Fort Thomas History
- General George H. Thomas
- Historical Tidbits
- The Army Post
- First School
- Famous Murder Case
- Fort Thomas 82nd Anniversary
- The Spanish American War – 100th Anniversary
- The Spanish American War – a Mini-Profile
- Samuel Woodfill
- The Stone Water Tower
- U.S. Postal Service In The District Of Highlands
GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
The City of Fort Thomas was named in honor of Civil War General George Henry Thomas, who ranks among the top Union Generals of the War, along with Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. Whereas these three men were true Northerners and, in fact, were born within approximately 50 miles of each other and from Northern Kentucky, George Thomas was a Southerner. He was born of Welsh/English and French parents in Virginia on July 31, 1816. He was educated at Southampton Academy, studying law and working as a law deputy for his uncle, James Rochelle, the Clerk of the County Court, and he received an appointment to West Point in 1836. He graduated 12th in his class of 42 in 1840 and William T. Sherman was a classmate.
After receiving his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd Artillery Unit, he served the Army well for the next 30 years. He was made 1st Lieutenant for action against the Indians in Florida for his gallantry in action. In the Mexican War, he served under Braxton Bragg in the Artillery and was twice cited for gallantry—once at Monterey and the other at Buena Vista. From 1851-1854 was an instructor of artillery and cavalry at West Point, where he was promoted to Captain. Following his service at FortYuma in the West, he became a Major and joined the 2nd Cavalry at Jefferson Barracks. The Colonel there was Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee was the Lt. Colonel. Other officers in this regiment who were to become famous as Generals were George Stoneman, for the Union, and for the CSA, John B. Hood, Kirby Smith, and Fitzhugh Lee. In 1860 while on patrol with the 2nd Cavalry in Texas, Thomas was wounded by an arrow during a skirmish with Comanches.
As the Civil War broke out, he was on a 12-month leave of absence in the East. Although a Southerner by birth, Thomas chose to cast his lot with the Union. In a meteoric rise in rank, he was made Lt. Colonel in April, 1861, full Colonel in May, 1861, and on August 17 of the same year, he was made Brigadier General and was given the command of all volunteers assigned to Kentucky. On January 19, 1862, his troops won the first true victory for Kentucky at Mill Springs, defeating the Confederates under General Zollicoffer, who was killed. His troops then joined Buell’s forces and fought at Nashville and Pittsburgh Landing, where in April, 1862, he was made a Major General. His command was of all Volunteers and he commanded the right wing of Halleck’s Army in the capture of Corinth. Again, he was reassigned to Buell’s Army in Kentucky. Dissatisfaction of the higher-ups with Buell’s retreat to Louisville caused them to order Thomas to take over Buell’s command, but he declined due to his loyalty. He then served as Buell’s second-in-command in the important Battle of Perryville.
Soon after this, General Rosecrans replaced Buell and General Thomas served under him with great respect and loyalty. On September 20, 1863, he showed his real battle genius and earned for himself the accolade for which he will forever be known. General Rosecrans, in an effort to cut off Bragg at Chickamauga, in Tennessee, overextended his troops. General Thomas held the left or northern flank and Bragg, reinforced by Longstreet attacked the Union forces on the 19th of September, cutting the supply lines to Chattanooga. Neither side budged. On the 20th, Bragg, finding a hole in the Union lines on the right, poured through and swept the right center of the Union forces all the way to Chattanooga, but General Thomas—on the left—held firm. His lines were bent horseshoe-shaped but did not break. He held from noon until dark and then withdrew, bloodied but unbeaten. This action earned him the nickname or title of “The Rock of Chickamauga.” In addition, he received the permanent rank of Brigadier General.
Two months later, he took command of the Army of the Cumberland with an attack on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge and sent the enemy, under Bragg, reeling. In May, 1864, Gen. Sherman began his march on Atlanta, and was joined by Gen. Thomas and his Army of the Cumberland. They pushed aside all opposition, beat Hood at Peachtree Creek, and received the surrender of Atlanta, being the first troops to enter the city. While Sherman continued his march through Georgia to the sea, Thomas was ordered to Nashville to organize an army to oppose Hood so he could not attack Sherman from the rear. He began to plan his strategy and get his new troops ready. It was his cavalry under General Wilson that prevented Hood from making a rear guard action or stand. The “Rock of Chickamauga” then became the “Hammer of Nashville.” This was called, by many, the Union’s victory of victories. It was the only major battle in the entire Civil War in which an army was destroyed. For his action, Gen. Thomas was promoted to Major General and received the thanks of Congress.
