," reports the National Postal Museum. "Unlike their city counterparts, rural carriers were, and still are, responsible for purchasing their own vehicles. Early carriers," the NPM says, "were also responsible for supplying, feeding and stabling their horses."
By 1902, a Collinsville RFD carrier in Butler County was serving 67 rural boxes on a 24-mile circuit. A year later, about 11,650 rural routes covered about a third of the nation. In 1906, the RFD system totaled more than 700,000 miles, and in 1915 it topped a million miles.
Dixie Highway linked winter playgrounds and summer resorts
Boosters depicted it as an "avenue of travel between the winter playgrounds of Florida and the summer resorts of Michigan." Other advocates called it simply "a great highway from Michigan to Florida."
The Dixie Highway -- a name that survives in Middletown, Hamilton and Fairfield -- was the idea of Carl Fisher of Indianapolis, who in 1912 had proposed the coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway.
"Carl Fisher was the pioneer publicity man of America," wrote Jane Fisher in Fabulous Hoosier, a biography of her husband published in 1947. The businessman and auto salesman was a founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its 500-mile race. The native of Greensburg, Ind., also raced bicycles, cars and balloons, promoted speedboat and yacht races, and played polo, tennis and golf.
Starting in 1913, Fisher developed Miami Beach, Fla., and built the first hotel there. He successfully publicized the city as "America's Greatest Winter Playground." He also created catchy slogans, such as "It's Always June in Miami Beach" and "Where Summer Spends the Winter." Later, he developed Montauk, Long Island, as a summer resort.
A conference of governors seized Fisher's popular idea in May 1915 and formed the Dixie Highway Association. Fisher's publicity techniques were used to promote (1) the paving or bricking of the route, and (2) the renaming of local streets and roads as the Dixie Highway.
Unlike the 1950s interstate system -- mandated by the federal government -- the several branches of the Dixie Highway resulted from the cooperative efforts of many cities, villages and counties. Chambers of commerce and auto clubs appointed Dixie Highway committees. Individuals, groups and businesses also joined the movement for improved roads.
The governments of Hamilton, Middletown and Butler County were on board early in 1915 and 1916 when few local drivers were brave enough to try to drive as far as Cincinnati or Dayton over rutted, unpaved roads.
By the middle of 1917, a Dixie Highway network of about 5,100 miles had been planned. The interlocking routes connected Mackinaw, Detroit and Chicago in the north with Chattanooga, Augusta, Atlanta and Miami in the south. The highway wound through 10 states -- Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. It ran mostly north-south, with several east-west links.
An eastern division -- passing passed through Butler County -- stretched 1,536 miles from Detroit through Cincinnati and Lexington to Miami. A 1,802-mile western system snaked from Chicago to Miami, via Indianapolis, Louisville and Nashville.
A northern loop extended from Detroit on the eastern division to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, then south through Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and South Bend before joining the western division at Indianapolis.
The DHA not only promoted travel, but served motorists, too. In 1917 the DHA warned drivers that part of the route, the old Louisville and Nashville Pike, had deteriorated "until no motorist who respected his car would try to travel the rough cobblestones" on that link.
Dixie Highway construction slowed in 1917 when the United States entered World War I, but the association stressed the road's military value. "The work of building the Dixie Highway has taken on a patriotic nature," said the DHA. "Completed, it represents a means of aiding the railroads in supplying the 35 or more military cantonments and forts in the South."
By 1920, Dixie Highway travelers could safely assume their trips would be on a marked route on roadways paved with brick or concrete.
Work on Dixie Highway in Butler County began in 1917
There were only 3,300 motor vehicles registered in Butler County when ground was broken in 1917 for the first paved part of the 10-state Dixie Highway within the county.
Paul M. Hooven, a Hamilton lawyer, had represented the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce in May 1915 at a meeting of the Dixie Highway Association in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Butler County was placed on the road's eastern division at that session.
"Two years ago, when the Dixie Highway movement was started, the road between Detroit and Cincinnati was unconnected, with sections even difficult to negotiate," reported a Dixie Highway officer as work started in Butler County in mid 1917.
Now, the report said, "the Detroit to Cincinnati link of the Dixie Highway as a whole occupies a more advanced position of improvement than any other division of the highway. Out of a mileage of 263.5, approximately 115 miles is now paved with brick or concrete, 15 miles with asphalt and the remainder macadam, rock or gravel. Much of the macadam is asphalt or oil treated," he noted.
About 50 people attended the Butler County groundbreaking Tuesday morning, July 10, 1917, in what then was Fairfield Township. Ben D. Lecklider, a Hamilton insurance agent, arranged the ceremony. Lecklider was a member of the Butler County Good Roads Committee.
The location was on Ohio 4 (Dixie Highway) near the present Winton Road intersection in the City of Fairfield (which was founded 38 years later). Newspapers in 1917 identified the remote rural site as near the Slade farm at Furmandale. The ceremony was held at the southern end of a 5.9-mile section that extended north into Hamilton. Butler County commissioners had authorized funds for the road a few days earlier. The contractor, T. J. Connell of Cambridge City, Ind., paved the section with brick.
June 27, 1917, commissioners also had approved $115,000 for paving two additional sections. One was between Hamilton and Middletown, from Gregory Creek at LeSourdsville north to Excello. The other was north of Middletown, along Franklin Pike into Warren County.
