Saturday, December 20, 2008

Flora and Fauna

The Impact of American Settlement on the Ecosystem of the Lower Scioto Valley

This past May the Heartwood Forest Council invited me to address their annual meeting, which was held at Camp Oyo in the Shawnee State Forest. Cheryl Carpenter, the founder of Voices for the Forest, a local organization dedicated to protecting the health of the Shawnee State Forest, helped organize the event and suggested that I speak on some aspect of local environmental history. What follows is an essay based on my Forest Council talk, a first stab of sorts into the environmental history of the Lower Scioto River Valley. Its focus concerns the impact of American settlement on the flora and fauna of the region.

Today, when one visits the Shawnee State Forest and hikes along its ridges and through its hollows, one can easily imagine they have stepped back in time to an era when southern Ohio was still home to the Shawnee and other Ohio Indians. The sounds of modern American civilization fall away until all that you are left with are the sounds of the forest -- the song birds, the bugs, the rustling of the underbrush by a nearby deer, the call of a wild turkey, the wind through the trees, the water gurgling over rocks, the sound of the occasional tree limb falling. This visual and aural illusion is fleeting as it is eventually shattered when a plane flies across the sky, or when a truck drives by on one of the forest’s many roads, or when one comes across the scarred land of a recent clear cut.

Crossing a dry run on the Shawnee State Forest Day Hike Trail (August 2008)

The illusion is not only fleeting, it can leave the hiker with a false sense of what the sounds and sights of the region’s forests would have actually been like at the dawn of nineteenth century. There is no recovery of the old original growth forest; the forest has forever changed; the flora and fauna of its ecosystem has irreversibly been transformed. Even in the most remote sections of the forest, where this illusion can be its strongest, the sights and sounds are now different from what they would have been in the 1790s.

So what has changed? What has been lost? What impact did American settlement have on the animal and plant species of the Lower Scioto River Valley?

The rapid American settlement of the Valley at the beginning of the nineteenth century inaugurated a new chapter in the region’s natural history. The flora and fauna of the Scioto would never be the same. Farming, tanning enterprises, and charcoal-fired industries would destroy the largely virgin forests of the valley, forever altering the habitat of the region’s animals. Some species would be extirpated as nuisances, others would be over-hunted until they disappeared from the Valley, and in some cases, such as with the Carolina parakeet and the passenger pigeon, until there were no more to be found anywhere. The American settlement of the Scioto Valley would lead to massive deforestation and contribute to the extirpation and extinction of a number of animal species.

The forests of the 18th century and before swarmed with wild life and left its first American visitors in awe. James B. Finley, one the first settlers in the valley in the late 1790s recalled his first trip into the Scioto Country:
It would be impossible for me to describe the beauty 
of these rich bottoms. The soil itself for richness was 
not exceeded by any in the world. The lofty sugar [maple]-tree, 
spreading its beautiful branches; the graceful elm, waving 
its tall head, the monarch of the forest; the black and 
white walnut; the giant oak, the tall hickory; the cherry 
and hackberry; the spicewood, with its fragrance; the 
pawpaw, with its luscious fruit; the wild plum; the rich clusters of grapes, which, hanging from the massy vines, 
festooned the forest; and, beneath all, the wild rye, green 
as a wheat-field, mixed with the prairie and buffalo clover — 
all formed a garden of nature most enchanting to 
behold. The clear and beautiful rivulet creeping through 
the grass, and softly rippling over pebbly bottoms, the 
gentle zephyrs [breezes] freighted with nature's incense, pure and 
sweet, regaled our senses, and filled us with delight. All 
nature had a voice which spoke most impressively to the soul; and while all the senses were pervaded with an unutterable 
delight, the solemn stillness seemed to say, God
reigns here. The song of the lark and nightingale, the melancholy wail of the dove [passenger pigeon] or whistle of the whippoorwill, 
the low hum of the bee, the chirping of the grasshopper, 
the bark of the squirrel, the drumming of the pheasant, 
the bleat of the fawn, the growl of the bear, the hoot of 
the owl, the howl of the wolf, the scream of the panther, 
and the yell of the Indian, were all that broke the silence 
in this deep and beautiful forest.

The reign of God, like the reign of the Shawnee and other Indians, however, was coming to an end. Within a generation, man, more particularly, Homo Americanus, let’s call him, would claim dominion over the valley and its flora and fauna. The animal species that would soon disappear included some of those mentioned by Finley, such as the passenger pigeon, white-tailed deer, wolf, black bear, and panther. But others he failed to mention would also be extirpated, such as the American Bison and the Carolina Parakeet.

The bottomlands of the river, for instance, that were once populated with massive, hundred or more year old sycamores, would be cleared for the planting of corn. While sycamores can still be found along the edges of the Scioto, the Ohio, and the smaller tributaries of the region, such as Turkey Creek, the ancient giants are gone.

One traveler who passed through the Valley in 1807 noted the following in their journal: “The river meanders through an extensive alluvial bottom of the richest quality of land. In the low, inundated bottoms, the timber is mostly cottonwood [or more commonly known as poplar] and sycamore, some of them very large; in the high bottoms, black walnut, ash, and sugar maple prevail, with pawpaw.” This last reference, that of the pawpaw to which James Finley also referred, is to a North American tree of the custard apple family, with purple flowers and edible oblong yellow fruit with a sweet pulp. Pawpaw, which can still be found in the Shawnee State Forest, was once found in large thickets along the banks of the Scioto and the Ohio – at one point in time a massive thicket lined the river, where Portsmouth now stands.

Another traveler, who visited the Scioto Valley just after the War of 1812, nearly twenty years after the first American settlers began clearing the land, noted remnants of the ancient forest and experienced the same sense of time travel that hikers can experience even today:

… in the rich bottoms [the trees] sometimes exhibit a grand assemblage of gigantic beings, which carry the imagination back to other times, before the foot of a white man had touched the American shore. Yesterday I measured a walnut tree almost seven feet diameter, clean and straight as an arrow; and just by were rotting, side by side, two sycamores of nearly equal dimensions. The sycamore grows in bottoms [that frequently flood], to an unwieldy bulk; but the white oak is the glory of the upland forest. .... [The oaks] have rarely an opportunity of swelling out to a large diameter, owning to their crowded growth. They are, for the same reason, very lofty, straight, and clear in their stems; sometimes eighty or ninety feet without a branch. I measured a white oak, by the road side, which, at four feet from the ground, was six feet in diameter, and at seventy five feet measured nine feet round, or three feet in diameter.

The thinning of the sycamore is believed to have contributed to extirpation of the Carolina Parakeet.

Considered the largest deciduous tree species in North America, the sycamore was the source of food and nesting for a species of birds that once populated the Valley, but is no more. The Carolina Parakeet once called the Scioto Valley home. Amongst the stone pipes unearthed in the Tremper Mound, which is located near the mouth of the Scioto, on the West Side, were pipes depicting the green-bodied, yellowed-headed parakeet. When Fortescue Cuming visited Portsmouth in 1808, he noted large flocks of the birds, which “when they alight on a tree, they are not distinguishable from 
the foliage, from their colour.”

A sycamore reflected in the waters of Wolfden Lake, Shawnee State Forest (November 2008).

The giant sycamores, many of which had been hollowed out by decay were favorite nesting and roosting sites for the Carolina Parakeet. A single, large tree cavity would be the home of numerous birds. The sycamore also provided one of the bird’s favorite foods before the arrival of the Americans. The seed balls of the sycamore, along with the seeds of the cocklebur were a primary source of food for the bird. With the arrival of the Americans, however, the parakeets developed a fondness for apple and pear seeds, which were found in abundance in the newly planted orchards of the Americans. To the great consternation of the new settlers, the birds would destroy the fruit in order to get to the seeds; a flock of parakeets could wipe out a whole season’s fruit crop in little time. The birds also appear to have devoured corn, particularly when it had been cut with its stalks and stacked in piles, a common practice of the region’s cattle farmers. The decline of the parakeet coincided with the destruction of sycamore of the ancient forest, but the spread of cocklebur (a weed that flourished in newly cleared land) may have made up for the loss of sycamore seed balls.