After the War, General George H. Thomas served as commander of a number of military districts. By 1869, he had assumed command of the Military Division of the Pacific at San Francisco and he died on March 28, 1870, leaving his widow, Frances Kellogg Thomas. They were married in November, 1852, while he was an instructor at West Point and had no children. He was buried at Troy, New York, the home of his wife. Thomas was a man of fine presence, 6 foot tall and weighing 200 pounds. He was studious in habits, deliberate but decided in action and fastidious to the point of exasperation. He was respected by his superiors and beloved by his subordinates. Another nickname he was given was “Pap Thomas.”
When General Sherman decided to relocate the Newport Barracks to the top of the hills overlooking the Ohio River to escape the relentless flooding of the “bottoms”, he chose the site that is now Fort Thomas. As was tradition at the time, Forts were named to honor Civil War Generals and thus, Fort Thomas got its name. To the best of our current records, General Thomas never lived nor was he stationed at Fort Thomas, but it is believed that he did visit the site upon several occasions. This is the heritage of Fort Thomas, named for a man who placed honor, duty and country above all else.
Located in the northeastern corner of Campbell County, Kentucky, Fort Thomas was once the site of a great Indian battle. Graves of 500 or 600 Indian warriors were discovered on a ridge near Highland and Newman Avenues. Archeologists indicate that around 1749 a roving Cherokee tribe fought and lost to the Shawnees and the Miamis in a fierce three day battle. According to Indian legend, the Cherokee chief had betrayed a medicine man highly regarded by the other tribes and this accounted for the fierceness of the fight. Over the years the once-plentiful relics and arrowheads have been thoroughly combed by field trips, school children, and by construction in the area.
Also in 1749, a group of prominent Virginians secured a land grant and sent surveyor Christopher Gist as a scout to Kentucky. His reports led to exploration of the entire area as to its future potential for settlements. The state’s first white woman, Mary Ingles, came to the area as captive of the Shawnee Indians. She and a Dutch woman escaped from Big Bone Lick and were later rescued along the Ohio River banks. State Highway Route 8 was named for her in 1924.
During the Civil War, the site of Fort Thomas was on a key invasion route to Cincinnati and was part of the Cincinnati Defense Perimeter which stretched from Bromley and Fort Mitchell to Wilder and John’s Hill. Remains of trenches are still visible on the south slopes of the Highland Country club, the old Beverly Hills Supper Club hill and in the area of the Campbell County Y.M.C.A. Others earthworks can be seen in Evergreen Cemetery which lies on a hilltop that provided visibility of the entire southern Licking Valley. These were parts of a 12-mile long perimeter of 25 installations built to defend the Greater Cincinnati area.
The key fortification in Campbell County was Fort Whittlesay almost directly across from the present tower at the entrance to Tower Park. Armed with nine cannons, it was actually two separate forts with a stockade to protect a passageway joining the exterior trenches. There were concealed trenches and subterranean tunnel. This fort and others in the immediate area never had an opportunity to prove their worth, though there were many scares. One was when General Kirby Smith and 12,000 Confederates moved north; another was when General John Hunt Morgan threatened to raid Cincinnati. The only casualty recorded in Campbell County was a volunteer killed by a cannon misfire.
General Sheridan was asked in 1887 to survey a beautiful hilltop site overlooking the Ohio River with the thought of making it an Army Post. A more suitable location than the lower-lying water-logged Newport Post was needed. Repeated flooding of the barracks was becoming costly as well as disrupting training for weeks at a time. Standing atop a bluff, he selected 111 acres and declared this “Highlands” area to be the “West Point of the West.” Not only did General Sheridan approve of the location, but also named it after his Civil War companion General George H. Thomas, the “Rock of Chicamauga”.
Gen. Thomas was one of the famed Union generals of the Civil War. He was born in Southeastern Virginia, and was a West Point graduate, classmate of William T. Sherman, and served with Robert E. Lee. He won the first true victory for the Union at Spring Mill, Ky., and in 1863, held supply lines from noon until dark against the Confederate Forces at Chicamauga Creek, Tennessee. They were bloodied but unbeaten. This action earned him his famous nickname, the “Rock of Chicamauga” and a permanent rank of brigadier general. Gen. Thomas also opposed the Confederate General John Hood at Nashville in 1864, crushing his forces in two days of fighting. For this action, he was called the “Hammer of Nashville.” It was the only major battle of the entire Civil War in which an Army was destroyed.