But controversy delayed the start of those projects because of opposition to paving with concrete instead of brick. A group of Hamilton and Middletown citizens had protested to state highway officials in Columbus. The state highway commissioner agreed to cancel the contracts and advertise for new bids specifying brick as the paving material.
Brick was favored because it was considered more durable and required less maintenance than concrete. It also was plentiful and economical in Ohio because paving bricks were produced by prison inmates.
In December 1917, the DHA said "Butler County, Ohio, with a total mileage of 21.94 miles, has resurfaced six miles of macadam, and built one mile of brick within the past six months at a cost of $30,000."
World War I priorities delayed the highway. It wasn't until Wednesday, Dec. 15, 1920, that the section south of Hamilton was completed and opened.
The original two-lane route through Hamilton, from north to south, ran from Middletown Pike at the fairgrounds southwest via Heaton Street, south over North 10th Street, west on High Street for a block, south on East Avenue to the intersection of Central Avenue, East Avenue and Grand Boulevard. Then it continued south over Springdale Pike in Fairfield Township.
In May 1916, Hamilton City Council changed the name of Central Avenue south of Grand Boulevard to Dixie Highway. In Fairfield Township, Springdale Pike quickly became known as Dixie Highway.
About 3,000 autos in county on eve of World War I
Butler County residents owned about 3,000 cars just before the United States entered World War I in the spring of 1917. "It is estimated there are now 1,500 autos of all kinds in Hamilton and about 1,500 in all other parts of Butler County," the Journal said.
Later, after the U. S. entered the war, the Hamilton registration total was said to have reached 1,750 vehicles.
A factor discouraging car ownership, the newspaper said, was the poor condition of county roads. "For a great number of years," the report said, "automobilists have been known to avoid this county because of the terrible conditions of the roads."
The area's unpaved, dirt roads also discouraged local auto dealers. Winter snow and the spring thaw and showers made primitive roads impassable.
In March 1917, the Journal said "owing to the bad condition of the county roads, Ed Weiser would not drive to Detroit last week and drive back Dodges. He said that he would wait until roads got in good condition."
The article said "Bob Baxter is out of Oldsmobiles and says that unless some shipments arrive soon, he will drive some cars here from the factory." The Miami Motor Car Company, a local Ford dealer, reported it was "about 175 cars behind in delivery" in March.
The U. S. declared war on Germany April 6, 1917. Before the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice, Butler County sent 3,271 men into military service, 88 of whom died.
On the home front, war sacrifices were complicated by the severe winter of 1917-1918, which included a shortage of coal. Conservation measures included "Gasless Sundays," starting Sept. 1, 1918. Driving was restricted to emergencies and war-related functions. By the second weekend, Hamilton police "found less than 10 cars being used for purposes of pleasure," a newspaper reported. "The (license) numbers of the machines operating were taken by the police" and "reported to the fuel administration." The driving ban boosted business on streetcar and interurban lines. "People owning automobiles who attended church used the streetcars or walked, while those from the country who came to town to attend services drove in spring wagons and buggies," a reporter noted.
"Gasless Sunday" was canceled Thursday, Oct. 17, 1918, when the federal government revealed that the seven observances had saved a million barrels of gasoline for military uses.
It took tragedy to bring railroad crossing improvements in Hamilton
A series of fatal and serious accidents in the 1930s ignited public demand for lighted, round-the-clock, seven-day safety devices at railroad crossings.
As 1937 began, none of Hamilton's many rail crossings had automatic flasher warning signals. Only the motionless, unlit crossbars marked most crossings.
Some were protected by watchmen with hand signals -- most for 16 hours a day or less. The busy Grand Boulevard crossing, for example, was guarded only between 7:30 a.m. and 7:50 p.m.
During a watchman's off hours, only a small sign on top of his trackside shanty alerted motorists that no one was on duty. That system wasn't adequate in an industrial city of about 50,000 people with heavy railroad traffic.
As usual, the cost of installing signals was a major obstacle. "For years, we have felt strongly the need of 24-hour protection," said Hamilton's city manager, R. P. Price, "but during the long period of the Depression the railroads were unable to assume any additional financial burden."
Four people were killed and several seriously injured at rail crossings in Hamilton in the first seven months of 1937.
Also, Butler County had experienced its worst car-train accident the previous year at the Bobenmeyer Road crossing of the Pennsylvania Railroad, then just south of the city limits in Fairfield Township. Nine people in one family died there Sunday, July 26, 1936, when their westbound car was struck by a northbound passenger train.
The need for better protection also had been demonstrated in August 1933 when a Hamilton fire pumper was demolished in a collision with a Baltimore & Ohio steam locomotive at Sycamore Street.
Several car-train accidents in the 1930s were blamed on weather conditions (fog and rain) or darkness, elements that blocked or limited a driver's vision of a watchman's hand signals or the crossbars.
In August 1937 -- after months of negotiations involving the city, the PRR and the B&O -- an agreement was reached. City manager Price said that warning signals would be installed at 23 crossings in Hamilton. He said the two-year program would cost $70,000, with the two railroads paying the entire bill. The B&O was to spend $50,000 at crossings on its two main lines through Hamilton
On its Cincinnati-Dayton-Toledo route, nine sets of signals were planned. On the B&O's Hamilton-Indianapolis list, signals were scheduled at six crossings.
