Pages 361 - 366

History of Butler County: Hamilton

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In the year 1834 a few persons, numbering about twenty-four, belonging to the Episcopal Church, living in Hamilton and the vicinity, united and formed themselves into a congregation, and on the 13th of August, 1834, an election was held, which resulted in the choice of William A. KRUGG and Isaac HOWE wardens; James REILY, George KECK, and Frederick P. NARDEN, vestrymen; and William G. FIELDS register. At the same meeting James REILY was appointed a committee to solicit the Legislature to grant a charter incorporating the society; and in March, 1835, the Legislature passed a law, by which William a. KRUGG, Isaac HOWE, Frederick P. NARDEN, George and James REILY were incorporated under the name of "The Wardens and Vestrymen of the parish of St. Matthew's Church, in the town of Hamilton and Rossville."

The society purchased the north part of lot No. 82, at the intersection of Front and Basin Streets, in the town of Hamilton, and made arrangements for the erection of a house of public worship. Lewis D. CAMPBELL, William A. KRUGG, George KECK, Frederick P. NARDEN, and Isaac HOWE were appointed a committee to superintend the building. The building of the church was commenced in 1835. George BROWN was the carpenter, and Isaac HOWE the bricklayer.

The church was situated on the angling corner from the south-west corner of the public square, and was a brick building, sixty feet long on Basin Street, by forty feet wide on Front Street. There was a basement story under the whole building, divided into different apartments for vestry rooms and Sunday-schools.

The entrance to the church was from Front Street, by two doors on the east, entering into a vestibule. The pulpit was on the west end of the church. Two aisles ran the whole length of the church from east to west and the remainder of the floor was divided into fifty-four pews, capable of seating five hundred persons. There was also a gallery and seats for the choir on the east, and a cupola on the east end of the church. It was a handsome and neat building. The cost of erecting the church was $2,350, the amount being raised by subscription. The members belonging to the society being few in number, they were aided by those of other denominations, and the citizens generally.

The first rector of the Church was the Rev. Seth DAVIS, who settled in Hamilton and commenced his duties in 1837. The church was consecrated to the service of Almighty God by the Right Reverend Charles P. MCILVAINE, bishop of the diocese of Ohio, on the 5th of October, 1837.

The Rev. Mr. DAVIS remained rector of the Church until some time in the year 1839, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Henry PAINE, who remained until May, 1843, when he relinquished his charge and removed from Hamilton. The number of members belonging to the Church at that time was about twenty-four.

The Church, however, was heavily in debt, and finally the building was sold to the Catholics who tore it down and erected a new church in its stead, some of the walls of the old building, however, being still preserved. The number of members was at all times small, and periods of several months often passed without preaching. Latterly they bought the Baptist Church on Third Street, near Dayton; but that, too, was encumbered with a mortgage and was sold. The edifice has now been altered for commercial uses. No meetings have lately been held.


Dr. Stephen H. POTTER is one of the senior physicians and surgeons of Hamilton and vicinity. He was born in Cortland County, New York, November 12, 1812. His parents were Stephen and Lydia POTTER, who were noted among the early pioneers of Central New York for their enterprise, industry, and integrity. Until his seventeenth year he was occupied on his father's farm, attending the common schools about one-third of the year, his parents then giving him his time, which he employed in improving his education, working in Summers and teaching school during the Winters.

At the age of twenty-one, in March, 1833, he was employed as principal of a high school at Canandaigua, New York, with three assistants, remaining there successfully two years and four months. The next September, after engaging in this school, he also commenced the study of medicine with Dr. E. B. CARR, reciting to him an hour daily, Sundays excepted, until July, 1837, when, in order to pursue his studies more favorably, he went to Olean, New York with his brother-in-law, Dr. E.W. FINN, who owned a large drug store and had an extensive practice. Here he devoted his time industriously to these pursuits until September, 1837, when with two other medical students he came to Ohio and attended a medical college six months, graduating honorably, March 15, 1838. He immediately settled at Canal Winchester, in the Scioto valley, where he enjoyed a large practice until December, 1844, when his father was entirely disabled by palsy, which necessitated his return to Cortland, his native place. Here he soon received a large patronage among his early school companions and friends, until May, 1849, when his father having died and other relatives being provided for, he settled in the city of Syracuse, New York. Here with others he organized and had incorporated the Syracuse Medical College, and established, edited, and published the Syracuse Medical and Surgical Journal, a monthly. The first term of the institution opened the next November 5th, with eighty-seven actual matriculants, and continued two terms each year, of four months each, or thirteen terms, until June, 1855. In February, 1852, to improve his knowledge of surgery, Dr. POTTER went to Philadelphia, and attended the clinics in the Pennsylvania hospital, and surgical lectures in the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania, until the latter part of May.