Fort Thomas is 146 years old this year, having been incorporated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on February 27, 1867. Originally, the area was named the District of the Highlands and it was changed by vote of the property owners to “Fort Thomas” in 1914. At that time, the central area of town was called Mt. Vernon and the north end of town was Mt. Pleasant. Highland Avenue used to have board sidewalks from Fort
Thomas Avenue all the way down to Alexandria Pike. There are many historic sites in the City, including St. Stephen Cemetery, which has been in use since 1850, and Samuel Woodfill School, which is named for a WW I hero. Robson Spring, on Alexandria Pike, is a surviving mineral spring used regularly in the 1920s and used by many for drinking water during the Flood of 1937. There were ponds at Klainecrest and Grand Avenue and at Highland and Grand Avenue which provided fishing, swimming, and ice skating in the winter.
The Samuel Shaw House near Audubon is one of the oldest homes in town, built in 1859, and there are approximately 160 residences that are 100 years old or more. The military Fort itself was constructed between 1890 and 1897. The Stone Water Tower, which is our most notable landmark displays a bronze memorial plaque to the 28 officers and soldiers from the 6th Infantry who were killed while fighting in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and is flanked by two cannons captured from Spainish ships in Havana Harbor. It is made of Kentucky limestone, is 90 feet tall and was a vital part of the Fort, providing water for all the soldiers, officers and their families. It is said that the tank never ran dry although the population of the Fort used an average of 15,500 gallons of water a day.
The Army Post
During the Spanish-American War Fort Thomas was busy as a mobilization point and after it was over, the entire Fort was turned into a hospital where scores of veterans convalesced from jungle fevers. Prior to World War I, there was serious talk that that the Fort might be converted to a storage depot or abandoned, but the outbreak of hostilities with Germany reversed the situation quickly. Fort Thomas became an important center of recruitment and induction. Temporary barracks were erected on every available spot and in 1919, it was reactivated as an infantry post. A fine new barracks was constructed that now serves as a key building in the Veterans Administration Rehabilitation Hospital.
The 10th Infantry arrived in 1922, reassigned to Fort Thomas, and they remained until 1940. During the 1930’s, the Fort was used for training and for administering several civilian projects inspired by the depression. Later, the post was again activated as an Army reception center and induction center until 1964. Army activities have extended over a period of 161 years here.
In 1970 the City of Fort Thomas was able to purchase a portion of the government tract with the understanding that it would be used for “recreational purposes for the citizens of the area.” Over the years, many facilities have been developed and modified to provide a track, tennis courts, and ball fields. There are picnic shelters, playgrounds, walking trails, basketball courts, and volleyball sand areas. Both the Armory Building and the Old Mess Hall Building have been utilized for sports and meeting facilities. A religious-affiliated nursing home (Carmel Manor) and an Army Reserve Center utilize some of the remaining buildings; the Veterans Administration retained and still maintains a hospital/care unit facility, and still owns the dozen or so large homes at the end of Alexander Circle assigned to their personnel. A number of the government-owned homes were obtained by the City of Fort Thomas in the transfer of property. After a number of years of being “landlord” and trying to maintain these homes with City funds, they were sold individually under a Homeowners’ Association/condo-type agreement. These lovely homes were constructed as the quarters for military officers and are on the National Historic Register.
In the early 1900’s, mineral waters had been discovered in the Fort Thomas area, and several landowners and entrepreneurs turned much of the City into a health resort, similar to French Lick, Indiana. There were three large hotels constructed on three promotories overlooking the Ohio River and Ohio residents flocked into Northern Kentucky to “take the mineral waters” and relax at the Altamont, the Avenel, and the Shelley Arms.
The first school in Fort Thomas was a log cabin near Holly Lane and North Fort Thomas Avenue, which was called Mt. Pleasant School. It was also used as a church building and was attended alternate Sundays by the Baptist and Methodist congregations. St. Thomas Catholic Church and School began in a house at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Tremont in 1902. A number of churches had their initial meetings in the old City Building, among them the Highland Methodist in 1830, St. Andrews Episcopal Church in 1905, Christ Church United in 1906, First Baptist in 1915, and First Presbyterian in 1830. St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church was founded in 1930 and located in the north section of town.