Audubon's painting of the Carolina Parakeet

The thinning of sycamores had its greatest impact on the destruction of roosting and nesting sites. One theory about the destruction of roosting and nesting sites includes a role for European honeybees, which moved westward in advance of American settlements. The bees themselves may have displaced the parakeets by taking over hollow trees. Then when the Americans arrived they sought out these hollowed out trees, chopping them down in search of honeycomb. While habitat destruction clearly played a role in the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet, the birds were also hunted, but unlike the passenger pigeon, which was hunted for food and for which there was significant market demand, the parakeet because of its smaller size and its less tasty meat, and its appetite for apples, was hunted as a nuisance, simply exterminated.
John James Audubon, the great American naturalist and artist, noted in 1831 that:

The parrot does not satisfy itself with Cockle-burs, but eats or destroys almost every kind of fruit indiscriminately, and on this account is always an unwelcome visitor to the planter, the farmer, or the gardener. The stacks of grain put up in the field are resorted to by flocks of these birds, which frequently cover them so entirely, that they present to the eye the same effect as if a brilliantly colored carpet had been thrown over them. The cling around the whole stack, pull out the straws, and destroy twice as much of the grain as would suffice to satisfy their hunger. They assail the Pear and Apple-trees when the fruit is yet very small and far from being ripe, and this merely for the sake of the seeds. As on the stalks of corn, they alight on the Apple-trees of our orchards, or the Pear-trees in the gardens, in great numbers; and, as if through mere mischief, pluck off the fruits, open them up to the core, and, disappointed at the sight of the seeds, which are yet soft and of a milky consistence, drop the apple or pear, and pluck another, passing from branch to branch, until the trees, which were before so promising, are left completely stripped, like the ship water-logged and abandoned by its crew, floating on the yet agitated waves, after the tempest has ceased. They visit Mulberries, Pecan-nuts, Grapes, and even the seeds of the Dog-wood, before they are ripe, and on all commit similar depredations. The Maize alone never attracts their notice.

…. The parakeets are destroyed in great numbers, for whilst busily engaged in plucking off the fruits or tearing the grain from the stacks, the husbandman approaches them with perfect ease, and commits great slaughter among them. All the survivors rise, shriek, fly round for a few minutes, and again alight on the very place of most imminent danger. The gun is kept a work; eight or ten, or even twenty, are killed at every discharge. The living birds, as if conscious of the death of their companions, sweep over their bodies screaming as loud as ever, but still return to the stack to be shot at, until so few remain alive, that the farmer does not consider it worth his while to spend more of ammunition. I have seen several hundreds destroyed in this manner in the course of a few hours, and have procured a basketful of these birds at a few shots, in order to make choice of good specimens for drawing the figures by which this species is represented in the plate now under your consideration.

Audubon also sounded the first alarm about the birds impending demise:
Our Parakeets are very rapidly diminishing in number; and in some districts, where twenty-five years ago they were plentiful, scarcely any are now to be seen. …. At the present day, very few are to be found higher [in the Ohio Valley] than Cincinnati….

By the mid-nineteenth century, records indicate that the Carolina Parakeet was only to be found in large numbers in the swamps of Florida. The last of the wild parakeets are believed to have died in the 1920s. One expert on the Carolina Parakeet put it mildly that “the lack of a general sentiment in pioneer society for their protection may have been their downfall.”

Hunting by Americans in the region has also been blamed for the extinction of the passenger pigeon, whose massive flocks once darkened the sky of the valley. In 1813, Audubon recorded an account of a massive migration of passenger pigeons flying south from Ohio across the river into Kentucky:

I observed the Pigeons flying from north-east to south-west, in greater numbers than I thought I had ever seen them before, and feeling an inclination to count the flocks that might pass within the reach of my eye in one hour, I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had, undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.

Audubon estimated the numbers in the billions. By sampling and measuring the size of this mile-wide flock and the three-day duration of its flow, Audubon concluded that there had been “One billion, one hundred and fifteen millions, one hundred and thirty-six thousand” pigeons flying overhead. The flocks darkened the sky, as if there was an eclipse.

Audubon’s writings (as well as his painting) of the passenger pigeon are quite well known, especially his description of their multitudes. However, if one reads further in Audubon’s account of this incredible migration, we can gain some insight into the eventual extinction of the passenger pigeon.

Audubon's painting of the Passenger Pigeon

After commenting upon their shear number of pigeons flying overhead, Audubon wrote that:

The people were all in arms. The banks of the Ohio were crowded with men and boys, incessantly shooting at the pilgrims, which there flew lower as they passed the river. Multitudes were thus destroyed. For a week or more, the population fed on no other flesh than that of Pigeons, and talked of nothing but Pigeons.

Audubon believed that it would not be the mass slaughter of the birds, but rather the destruction of the forest that would cause the demise of the passenger pigeon, whose range was from Canada to the Gulf Coast, with the Ohio valley (and the Scioto in particular) as its center. In the end, it was both. The pigeon’s habitat was largely destroyed in the 19th century; while their numbers were severely diminished through large scale, over-hunting. By the start of the 20th century, the passenger pigeon was on the brink of extinction. And within a decade it would be extinct, with the last wild pigeon being shot near the banks of the Scioto River in Pike County.

The destruction of the forest in the Lower Scioto Valley would pick up rapidly with the advent of the industrial revolution, as charcoal-fired furnaces were constructed to manufacture, first salt, and then pig iron. Steamboats plying the Ohio, and later railroad locomotives would also consume hundreds of thousands cords of timber. The regions furnaces and steam engines would not covert to coal until the region’s forests had been depleted – the earliest transition to coal began in the Scioto Valley in the second decade of the nineteenth century and the transition would not be complete until the 1870s.

The first manufacturing industry in the valley centered on the production of salt. On Salt Creek, a tributary of the Scioto, which flows south westerly from Jackson County to its confluence with the Scioto in Pike County, Native Americans were the first to boil the saline water for salt production. It was here that Daniel Boone, when taken hostage by the Shawnee, helped manufacture salt in the 1780s. The manufacture of salt would become closely tied to another industry – the meat packing industry. The basis for both of these industries is ultimately agriculture. Farmers in the valley found it profitable to convert much of their grain production into the flesh of animals, which could be driven to the market place or packed in barrels and shipped down river.

Prior to the development of refrigeration technologies, meat was preserved in salt. The by-products of meat-packing became the raw materials for other manufacturing establishments – lard-oil, soap, candles, glue, and other chemical compounds. The hides of the cattle were converted into leather, which was then used in the shoe and harness manufacturing industry. An auxiliary tanning industry also developed, which further impacted the forest, as tanners sought tannic acid in the region’s tree bark.

During the period of greatest production at the Scioto Salt Works, from 1806 to 1808, there were twenty furnaces in operation. These made an average of from fifty to seventy bushels of salt per week. If they were working at capacity – 70 bushels of salt per week – each furnace would have had to boil 46,200 gallons of brine. The furnaces were fired by the combustion of charcoal, which was made from the timber surrounding the various furnaces. Around 1814, the state of Ohio began offering subsidies to salt manufacturers who would use coal, rather than wood to fire their furnaces. The use of coal at the Scioto Salt Works is believed to mark the first application of coal in industry in America and can be cited as one of the beginnings of coal mining in Appalachia.

The second decade of the nineteenth century – the 1810s – also witnessed the first construction of charcoal-fired iron furnaces in the Scioto Valley, and more precisely in Adams County, where iron ore was first discovered in the woods that now adjoin Shawnee State Forest. In the 1820s and 1830s, iron production shifted eastward into Scioto and Lawrence counties, to the area now partially protected by the Wayne National Forest.