The Pennsylvania's $20,000 would pay for signals at eight locations.
The first flasher -- at the PRR Grand Boulevard crossing near Mosler -- was activated on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1937. The PRR's eight signals were in place by Jan. 22, 1938.
The first signal on the B&O went into use July 13, 1938, at Vine Street. The other 14 were operational within a year.
Most of the first signals were not automatic. They were activated by watchmen who usually were responsible for three adjacent crossings.
One of the last to be signalized was the B&O's South Hamilton crossing (Central Avenue). It also was the last to have a watchman.
1937 car-train crash changed Doris Day's Hollywood plans
"A young Cincinnati dancer under contract to a Hollywood studio was one of four persons injured when an auto collided with a train shortly before midnight at Fifth and High streets, Hamilton," the Cincinnati Post reported Oct. 14, 1937. "The dancer is Miss Doris Kappelhoff, 13," the article said. "She is in Mercy Hospital, Hamilton, with a right leg fracture."
"Relatives said Miss Kappelhoff was to leave for Hollywood in two weeks," the report continued. "She has appeared in numerous acts in local hotels, relatives said."
The other Cincinnati area residents -- who suffered lesser injuries in the Friday night, Oct. 13, collision with a Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive -- were 18, 19 and 20 years of age.
"It was a cold, rainy night. The steamy car windows were all closed, the radio was going full blast," the 13-year-old back-seat occupant told a writer 38 years later. There were no warning lights or gates at the crossing.
The accident "abruptly ended my promising career as a dancer -- and threatened to make me a cripple for life," she said in a 1975 book. "The x rays showed that I had a double compound fracture, and there were shattered bone fragments that had to be fitted into place. A steel pin was inserted in the bone and an extra-heavy cast encased my leg from my thigh to my toes," she recalled.
"The predicted four-month recovery did not materialize," she explained. "When I was dancing, singing was just incidental to the dance; but now, with all that enforced time on my hands, I began to get interested in singing for its own sake."
The car-train collision delayed Doris Kappelhoff's Hollywood trip. Because of the crash, it was her voice that got her there, not her legs and feet.
In 1943, then known as Doris Day and singing with the Les Brown band, she had one of the year's top single records ("Sentimental Journey"). She reached stardom in 1948 with "It's Magic." In 1950, she teamed with the Harry James orchestra to produce a top album, "Young Man with a Horn." Also a hit was a 1952 album, "I'll See You in My Dreams." Her image as the "wholesome girl next door" continued in popular movies.
The darling of records, movies and TV from the 1940s into the 1970s was profiled in a 1975 book, Doris Day: Her Own Story by A. E. Hotcher, published by William Morrow & Co. Part of the book recounted Doris Day's vivid memories of the 1937 Hamilton crash which altered her professional life.
High Street Underpass - dream for 64 years - ended No. 1 headache
The choreographed event the sunny morning of Thursday, Sept. 24, 1981, was one skeptics said would never happen. It was the groundbreaking for the High Street Underpass. The ceremonial shovels -- just as the pharmacist's pestle prepares medication -- started the long-awaited process of curing Hamilton's No. 1 headache.
For more than 64 years, civic leaders, planners and politicians periodically championed proposals to divert motor-vehicle traffic either over or under two busy railroad crossings on High Street at Fourth and Fifth streets on the eastern edge of downtown Hamilton. Trains often blocked police and fire vehicles and ambulances bound for Hamilton's two hospitals.
By the late 1970s, an average of more than 21,000 vehicles a day crossed the High Street tracks that carried as many as 36 freight trains within a 24-hour period, plus several switching runs.
An incident Thursday afternoon, Nov. 11, 1971, dramatized the need for the underpass. At 3:20 p.m., a northbound Baltimore & Ohio freight stalled, blocking every crossing north of Central Avenue for an hour. Hundreds of cars, trucks and buses had to wait until the broken air line was repaired on the 140-car train.
Police Chief George V. McNally reported several police vehicles stranded in the gridlock. Fortunately, there were no fire runs or ambulance calls during the massive tie-up. Chief McNally, then in his 20th year in the police department, said the traffic jam "was the largest during my service."
For several generations, the underpass, or overpass, seemed to be only a periodic dream in the midst of an enduring nightmare.
Starting in 1919, there were various plans to alleviate the traffic delays caused by the trains, all dashed by a constantly changing list of obstacles, headed by a lack of money.
A state bond issue in 1968 -- approved by a narrow margin in Butler County -- provided the seed money which kept the underpass alive between 1970 and 1980. More than 52 percent of Ohio voters favored the $759 million bond issue while in Butler County only 50.03 percent of the electorate approved it. Hamilton City Council and Butler County commissioners ranked the High Street underpass at the top of the list of projects to benefit from the bonds. But the money was slow in coming from Columbus.
When the bond issue money was allocated, Butler County received $5.2 million to divide among 18 local projects. The largest chunk, $1.4 million, was reserved for the High Street underpass.
Railroad cooperation was a major hurdle in the 1960s and the 1970s as the companies experienced a series of corporate changes and financial crises.