Eighteen years later in 1850, a second school was built on Highland Avenue opposite Newman Avenue, know as Mount Vernon School. Union School was built shortly after on the Alexandria Pike near St. Stephen’s Cemetery. Highlands High School opened for the fall term in 1915 and the cornerstone records state: “Our graduates invariably stand high when entering universities or colleges. Our entire corps of teachers is a most excellent one.” That year, there were 955 students and 15 teachers. Today, Fort Thomas schools are highly respected and maintain a high rating with the State Department of Education. More than 80% of Highlands High School graduates go on to college. The first census taken in 1871 listed the population of Fort Thomas at 617. Today’s population tops the 16,000 mark.
Information obtained from sources such as: Fort Thomas…it’s history…it’s heritage, by Paul T. Knapp.
Famous Murder Case
Perhaps the most startling excitement and bizarre experience in the history of Fort Thomas occurred in January, 1896, when in a field not far from the end of the car line was found the decapitated body of a woman. It startled and shocked the entire county, and now we know it as the famous Pearl Bryan murder case. The identity of the body as well as the murderers was discovered by Cal Crim, then a young man, and paved the way for his successful career. The head was never found and a year later two young dental students by the name of Walling and Jackson were hanged in the Newport Courthouse yard, although never confessing their guilt. This double hanging marked the last time that Campbell County meted out such capital punishment.
Fort Thomas 82nd Anniversary
Here’s an excerpt from a WLW radio production in 1952, written by Greg Deane, as Fort Thomas celebrated its 82nd anniversary. It provides information about the beginning days of our community:
“Fort Thomas has always been a haven for “homey” people—folks who work in the surrounding towns—and who come back to Fort Thomas each evening, back to the City of beautiful homes. Fort Thomas is only 4 miles south of Cincinnati, on a hilltop; the highest location at 850 feet high is the Military Reservation.
“At the first town meeting in 1867, selected members met at the home of John Lilley on Alexandria Pike. The first City Building was constructed in 1885 and stood on the present site on North Fort Thomas Avenue until its demolition and the reconstruction of a new building in 1967. The original building had a public cistern, a line of hitching posts for horses, and a large meeting hall, which was used twice a week for roller skating.
“The City boasted an electric railway from downtown Cincinnati to Fort Thomas brought in through the generosity of Samuel Bigstaff, a well-to-do citizen and land owner. These rail cars were lighted and heated and during the winter months, straw was nicely placed over the floor boards to prevent the wind from coming up through the board and chilling the passengers. Further, the C.N.&C. Electric Railway co. promised to haul freight on these cars only during the midnight to dawn hours so as not to frighten the horses of the residents of the community.
“The military Fort itself was constructed in 1890, with the first unit assigned being the 6th Infantry under Col. Melville Cochran. Soon after, the name of the town was changed from the District of the Highlands to honor a Civil War hero, Gen. George H. Thomas—who waved the Union Army with his brave stand during the Battle of Chicamauga in Georgia.” He was affectionately known as the “Rock of Chicamauga.”
The 90-foot limestone tower was erected by the cities of Cincinnati, Newport, and Covington as a joint venture and as a memorial to the Spanish-American war veterans that were killed in action. The cannons were made by Spanish gunsmiths in the 18th century, and were captured in a battle of the Spanish American War.
“The community of Fort Thomas is one mindful of the military roots that formed the core of the municipality, and the historical roots of the Ohio River that runs along the entire Eastern border. Situated along the ridge line of the river bluffs, with lovely old homes as well as newer ones, tree-shaded streets and well-placed parks, the City reflects its people. As with any City, there is not only a collection of buildings and streets, but also of the capabilities and abstract qualities of her citizens.”
THE SPANISH AMERICAN WAR – 100TH ANNIVERSARY
FORT THOMAS, KENTUCKY
BY BETTY M. DANIELS
FORT THOMAS HERITAGE LEAGUE
Fort Thomas commemorated the role played by the Sixth Regiment, United States Infantry, from Fort Thomas who participated in the Spanish-American War after the sinking of the Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor a century ago. A number of events were scheduled for the grounds of Tower Park on June 27 and 28, 1998. A reenactment of the living conditions of soldiers who participated in the Battle of San Juan Hill involved forty persons in period costumes. They lived in tents on the grounds and demonstrated military drills for the two days.