A skilled collier, working for one of the region’s furnaces, could turn a cord of wood into forty bushels of charcoal. And it took some four hundred bushels of charcoal (roughly 10 cords of wood) to produce one ton of pig iron. In essence one acre of timber could produce enough energy to process 4 tons of pig iron. The annual consumption of timber per furnace ranged from 50 and 200 acres. “At various times there were from fifty-seven to seventy blast furnaces in southern Ohio with an annual capacity of 142,000 tons of iron.” If the region’s furnaces operated at capacity that would translate into the destruction of some 35,500 of acres of timber per year, at the height of production. Although such a large amount of acreage was probably never consumed a year, even with a conservative estimate of 16,000 acres per year (or 25 square miles of forest), the pre-coal-fired iron industry in Southern Ohio took an immense toll on the Old Growth forests of the region. Consider the size of Shawnee State Forest today, which has over 60,000 acres, which equals about 94 square miles. With my conservative estimate, it would have taken just under four years to clear the present size of the Shawnee State Forest.

The destruction of the forest, combined with over-hunting, also took its toll on the American Bison and white-tail deer of the valley. The extirpation of the Buffalo, of which there were relatively small herds east of the Mississippi compared to those in the West, was completed by 1830. The last killed in Pennsylvania was in 1801, the last in Louisiana in 1803, the last in Illinois and Ohio in 1808; the last sightings in Kentucky came in 1820, in Tennessee in 1823, and in western Virginia in 1825; the last Buffalo in Indiana was shot down by a hunter in 1830. Records suggest that the overwhelming bulk of the eastern herds had been destroyed by the year 1800.

An American Bison herd in Kentucky

The last Buffalo shot in the Scioto Valley was killed by Phillip Salladay in Green Township in southeastern Scioto County around the year 1801. According to local legend, Phillip and his son were hunting on Pine Creek when they came across a solitary buffalo. Phillip took the first shot, which only wounded the animal. The bison turned and charged straight at them. “As the boy was getting his rifle ready to shoot, the father snatched it from him, and killed the buffalo.” The general consensus among scholars who have studied the demise of the Bison east of the Mississippi, its extirpation was the result of over-hunting and the “destruction of their habitat destroyed their range.”

The over-hunting of white-tailed deer and black bear began even before the settlement of Americans in the Scioto Valley. One reason the Shawnee and other eastern Indians had re-turned to the region in the early 1700s was because of the depletion of deer and other game in the East. Indian hunters traded deer and bearskins for European and American manufactured goods. Over-hunting, however, truly began to decimate these animal populations in the Scioto Valley only after American settlement had begun. In the memoirs and journals of the early pioneers, bear meat was a choice meal; bear bacon was used like cash. Their hides also brought in good money. According to one record, between 1805 and 1807, more than 8,000 bearskins were shipped to eastern markets from the Tri-State Region of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Many a hollowed-out sycamore and other trees were felled to get at the bears. The shooting of bears accomplished two purposes – it provided much needed meat in early years of settlement, before cattle and swine had come to supply the needs of the settlers, and it removed what many saw as a dangerous wild neighbor.

Deer meat was also a regular staple of the early pioneers and continued for decades to be a source of nutrition in the backwoods of the valley. But, as the forests were cut down, destroying their range and the abundant mast – the acorns and other nuts – that the deer relied upon, their numbers began to dwindle. Considering the large numbers of deer that currently inhabit the Valley (and Shawnee State Forest, in particular), it may be surprising for some to learn that the White-Tailed Deer was actually hunted into oblivion by the dawn of the twentieth-century. According to a local historian writing at about this time:

The whitetailed deer was the last of the big game in Scioto County. They were killed in numbers, as late as the [eighteen] seventies in the region drained by Twin Creek [in what could be described as the heart of the modern-day Shawnee State Forest]. Some were killed in the [eighteen] eighties, but by this time, they were quite scarce. The last deer, killed in Scioto County, was killed on Turkey Creek about 1895.

Turkey Creek, as many of my readers may know, is the creek that runs alongside State Route 125 and feeds Shawnee State Park’s two major lakes – Roosevelt Lake and Turkey Creek Lake.

Just as the deer have returned to the valley and Shawnee State Forest, so have the coyotes that had once been hunted to extirpation. Coyotes that once preyed on the deer and other smaller animals were seen as a great nuisance to the early American settlers of the region. They killed cattle and swine and generated fears over the safety of young children. County governments, such as that of Scioto County, even had bounties for their scalps. The last recorded bounty of $1 was paid out for a scalp in Scioto County in 1831.

So what are we to take away from these chapters in the environmental history of the Lower Scioto Valley? The forest was a critical part of a very delicate ecosystem. The return of the forest has helped bring about the return of certain species. But, others like the Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon are gone forever. Once lost, somethings can never be restored.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lower Scioto Valley History Website Launched

Lower Scioto Valley History: Shawnee State University’s Local History Workshop is now on-line. This new website is meant to encourage the study and preservation of local history. I’d like to thank those who helped fund and support the creation of this on-line resource. First, thanks go to Jerry Holt, the former Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Jim Miller, the long-serving chair of the Social Sciences Department at Shawnee State. It was Jerry and Jim who first supported the development of a local and oral history curriculum. With their support I was able to attend the Ohio Humanities Council’s annual Oral History Institute at Kenyon College. Then with the support of two grants from the Ohio Board of Regents’ catalystOhio initiative and the ongoing support of the Department of Social Sciences I and my students were able to conduct oral history interviews and develop other primary source material for the website. Dr. Stylianos Hadjiyannis and Dr. Michael Barnhart, who also received grant money for the project, contributed their know-how in helping me design and develop the website.

The website has oral history interviews, image and map scrapbooks, an archive of primary research documents, and a list of related website links. The interviews include the latest recordings, which focus on the Norfolk and Western Railway Strike of 1978. Earlier interviews focusing on the shoe, steel, and nuclear industries are also available.

In the scrapbook section, highlights from the Harald Daub Collection are also now available. The Daub Collection consists of clippings from the personal scrapbooks of former City Councilman Harald Daub. These highlights focus on Daub’s election in 1979, the controversy surrounding a proposed downtown mall for Portsmouth, and city council’s attempt to fire City Manager Barry Feldman. More highlights covering the successful campaign to recall Daub and other councilmen will be added in the near future. Thanks are due Harald Daub for allowing the presentation of these highlights.

In addition to the scrapbook section of the website, the digital archive section includes copies of historically significant letters, manuscripts, and government documents. As with the rest of the website, new content will be added in the future. Currently, there are only a handful of documents on-line; one of which, known as the “Sears Letter,” dates back to 1981 and involves the proposed downtown mall.

The current controversy over the re-use of the old downtown Marting’s Department Store building for new city offices has marked a return to local politics for Harald Daub. His recent Ohio Election Commission complaint against the Marting’s supporters for false advertising, has generated letters to the editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times that have rehashed Daub’s roll in the Feldman/Mall Controversy of 1980. Did Daub and his supporters kill the mall project, as one recent letter writer claimed? Are they to blame?, as Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce President Michael Gampp suggested in a recent fund raising letter for their pro-Marting’s city building plan. “Our City has been paralyzed for almost thirty years by a group of individuals who wish to use threats and intimidation as tools to further their agenda and silence anyone with a different opinion.”  According to Gampp, “During this time our City has, at best, stagnated and in many ways, deteriorated.  Recalls, mudslinging and personal attacks have not helped our situation.”

The economic woes of Portsmouth since the 1970s have been the primary cause of political upheaval and in-fighting among the city’s residents. Systemic changes in the economy, nation-wide and across the globe, brought de-industrialization to the Ohio valley and Portsmouth like many other river cities has been devastated economically. Blame for the decline has become central to understanding local politics. All parties in the current controversy want what they believe is best for the town, but both sides fix the responsibility of the decline on the other. To some outside observers these divisions have come to be seen as one of the greatest hurdles to reviving the city. A struggle for control of local government and the future of the city is underway and this struggle has its origins in the Feldman/Mall Controversy of 1980.

Highlights from the Daub Collection help shed light on this area of Portsmouth history; although an incomplete record, it is hoped that other documents related to these controversies will be preserved for history’s sake. The scrapbook section of the website is open to submissions from the public. If you have letters, newspaper clippings, or other documents that you’d like to add to a scrapbook, whether on the 1980s Feldman/Mall Controversy, the current quarrel over the Marting’s building, or any other historical event in Portsmouth’s past please consider submitting it for inclusion.