Another complication in the late 1970s was an increase in the number of railroads operating over the tracks. Chessie System (now CSX) trains crossed High at Fourth Street. The tracks along Fifth Street were shared by the recently-formed Conrail and the Norfolk & Western (now Norfolk Southern) after N&W purchased the line in 1976.
The plan was to combine the two sets of tracks. With three railroads, that required a more complex track-sharing agreement. For several years, the railroads insisted that wasn't feasible.
In December 1979, Conrail announced plans to abandon service over 6.4 miles of track from Seward Road, southeast of Hamilton, to Old River Junction at New Miami, north of Hamilton. That decision left only Chessie and N&W to negotiate a sharing agreement for the relocated right-of-way through downtown Hamilton.
Accord came in 1980, and early in 1981 the Ohio Department of Transportation awarded contracts for demolition of about 40 buildings in the path of the intricate project.
July 14, 1981, ODOT awarded the $7.6 million construction contract to National Engineering Contracting Co., Cleveland. The firm's bid was under the state estimate of $8.75 million.
Thursday morning, Sept. 24, 1981, Gov. James A. Rhodes was among many participants in an elaborate groundbreaking on the north side of High between Fourth and Fifth streets (between the two sets of tracks). "I never thought I'd live to see this day" was the common reaction of many longtime Hamilton residents as construction began.
Within a few weeks, drivers traveling along High Street endured rough detours and restricted traffic -- as well as train delays -- as crews dug a two-block ditch which depressed High Street below the combined tracks at Fifth Street.
Part of the underpass opened nearly two years later. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday morning, Sept. 13, 1983, climaxed by a round trip through the depression by city officials.
At 2:25 that afternoon, eastbound traffic started through the two completed lanes while work continued on the other half of the project. Westbound High Street traffic was detoured north to Dayton Street until the two other lanes were finished.
Partial completion of the roadway didn't mean the end of waiting for trains at the Fourth Street crossing. It wasn't until 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, 1984, that a southbound Chessie train became the last to use the tracks and block High Street at Fourth Street.
The project's cost, including demolition of buildings, construction of the underpass, railroad relocation and railroad signalization, reached $15 million.
Many people kept the dream alive. But no one devoted more time and energy to the underpass than Jack Kirsch. He held two important positions during the critical years -- Hamilton's public works director, 1958-1976, and city manager from January 1976 until his retirement in June 1983. In recalling the project in 1993, Kirsch said "we had to wait in line for state construction funds. We made literally hundreds of trips to press our case for funds," he told the Journal-News. "You had to be persistent. If you weren't, you were finished," said Kirsch, who preferred to work behind the scenes in a professional manner.
Since completion of the underpass, railroad traffic through the city has nearly doubled to about 60 through trains daily.
I-75 in Butler County built in 25 months
It took a little more than two years (1958-60) to construct 11.4 miles of interstate highway in rural Butler County, including 13 underpasses and overpasses at road and railroad intersections.
Construction of the original I-75 through west Chester, Liberty and Lemon townships started June 9, 1958. The $9.3 million project opened to traffic July 31, 1960. Construction averaged $816,000 a mile. The divided highway had two lanes in each direction.
Only two interchanges were built within Butler County -- at Cincinnati-Dayton Road and at Tylersville Road, about nine miles apart in Union Township.
A third interchange -- at Ohio 63 in Monroe -- is in Warren County, just east of the Butler County line.
Thirty-two miles of the highway were opened Sunday afternoon, July 31, 1960.
By 1975, a completed I-75 extended 211.5 miles in Ohio between Cincinnati and Toledo. Its total cost -- including the small Butler County segment -- was reported as $403.1 million.
Another interstate link was built just south of Butler County. I-275 -- with 55.4 miles in Ohio, 28.7 miles in Kentucky and 3.1 miles in Indiana -- totaled about $500 million for 84.16 miles in three states. Ohio's part of the cost was about $145 million.
Construction began in September 1958 on the Cincinnati outer belt, known at first as the Circumferential Highway and quickly shortened to Circle Freeway. It was completed in December 1979. In 1982 it was named the Donald H. Rolf Highway in honor of a Hamilton County commissioner who in 1954 began promoting a four-lane loop around Hamilton County.
The first part of I-275 opened in August 1961 from Ohio 4 in Springdale -- just south of Fairfield -- east to I-75 and U. S. 42 in Sharonville, 4.4 miles in length.
In December 1977, traffic started on the western leg from U. S. 27 (Colerain Avenue) west to Indiana and over the Ohio River into Kentucky and the Northern Kentucky-Greater Cincinnati International Airport. Two years later, the last link opened, a bridge over the Ohio River near old Coney Island, east of Cincinnati.
Why was Hamilton not on original interstate system?
If the interstate highway system was designed to connect every U. S. city of at least 50,000 people, why wasn't Hamilton on the federal system that brought dramatic changes to travel, business and the American lifestyle?
In 1950 -- six years before bipartisan congressional approval of the program -- the census counted 57,951 people in Hamilton. In 1960 -- the year I-75 opened 10 miles east of the city -- Hamilton's population had grown to 72,354 people.
The answer -- or, at least, the clues -- to why Hamilton was left off the interstate system is in a transcript. It is the record of the public hearing held in Middletown to review plans for 34 miles of I-75 between Cincinnati and Dayton. The date was Friday evening, Nov. 1, 1957 -- about seven months before construction started near Maud in Union Township.
