Springfield, Ohio

History and Genealogy



Fire


From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 470


By Oscar T. Martin

Hitherto the town had been fortunately preserved from fire. The loss of an occasional building of but little value was the most serious damage. But, on the evening of February 21, 1840, an extensive conflagration occurred, which at one time threatened to sweep the entire place. It consumed the entire business block from Maddox Fisher's block on Main street to the alley west of Limestone street, and also the building now known as the St. James Hotel. The buildings destroyed had been but recently erected, and were nearly all store-rooms. The enterprising proprietors were not prostrated by their sudden loss, but immediately began to replace the sites with durable structures of modern pattern, which were a credit to the town. Nearly all the printing materials of the Pioneer office were destroyed by this fire, which delayed the publication of the paper four weeks.


Political Excitement


The "log cabin" campaign of 1840 is remembered in all its detail by the pioneers of to-day as a season of the most intense political excitement. There has been recently a revival of the scenes of that campaign, but the "old inhabitant" still insists that the crowds, processions, excitement and enthusiasm of that year have not yet been equaled. We have an accurate sketch of the campaign in 1840 in Springfield, written by Robert C. Woodward, one of the chroniclers of local events, which we here append: "The country was wild with unbounded enthusiasm in favor of 'Old Tip' for the Presidency. Everybody was on tip-toe of excitement. Speeches were everywhere made, log cabins innumerable built, procession after procession formed, an infinite number of banners and devices painted and printed, and neither money nor effort spared in arousing the people in favor of Gen. William Henry Harrison. Springfield was not an idle spectator of these scenes, but entered with zeal and energy into the spirit of the times. On Thursday, June 18, 1840, the citizens raised a huge log cabin on Main street, a little southwest of the First Presbyterian Church, in which meetings were held and speeches made for months afterward. When this cabin was built, invitations were sent far and near to all who thought "Matty Van a used-up man," to come and join in a grand barbecue, and in response to these calls, between 15,000 and 20,000 persons were present. The day was a delightful one. Everywhere, and especially on Main street, flags, variously inscribed, floated to the breeze. All was excitement, and the whole scene greatly enlivened by the inrush of carriages, wagons and horsemen, with flying banners, from all points of the compass. A large and very lengthy procession was formed, and every conceivable device and trade represented in the same. After the procession had completed its march through the principal streets, the multitude repaired to the Market House space, where a table 1,000 feet in length and six feet broad was loaded with provisions, served up for the occasion by the citizens of the town and county. About 1 o'clock, a vast crowd proceeded east on the National Road to meet Gen. Harrison, who had been invited as a guest. At 1:30, the coach containing the General, accompanied by the veteran Gen. S. Van Rennselaer, Cols. Todd and Clarkson, was met about two miles out, and the party being transferred to an open barouche, proceeded to town. Both sides of the road all the way were crowded with people, horsemen and vehicles. When the procession reached Mr. Warder's residence, Gen. Harrison received there a letter informing him of the death of his son and an injury to his grandson, and accordingly he hastened to meet his afflicted family. Passing throught he crowd in an open barouche, he speedily overtook the stge and resumed his journey toward Cincinnati, home. After his departure, speeches were made by Gen. Joseph Vance, Charles Anthony, and the two soldiers who had fought under Gen. Harrison. The dense crowd that stayed to witness the illumination in the evening were addressed by Ottawa Curry and Mr. Gest, and, after listening to these, and the singing of many log cabin songs by various glee clubs, and the giving of many hearty cheers, the people finally dispersed to their homes." We have presented this instance as a single illustration of the excitement that then prevailed as a flame of fire all over the Union. On the 9th of September following, Gen. Harrison visited Springfield on his way to Dayton from Urbana, and addressed the citizens in a brief but comprehensive speech.

As one of the outgrowths of the political campaign was the organization of the first brass band, under the direction of Prof. L. R. Tuttle, an accomplished musician.

James Leffel, the founder of the extensive firm of James Leffel & Co., built the first foundry, locating it near the first Buck Creek bridge west of Springfield. The building was completed and operations commenced in it in January, 1840. It was in this foundry, while engaged in a general business, that Mr. Leffel began the exercise of his inventive talent in producing some practical and useful articles. Mr. Leffel was a small man, of quick perceptions, ready mechanical skill, and with a genius for invention. He struggled manfully, amid many discouragements, in perfecting his inventions and bringing them into public favor. A pleasing conversationalist, a man of indominable energy, he was upright in all his transactions. In June, 1845, Mr. Leffel and William Blakeney commenced building an extensive brick foundry on the north side of Buck Creek, a little east of Limestone street. Upon its completion, in the following December, they began the manufacture of Buckeye cooking stoves and lever jacks, both improvements of Mr. Leffel, besides doing a general foundry business. Mr. Leffel died in June, 1866, in the prime of life, just as fortune began to smile upon him. The business which he had founded was developed by his successors, and the manufacture of turbine water-wheels of Mr. Leffel's patent has long been a leading feature of the city.