He continued dean of the Syracuse Medical College and in charge of the Journal until September, 1855, when his wife suffered incipient consumption, rendering it necessary to return to this valley, her native place, hoping that the change might restore her health. He arranged with his partner, Dr. F. W. WALTON, now of Piqua, Ohio, to settle their business. Dr. POTTER then went to Cincinnati, where he accepted the position of lecturer on principles and practice, in the American Medical College, where he continued publishing his journal, and attending the clinics twice weekly in the Commercial Hospital of that city until June, 1856, when he resigned, sold his journal, and settled with his family permanently in this city, where he has ever since been in active practice, with the exception of two brief intervals. At the urgent solicitation of friends, in May, 1873, he went to St. Louis, Missouri, and assisted in organizing the American Medical College and the American Medical Journal, which have both enjoyed surprising patronage. The former is now holding its eighteenth term, and has become a leading institution in the West, and the Journal has attained a large circulation.

The doctor was for four consecutive years president of the Ohio State Eclectic Medical Society, and the past two its recording secretary; he was one of the incorporators and first vice-president of the National Eclectic Medical Association at Chicago in 1870, which organization has since grown to thirty State auxiliary societies, with prosperous working members; and has been the president the most of the time for about twenty-two years of the Miami Medical Society. He has also been for four years a member of the city council, and is at present a member of the board of health.

The doctor has been married four times, each time happily; has reared seven children to adult age, and, unfortunately, lost as many in infancy and childhood. He is the well-known author of a "Compendium of the Principles and Practice of Medicine," a book of five hundred pages, a work full of research and a marvel of condensation, for ready reference, and invaluable to busy practitioners and medical students. It has a large demand, having passed two editions, and has been adopted as a text-book in our medical colleges.

Perhaps the most notable incident in the extended and eventful life of Dr. POTTER was the rescue of a fugitive slave named Jerry in Syracuse, New York, about 1852. It occurred soon after the fugitive slave law was passed, and on the occasion of holding a national anti-slavery convention at that place. Daniel WEBSTER had recently delivered a speech to an immense concourse there, threatening that "when this convention thronged the city, a noted fugitive would be arrested and taken back to slavery. The United States Government would teach the people that there was potency in law." Four United States marshals had been detailed from as many adjacent cities, and the whole police force of Syracuse were ready. Jerry was arrested and placed in chains. About thirty thousand people were waiting to witness the scene. The man, with blue eyes, red cheeks, and brown curly hair, with no other semblance of a negro, was taken away from the officers by the mob, and finally placed by Dr. POTTER in the grounds of a residence inhabited by a stiff pro-slavery man, where the most active search failed to find him. After the lapse of a week, and search having been made from house to house, when detection was imminent, the doctor arranged with Jerry's host to drive in with a meat wagon, got Jerry in, and, covered with blankets, he drove before the door of the Syracuse House, hitched, went in with the doctor, took cigars, and drove out through the city about 4 P.M. in beautiful sunshine, no one suspecting the presence of Jerry. After reaching Brewerton, seventeen miles; Dr. POTTER took Jerry in his carriage, sending the team back, and conveyed the fugitive to Mexicoville and by the underground railroad to a small harbor on Lake Ontario, whence he obtained a passage on a small sailing vessel to Canada. No more noted fugitive slave case ever occurred in the United States, and in it the doctor was the principal agent of success.


John C. McKEMY, late judge of the common pleas court in Darke County, but now a resident of Hamilton, was born May 5, 1835, in Lexington, Virginia. His father and mother, William and Elizabeth (KIRKPATRICK) McKEMY, were both natives of Virginia, and descendants of the earliest settlers of that State. Both are now dead, the former having died April 8, 1882, aged seventy-nine. Farming was their life vocation, and they resided in their native State until death. W. D. McKEMY, a brother of John C., who was educated by the latter, after serving in the rebel army throughout the Rebellion, and for a long time a prisoner, being captured at the battle of the Wilderness, is now judge of probate at Dayton, and a lawyer of excellent ability.