Missing from that meeting were the seven members of Hamilton City Council, the city manager and the city directors and administrators. Council members excused themselves because there were only four campaigning days before the election. Twenty-three candidates were seeking the seven council seats. Most of them that night attended the Hamilton High School football game, an excellent place to campaign.
The city manager didn't attend the hearing because Hamilton didn't have a city manager then -- a frequent void in those years. Hamilton had six city manager changes in a little more than 11 years between August 1946 and November 1957. There were several periods when acting city managers handled administrative paperwork until council could agree on who should be the next city manager.
Charles F. Schwalm had left the post Oct. 22, 1956. It took more than 13 months to reach agreement on his replacement. Twenty-five days after the I-75 hearing, Howard F. "Hack" Wilson was appointed city manager during a special meeting of council. Wilson -- who had been a member of council from 1942 through 1947 -- served as city manager from Dec. 2, 1957, until May 31, 1960.
The only Hamilton representatives at the 1957 Middletown hearing were one person each from the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and the city planning commission. Only the chamber representative is on record as speaking. He said the chamber "is especially interested in a logical system of feeder routes to efficiently handle the traffic for ingress and egress to the new" highway.
The story has persisted that the interstate bypassed Hamilton because city business and industrial leaders wanted it that way. There is no evidence -- written or otherwise -- to support that contention.
Others familiar with the city's political and economic leaders then believed they simply misjudged the impact of the interstate highways.
They may have been misled by the well-publicized intent of the Federal Highway Act of 1956, passed in the context of the uncertain Cold War. That law created the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways -- a name quickly shortened to interstate highways.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in signing the law June 29, 1956, emphasized the benefits the roadways would bring to military and civilian defense -- not the commercial and social changes they would foster. "Our roads ought to be the avenues of escape for persons living in big cities threatened by aerial attack or natural disaster," the president said.
As the interstate highways were built, signs went up reminding motorists that "in the event of an enemy attack, this road will be closed." The red, white and blue interstate symbol was meant to reflect the patriotic purpose of the highways during the era of the arms race between the U. S. and the Soviet Union.
Regional Highway survived nearly four decades of red tape and political lip service
The potential negative impact of Hamilton's omission from the interstate highway system was first raised in 1959 while I-75 was being built in Butler County. It was the county commission, not city council, that questioned the state's plans. Commissioners Gordon Augspurger, Arthur S. Reiff and Ross H. Snyder asked highway officials to build an interchange at Ohio 129 (Princeton Road), an eastern extension of High Street in Hamilton.
This, they argued, would provide a direct east-west link between I-75 and the city (the county seat). The commissioners urged the state to consider building an interchange at Princeton Road instead of Tylersville Road. Ohio officials refused to bend.
Within a few years, Hamilton had the unwanted distinction of being "the largest city in the nation not on or directly linked to the interstate system."
The drive to secure a Hamilton connection was low key at best for the next eight or nine years, a period of drastic negative change in the city's industrial and retail landscape.
Hamilton leaders finally spoke out in 1968. At a Dec. 4, 1968, meeting, city council adopted a resolution urging the state to build a direct highway connection between Hamilton and I-75.
Success seemed assured April 29, 1970, when Gov. James A. Rhodes came to Butler County and announced the state would build such a road. The 15.7-mile highway would run east from Hamilton to I-75 and I-71. It would be open within two and a half years, declared Rhodes, who was campaigning for a seat in the U. S. Senate.
Two years after Rhodes' promise, a public hearing was held on the highway corridor between Hamilton, Mason and I-71. That May 3, 1972, session raised hopes, that were quickly dashed by new regulations and red tape, and state and federal spending cuts.
In April 1974, Rhodes was running for governor again, opposed by incumbent John J. Gilligan. "We're for it," Rhodes said in a taped interview with a newspaper editor. "If we get back in (the governor's office), we'll build it for you," he said of the Hamilton connection.
When elected, Rhodes did nothing to advance the project during his third and fourth four-year terms as governor. Despite constant efforts by Hamilton officials -- and some lip service at the state level -- the highway went nowhere until the early 1990s.
During that time it acquired a new name -- the Butler County Regional Highway. With three decades of development in southeastern Butler County -- encouraged by the presence of I-75 -- it was evident Hamilton wouldn't be the only beneficiary of improved east-west traffic movement.
Delay also increased the estimated costs of the four-lane, limited-access highway.
In 1970, the price tag was $24.8 million for the entire Hamilton to I-71 plan. It jumped to $34.7 million in 1972, to $52.1 million in 1976, and to $68 million in 1982.
In the early 1980s, the proposal was shortened about five miles, ending at I-75 instead of I-71 near Kings Island because of opposition in Mason.
In March 1996, the estimate for that highway was a conservative $80 million. In 1997, $158.5 million in bonds were approved to build a 10.7-mile highway -- almost six and a half times greater than the $24.8 million for a 15.7-mile connection to both I-75 and I-71.
Transportation Improvement District assumed leadership in road building
In 1993 a new player entered Butler County's highway struggle in legislation originated by State Rep. Mike Fox. The Butler County Transportation Improvement District (TID) was formed that year in House Bill 154 (Ohio revised code section 5540.02) as a pilot program to manage the county's roadway needs.
