Batavia will celebrate its bicentennial year in 2014, and The Clermont Sun is publishing a series of historic vignettes. The late Rosanna Hoberg, author, was a columnist and reporter for The Clermont Sun. This column was written in 1964.
By Rosanna Hoberg
Chronicling his experiences in the Mexican War in a book he published in 1849, Lt. Milton Jamieson of Batavia recalled his trepidation on leaving the village that he would not see home again.
But Lt. Jamieson was mistaken, as so many soldiers are, and although Company C was in almost constant danger of guerilla warfare, they took no part in major engagements. Seven had died, one was killed, one was missing, and two deserted, but the war was eventually over, and later Lt. Jamieson was able to write again.
“At dusk on July 17, 1848, in Batavia, bells were rung, bonfires lighted, and peopled ‘huzzaed.’ A procession was formed, and Phillip B. Swing, Esq., on behalf of the citizens, formally welcomed us to our homes in a brief speech. All seemed to enjoy themselves better at our return than did the poor, sick, worn-down volunteer himself. Later a dinner was given in our honor. Owing to sickness prevailing, not more than half of us were able to attend. A procession was formed at 10 o’clock in the morning, and we marched to the Methodist Church on North Water Street, where appropriate ceremonies were held. The procession was again formed and marched to the Court House, where a dinner was waiting. Twelve to fifteen hundred persons ate at a table which was set up out of doors, and which was beautifully decorated with flowers and mottos. Some two or three pyramid cakes, ten foot high, were made by the ladies and placed on the table. Such a feast would have been worth thousands to us could we have had it on some evening after marching twenty miles through the hot sands of Mexico.”
Back home again, the boys from the Mexican War settled down to a life much like the one they had left. True, progress was felt in some directions, but many things remained the same.
For example, there was the first use of steam power in Batavia when a small mill was located on the south side of the run near the present IOOF cemetery (Old Boston Road). The installing and operation of this steam mill was an event of great interest, as many had never before seen a steam engine.
For transportation, the old-style stages had been replaced by buses. A two-horse bus was used between Williamsburg and Batavia, with travelers going to Cincinnati, changing to a larger four-horse bus at Batavia. For a while, after the first bridge burned down over the East Fork, a Mr. Ellis kept a large ferryboat which he started from the foot of North Street and on which he conveyed wagons and people across the stream.
About this time the Hamilton House (site of the Hamilton Building, 237 E. Main St.) was the most important stopping place in town, both for local residents and for travelers, as well. It embraced a part of the building out up in 1818 by Alexander Blair, a shoemaker, and was first used as a residence. About 1835, John Jamieson enlarged the house and adapted it for hotel purposes and kept a prosperous place for many years. Then J.H. Hamilton became the popular proprietor.
It was here that the stage stopped with a full load of passengers, which caused a suspension of business while everyone was alert to learn something about those who so recently had set foot in the village and these opportunities for social gossip were eagerly employed and formed some of the pleasant features of these days.
To the Masonic fraternity belongs the honor of instituting the first lodge of a secret order within the bounds of the township. On the 3rd of October, 1837, was held the first meeting of the Batavia Lodge No. 109, F&AM. The citizens stared pop-eyed as John Q. Brown erected the tallest building the town was to own — a three-story building that stood at the corner of Main and Second streets.
During these years, coal oil streetlights were first initiated, but they were lit and burned only during the dark of the moon.
During the day, sometimes, things could get hilarious, when the cows and pigs who were allowed to roam at will through the village imbibed too heavily of the mash that flowed down from the distillery at the top of Spring Street, causing them to stagger through the village, victims of demon drink.
Situations could be serious, too, like the time a case of dread cholera broke out in a small home situated next to what is now the location of the Armory. The house was sealed; ropes were stretched at each end of Second Street. At Main and North, guards were posted at both ends for 24-hour periods, and since the weather was below zero, stoves were set out and burned at both points. When the victim died, she was buried at night, in the old IOOF cemetery on Old Boston Road, and all citizens were ordered to remain confined to their homes during the interment.
About this time from Felicity came a new and fine doctor, James C. Kennedy, one of whose daughters married Dr. A.W. Ashburn, of whose family the village has reason to be proud.
In 1853 it was also felt a school board should be elected, and this was done along with adopted rules for the government of the school, which provided that the schoolhouse should be cleanly kept and well-ventilated, that no teacher should ferule or whip scholars on the hands or heads as a means of punishment, that there should be no communication such as whispering, writing, or showing it to others, or significant looks from one scholar to another. Profanity, vulgarity of speech, lying, and quarreling were also strictly forbidden.
Excerpted from History of Batavia, Ohio, 1814–1965, by Rosanna Hoberg. Some references are modified to reflect 2013 circumstances.