Two dedications also took place during the weekend. A small Museum in the Fort Thomas Community Center (the former Mess Hall) was dedicated to the memory of Fort Thomas residents who gave their lives for their country in all wars since 1914. Here a large plaque lists these men. Help is needed to find the families of these heroes so that they may be contacted to be recognized at the Centennial Program. In addition, a search is underway to find pictures of these men. If anyone can give information, please contact Melissa Kelly, City Clerk, at the City Building – ph. (859) 441-1055.
The second dedication commemorated the memorial granite boulder on the brick paving area in front of the Community Center. Engraved on the stone is the citation given by the U.S. Department of the Interior naming the Fort as a National Registered Military District (May 15, 1986). Many of the bricks here are inscribed with names of past and present residents of Fort Thomas and former military personnel of the Army Reservation. A special section of bricks will be installed recognizing the men honored within the Museum. Also, 1st Lt. Samuel Woodfill, a career Army officer of the 10th Infantry and recipient of the Medal of Honor, is spotlighted in one area of the Museum.
The stone water tower at the entrance to Tower Park displays a large bronze plaque recognizing soldiers and officers once stationed at Fort Thomas who later lost their lives during the Spanish-American War. This plaque is decorated with furled flags, a dynamic eagle astride a shield with stars and stripes against a laurel wreath. The border is a raised egg and dart design. Covington artist Clement J. Barnhorn was the sculptor. At the base of the tower rests two cannons captured in Cuba, dated Barcelona – 1768 and Barcelona – 1769.
While many of the original buildings are gone, the Mess Hall has been transformed into a Community Center for the use of area residents for both public and private meetings and events, and the Armory building, once used for military drills in inclement weather, is now a constantly used recreational facility. The “Military Commons” was created in 1992 when the City sold the Officers’ houses on Pearson Street to private individuals. This project was presented with an Ida Lee Willis Preservation Award by the Kentucky Heritage Council in 1992. All of these homes have been extensively renovated on the inside while a covenant with the City keeps the exteriors in their original condition.
THE SPANISH AMERICAN WAR
On February 15, 1898, the people of the United States were startled when the news flashed throughout the country that our Battleship “Maine” had been blown up while anchored in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. There was an appalling loss of 266 lives—Naval officers, crewmen, and some Marines. Within 54 days, the Congress of the United States declared war against the Spanish Government, who were occupying Cuba and mistreating the people there. President William McKinley laid the facts before the Senators and Representatives and State by State, resolutions and monies were offered for the preparations for war. By April 25, war was declared on Spain after diplomatic negotiations between the two countries broke down.
Preparations naturally extended to the Fort Thomas Army Post and the Sixth U.S. Infantry stationed here. (shown here near what is now the Community Center, or what was then the Mess Hall) Grass-roots America became quickly fired up at news of the battles which were headlined in local newspapers. They volunteered in large numbers. This included scores of young men from Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, many of whom were processed through Fort Thomas. Units of the Sixth Infantry departed marching down Water Works Road to Newport to a waiting train along Saratoga Street. They were escorted through the principal streets in Northern Kentucky by numerous civic, military, and patriotic organizations, who wildly waved flags and blew whistles. Thousands of cheering, shouting people lined the streets and bade the boys “Godspeed!”
They left that night on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, with enthusiastic demonstrations greeting the “Spanish-American War Special” along their route. It took them two days by rail to reach Tampa, Florida, and they were assigned to become part of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the Fifth Army Corps as a part of General Shafter’s expedition to Cuba. On June 8, 1898, they left camp and marched three miles to board a train to Port Tampa where they embarked on the Steamer “Miami,” a military transport under the command of Lt. Col. Harry Egbert. (Egbert was later killed in action in the Philippines; he is honored with a bronze plaque on the south side of the Stone Tower at Fort Thomas.)
As they arrived in Cuba, a battle was already raging with the American forces attempting to force surrender of the city of Santiago. The Unit moved to a hill in front of the captured city and remained in camp until they were called to support Col. Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” in a charge up San Juan Hill. The temperature was nearing 100 degrees and Roosevelt’s unit was clustered at the base of Kettle Hill while the Spanish forces at the top of the hill were firing repeatedly.