These digital scrapbooks are modeled on the legendary Portsmouth scrapbooks created by Henry A. Lorberg at the turn of the 20th century. The original Lorberg Scrapbooks can be examined in the Local History Department of the Portsmouth Public Library. The new Lower Scioto Scrapbooks are meant to replicate this incredible local history resource, but do it through the latest computer technology.  During the 1890s and first decades of the twentieth century Henry Lorberg went door-to-door collecting items for his scrapbooks.  His multi-volume collection of photos, news-clippings, and other ephemera offers an amazing window into the past. Hopefully, these new digital scrapbooks will help open another window through which we all can come to a better understanding of how we got to where we are today.

With Lorberg's method in mind, the Lower Scioto Valley History website accepts submissions from the public.  Again, I encourage you, if you have an item -- photograph or other type of document of local or regional interest that captures the past or present -- please consider having it placed in one of the project scrapbooks.  To make a contribution, e-mail a digital copy of your item or send a query to me at afeight at Free scanning of documents or images is available following a consultation. When submitting an item, please include text for a caption, explaining (if possible) the who, what, where, and when about the submitted item.

Thanks for reading. Feedback on the new website is welcomed, as well.

To visit the new website click ---> Lower Scioto Valley History

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Great-Great-Great-Grandfather of a President?

Barack Obama’s American Roots Are Traced to the Lower Scioto Valley

Just days before the announcement that US Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Party Presidential Nominee, would be campaigning in Portsmouth, Ohio, news began circulating of Obama’s ancestral roots leading back to the Scioto River Valley. On October 5th, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published the fullest account yet. They quote another Scioto Valley notable, current Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, as saying: "Ohio's supposed to be the mother of presidents. Wouldn't it be interesting if we were the great-great-great-grandfather of a president?"

Obama’s earliest direct ancestor in Ohio is a man named Joseph Kearney, who immigrated from Moneygall, Ireland to Ross County in 1849. Members of the Kearney family, however, had been in Ross County as early as 1805, when Joseph’s uncle, Thomas Kearney and his young family had moved from Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas Kearney had earlier left Ireland, sometime in the late 1780s, and had established himself as a master carpenter in his new American hometown. He married a Virginian from nearby Fairfax County in 1791 in a Baltimore Methodist Church.

Exactly how is not yet clear, but by 1805, if not before, Thomas Kearney had come into possession of lands in Ohio’s Virginia Military District. Kearney accompanied a flood of migrants who settled in the valley during the first decade of the nineteenth century. The rapidly growing Ross county town of Chillicothe was not only the seat of the county, it was the seat of the newly created state government of Ohio. Before Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland came to overshadow Chillicothe, this town was the locus of wealth, power, and land speculation in Ohio. Chillicothe to the north and Portsmouth to the south were the axis upon which the region spun and in the early 1800s the valley experienced rapid economic development.

Details of Thomas Kearney’s life in the Scioto Valley are meager, but he appears to have thrived and his success encouraged his brothers and nephews to leave Ireland in a chain of migration that lasted over fifty-years. Thomas would be followed by his brothers and their children in the 1830s and 1840s. One of those nephews, Joseph would have a son named Fulmoth Kearney, and it is through him that a direct link extends to Barack Obama’s mother.

What led Joseph Kearney to immigrate directly to the Scioto Valley in 1849? It was the death of his brother, Francis, in early February 1848. Francis, another nephew of Thomas Kearney, had died in Pickaway County, on his property near the Ross County line. In his Last Will and Testament, Francis gave his Ross County lands on the North Fork of Paint Creek to his brother Joseph and his sons. Joseph appears to have left Ireland nearly as soon as he had received word of his inheritance. Joseph arrived in Ross County in 1849 and his son, Fulmoth, followed a year later in March of 1850.

Fulmoth married Charlotte Holloway, a native of Ross County, whose family had also been among the earliest settlers in the Valley. Fulmoth and Charlotte would later move to Indiana, where Fulmoth died in 1878. Their daughter, Mary Ann Kearney married Jacob W. Dunham, the great-grand-father of Ann Dunham, who it turns out was the mother of Barack Obama.

Roger Kearney, the self-appointed Kearney family genealogist in Ohio, first discovered the Obama connection after reading a sketch of Obama’s genealogy in a newspaper article. The article mentioned that Obama’s mother’s ancestry in America went back to a man named Fulmoth Kearney. It turned out that Roger Kearney recognized the name Fulmoth, as one he had in his database. Working with, Roger was able to firmly establish the link to Obama and trace it all the way back to Ireland, where the genealogical research continues.

That Barack Obama’s American roots are to be found in the Lower Scioto Valley is a testament to the region’s significance in the history of our nation. In a region with a rich history associated with the heroic undertakings of the Underground Railroad, it seems only appropriate that America’s first African-American (or African-Irish-American) presidential nominee would have ancestors who came to this valley in pursuit of their happiness and their very own American dreams.

This Thursday, October 9th, at 5:30 PM, Shawnee State University will host Senator Obama, where, on the Alumni Green, he will give a speech to a crowd of students, faculty, staff, and members of the surrounding community. The following day, he will campaign in Chillicothe, in Ross County, the original destination of his Irish ancestors who came here in the early 1800s. Welcome home, Senator Obama. Welcome to the Lower Scioto Valley.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Remembering the Norfolk & Western Strike of 1978

Thirty years ago this coming July, the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC), after more than a year and a half of negotiations, called a company-wide strike against the Norfolk & Western Railway. In Portsmouth, BRAC members were joined by other union railroad workers who refused to cross picket lines, bringing the N&W yard and repair shops in the city to a virtual standstill. As the N&W's management implemented their strike contingency plans, the trains would start moving again – salaried N&W officials and non-union workers would attempt to keep the railway in operation in an effort to break the strike.

The N&W in 1978 was one of the few American rail companies operating with a large profit. As the ninth largest railroad in the nation, the N&W operated 7,000 miles of track, connecting 14 states and Canada, with the bulk of its business (40% of its annual revenue) being the transportation of coal from the mines of East Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. The N&W also did significant business with US automakers in Detroit, running nearly forty special "run-through" trains that bypassed many regular stops. Portsmouth was home to one of the largest locomotive and car repair shops of the N&W because of its central location on the main N&W line, which connected the south east coast and the coal fields of southern Appalachia to Chicago and Detroit.

N&W's success in a time of woe for many other railroads has been attributed to increasing demand for coal in the early 1970s, as well as the leadership of John P. Fishwick, who became President and CEO of the company in 1970. Fishwick, along with Southern Pacific and the Southern Railway, pioneered the introduction of computers to help schedule its labor crew and its fleet of trains. Fishwick's computerization efforts, which contributed to his general policy of cutting employment levels, was believed by many Wall Street analysts to be the secret to his success. In 1971, after his first year on the job, N&W posted a $68 million profit. Between 1971 and 1978, N&W cut its payroll by nearly 15 percent and increased by a third their gross tonnage shipped per man-hour. In 1977, a year before the strike, N&W posted a profit of $103 million.

Fishwick's cost-cutting efforts, particularly in the area of computerization and job cuts, while posting significant profits, set off a series of conflicts with the various railroad unions. At a time of record high inflation and with clerks being especially impacted by the job cuts accompanying computerization, BRAC began demanding significant pay raises and expanded job security clauses in their contract.

By 1978, N&W's Fishwick was willing to risk a strike in order to block BRAC's demands. He had good reason to believe N&W could weather any such work stoppage. The railroad industry had organized to deal with the costs and disturbances of strikes. The Association of American Railroads had created the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), a coalition of 74 railroad companies, which set up a strike insurance program known as the Services Interruption Policies, which gave N&W access to an $800,000 a day mutual aid fund; the program also provided for the "interchanging" of equipment, employees, and services, including freight contracts. Fishwick's computerization efforts had also included the creation of a non-contract supervisory employee database, which could be used during a work stoppage to make job assignments across the whole N&W operation.

