The city of Hamilton will celebrate a significant birthday this week, and if there were a cake, it would have 225 candles on top.
Hamilton will celebrate its “quasquibicentennial” — a word you may never hear again — with several days of events in commemoration of Sept. 30, 1791, which is generally believed to be the date construction was finished on Fort Hamilton.
Fort Hamilton was built to serve as a supply depot and stables for Army horses that served the campaigns of generals Arthur St. Clair and “Mad” Anthony Wayne during the Northwest Indian War. The fort was named for Alexander Hamilton, who at the time was President George Washington’s treasury secretary.
“From our initial meeting, we have worked both with and against the notion that 225 isn’t exactly the most glamorous number to be celebrating,” Evan Chapman, an associate analyst in the city’s Department of Strategy and Information, recently told Hamilton City Council. “But we do see this number as a really wonderful excuse to honor the past, celebrate the present, and also pioneer the future.”
Although most cities celebrate the date they were incorporated, Butler County historian and former Journal-News Editor Jim Blount says Hamilton since the 1830s has been honoring its founding based on the fort’s completion.
“There were about 100 men in the fort, plus an army of about 2,300 passing through” on their way north to fight Native Americans, said Blount, a member of the celebration’s organizing committee.
“The fort was there until some people say 1795, other people say 1796, and some of the soldiers who were in those first two armies through Fort Hamilton came back and settled in the area around the fort,” Blount said. He said Fort Hamilton really was more of a depot because it never really housed what would be considered a military force, and was never attacked.
Nobody knows exactly what it looked like or its shape, but Blount said in 1791 it was the size of about half a football field. In 1792, it was doubled in size. Rather than being rectangular or square, it followed the lay of the land, he said.
It straddled what would be today’s High Street just east of the Great Miami River, from beyond Market Street on the north, to nearly Ludlow Street on the south, and somewhere between Front Street and Monument Avenue on the east.
One thing that will be unique about this celebration, said Butler County Historical Society volunteer Richard “Dick” Scheid, will be a glimpse of Native Americans’ perspective on the Northwest Indian War, which drove out the Shawnee and Miami tribes. A member of the Miami tribe will speak about the “American Invasion of the Miami Homeland.”
“What we’ve tried to do is provide for all kinds of Hamiltonians to engage in the celebration,” Chapman said. “For people who are more into the historical aspect, we’ll have re-enactments and walking tours and historic music and costume.”
“For people who are more just wanting to celebrate, we’ll have our birthday party on Friday the 30th (at Municipal Brew Works),” Chapman said. “And for families and kids, we’ll have our geo-caching contest and our scavenger hunt at the historical society.
“We just want to make sure that the city celebrates this anniversary and we get a chance to get everybody out walking downtown to see some of the things that have happened lately that they may not be familiar with if they don’t live or work downtown — maybe they just drive through,” Chapman said.
Hamilton uses the fort’s completion date to mark its birthday perhaps because the city’s incorporation story is more complicated.
According to a Hamilton Daily News article from Dec. 10, 1932, Hamilton was incorporated in 1810, but because of irregularities, the town’s charter was forfeited a few years later. The city again was incorporated in 1827.
“In the 1830s, when they celebrated the anniversary of the city, they always used the completion of the fort as the date of the founding of the settlement that became the city,” Blount said.
Chapman sees it as a good opportunity to pause and reflect, “especially as the city is experiencing one of its greatest upswings in over a generation,” he said.
Scheid, a 78-year-old Hamilton native who has been a driving force behind the celebration, has researched the area’s pioneers and the city’s early founders. That work is the basis for two “vignette walks” where people can go from station to station, visiting the actors portraying some of the interesting pioneers, who will discuss the lives of those they portray, based on what his research uncovered.
He calls his studies “my chance to help educate people as far as the history and background of where we live.”
“Research is kind of my thing, and it was a good chance to put it to practice,” he said, adding “It’s my last go-around. I won’t be around for the 250.”
“I hope people will turn out and learn a little bit of history,” Blount said. “There’s a lot to learn — this town has a lot of good history in it, and it keeps me busy all the time.”