To James Leffel is due the idea of utilizing the water of Buck Creek in the city limits, and to Samuel and James Barnett the credit of undertaking the project. It had long been a favorite scheme with Mr. Leffel to bring a portion of Buck Creek in a race down the north side of its banks to the foot of one of the main thoroughfares of the town. After persistent arguments, he succeeded in convincing the Barnetts of its utility. As a result, the Barnett Water Power and Flouring Mill were built at a cost of $32,000, and commenced operations in the fall of 1841. The water-power is durable, the stream having an abundant supply from numerous springs. The race is one and a half miles in length, giving a fall of twenty-four feet, and, at the lowest stage of water, power sufficient to propel twenty run of stone. The addition of this improvement was an important feature in Springfield's manufacturing interests. It was an inducement for the erection of other establishments, and brought trade to a larger extent to the doors of our merchants.

Within five or six years after the completion of the flouring-mill, other manufactories were erected in the immediate vicinity. Mr. Richards, in connection with Mr. James Leffel, proceeded to erect a cotton-factory and machine-shop about the same time Messrs. Leffel and Blakeney built their foundry. A planing-mill and sash-factory, built by James S. Christie and Lucius Muzzy, followed, and then Rabbitt's old woolen-mill joined in the busy hum of industry. The woolen-mill was built on the south bank of this race, four stories in height and forty by sixty feet in dimensions. For over twenty years, the manufacture of the best woolen goods and stocking yarn was successfully continued here. About three hundred feet east of the planing-mill, Smith Boucher erected on the race a fine oil-mill, four stories in height, fifty by fifty-six feet, which was afterward owned by Steele, Lehman & Co., and still later by Mr. John Foos. A more detailed account of the establishment of these and other manufacturing establishments will be found in a succeeding chapter.

The industrial interests of the town now began to form a most important element. William Whiteley had, in 1840, commenced the manufacture of plows, and soon after reaping machines, in a small shop on the west side of Limestone street, near the railroad. It was here that William N. Whiteley, the inventor of the Champion reaper and mower, learned the trade of a machinist and laid the foundation of the immense Champion interests, which have given to Springfield a prominence throughout the States and in the lands beyond the seas.

The daily trains on the new railroad, the Little Miami, established easy communication with Cincinnati, so that in the month of April, 1847, James P. Brace was enabled to establish a route of subscribers to Cincinnati dailies, and to supply them regularly upon the arrival of the train, at from 15 to 20 cents per week. In September following, John D. Nichols commenced the circulation of the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, beginning with twenty-six subscribers. In a few weeks later, Mr. Nichols bought of Mr. Brace the list of subscribers he had for the Commercial and Enquirer, and introduced with the dailies several weekly and illustrated newspapers and monthly magazines. In 1854, Mr. Nichols having a list of nearly three hundred dailies and as many weeklies, sold the same to Mr. E. A. Neff, who united therewith small fruits and opened a depot for news in the post office lobby. He was succeeded by Charles H. Pierce, who added stationery to the daily list, and afterward established more permanently the trade, which, through his energy and perseverance, now continues a profitable business.

The building which now stands on the corner of High and Market streets, a disgrace to the city, was once its pride and ornament. The demand of the town, which had, November 1, 1848, a population of 4,268, having more than doubled its number of eight years before, was for a commodious building, where town meetings and public entertainments could be held. To meet this, the Town Council in 1848 built the present city hall. The ground floor was used for butcher and vegetable stalls, and the upper floor as an audience chamber. The cost of the building, including the bell and the grading necessary, was $7,800. This year, also, the Council provided a town clock, which was placed in the spire of the First Presbyterian Church. Both the town hall and the town clock have outlived their usefulness, and should long since have been removed.

The visitation of cholera in May, 1849, was disastrous. The former escape from the scourge had led the people to hope they would be again as fortunate. But now it seemed to have taken fast hold upon the inhabitants. Its ravages continued nearly ten weeks. The largest number that died in one day of this disease was seven. The total number of victims was seventy-five. Business was paralyzed, and the condition of affairs was exceedingly unpromising. One of the most prominent victims was David King, a public-spirited citizen, who was then actively engaged in important enterprises. His loss was deeply regretted.

A quartette band of vocalists was organized in the summer of this year called the Buckeyes, and composed of hte following persons: Silas Ludlow, Thomas A. Bean, Oliver Kelly and James Wissinger, under the musical directorship fo Prof. L. R. Tuttle. They gave their first public concert in the city hall on the evening of November 9, 1849. Their excellent singing, by well-trained voices, gained for them an enviable reputation.