In effort to counter the assistance of the NRLC's mutual aid pact, BRAC began setting up secondary picket lines at a handful of sites that were providing "interchange" assistance to N&W. Members of other railroad unions respected the BRAC picket lines, both the primary ones at N&W yards, as well as at non-N&W yards. The railroad companies, at first, succeeded in obtaining temporary federal court injunctions shutting down these secondary pickets.

These secondary pickets had threatened to turn the strike against the N&W into a nationwide strike against all 74 members of the NRLC.

From the start of the N&W strike the companies appeared to be largely successful in blocking the secondary picketing through court injunctions until the 26th of September, when U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger vacated the injunctions against BRAC, ruling that the union had a right to carry out secondary actions against members of the NRLC under the Railway Labor Act. Interestingly, unlike the National Labor Relations Act, which governs industries other than the rails, the Railway Labor Act allows for secondary strike actions in cases where the primary company is receiving significant assistance that unfairly enables the primary company to resist the effects of the primary strike.

Chief Justice Burger's ruling led to a virtual nationwide walkout by the 235,000 member clerks' union. BRAC locals struck 74 rail lines in 42 states, "idling up to 350,000 of the nation's half a million rail workers, stranding thousands of commuters and millions of tons of freight."

At the time of the strike, US railroads carried about 47% of the nation's freight. With N&W heavily involved in the transport of coal from the coalfields of Appalachia, coal operators began laying off miners in July; when the strike went national at the end of September, General Motors laid off 6,700 workers; Ford furloughed 550 employees and warned that they may need to lay off 100,000 workers if the strike was not settled within days. The strike also impacted the shipment of farm produce in the Midwest, whose farmers were shipping their fall harvest of soybeans, corn, and other grains from elevator terminals. Over 100,000 commuters in Chicago were also left stranded. Some 26,000 Amtrak riders were left without service.

As BRAC pickets began shutting down rail traffic throughout the nation, the Carter Administration stepped up their efforts to bring BRAC and N&W to an agreement that would end the strike. On the 27th of September 1978, Labor Secretary Ray Marshall hosted negotiations at the Department's headquarters in Washington, D.C., giving the two sides twenty-four hours "to resolve the dispute without government intervention." The Washington Post would report: "the talks continued through the night with only a short dinner break; the negotiators remained at loggerheads as the noon deadline approached, prompting a last-minute personal mediating attempt by Marshall. By 1:30 p.m., the labor secretary had to concede defeat. He reported that the National Mediation Board, which handles railway and airline labor problems, was recommending creation of an emergency board, a move that automatically triggers the 60-day 'cooling-off' period."

With the deadline past and the National Mediation Board's recommendation in hand, President Carter invoked emergency provisions of the Railway Labor Act, which enables the president to order strikers back to work for a 60-day "cooling-off" period, during which time all parties were to participate in federally mediated negotiations. If, after such time the two sides were still unable to reach an agreement, the union would be free to re-launch its strike.

In the past, the rare invocation of emergency powers had generally been done at the last minute to avert a strike, not in the midst of one to force workers back to their jobs. Whether the president had the power to shut down a strike already legally underway had not been firmly established by the federal courts. At his press conference, when he announced the appointment of an emergency mediation board, Carter made it clear that he was willing to immediately take the issue before the federal courts if BRAC refused to end its strike.

Even though the administration would most likely succeed in such a court battle, and a defeat for the union could prove incredibly costly to the Brotherhood, BRAC President Fred Kroll at first refused to obey Carter's order. Not wanting to test the President's authority, but fearing retaliation against members of his union, Kroll refused to order his members back to work until a federal judge inserted a provision barring the railroad companies from retaliating against the striking workers in his court order demanding an end to the strike.

For BRAC, as a whole, the strike was a success. Fearing their destruction at the hands of Fishwick and the NRLC, the union survived and gained significant concessions in the final federally mediated contract. Locally, however, in Portsmouth, where striking workers had derailed and looted a train and where a company official had been severely injured, the strike has at times been seen as a failure. In the wake of the strike, N&W would close the repair shops and hundreds of jobs would be lost. After twenty-plus years, the successor to N&W, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, announced this past year their plans for refurbishing and re-opening the Portsmouth Car Repair Shop.

With the thirtieth anniversary of the 1978 strike approaching, there is no better time than now to record the history associated with these local events that played such an important part in the larger national story of the transformation of the American railroad industry in the 1970s and 1980s. Local history is its most revealing and of greatest significance when understood in a larger, national context. The N&W Strike of 1978 is not only important local history; it is important to understanding American history.

In the coming year, students at Shawnee State University, under my direction, will conduct oral history interviews with local residents involved in the strike, from both sides of the conflict. The interviews will become part of an on-going project entitled Life & Labor: Oral Histories from Portsmouth, Ohio , and will be made available to the public via the internet.

If you or someone you know participated in the strike, whether as a striker or as management, and are interested in being interviewed, please contact Dr. Andrew Lee Feight by phone at 740-351-3143, by e-mail at, or by mail at the Department of Social Sciences, Shawnee State University, 940 Second Street, Portsmouth, OH 45662.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Follow the Money": A History of the Marting's Scandal

Now that Portsmouth City Council is once again considering renovating the old Marting’s Department Store Building to house offices for city government, it seems only appropriate that we recall the origins of one of Portsmouth’s greatest scandals.

In April 2006, I wrote the following, “History of the Marting’s Scandal,” for a special election newspaper published by the Concerned Citizens Group of Portsmouth and Scioto County. Slightly revised to bring the piece up-to-date, this essay, from what I’ve been told, helped defeat city council’s first attempt to renovate the Marting’s building.

James A. Mueller's Failed Hostile Takeover of Martings

During the unraveling of the Watergate conspiracy, Woodward and Bernstein’s notorious informant, known as “Deep Throat,” told the Washington Post reporters to “Follow the money.” In the case of Portsmouth’s Marting’s Scandal, which involves the City’s purchase of a downtown department store building for $2 million, such advice also proves helpful. The revelations of secret, illegal meetings and crooked backroom deals designed to bail out a failing business, fund a private real estate development, and prop up the value of downtown properties with city taxpayer money has awakened a municipal reform movement aimed at righting the wrongs that originated in and were revealed by the illegal Marting’s deal.

The story begins in January 1996, when James A. Mueller, the president of the Marting Brothers Company, attempted a hostile takeover of the company with plans to liquidate its assets when he gained a controlling share of the company’s stock. Available records from the Marting’s Company indicate that Mueller’s aggressive stock purchases began in November 1991, when he already owned 666 shares. Over the next year and a half Mueller purchased 596 shares at an average price of $41 each. In February 1994, Mueller stepped up his purchases, buying 400 shares for $48 a share from Suzanne Duis Carico, and the following year, in early May 1995, he bought 926 shares from the Horr family of Portsmouth (which included the shares owned by former Marting’s president David A. Horr). The Horrs apparently drove a hard bargain, for Mueller ended up paying them $92,600 for the holdings, which amounted to $100 a share.

According to one account, Mueller’s hostile take-over was blocked by the aging Richard D. Marting, the largest stock owner, who possessed 26% of the company stock. Marting reportedly refused to sell any of his shares to Mueller. A special, secret meeting of the company’s Board of Directors was called (without notice given to Mueller). At this meeting, it was decided that the Board would fire Mueller and attempt a restructuring of the company to guard against any future attempted hostile takeover and liquidation.