Roosevelt’s impulsive desire was to charge up the hill even before receiving orders from the General, but he waited. Finally the orders arrived, he leaped on his horse and shouted to his men to begin the charge. A bullet grazed his elbow as he urged his men to follow him. He fired his revolver, the mounted troops and ground troops moved forward as a groundswell and soon the Spanish were fleeing. It was a moment of glory and achievement for this courageous and inspired leader of the “Rough Riders.” His reputation in this incident and others during that summer made him the hero of the Spanish-American War.
Partly because of this fame, he became Governor of New York, then agreed to be placed on the ticket as Vice President of the United States with President McKinley. The team won the election in 1900 and barely one year later when McKinley was shot, Teddy Roosevelt became the youngest president in the history of the U.S. at age 42.
During the Spanish-American War, only 385 soldiers died from actual combat but thousands died from diseases, such as yellow fever, dystonia, and other causes. On December 10, 1898, a peace treaty was signed in Paris ending the war and Spain gave up Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines which became U.S. possessions. The Spanish-American War began with high motives, it was carried on with great intelligence and spirit, and it marked a great change in equilibrium whereby the United States took on a new dominion of power.
This is a man whom General Pershing called “America’s greatest soldier,” a man who had more medals (1919) than any other soldier in the army and who was responsible for the “most remarkable one-man exploit of World War I.” The WASHINGTON STAR commented that his deeds of valor were so quietly done that no one knew about them except the War Department…”How did it happen that the country at large was deprived of the knowledge of him. Someone should be charged with the responsibility of searching out and making known these great shy ones.
Samuel Woodfill, first lieutenant 60th Infantry. For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy at Cunel, France, October 12, 1918, While he was leading his company against the enemy his line came under heavy machine gun fire, which threatened the hold up the advance. Followed by two soldiers at 25 yards, this officer went out ahead of his first line towards a machine-gun nest and worked his way around its flank, leaving the two soldiers in front. (When he got within ten yards of the gun it ceased firing, and four of the enemy appeared, three of whom were shot by Woodfill. The fourth, an officer, rushed at Lieutenant Woodfill, who attempted to club the officer with his rifle. After a hand to hand struggle, Lieutenant Woodfill killed the officer with his pistol.) (The account in brackets is somewhat inaccurate.) His company thereupon continued to advance until shortly afterwards another machine-gun nest was encountered. Calling to his men to follow, Lt. Woodfill rushed ahead of his line in the face of heavy fire from the nest, and when several of the enemy appeared above the nest, he shot them, capturing three other members of the crew and silencing the gun. A few minutes later this officer, for the third time demonstrated conspicuous daring by charging another machine-gun position, killing five men in one machine-gun pit with his rifle. He then drew his revolver and started to jump into the pit when two other gunners only a few yards away turned their gun on him. Failing to kill them with his revolver, he grabbed a pick lying near by and killed both of them. Inspired with exceptional courage displayed by this officer, his men pressed on to their objective under severe shell and machine-gun fire.
Woodfill remained very little known, even in army circles, until 1921, when the great ceremony of the Unknown Soldier was held. Among the pallbearers of the Unknown (the honor guard) were to be the three outstanding soldiers of the A.E.F. General Pershing was to select them. A committee received 3,000 citations, the records of three thousand men who had been honored during the war. From these were selected 100. General Pershing went over the 100 and picked 3. One of the three was Sergeant York. Another was Colonel Whitlesey of the “Lost Battalion.” Another was Samuel Woodfill. When Pershing came to Woodfill’s name on the list, he said: “Why, I’ve already selected that man as the outstanding soldier of the A.E.F.” Newspaper reporters got this statement. Few had heard of this Woodfill. They went scurrying up to look at the records. The burial of the Unknown Soldier took place with great pomp. Wilson, Taft, and Harding were in the procession. Woodfill had his wife come on to Washington for the ceremony, and they received much attention. Senator Ernst of Kentucky led him to the White House and introduced him to the President. At a performance of the Belasco Theater, Woodfill sat in the presidential box. One of the singers in the show spied him and told the audience about his valorous deeds. He got an ovation and was mobbed by admirers after the show. Congress adjourned in his honor. He was banqueted by the members of the House and Senate, and was photographed with the President and Secretary of War. In New York he was received with honors, and was the guest of Judge Philip J. McCook of the New York Supreme Court, who had been an intelligence officer with the Fifth Division overseas and had been badly wounded. Judge McCook took him to see Marshal Foch, then on a visit to America. The Marshall said he was happy to meet the first soldier of America, and Woodfill responded that he was happy to meet the first soldier of the World. He was received a the Stock Exchange, which had suspended business for three minutes in his honor. A reception at the Hippodrome-Foch was there, and Woodfill had the right-hand box. Here again he was greeted with deafening applause. The Fifth Division gave a banquet in his honor, and Chase painted his portrait.