John C. McKEMY remained at home upon his father's farm until 1855, when he came to Ohio and located in Darke County, where he labored on a farm during the Summer and attended school in the Winter. His circumstances were such as to deny him the privilege of a collegiate education, but he made the best of what opportunities he had, and gained a good, practical knowledge of books. In 1858 he entered the law office of Evan Baker, of Greenville, as a student, and after two years of arduous study, was admitted to the bar of Darke County in 1860. He immediately established himself in practice in Greenville, making his mark at once, and in 1865 formed a partnership with Mr. D. L. MEEKER, of that place. This connection was continued up to 1866, when Mr. McKEMY was elected probate judge of his county. His ability as a lawyer, and the judicial quality of his mind were soon, however, to elevate him to a higher position in his profession than he had previously held. In 1868 he was elected judge of the common pleas court, to accept which he resigned his position as probate judge.

Judge McKEMY remained on the bench till the Fall of 1872, when he resigned, with the determination to resume practice. He established himself at Dayton, where the firm of McKemy & Nauerth existed till 1876. He then removed to Hamilton, where he has since remained in successful professional pursuits. During the four years in which Judge McKEMY presided as common pleas judge there were perpetrated within his circuit the greatest number of terrible murders and crimes ever known in the history of the county. The state of affairs was dreadful. Six months of the year were of necessity devoted to the trial of criminal cases. Judge McKEMY did not shrink from the responsibility. Among those which came before him were the famous McGEHEAN and LICKLIDER murder cases, and many others of aggravated character. Substantial justice was attained, and the purification of the community was largely owing to his strenuous efforts. There were also several very important civil actions tried before Judge McKEMY, in which he did himself great honor. One particularly worthy of mention, was tried in Dayton, involving the rights of the veterans in the Soldiers' Home of that city to vote. Judge McKEMY decided that they had no right to exercise the elective franchise in that place, and his decision was sustained by the Supreme Court of Ohio. However, Congress subsequently passed a law granting to them that privilege, which they now enjoy.

Probably no other judge in the State within a period of equal length has been obliged to sit in judgment in so many cases of equal weight and importance as did Judge McKEMY from 1868 to 1872, in the first subdivision of the Second Judicial District of Ohio, trials in which public feeling ran high, and in which personal sympathies and prejudices placed the lives of men involved in them in actual jeopardy. Since his retirement from the bench Judge McKEMY has been an attorney in nearly every important case tried in Hamilton and the neighboring cities. He was in the noted Dickey-Tytus breach-of-promise and seduction case, and also assisted in the trial of the State vs. John FRANCIS, for murder, which was transferred from Montgomery County to Hamilton on a change of venue. He was also one of the attorneys in the settlement of the Beatty estate, the largest ever brought in the courts of Butler County.

For years Judge McKEMY has been a very active and influential Democrat, and up to within a few years was one of the leaders of his party in his own and surrounding counties. He served as chairman of several Democratic conventions, and in several presidential campaigns canvassed both Ohio and Indiana as a speaker. His life has been one of activity and industry, which, coupled with his native ability, has made him not only an excellent lawyer and able judge, but successful in pecuniary affairs. He is the possessor of considerable real estate in Hamilton and other places, besides having an interest in four silver mines in Colorado, two of which are in successful operation, and the others are under process of tunneling. He is a member of the Knights of Honor and the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

Judge McKEMY was married December 6, 1861, to Miss Mary A. WILEY, of Darke County, daughter of Caleb and Elizabeth WILEY. Mr. And Mrs. WILEY were both natives of Virginia, though they removed to Ohio when young. They have lived on one farm for about sixty years. The former is eighty-three years of age, and the latter sixty-three. Of this union there are seven children now living. The oldest, Fannie Belle, born in 1865; Ella J., born 1866; Pearl C., born in 1868; William C., in 1875; Florence May, in 1876; Blanche, in 1880, and the youngest in 1882.


Samuel DAVIDSON was born in Portage County, Ohio, June 10, 1825, and was the second son of Patrick and Jane (CUSTARD) DAVIDSON. He is of Scotch and German descent. With his parents, he moved to Mercer County, Pennsylvania, about 1832 or 1833, and was educated in the common schools. In the Spring of 1840 he began an apprenticeship of four years at the cabinet and furniture trade, which he acquired, working as a journeyman some three years. He then learned the business of a mill-wright, an occupation which he followed till 1856. In the Spring of that year he came to Hamilton, taking charge of a portable saw-mill and machine shop. At this he continued till 1862, then organizing the firm of Davidson & Co., founders of Cincinnati, continuing there till 1865. He entered into partnership with Bernhard STEMPS, in 1865, in the stove, tin, and hardware business, which lasted till 1870. In the Spring of 1872 he began business in his present location. Although small at first, it has grown to large proportions. It embraces hardware, grates, and mantels, and agricultural implements.