Creation of the Richard D. Marting Foundation

By 1996, the department store’s profits were in serious decline; after overhead and taxes, the company had made a profit of only $7,315 during 1995. Marting’s officials would later claim that “in 1996, it became apparent to the company’s management that a downtown retail department store in a city experiencing economic reverses and population decline could no longer continue to operate at a profit.” Mueller’s liquidation made sense, but the prospects of Marting’s shareholders receiving anything near the $100 a share that Mueller had paid the Horr’s was not a likely prospect. The Marting’s Board hired local attorney C. Clayton Johnson to design a new corporate structure for Marting Brothers. At the suggestion of Johnson, the company moved to buy back all 10,000 shares of outstanding stock, which had been privately sold, traded, and inherited largely within the local Portsmouth community. Once the stock had been purchased, the plan called for the company to transfer all of the stock to a new entity, a non-profit corporation, which would be named the Richard D. Marting Foundation.
The problem for Marting’s directors, however, was that the company did not have the capital to buy back the stock. Mueller had paid the Horrs $100 a share and he would take no less in return. Thus, valued at $100 a share, the company needed $1 million to accomplish the scheme of Clayton Johnson, which would mean more cash to the stockholders than any liquidation could have ever paid out. To raise the buyout money, Marting’s applied for a loan at the local branch of Bank One, where, it turns out, Clayton Johnson also served on the bank’s Board of Directors.

Rittenhouse's Original Appraisal

Before Bank One would loan Marting Brothers the $1 million, however, they needed an appraisal of the company’s properties, which would be used as collateral for the loan. While it is unclear who exactly recommended the appraisal company, records indicate that it was someone at Bank One who suggested the services of a small, new appraisal company in Hillsboro, Ohio, Rittenhouse and Associates, which in late May 1996, valued the property at $2,386,000.

With this appraisal, Bank One then loaned Marting Brothers $1,150,000; the extra $150,000 was obtained to apparently help finance the day-to-day operations of the faltering department store. Richard Marting received the lion’s share of the loan money, some $289,500 for his 2,895 shares; Jim Mueller walked away with $258,800; a Robert G. Matthias, the next largest share owner, who may have been on the verge of selling out to Mueller, sold back his 1,061 shares for $106,100. The remaining 3,456 shares were held by some thirty-three other stockholders, including board members Julia Smith Wisniewski, Gerald R. Jenkins, and Randal Arnett. Although the exact holdings of these officers are not known, their payoffs may have averaged about $10,473 each.

As planned, all of the outstanding stock was transferred to the new Richard D. Marting Foundation in late July 1996, which, it turned out, now had the same board members as the Marting Brothers Company, except now Clayton Johnson had been appointed a regular voting member of the Foundation’s board of directors. The Marting Brothers Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Foundation, which existed primarily as a front for Johnson and his associates, who have acknowledged that the Foundation had conducted no financial dealings from the day they took over ownership of the department store in the summer of 1996 until the spring of 2001, when the Foundation began making plans for the sale of the Marting’s property to the city.

By the end of the summer of 1996, the Marting’s board appointed Larry Leiter to serve as company president and oversee the daily operations of the department store. Later that fall, Leiter and Marting Brothers secured another loan of $150,000 from the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership (SOGP), an organization of which Leiter was also a member, along with other Marting’s Board of Directors, including Clayton Johnson. The SOGP loan was used by Marting’s to pay back the $150,000 that Bank One had loaned, on top of the $1 million, back in the summer of 1996.

In March of 1997, when Johnson joined the Board of Directors of Oak Hill Banks, the Marting Brothers Company authorized the refinancing of their Bank One loans with Oak Hill Banks, in Jackson County. When interviewed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCII), Johnson “stated he accepted a position on the Board of Directors of Oak Hill Bank after Bank One left the area and retired from the board on December 31, 2002.” Annual Reports published by Oak Hill, however, state that Johnson joined the Oak Hill board in March of 1997, the very same month that the Marting’s debt was refinanced by Oak Hill.

In the spring of 2001, the directors of Marting’s, according to the statements of Clayton Johnson, “decided to liquidate when they realized that their current assets were no longer sufficient to cover the liabilities of the Marting Brothers Company.” And just how much money did the Marting Company owe in the spring of 2001? Records indicate that the company owed approximately $480,000 to Oak Hill Banks and to the SOGP, corporations in which, it should be reiterated, Clayton Johnson also served as a director. Thus, in the spring of 2001, Marting’s officials began looking for a way to close the store and sell off their property in order to liquidate their debts.

The Plan is Hatched: Martings and the “Solove-Hatcher Development"

By mid-August 2001, if not before, Clayton Johnson and Larry Leiter began informal and secret talks with Portsmouth Mayor Greg Bauer about the possible purchase of the Marting’s department store for use as a “new” city hall. These discussions about the sale of the building to the city took place in the context of another real estate development deal. In memos to the City Council, Mayor Bauer referred to this other real estate deal as the “Solove-Hatcher Development.” This development was to be christened the Portsmouth City Center, the long-dreamed of downtown strip mall. According to Bauer’s memos, which were obtained by means of Ohio Sunshine Laws, the attorney working on the Solove- Hatcher Development was none other than Clayton Johnson.

In a memo dated 20 August 2001, Mayor Bauer wrote to City Council: “On Wednesday, August 15, 2001 I met with the architects and engineering firms that will work on the Preliminary Site Studies for the Portsmouth City Center. Also in attendance were Jerry Solove and Neal Hatcher. . . . . As some council members are aware, there is interest from a local retailer [Marting’s] to have a new store in the proposed city center.” On 31 August 2001, eleven days after sending the first memo to City Council, which broached the subject of Marting’s leaving their old home on Chillicothe Street for what would be a much smaller space in the new Solove-Hatcher shopping center, Mayor Bauer fired off another memo, proposing that the city purchase the old Marting Department store properties. After considering the estimated costs of renting space for a new city building and the cost of building a new structure for city offices, Mayor Bauer told the City Council that he “seriously questions whether the city can afford either.” He then went on to note that “A less costly idea [for new city offices] could be that the city works out a deal with Marting's to purchase their building and they move into a new store in the Solove project.”

For reasons that remain unclear, in the fall of 2001, while the Solove-Hatcher Development appeared to be moving forward and preliminary talks with Mayor Bauer had taken place, Larry Leiter, the president of Marting’s, approached American Savings Bank (ASB) to see about refinancing the company’s debt. Leiter told state investigators that “The Board of Directors wanted to switch to a different lender and discussed American Savings Bank for two reasons, a member of the [Marting’s] board was an ex-president [at ASB] and it was a local bank.” This Marting’s board member was Gerald R. Jenkins, who was not simply an ex-president of American Savings Bank. Jenkins, at the time, was a member of the ASB Board of Directors and was the second largest owner of stock in the bank, just a few thousand shares less than ASB’s current President Bob Smith. Jenkins had served as president of the bank since 1983 and had retired from his executive position in only 1998; he continues to serve on the Board of Directors of ASB, having recently been reelected to another term.

John Kizer's Appraisal

When Leiter applied for the loan, he also gave ASB a copy of the old Rittenhouse appraisal from 1996. However, bank officials refused to use the pre-existing appraisal, not because it was outdated, but because, as Bob Smith reportedly claimed, “there did not seem to be any real information in the Rittenhouse appraisal.” So, ASB hired John Kizer to do a new appraisal. Kizer was an experienced local and licensed commercial real estate appraiser. At first, Kizer was told by ASB that the appraisal was needed in support of a loan application, but he was later told that there was an interested buyer. Kizer believed the unidentified buyer was another regional department store chain, but the buyer may have been the City of Portsmouth.
According to his BCII interview, sometime in the late fall or early winter of 2001, Kizer contacted Larry Leiter to arrange for an inspection of the Marting property, and when they met, Leiter gave him a copy of the well-worn Rittenhouse appraisal, which had valued the property at $2,386,000. Kizer told the BCII investigators: “I saw the figure and told him if this is the kind of value you are expecting I might as well stop right now and save my time and your money because there is no conceivable way this property is worth that kind of money in downtown Portsmouth.” According to Kizer, “LEITER agreed saying; Oh no, we know it is ridiculous, all we want to know is what we can sell it for to a prime buyer.” Kizer completed his appraisal on 27 December 2001 and turned it in to ASB’s President, Bob Smith, who then passed it on to Marting’s officials. Kizer’s appraisal had come in at $762,000, about $1.6 million less than the original Rittenhouse appraisal.