THE STONE WATER TOWER
By Betty Daniels
The 102 feet high Stone Water Tower is a familiar Northern Kentucky landmark which stands at the entrance to Tower Park. It was the 16th structure built on the grounds of the Military Reservation. It encloses a standpipe which has a capacity of 100,000 gallons, pumped from the Kenton County Water District reservoirs just across South Fort Thomas Avenue. In 1890 when the military base was established, such provisions for water supply was necessary as there was no other water tower in this area.
The truncated base is 23 ½ feet square and made of granite. The blocks of limestone in the tower add to the appearance of a fortress. Only a few narrow openings, vertically spaced and the parapet top lend to the military design.
The tower was constructed in 1890 at a cost of $10,995. Project engineer was Patrick Rooney of Cincinnati and the building contractor was local builder Henry Schriver who constructed many other buildings in the Fort and in other parts of Fort Thomas and Campbell County. A wrought iron gate at the entrance has the numerals “16” in its design.
Above the gate and on the most prominent side is a bronze plaque, approximately 5 x 8 feet, which is dedicated to the memory of the members of the Sixth Regiment of the U.S. Infantry who lost their lives in the “War with Spain.” An animated eagle in high relief takes the attention of the viewer on first glance. The military symbols of flags, bayonets, a belt and bandolier, all in a bas-relief, increase the dramatic effect.
The sculpture on the plaque is the work of Covington artist Clement J. Barnhorn. Among his well-known works are the doors of the Cathedral Basilica in Covington and the sarcophagus of Elizabeth Boote Duveneck, a copy of which is in the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Cannons were captured in Cuba’s Havana Harbor during the Spanish-American War rest on stone platforms in front of the Tower. The dates marked on these cannons, reflecting the date they were made in Barcelona, Spain, are “1768” and “1769.”
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE IN THE DISTRICT OF HIGHLANDS
CITY OF FORT THOMAS
by A. Vinton Stegman
In 1867, when the District of the Highlands was incorporated, there was only one north-south road running along the ridge high above the Ohio River. It extended more than 4 ½ miles from Isaac Walker’s Road, on the north, to the southern boundary of Jacob Hawthorne’s property, opposite St. Stephen’s Cemetery. We still have just one north-south road. From Walker Road to the junction with Alexandria Pike, at the James Metcalfe home (Woodfill School site today), Civil War maps show it as “the road to Jamestown” (original name of part of Dayton). Then from Metcalfe’s on south, the road through the District was Alexandria Pike, a toll road. Traffic within the District, however, would pay no toll in that half-mile stretch of the turnpike. For the traveler heading south, the next toll-house was on the east side of the pike (U.S. 27), opposite the main entrance road to today’s Northern Kentucky University.
In the early years of the Highlands, there were only a few hundred residents, whose homes were widely spread over the elongated District, 4 ½ miles in length and 2 miles in width at the greatest distance from the river where Highland Avenue joins Alexandria Pike. With the Civil War recently ended, the population began to increase rather rapidly. The U.S. Census of 1870 lists 617 citizens and by 1880, the number had reached 814.
The Official Census Map of the District, surveyed and drawn by Mr. Robert Murnan, Campbell County Engineer, shows the location of 96 homes in the District with the owner’s name given for each, the date on the map being 1883. More than two-thirds of the houses were strung out along the main thoroughfare Highland Avenue, Mount Pleasant Avenue, and Jamestown Pike. The natural dividing line of (present) Highland Avenue has always separated north and south sections of the District of Highlands, later named the City of Fort Thomas in 1914. The map shows only 14 homes along the road south from Highland Avenue to St. Stephen’s Cemetery, so, if and when the United States Postal Department should decide to establish mail service of any kind for our hilltop community, the natural location of a Brach Station ( of the Newport Office) should have been somewhere north of Highland Avenue. The city of Newport’s reservoirs and road from Tenth St. to the Ohio River Pumping Station had been completed in 1872. There was finally a good “free: road for the transporting of mail to the Highlands, but the Post Office authorities did not see it that way. The truth, of course, is that there would be no post office, or mail station of any kid north of Military Park, until 1939, when the present post office was built on South Fort Thomas Avenue at Montvale Court.