Mr. DAVIDSON was married, in 1849, to Miss Amanda SMITH, and they were the parents of two children, both deceased. He and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Mr. DAVIDSON is a member of the Masonic order. He has always declined office, but in 1861 was a member of the city council, and in 1865 was again a member, being elected president of the board. He had no start in life, but is entirely self-made.


George W. White, the well-known artist of this city, was born on the 8th of November, 1826, at Oxford. His father, George G. WHITE, was a native of Virginia, and emigrated at an early age to Ohio, settling in Fairfield Township, near Black Bottom, in the year 1800. In 1824 he became postmaster of the village of Oxford, continuing in office some twenty-five years. Here George W. WHITE began his first attempts at painting, which it is believed, are mostly destroyed. Mr. HIGGINS, who resides in the village, was the first to encourage him in the idea of becoming a painter, and gave him a lump of crude umber, gamboge, and Prussian blue, with some white lead. With these crude appliances he began a picture on a piece of unprepared bed-ticking, and placing it on the house-top to dry. His first essay at painting heads was made in Hamilton, in the year 1840, with S. S. WALKER, under whose direction he was placed a short time, when he became ill from close confinement, on recovery being sent to the Miami University as a student, Prof. MOFFATT, seeing his predilection, advised him to continue the study of art. Although his father was unfavorable to this course of life, he supplied his son with means to go to Cincinnati, where he entered upon an artist's career in 1843. He met with but little encouragement. The painters all assured him that the life of an artist was "a starving one," and he was obliged to catch up what instruction he could from the others, not being able to afford regular lessons.

His scanty means were soon exhausted and he began traveling as a negro minstrel. This was then new, and he went through the country with Webb's Serenaders and Sable Sisters, following this with a trip on the Ohio and Mississippi with a show company, comprising minstrels, tumblers, and athletes. At New Orleans the company disbanded in trouble, and WHITE returned to Cincinnati and engaged with Rockwell's Amphitheater, on the site where the Gazette office now is. Here he sang and played nightly in the saw-dust of the arena, under the cover of burnt cork. This was his last appearance in public in this capacity. He resumed the pencil, and returned for a season to his native village, where he painted cabinet heads of all who would sit, at five and ten dollars a head. He returned to Cincinnati in 1847, and took rooms in the Apollo Building, at the corner of Fifth and Walnut, which was at that time the retreat of several meritorious artists, amongst who we might name BEARD, BRANNON, MILLER, EATON, DUNCANSON, WHITTRIDGE, JOHNSON, Tom JONES, the sculptor, and others. Mr. WHITE had his room-mate W. L. SONNTAG, the landscape painter, who is now living in New York City. The first picture which Mr. WHITE ventured to place before the public was a half-length portrait of Julia Dean HAYNE. She was then the city's favorite, and her picture attracted wide attention. She was represented as Virginia in the play of Roman Father. From that time on he continued to paint portraits, landscapes, and so on; in fact, any kind of work was gladly received. Some of these canvases were the joint productions of WHITE and SONNTAG, who, when not engaged in painting, were skirmishing about for something to eat. They suffered keenly from the distresses and difficulties which usually attend this class of young and undistinguished painters, and were forced to do whatever offered. Occasionally they decorated omnibuses and railroad cars, and at other times painted scenes in the Museum Theater.

Mr. WHITE became a member of the Artists' Union on it formation, which afforded him a sale for a number of his pictures. In the Summer of 1848 he painted the "Greek Slave," two pictures, embodying the front and rear views, with the matchless profile seen to equal advantage in both. This effort placed him favorably before the public as an artist. The pictures, after being shown in the East and West, were finally taken to New York and sold for a thousand dollars apiece. He continued painting, turning out some fine work occasionally, among which were his pictures of "Musidor," "Helen McGregor," "Beauty's Reverie," "Galbina," "Undine," and "Ophelia." Among his portraits at that time were those of the Rev. Thomas H. STOCKTON and Edwin FORREST, the actor. At the burning of Wood's Museum, in 1857, these and many other works of the artist were destroyed. They represented the labor of years. He had resided for some time in Covington, when he was induced by his friends to go to New York City. After an experience of a year he returned, setting up his easel in Cincinnati, and shortly after painting "Louis Kossuth" and Lola Montez." In 1857 Mr. WHITE came to Hamilton, where he has since remained, excepting during the Rebellion, when he was in Cincinnati. He met with almost constant employment, and received high and flattering encouragement from patrons at home and abroad. Among the most notable of his pictures at that time were those of General GRANT and General SHERMAN.