Kizer told state investigators that ASB’s president Bob Smith related to him that when Clayton Johnson had been told of Kizer’s numbers he had gone “berserk.” Smith, according to a BCII report, then allowed Marting’s to withdraw its application “rather than being formally turned down for the loan.” To keep the Kizer appraisal from becoming public, Marting’s then purchased the appraisal from American Savings Bank.

Violating the City Charter and Ohio's Sunshine Laws

At the next meeting of the Marting’s Board of Directors in January or early February 2002, they voted to move forward with their plan to shut down the store and liquidate their assets, specifically authorizing Clayton Johnson and President Larry Leiter to formally negotiate the sale of the Marting’s properties to the City of Portsmouth. Thus, at some point in January or February 2002, discussions between Mayor Bauer, Clayton Johnson, and Larry Leiter resulted in the scheduling of a round-robin meeting with City Council members at the law office of Johnson, along with a tour of the Marting’s properties.

City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh helped schedule the meetings so that no more than three council members at a time met together with Johnson. As Jim Kalb, City Council President, later acknowledged in a sworn deposition, the Sunshine Laws’ requirement that any meeting of more than three council members must be announced in advance and be open to the public “was on everybody’s mind.” When Kalb was asked whether “one of the purposes of doing it three and three [was so that their meeting with Johnson would] not . . . be construed as having a meeting,” Kalb answered: “I would say.” First Ward Councilwoman Ann Sydnor told state investigators that it was her recollection that it was Johnson who “suggested meeting with three City Council members at a time.”

Scioto County Common Pleas Court Judge William Marshall would later rule in Mollette v. Portsmouth City Council that this secret round-robin meeting violated both the City Charter and Ohio’s Open Meetings Act. The secret and illegal meeting with Johnson took place in either late February or early March 2002.

Ken Rase's Over-Valued Appraisal

Although Council members’ memories of this meeting are vague at best, Councilwoman Sydnor has claimed that during her tour of the building she “was afforded the opportunity to see the Rittenhouse appraisal but was not given a copy.” Sydnor told state investigators that “she did not pay much attention to this appraisal as it was ‘their’ appraisal and not the City’s but did look at the bottom line of 2.4 million and felt this amount was too high.” From the depositions of Council members, it appears that soon after this meeting both the Marting Brothers Company and city officials agreed that each party to the sale would obtain their own appraisal and then establish the price for the properties by splitting any difference in valuations. Thus, with the consent of members of City Council, but without a formal authorization made during a public meeting, Mayor Bauer, with Neal Hatcher working as an intermediary, hired Ken Rase, another local real estate appraiser, even though he was not licensed to appraise commercial structures with a value over $1 million. In fact, when first contacted about doing the appraisal, Rase turned down the job, claiming he was unqualified. However, he later changed his mind and agreed to perform the appraisal for Mayor Bauer.

According to John Kizer’s statements made to state investigators, Rase contacted Kizer about helping him do the appraisal. Kizer claimed that he turned down Rase’s request for assistance and advised Rase against performing the appraisal. But Kizer never divulged to Rase that he had carried out his own appraisal of the property just three months earlier. Although Rase took the job, he never actually carried out an independent appraisal. According to Portsmouth Police Chief Charles Horner, either Mayor Bauer or someone working in his office provided Rase a copy of the 1996 Rittenhouse appraisal. The Rase appraisal of the Marting’s property consisted of nothing more than a review and revision of the Rittenhouse appraisal of 1996.

While Rase may have never known of Kiser’s earlier appraisal, there is reason to believe that Mayor Bauer knew about its existence at the time of the purchase negotiations. In Ann Sydnor’s BCII interview, she claimed that when “she received the appraisal by KEN RACE [sic], she asked the Mayor why JOHN KIZER had not done the appraisal and was told KIZER was busy at the time.” While not conclusive evidence that Bauer lied to Sydnor in order to cover-up his knowledge of Kizer’s earlier appraisal, Bauer’s explanation does point to the fact that Rase was seen as an odd choice for an appraiser. Sydnor’s surprise, she explained, was the result of her familiarity with Kizer during her employment at Civic Savings Bank, which had employed Kizer for “a lot of their appraisals.” She told state investigators that “she knew [Kizer] was qualified and highly thought of professionally.”

While awaiting the submission of Rase’s appraisal, Mayor Bauer moved forward with arranging the financing of the purchase. He contacted the city’s municipal bond agent and requested that they work up a debt service schedule for $2.3 million. On March 26th, 2002, Ken Rase turned his appraisal in to Mayor Bauer’s office. Rase had valued the property at $1,850,000, which was $536,000 less than the original Rittenhouse appraisal and over $1.1 million more than the Kiser appraisal.

Rittenhouse's Second Appraisal

Meanwhile, in March, Clayton Johnson was busy filing paperwork with Ohio’s Secretary of State to obtain “a certificate of continued existence” for the Marting Foundation, whose incorporation papers were set to expire in June. Johnson was also busy tracking down John V. Rittenhouse, who made the original 1996 appraisal, to have his firm carry out a new valuation. Rittenhouse, however, would serve only as the supervising appraiser, overseeing the work of Laura A. Hannahs, who personally inspected the Marting’s properties on 12 March 2002. Hannahs appraised the property at $2,469,000, which was $83,000 more than the original Rittenhouse appraisal.

By early April 2002, Mayor Bauer, with the secret consent of City Council, had hired a Cincinnati firm known as PFB Architects, Inc. to inspect the Marting’s property and develop a cost estimate for its renovation into a new city building. Michael A. Finn of PFB subcontracted with Thermatech Engineering and together they inspected the properties on 10 April 2002. Seven days later, Bauer sent a memo to City Council informing them that PFB had provided a preliminary estimate of the renovation costs, which he quoted as being between $1.75 and $2.63 million. Bauer pushed City Council to take action on the deal, suggesting that Council needed to pass the necessary legislation to authorize the purchase because “Marting’s will announce the liquidation Wednesday of next week and it would soften the negative impact on the area if we could adopt the resolution and prepare a joint press release announcing our plans to turn the Marting’s building into a new city hall.”

Sealing the Deal in City Council's Secret Session

On 22 April 2002, at the start of the next regularly scheduled meeting of Council, members entered into a secret executive session, during which they met with Marting’s officials for over an hour. When Council returned to the public meeting, they added a new item, ordinance #53, to the agenda, which authorized the mayor to negotiate the purchase of properties belonging to the Marting Brothers Company. Council declared the ordinance an emergency measure and suspended the City Charter’s requirement of three separate readings. Upon the motion of Howard Baughman, the ordinance was amended “by changing the amount” that the Foundation would return to the city in grants “from $150,000 to $200,000.” There was no debate and the amendments and ordinance passed unanimously.

The City and Marting’s had their press release ready. Written with the help of Sallie Schisler, the wife of Municipal Judge and former City Solicitor Richard Schisler, the press release quoted Council president James Kalb as if the agreement had already been negotiated and signed. Kalb stated: “This agreement makes the best of a challenging situation. It is always difficult when a business which has served our community for over one hundred years has to close.” Mayor Bauer is quoted as having said: “these are very difficult times economically, and being able to utilize the Marting’s property is very important to the future growth of Portsmouth.”

Julia Smith Wisniewski, heir to the Smith’s Pharmacy fortune and the Chairperson of the Marting Brothers Company, as well as of the Richard D. Marting Foundation, explained the origins of the foundation: “We asked our legal counsel to design a corporate structure which would assure that no person could profit from the liquidation of Marting’s. We were determined to keep the store open as long as possible, and thus also requested a structure which would not require a return on investment to shareholders.” According to the press release, “Substantially all of the $1,999,900 purchase price paid for the real estate will be held by the Foundation as a public trust dedicated by its charter to economic betterment for the Portsmouth area.” The press release then quotes Council President Kalb as stating that “due to the unique structure of Marting’s and its nonprofit ownership, the purchase is a ‘win-win’ situation because all of the purchase money will be put right back into the city’s efforts to improve the economy through the vehicle of the Richard D. Marting Foundation for economic betterment.”