Butler County commissioners authorized formation of the district Dec. 7, 1993 -- Ohio's first TID.
An 11-member TID board -- which held its first meeting in January 1994 -- included representatives from the cities of Hamilton and Fairfield; Liberty, Fairfield and West Chester townships; and the county at large.
The TID -- although required to adhere to state and federal regulations -- is empowered to plan, finance and construct highway additions and improvements without following some of the cumbersome government procedures that have delayed highway projects in Ohio for decades.
TID projects are in cooperation with the Butler County engineer's office, the Federal Highway Administration, the Ohio Department of Transportation and local governments.
Unlike the state -- which takes one step at a time -- TID can contract for design of a project and acquire property for right-of-way at the same time. TID also can issue bonds -- with annual payments coming from the state -- and spread the cost of building a road over 20 years instead of waiting on large allocations from state and federal highway funds.
TID's first project was modest -- a $1.5 million upgrade and widening at the intersection of Ohio 747 and Tylersville Road in West Chester Twp.
The outdated crossing of two old rural two-lane roads -- a traffic bottleneck and high-accident site -- was replaced with through lanes and right turn and left turn lanes in all directions. Work started July 15, 1996, and was completed Oct. 21, 1996.
A more ambitious challenge was the Union Centre interchange in West Chester Twp. -- the first new interchange in Southwestern Ohio on I-75 since the highway opened in 1960.
The project demonstrated a unique quality of TID -- its ability to partner with private developers and businesses. At least 25 percent of its cost came from private sources.
Work began in March 1997. The $24 million interchange (exit 19), plus surrounding road improvements, opened for traffic in December 1997, completed in only eight months. It opened more than 3,000 acres to development -- land previously inaccessible.
Since its opening, the Union Centre interchange has led to the creation of hundreds of jobs and returned millions in taxes. The interchange was part of a planned central business district for fast-growing West Chester Township. (West Chester Township, effective June 28, 2000, became the new name for what had been known as Union Township for 73 years. West Chester Township is in the southeast corner of Butler County, straddling I-75).
Another part of that plan was to build a new road -- Union Centre Boulevard -- extending west from I-75 to Ohio 747 and east to Cincinnati-Dayton Road. Part of the three-mile road was built during the interchange construction. A $1.8 million extension from Beckett Road west to Ohio 747 opened Oct. 5, 2000.
To the west of that intersection was a 1.7-mile gap that was filled by extending Symmes Road in Fairfield. Symmes Road's eastern terminus had been at Seward Road.
The $8 million TID project connected Symmes Road and Union Centre Boulevard, providing improved interstate access for business and industrial areas in the cities of Fairfield and Hamilton, and opening land in West Chester Township and Fairfield to development.
The Symmes-Union Centre connection included a bridge over a railroad mainline and the channel of the abandoned Miami & Erie Canal and the widening of parts of existing Symmes Road in Hamilton and Fairfield. Groundbreaking was Feb. 16, 2001. The new four-lane roadway opened 10 months later, Dec. 10, 2001.
Another TID improvement was the extension and upgrade of Muhlhauser Road in West Chester Township. The once narrow, dead-end rural road became another connection between Ohio 747 and I-75 at the Union Centre interchange. It helped alleviate traffic congestion and encouraged economic development in the area.
The new 1.71-mile five-lane section between Allen Road and International Boulevard opened Dec. 23, 1998. Widening of a 1.1-mile section of old Muhlhauser Road to five lanes from International Boulevard west to Ohio 747 was completed in October 1999.
The $9 million improvement -- in conjunction with other TID roads -- opened hundreds of acres of previously isolated land for development.
In 2004, the City of Fairfield completed widening Muhlhauser Road between Ohio 747 and Ohio 4.
Butler County Regional Highway became TID project in 1995
The 10.7-mile Butler County Regional Highway (also known as relocated Ohio 129) became a major responsibility for the Butler County Transportation Improvement District in September 1995.
Later that year, TID began purchasing property in the BCRH right-of-way and hired a consulting firm to complete design and other details. The first visible sign of progress on the long-delayed road came March 18, 1996, when a house on High Street, near Garfield Jr. High School, was demolished.
The highway -- also known as the Michael A. Fox Highway and Butler County Veterans Highway -- was financed by the sale of $158.5 million in bonds approved by the TID board of trustees Oct. 30, 1997.
May 4, 1998, Kokosing Construction was awarded the contract and work started May 15, 1998.
The 10.7-mile east-west highway extends east from the eastern end of High Street in Hamilton to I-75 (exit 24) in Liberty Township. The four-lane divided interstate-type highway has exits at Ohio 4 Bypass, Ohio 747 and Cincinnati-Dayton Road.
A western section between Ohio 4 (Erie Highway) and Hampshire Drive within Hamilton opened Oct. 9, 1999. The eastern end between Cincinnati-Dayton Road and I-75 opened Oct. 29, 1999. The entire roadway opened Dec. 13, 1999, eight months ahead of schedule.
On that date, Hamilton got rid of its unwanted highway distinction: "Hamilton -- the largest city in the nation not on an interstate highway, or directly linked to the interstate system."