He was married in 1866 to Miss Mary, daughter of the late Major John CRANE, an old resident of Hamilton. Mrs. WHITE died in 1872, leaving one son. Mr. WHITE, like most painters of the day, depends for a living on painting portraits and teaching art, in which he has been generously supported by patrons and friends.


James Thompson GRAY, of Reily Township, was born in Franklin County, Indiana, December 27, 1819, removing to this county in 1833. His parents were Samuel GRAY and Margaret HILES. He was married on the second day of March, 1843, to Martha Ann HIDLAY, daughter of Henry and Sarah HIDLAY, who was born in Butler County in 1824. They have had five children. Sarah Eliza was born January 14, 1844; Phebe Harriet, November 4, 1846; Samuel Lerton, November 16, 1848; John Dinborn, April 19, 1854; and James Elmore, April 11, 1858. Mr. GRAY was elected township trustee in 1852, and held the office for eight consecutive years. In October, 1881 he was elected county treasurer, and was to have taken his seat on the first Monday in September, 1882, but died very suddenly some three weeks before. Mr. GRAY followed the business of buggy and carriage blacksmith.


The Rev. Arthur W. ELLIOTT was the most famous of the early Methodist preachers in the county. Although others preceded him, he was the contemporary of those who made the beginnings and first uttered the Word of God to the hardy pioneers of this county. He was born in the county of Baltimore, in the State of Maryland, on the 22nd of February, 1784. At the age of eighteen, moved by the spirit of adventure, he fell in with the tide of emigration, just then beginning to set powerfully toward the great Northwest Territory. On horseback he crossed the Alleghanies, and continued his course westward until he reached the Miami Valley, where he determined to make his future home. He went back to Maryland soon after, where he was married in 1804, and in the year 1805 returned, settling in Liberty Township. Here he remained for many years.

In 1806 an event took place which gave a new current to his thoughts, and changed his whole character and life. He was converted, and after a brief time became a local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was admitted in the traveling connection in 1818. From the beginning, however, he devoted himself almost entirely to the work of the ministry, and his labors for the Church of his love were more strenuous and more enduring than any other form of labor. He had purchased a farm on his first arrival, which was swept away by the duplicity of one of his supposed friends. With an effort, he made another start, in which he was successful, and he was a farmer as well as preacher for many years.

He was the founder of the Spring Church, the earliest Methodist organization in Eastern Butler. He was a man of powerful frame, and with great energy and force. As a preacher he was a man of great fervor and power; he moved his audiences at his will, and many were converted under his ministrations. He was a man of wit and humor, and many of his sayings are still preserved by those who were fortunate enough to hear him. He took a decided part in politics, at a time when that was regarded as far more unseemly than now. He was a Whig, and as a Whig speaker he accompanied General HARRISON on his famous electioneering campaign of 1840. He was an ardent Mason, and was a member of that organization for more than forty years, in which society he was the grand chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Ohio. In 1854 he removed to Paris, Illinois, where he died January 18, 1858. He had seen his work prosper; his Church, at the time of his birth, had only ninety-three preachers in the United States, but at the time of his death it had 10,794. Few had done more for it than he had.


Evan EVANS, of Morgan Township, was there born May 2, 1816, being the youngest son of William and Jane EVANS. William EVANS was a native of Wales, settling in Butler County about 1802. He reared a family of six children, of whom four are living, and died in 1821. His son received a limited education in the common schools, and was brought up to farming. At thirteen years of age he began looking out for himself, going to work for others. He was married My 28, 1842, to Miss Anna MERING, daughter of John MERING, a former well-known resident of Morgan Township. Mrs. EVANS was born in Morgan Township in 1824. They were the parents of eight children, of whom seven are living. William E. is a resident of Jasper County, Missouri; John M. is a farmer of Morgan Township; Elizabeth J. is now the wife of A. L. SCOTT; Emma M. was the wife of Erastus ROBINSON, and died in February, 1877, in her nineteenth year; Albert E. is at home, fitting himself for the medical profession; Cora Belle, Spencer E., and Chester C. are still under the paternal roof.

After marriage Mr. EVANS located on a partially improved place in Morgan Township, and bought and sold five different farms in Morgan Township, settling on the John MERING homestead in 1849, where he has since resided. There are one hundred and sixty acres in this place, and in Missouri five hundred. He has held all the township offices, and lately has acted much as administrator and assignee. He is a member of the Butler County Agricultural Society, and for the past ten years has been one of its officials. He is a member of the Congregational Church at Paddy's Run. Mr. EVAN's oldest son, William E., was a member of the Fifth Cavalry, participating in all of the battles of the regiment. He served three years and three months before reaching the age of twenty.