With so few residents spread out over the Highlands, it is understandable that in the early years of the District, there was no attempt at mail delivery. Highlanders had to travel to the Newport Post Office to handle their postal needs. As the community grew, there began to be requests for some type of branch station. In 1883,the year that Mr. Murnan’s census was published, the Newport Post Office decided to set up a small pick-up and mail-drop, but the majority of Highlands’ residents were still unhappy as this sub-station was placed in the south end of town. The reason for selecting such a site, miles removed from two-thirds of the population, was that Mr. Ed Gosney’s Newport to Alexandria six-horse team bus line could bring out an take back the mail bags. The first place chosen was the Twelve Mile Road toll house at the northeast corner of River Road and Jamestown Pike (now South Fort Thomas Avenue) where Mrs. William Wilmer was the toll keeper and handled what mail there was. In 1887, a second sub-station was set up in a house on Grant Street, but this location was a half mile south of the toll house.
In 1887, when the War Department was considering Major Samuel Bigstaff’s proposition to move the Newport Barracks up to our hilltops, Co. Melville Cochran insisted on a post office somewhere near the Reservation. At that time the only mail service in the entire District where the two mail-drops and pick-ups in the south end of town. Bigstaff, aided by Campbell County’s Congressman Albert Shaler Berry, arranged for the Post Office Department to award Mr. L. L. Ross a thirty year lease on a suitable structure for use as a branch of the Newport Post Office. It was to be erected on the southwest corner of the Ross farm, adjoining the Army Post. For some unknown reason, the building was not erected until 1891, as the photo of the tower, flying its “topping out” flag, shows part of the Ross Property but not he post office building. (See photo #5)
As may be judged by the bold advertising signs lettered on the sun screen valance suspended across the entire front porch roof, even over the post office half of the two room building, no one in the postal service considered it demeaning to combine the new post office with a confectionery and cigar store. (See photo #2) Apparently it was considered to be a suitable structure. ( I do not have the date of the picture but the ad for “Col. Egbert 5 cent Cigars” proves that it was taken no earlier that 1899 when the Colonel was killed in the Philippines. A bronze plaque in his memory is on the south side of the water tower.)
Mr. Ross, a prominent, long time resident of the Highlands, would become the father of one Fort Thomas mayor, Lewis L. Jr. and grandfather of another, Bruce. Also he was an astute businessman, as three of his four sons, Stanley, Joel and William, were given jobs in the post office. Lewis attended Dental College in Cincinnati. Stanley served as clerk until 1898, then the Williams Directory for that year lists: “William B. Ross, Clerk in Charge, Substation No. 1, Newport Post Office”. He was to hold that position until 1911 when another Highlands resident, J. Howard Voige, was placed in charge. The title was changed to Superintendent and Voige held the position until 1947 when he was promoted to Superintendent of Newport Post Office.
When the thirty-year lease held by Ross expired in 1918, the post office was moved onto the Midway where is would remain until the present building was constructed at 24 South Fort Thomas Avenue in 1939. From 1918 until 1929 the two story brick building that had been Sattler’s Grocery when built in 1892, served as our post office (1013 South Fort Thomas Avenue). Between 1929 and 1939 Superintendent Voige and his staff occupied a newly erected brick post office building with iron bars on the windows. This site is 1107 South Fort Thomas Avenue.
The town fathers were cooperative, as they had erected a special lamp post at the north corner of the new building, just across the Ross boardwalk and on its hanging an iron mail-box, the Highland’s first. Mr. John Kiechler, the town’s lamp lighter, would now add this post office stop to his daily route as he covered the Highlands. (He put just the right amount of kerosene in each lamp so it would burn itself out by dawn) One of the Ross boys shown on the porch is working in the post office and the driver of the mail wagon, which carries the letters, U.S.M., is attired in his campaign hat, white collar and bow tie. The building that can be seen just beyond the post office roof is the corner house on Non-Com Row (Pearson St.). In 1917, this was the home of Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Samuel Woodfill, named both by General Pershing and Marshall Foch as the “outstanding soldier of the A.E.F.”. After retirement from the Army, he and Mrs. Woodfill lived at the corner of Alexandria Pike and Hawthorne Avenue, not far from the Samuel Woodfill Elementary School.