In March 1999, while construction progressed, the TID board named the road the Michael A. Fox Highway. In 2004 the Ohio General Assembly named it the Butler County Veterans Highway. It retains the Ohio 129 designation.
The highway won numerous awards, including: the Globe Award from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association for excellence in environmental protection and mitigation; the Excellence in Concrete Paving Award from the American Concrete Paving Association in the category of municipal streets and intersections greater than 30,000 square yards.
The 2000 "Build America Award" from the Associated General Contractors of America for the best new highway in the nation; the 2000 Quality in Construction Award from the National Asphalt Paving Association; the 2000 Donald C. Schramm Award from the American Society of Highway Engineers - TRIKO Valley Section for transportation improvement in the over $2 million category.
The International Road Federation's 2000 Global Road Achievement Award for innovation of construction methodology practices; the 1999 Excellence in Paving Award from the Ohio/Kentucky Chapter of the American Concrete Pavement Association
The 1999 Quality Award for Asphalt Paving from Flexible Pavements Inc. for achieving the highest quality in asphalt paving; and an Engineering Excellence Award from the Consulting Engineers Counsel of Ohio for project management and construction management.
Planners proposed about 50 miles of freeways in county in 1971
Imagine the Michael A. Fox Highway, completed in 1999, extending west from Erie Boulevard (Ohio 4) through downtown Hamilton and Rossville (Hamilton's west side), then curving southwest along Millville Avenue (Ohio 129) to U. S. 27 at or near Millville. Such a roadway -- running between I-71 at Kings Island, I-75 near Mason and Millville -- was part of a regional highway plan unveiled in 1971. The Travel Projections and Recommended Transportation Plan was developed by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments and a consulting firm, Wilbur Smith & Associates.
If fully implemented, the 1971 plan would have built 367 miles of new high-speed highways and 98 miles of arterial streets, plus improving 338 miles of existing roadway, for about $1.7 billion in the 2,700-square-mile area in the Tri-State region.
It detailed three major freeways in Butler County. Thirty years later, only one of the three projects had been built. That's the Fox Highway (Ohio 129) that opened in December 1999. At 10.7 miles, the I-75/Hamilton connection through Fairfield and Liberty townships is about half the distance proposed in the 1971 OKI plan.
Known officially as the Hamilton Freeway in 1971 -- and informally as the Hamilton Connector -- it would have been about 22 miles of interstate-type highway. It would have included the High Street railroad underpass that was completed in 1985. OKI, anticipating work to begin by 1975, estimated the entire project would have cost $67.4 million in 1971 dollars. Allowing for inflation, that would have been about $276.7 million in 2000.
Other Butler County roads envisioned in the OKI study were (1) the Riverside Freeway, from downtown Hamilton south through Fairfield along the Great Miami River; and (2) a northwest extension of the Colerain Freeway, terminating north of Oxford.
The Riverside Freeway, the 1971 proposal said, "would extend (south) from the Hamilton Freeway near the Hamilton central business district to the Colerain Freeway at the Hamilton-Butler county line."
The OKI plan said it would require a minimum of four lanes that "would utilize the existing right-of-way and alignment of Neilan Boulevard in the City of Hamilton, and would parallel the lower end of the Great Miami River Valley in the remaining portion of its north-south route through Butler County." Planners projected construction to start in the 1976-80 period on the 7.8-mile Riverside Freeway.
The Colerain Freeway would have been an interstate-type U. S. 27 from Cincinnati to a point near the Indiana line. "Serving the northwest corridor between I-75 and I-74, the facility would begin with an interchange at I-74 in the Millcreek Valley and extend northward through Hamilton and Butler counties to a point north of the City of Oxford," planners explained.
In Hamilton County, with daily traffic averages of 36,000 vehicles projected, the freeway would have been a minimum of six lanes. In Butler County, with a 25,000 average, the Colerain Freeway of about 20 miles would have opened as four lanes.
When revealed in 1971, the OKI recommendations seemed achievable, provided funding could be arranged. But in the 1970s, several developments dashed optimistic hopes of building a network of roads to handle 1990s traffic in the three-state area.
Roadblocks included passage of new federal environmental laws that radically complicated and increased the paperwork and cost of highway projects, a reduction in federal road funds and the oil shortages of 1973 and 1979.
"Transportation planning," the 1971 OKI study said, "is a continuous modification and updating to take into account unanticipated changes within the region." In a report issued a few years later, the agency noted that "political, social, economic and environmental pressures can expedite a proposed improvement or extend it indefinitely."
World War II imposed severe transportation, travel restrictions
World War II, 1941-45, imposed severe restrictions on travel and transportation, including tire and gas rationing, a 35-mph speed limit and cessation of road-building in Butler County. Operators of 31,289 cars, 2,858 trucks, 813 farm trucks and 1,595 trailers in Butler County were the first civilians to face wartime sacrifices.
The new 1942 model automobiles were in dealer showrooms when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Ten days later, Dec. 17, the federal government announced a freeze on new car sales "for the duration of the war."
During the war the restrictions on motor vehicles contributed to a steady climb in ridership on Hamilton's bus system to an average of 28,900 people a day in 1943.
Near the end of the war, Hamilton was served by 16 daily passenger trains -- most with every seat and berth filled -- on the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania railroads. There also was standing room only on New York Central passenger trains through Middletown.
