Remember When A Monfort Heights Literary Society Spawned A Township War?

Temperance arguments and anti-German sentiment nearly sparked violence at a modest Green Township schoolhouse.
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It’s difficult to imagine, but this modest, two-room schoolhouse on North Bend Road became the symbol of radicalism and anti-German sentiment in rural Gans’ Corners in 1879.

From Cincinnati Post 22 October 1928 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Those Cincinnatians who live outside the West Side may not even know how to locate Monfort Heights on a map in the northern ranges of Green Township. It is still a fairly quiet place, almost 150 years after the Cincinnati Gazette [11 June 1879] effused about its Edenic qualities:

“As is well known, if Arcadia yet exists of earth, Green Township has long been the English for it. Here bloomed the apple and cherry, and pear, and quince, and raspberry, and strawberry, and currant, and gooseberry . . . [You get the idea.] Here strife was unknown, the only rivalry between the men being as to who should raise the largest fruit for exhibition at the annual festival, and between the women, as to who should make the most impossible patchwork bed quilts for exhibition thereat. The rude world has here made no inroads upon the rustic tongue of truth and affection.”

In 1877, the rude world did make an inroad into idyllic Green Township in the form of a saloon, plopped right into the center of Monfort Heights. At that time, 50 years before an incursion of suburban tract homes inspired the adoption of a more marketable name, Monfort Heights was known as Gans’ Corners, after the Gans family that owned all the land surrounding the intersection of North Bend Road and Pleasant Ridge (now West Fork) Road.

It wasn’t so much the saloon itself that caused the kerfuffle. As saloons go, it was a reasonably sedate operation with none of the notoriety of the devil dens down the road in Cheviot. No, the impetus for the dispute was a literary society.

Until the saloon arrived, the only public buildings out at Gans’ Corners were a run-down schoolhouse and a Methodist church. Around the time the saloon made its debut, a new, two-story school building was erected, designed so that the upper room could accommodate meetings of a cultural and social nature. The local literary society was delighted. According to the Gazette:

“The Acme Literary Society filled up the upper room with stage, curtains, chairs, and other necessary furniture. It also graded and macadamized a road from the pike to the schoolhouse door, and set out a score or more of shade trees in the yard. In fact, the society seemed to comprise the only persons in the neighborhood of the Corners who took a practical interest in the school property, till within the last few weeks.”

The Acme Literary Society was enormously popular in that isolated rural neighborhood. An estimated 80 members gathered each Monday evening for reading, singing, and recitations. All was well until someone in the Methodist Church invited John Rudel of Lockland to address the congregation. Rudel was the dynamic leader of the local Sons of Temperance organization. Temperance proved to be a popular topic, and the Acme Literary Society followed by inviting Samuel F. Black, a Cincinnati attorney active in the temperance movement. It was Black’s appearance that agitated the pro-saloon faction, according to the Gazette:

“Black animadverted pretty severely upon the Germans bringing Germany into America in the manner of their drunken customs, etc. The avowed design of the temperance meetings was to close up the saloon aforementioned at the Corners.”

A glance at a 19th-century map of the Gans’ Corners environs finds enough names along the lines of Haeffner, Beischel, Getzendanner, Kraus, and the like to suggest that this anti-German rhetoric did not receive unanimous approbation among the neighbors. The Deutschland element and their friends who appreciated a mug of suds began to ask why the schoolhouse supported by their tax dollars was sheltering a cadre of radicals out to infringe upon their freedoms.

At the next election for the local school board (Rural District 8), the pro-saloon faction supported an apparently neutral candidate who, immediately upon election, voted to kick the Acme Literary Society out of the new schoolhouse. The society immediately appealed to the Green Township Board of Education, of which the rural districts were subsidiary. The township board passed a resolution allowing local societies of a literary or cultural nature to meet in the rural schoolhouses.

It was a hollow victory because, although the township board had the authority, the local rural board had the keys. When the Acme Literary Society appeared at the door of Rural Schoolhouse Number 8, they found two-thirds of the local school board barring the way, accompanied by a number of younger, tougher farmhands who may or may not have inspired themselves with a visit to the local saloon. Per the Gazette:

“Among the first of the members of the society to endeavor to gain admission to the hall were three or four ladies [who] made very earnest and forcible speeches to the two Directors, telling them with a vigor and a force of language and energy of expression befitting their sense of the guilt and meanness of the course pursued by the two aforesaid members of the board.”

When one of their husbands joined the fray, announcing that such obstreperous behavior might well be acceptable in Germany but would not fly in these United States, the two board members signaled their minions, who produced truncheons and advanced upon the literati of Gans’ Corners. It was only the intervention of William Gosling, president of the Acme Literary Society, that circumvented violence at the schoolhouse door. Gosling appealed to his neighbors to act like neighbors, return to their homes and find the best lawyers available to file neighborly lawsuits against each other.

The next showdown took place, ironically, at a saloon. The Seven-Mile House in Cheviot (located on the grounds now occupied by Cheviot School) was indeed a saloon and also a convenient meeting place for the Green Township Board of Education, who would rather have been doing nearly anything else other than listening to the yammering of a bunch of farmers from out at Gans’ Corners.

The arguments were tedious and inane. The pro-saloon faction claimed that the Acme Literary Society caused untold wear and tear to the brand-new schoolhouse by walking up and down the stairs and by parking their buggies in the front yard where the horses could nibble and trample the grass.

The height of absurdity was reached by one of the pro-saloon board members, Joseph Eply, who failed to arouse any sympathy at all by itemizing all the vituperation directed at his good name and then attempted to apologize for one untoward comment that he had unleashed in his frustration.

One of Eply’s neighbors claimed that he was standing nearby and could attest that the foul utterance never escaped the board member’s lips. Eply rose in fury and, according to the Gazette [14 July 1879] erupted in an outburst of righteous indignation:

“Mr. Eply then insisted that he did say it, and became so enraged at the young man for attempting to take away from him the glory of saying this thing that he was sorry he had said; that he claimed the young man had called him a liar, which he had not, and he was proceeding to explain that he was not afraid of anybody, etc., etc., etc., when Mr. [Harvey] Orr called the President’s attention to the fact that this oratory, while it might be highly entertaining and all that, was not expediting business any, and the board returned to business.”

The Acme Literary Society was left to find other places to meet, the saloon prevailed and was soon joined by a few competitors. Fifty years later, in 1928, Green Township begged for a levy to replace the decrepit old schoolhouse that had caused such a commotion years ago at Gans’ Corners.

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