Wisniewski closed out the press release with a misleading claim: “while we are all saddened by the loss of a Portsmouth fixture and the closure of our company, we are pleased that we have been able to transform a negative into a positive by allowing the city government to achieve substantial economies in finding much needed facilities for housing local government.” Wisniewski’s claim that the city was achieving “substantial economies” – in other words, saving lots of tax payer money – was a bold claim considering Marting’s officials knew very well just how much the $2 million price tag for the Marting building had been inflated.

Kalb's $200,000 Kickback

While some on City Council may not have known about the Kizer appraisal, they went along with paying the $2 million to prop up property values in downtown. As James Kalb admitted in an interview with the Portsmouth Free Press, Bauer and the City Council negotiated a $200,000 kickback for the city. Kalb claimed that when he asked whether Marting’s would sell the building for $1.5 million he was told by the others involved in the deal: “Uhh, no . . . you know we really can't . . . uh . . . we don't want to lower the property values down town that much and everything.” Kalb explained the kickback straightforwardly. The city, he stated, “could pay the $2 million for [the Marting Building], which keeps the property values up, you know, I guess, is what they were telling me and ... uh ... they [the Marting Foundation] would return $200,000 to us after the sale, which [meant] they got their price out of it; we got our money back.”

Council members knew the price of the Marting’s properties was inflated, but perhaps not how much it had been overvalued. Nevertheless, Mayor Bauer and City Council members Jim Kalb, Howard Baughman, Carol Caudill, Barbara Halcomb, Ann Sydnor, and Ray Pyles, as well as Clay Johnson and other officials at Marting’s were willing to take tax money from the city and use it to inflate the value of property in downtown Portsmouth.

The joint press release broke the news of the deal, though none of the backroom shenanigans. We now know the deal had nearly been fully negotiated by mid-April in the days just before City Council officially authorized the Mayor to enter into negotiations. Before the deal could be signed, however, Council wanted to have the final report and renovation cost estimates back from PFB Architects.

Mayor Bauer, PFB Architects, and Estimating the Costs of Renovation

On Monday, 13 May 2002, the Mayor received by fax the much anticipated PFB report in draft form. Although the Executive Summary segment of the draft report estimated the renovation costs, depending upon which option the City chose, as falling between $2.5 and $3.9 million, the draft documents in the general report listed total costs ranging from $2.2 to $4.5 million. Such renovation costs would make the total cost of moving the city offices into the Marting’s building between $4.2 and $6.5 million. These estimates, however, did not include the cost of asbestos removal, which was later discovered during an environmental hazards inspection.

The total costs, as outlined in the PFB report, turned out to be quite similar to the estimated costs of building a new structure for city offices, which Bauer had reported to Council in a memo back in August of 2001. Bauer, when writing in favor of the possibility of purchasing Marting’s, stated that the city could not afford the estimated $6.3 million that a newly constructed building would cost.

On the evening of the 13th of May, City Council held their only public discussion of the Marting’s purchase, during the Conference portion of their meeting. Mayor Bauer submitted the formal request to have City Council pass an ordinance authorizing him to officially enter into a purchase agreement “in an amount not to exceed $1,999,990.” No official minutes of this “conference” meeting were kept by the City Clerk, and the only record that exists to document Council’s decision to authorize the preparation of legislation that would give Mayor Bauer the authority to sign the purchase agreement is a copy of the formal letter Bauer submitted to Council requesting the passage of an ordinance. This letter, which has notes recorded on it by City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh, indicates that Council voted 5 to 0 in favor of preparing the necessary legislation. With this virtually clandestine vote secured, all that was left was a formal vote on the ordinance at the next Council Meeting, which was scheduled for the 29th of May.

The Infamous 29th of May

The 29th of May 2002 is a day that should live in infamy in Portsmouth’s history. At 2:00PM that day the board members of the Marting Foundation – Clayton Johnson, Julia Smith Wisniewski, Gerald R. Jenkins, Roy B. Payne, Jr., and Randal Arnett – gathered together at the law offices of Johnson & Oliver to hold an official meeting, at which they authorized the acceptance of the proceeds obtained by the Marting Brothers Company in the sale of its properties. The official minutes state that “the Foundation shall accept transfer from the The Marting Brothers Company of net proceeds of sale of Marting’s real estate by way of ‘up stream transfer’ from the wholly owned subsidiary corporation of the Foundation.” The directors voted to kick back $200,000 to the city in grants and then pay off all the debts of the Marting Brothers Company; the remainder was to be invested in Neal Hatcher’s Portsmouth City Center shopping strip project. The Foundation Minutes state: “It was resolved that the Foundation specifically ratify its action and decision to commit 100% of its assets to an equity position in the Portsmouth City Center Shopping Center.” Thus, before City Council had even officially authorized the mayor to enter into a purchase agreement, the Marting Foundation was already spending their anticipated profits from the sale. They voted to use tax payer money to pay off some $400,000 in debt owed to Oak Hill Banks and the SOGP, and then whatever was left over after bailing out the Marting Brothers would be invested in the proposed shopping center.

Exactly what time of the day the purchase agreement was actually signed on the 29th of May 2002 is uncertain. All we know is that Greg Bauer and Julia Smith Wisniewski signed the agreement on the 29th of May in the presence of at least four witnesses, who signed their names to the agreement, as well. And who were these? Clayton Johnson, of course, along with his partner in the whole larger scheme, real estate developer Neal Hatcher, Councilwoman Carol Caudill, and Amy C. Fleming, a legal assistant working for Clayton Johnson. Regardless, of exactly where and when the purchase agreement may have been signed, City Council clearly violated the Ohio Open Meetings Act and the Portsmouth City Charter, which requires all Council meetings be open to the public and that all decisions be made before the public.

That evening, when Council introduced the legislation that would authorize Mayor Bauer to sign the agreement, Councilman Howard Baughman made the motion to suspend the charter’s requirement of three separate readings, and pass the ordinance immediately. There would be no debate, no discussion, and when the vote was called, the council voted unanimously to purchase the Marting’s properties in order that it could be renovated into new city offices.

Bill Shaw and the Original Referendum Petition

It was not until February 2004, nearly two years later, that the public became aware of the existence of the Kizer Appraisal; it was then that the municipal reform movement began to pick up steam. However, the controversy surrounding the purchase began almost immediately when local attorney Bill Shaw and others helped organize a petition drive to have the purchase placed on the ballot as a referendum. The voters suspected that the City had paid an inflated price for the Marting’s building, which would lead to increased property taxes, and it had all been done without any real public discussion. They suspected the Council had suspended the rules to quickly and silently push through the legislation needed to complete the Marting’s deal. By waving the Charter’s required three readings, the Council had effectively denied the voters a chance to learn about and debate the proposed purchase.

Bill Shaw’s petition drive failed when City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh ruled that there were insufficient valid signatures. But memos between Mayor Bauer and City Solicitor Kuhn indicated that had Aeh certified the petitions, Kuhn and the Council were ready to declare the referendum in violation of the City Charter.

Recalls and the Referendum of May 2006

In the summer and fall of 2004, Mayor Bauer and two city council members would be recalled by angry city residents. James Kalb, as Council President, would assume the Mayor’s office and after signing a second deal with the Marting’s Foundation, the new Mayor and Council would move forward with their original plans to renovate the Marting’s Building on Chillicothe Street into a new city hall. This decision led to the dramatic referendum in May 2006, when Portsmouth voters soundly rejected the renovation of the Marting’s building for use as a city building.

While city, county, and state law enforcement have been reluctant to complete a thorough investigation of the Marting Scam, the voters of Portsmouth through the May 2006 referendum believed that they had blocked the renovation. In doing so, the majority of Portsmouth voters refused to support a scheme that was designed to unload a 100-plus-year-old white elephant off on the public, pay off Marting’s creditors, raise money for Neil Hatcher’s shopping mall, and provide an over-sized home for city officials. Having followed Deep Throat’s advice to “follow the money,” it is clear that all of this was to be paid for with tax dollars raised within the City of Portsmouth.