Monday, Jan. 5, 1942, was the effective date of tire rationing meant to cut civilian monthly rubber consumption from 47,000 tons to 10,000 tons. Before the war, about four million tires were sold monthly. Under rationing, the January national total would be limited to 370,000 tires. Butler County received 84 passenger car tires and 70 tubes, and 209 truck tires and 175 tubes in January 1942. Those numbers would vary each month.
Persons needing a tire or tires made requests to authorized dealers, who inspected the vehicle to see if the tire or tires were beyond repair or safe use. If an inspector confirmed the need, the vehicle owner completed the application, which was forwarded to the rationing board for final judgment. Tire rationing, with some periodic alterations, continued almost four years, until Dec. 31, 1945.
"Is Your Trip Necessary? was the question facing potential civilians travelers in the summer of 1942. The slogan, and similar ones, were everywhere -- on posters and public service advertisements in newspapers and magazines and radio announcements. "Needless travel interferes with the war effort," travelers were reminded as the nation struggled to conserve fuels and reserve its transportation resources for war purposes.
Restrictions on civilian air travel had been ordered May 15, 1942. "Almost anything that can fly is useful to the government," President Franklin D. Roosevelt said. About half of U. S. commercial planes were taken for war service.
Railroads -- still operating many passenger trains -- were required to give seating and service preferences to men and women in the military and to some civilians in war-related jobs.
The national campaign to conserve rubber, gasoline, metals and other war materials changed more than driving habits. It also altered the way Hamiltonians shopped, and ended some long-standing business practices.
One of the national trends -- reflected in Butler County -- was abandonment of home delivery. Before the war, many families ordered groceries by phone. The neighborhood grocer delivered the order to the house.
Daily milk delivery ended Monday, June 1, 1942, in an effort to save tires and fuel. Dairies switched home deliveries to every other day and ended most Sunday service. By late 1942, grocers reported delivery mileage down 42 percent while sales had increased 20 percent. The survey yielding those figures was taken before the start of gas rationing, which included no special provisions for deliveries to consumers.
Home deliveries were curtailed or canceled in 1942 and 1943 by ice companies, dry cleaners, bakeries, drug stores, department stores and other businesses. Hamilton's postmaster ordered reductions in some mail deliveries and collections in November 1942 to conserve tires and gas, and to extend the life of postal vehicles.
The government ordered local and intercity bus lines to revise schedules and reduce stops to conserve fuel.
Bus passes were revoked for off-duty policemen and firemen, and the superintendent of the Hamilton system said charter bus service would be restricted to war-related trips.
In November 1942 Hamilton City Lines eliminated 70 stops in the city. Ohio Bus Lines dropped two stops in downtown Hamilton on Hamilton-Cincinnati runs.
Earlier, in July 1942, OPA had notified school officials that buses operating on tires obtained through rationing could be used only to haul pupils to and from school. Only buses with pre-war tires could be used for bands, athletic teams, field trips and other purposes.
Gas rationing and a 35-mph speed limit, which had been imposed in some states in May 1942, started in Butler County in December. It had been scheduled to begin Nov. 22, but was delayed nine days -- until 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1942 -- because the government needed extra time to print rationing books and complete other details.
In mid November applications for gas rationing were taken at schools in Butler County. Later, vehicle owners were issued a book of ration stamps and a matching window sticker. Gas station attendants were supposed to check the window sticker to be sure it matched the ration book before removing the correct number of stamps and pumping the gas.
An "A" sticker provided the lowest allotment for passenger cars -- four gallons per week. A pamphlet said "the A ration is designed to provide an average of 240 miles per month; of this 150 miles is for occupational use and 90 miles is for family convenience. This is based on an average of 15 miles to the gallon." In Hamilton, owners of 9,913 cars and 26 motorcycles received A stickers.
Traffic violations cost gas coupons, especially those convicted of exceeding the 35-mph speed limit. The Hamilton ration board announced in August 1943 that gas rations were being suspended for convicted speeders.
In January 1943, a month after the start of gas rationing, Hamilton police reported traffic on city streets had dropped 50 percent while bus officials noted average daily ridership up about 2,000.
Some residents adjusted by forming what the government called "Victory Car Clubs," or car pools. Firms with more than 100 workers were ordered to organize transportation committees to encourage ride sharing.
Drivers placed stickers on their windshields instead of new license plates on their bumpers in the spring of 1943. The license stickers -- an effort to conserve metals -- went on sale in March 1943. The sticker was to be placed in the lower right corner of the front windshield by April 1, 1943, while the green-on-white 1942 steel plates remained on the front and back bumpers.
Because war production had priority on materials and labor, road-building plans were shelved. This included a proposed north-south super highway in western Ohio along the abandoned right-of-way of the 249-mile Miami & Erie Canal. Two segments had been completed in Butler County in the 1930s -- Erie Highway in Hamilton and Verity Parkway in Middletown, both part of Ohio 4.
Discussions continued after the war, but the project stalled and died. Instead, after federal approval of the interstate system in 1956, the plan for a super highway over former canal land was replaced by I-75, built through rural eastern Butler County, not through the two cities.
Most wartime travel limits were relaxed or canceled soon after 1945 victory celebrations -- V-E Day (victory in Europe) May 8, and V-J Day (victory over Japan) Aug. 14.