Category Archives: History

Rudolph Thiem, sculptor of Billy Yank, explored in new website

By Richard O Jones
HEY! Hamilton! Exclusive

Jon Thiem, great-grandson of Hamilton sculptor Rudolph Thiem, has created a web site to pay homage to the man whose main claim to fame  is the creation of “Victory: Jewel of the Soul,” better known as Billy Yank, atop the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument on High Street.


The site is the most comprehensive look at Rudolph Thiem and his work that I’ve yet to see. It includes a complete biography and many photos of Thiem’s other works, even those he created in Germany before he came to the United States in  1881.

Rudolph Thiem as a young man.
Rudolph Thiem as a young man.

Thiem was 24 years old when he first came to New Orleans to work in a foundry, but relocated to Hamilton five  years later to work as a designer in Lazard Kahn’s stove factory for three years. By 1895 he had set up his own studio.

“His works in bronze include public sculptures, plaques, and reliefs,” Jon Thiem writes. “He also designed bronze medallions for Civil War monuments in National Battlefield parks. As an ornamental wood carver, he made a range of art furnishings, including chairs, cabinet doors, hall trees, church pews, and picture frames. At the same time, he continued to do design projects for manufacturers. ”

His “magnum opus,” of course, was Billy Yank, and Jon Thiem gives a detailed account of how he got that gig and the controversy behind it when people complained that the soldier was  saluting with the wrong hand.

In Rudolph Thiem’s own words:

The soldier . . . is not saluting, but shouting; he gives the expression of victory and in such a supreme moment all regulations are forgotten: in this spirit the design was considered and accepted by the committee. If I had designed a soldier in the attitude of a salute he certainly would have been in conformity with the regulations of the U.S. army in force during the Civil war, but as he gives the expression of victory he knows no regulation at that joyous moment. I hope that the citizens of Hamilton will look at this question from this point of view. 

Sadly, Rudolph Thiem’s life was not without tragedy. The site includes a 1913 photograph of his North B. Street studio when it was destroyed in the flood.

“The flood waters swept away Thiem’s tools, models, plaster casts, and letters,” Jon Thiem writes. “The studio had to be demolished. The railroad car in front of the house to the left shows the force of the high water.”

Thoroughly researched and sources cited, “Rudolph Thiem: Designer” is an informative and welcome addition to the historic canon of Hamilton and Butler County.

2014 1025 banner

Things Change: Local Business Calling It Quits

By Richard O Jones

The First Ward Cigar Store opened in 1917 and hasn’t been closed a day since.

Not even Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not even during the worst blizzards this city has ever known. Sometimes it wasn’t open for the whole day, but it was always open every day.

It was more than a business practice.

It was a point of pride.

It was on the sign.

It ends this week.

On Thursday Tom’s First Ward Cigar Store will not open as usual, and will never open again.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Doug Ross will auction off all of the fixtures and any remaining merchandise.

sign“Things change,” said owner Joe Wright, “so we’ll close up, plywood the windows and move on down the road.”

1975 0629 tomspix01According to a 1975 newspaper article, Alex Robertson founded the First Ward Cigar Store on North B Street where J. Austin’s Riverbank Cafe’s parking lot is now. It moved across B Street, now the bridge ramp, for a time before moving to the corner of Main and B, then to 107 Main Street.

Owners through the years included Drewery Pace, John Burns, Bob Wheelright, Cliff Kern and Stuart Curtis.

Then Tom Eggleston started coming around.

About 1924. First Ward Cigar Store, southwest corner Main and B Streets. A.W. Robinson, proprietor on left, ___Greenfielder (in front), unidentified, Drury Poll and Henry Brown/Lane Library Cummins Collection
About 1924. First Ward Cigar Store, southwest corner Main and B Streets. A.W. Robinson, proprietor on left, ___Greenfielder (in front), unidentified, Drury Poll and Henry Brown/Lane Library Cummins Collection

Eggleston had worked at Beckett Paper after the war and started buying and selling things as a sideline, would often take items to the First Ward Cigar Store to make a deal, then ended up buying the place, Wright said. That was in 1948.

In 1958, Eggleston moved the shop a bit further up Main Street to the storefront that became the Rossville Inn after Eggleston made one final move to the current location in January 1966 and put his first name on the sign, too.

Eggleston took on his son-in-law Joe Wright as a partner in 1965 to get ready for a move into the the final location, which had been built in 1959. Until the Family Dollar Store moved in across the street, it was the newest building in the neighborhood, Wright said. It was first an office building, home to the engineering department for the Bendix Corporation, then a pool hall for a while. There are still remnants of the light fixtures over the tables. Then a restaurant supplier did business there just before the First Ward Cigar Store moved in through a hole that Wright and Eggleston cut in the wall to eliminate the need to open and close doors or negotiate the sidewalk.

“It was built strong enough to add two more stories on,” Wright said, so it was no problem making the move.

The store’s sales were mostly cigars and newspapers until Eggleston got hold of it.

“Tom was your original entrepreneur,” Wright said. “He would buy and sell just about anything if he figured he could make a buck on it. Back in the day, they ran jar tickets — a jar with a bunch of tickets in it, you could draw one and win all kinds of stuff. Back in the Fifties  you could get by with that stuff. He’d go to auctions and bring stuff in. Sometimes, somebody instead of having an estate sale would just call us and we’d just go out and buy the whole mess, drag it in here and sell it. Used tools. We had a table in the corner all was ever on, used hand tools. At one time we bought and sold guns until somebody broke in and stole them all a third time, then I quit that. It takes a lot for me to learn a lesson.”

The word around Hamilton used to be that if Tom’s didn’t have it, you didn’t need it, and you never knew what you might need until you went in and looked around.

Journal-News, June 29, 1975
Journal-News, June 29, 1975

“One time, I drug two big aerial cameras out of an Air Force plane and brought them in here,” Wright said. Military surplus was a Tom’s staple. “I thought two guys were going to have a fist fight over them.

The store still sold cigars and newspapers, and in the Sixties was the only place in town to find a Louisville Courier Journal if one wanted to keep up with the horse races.

“We used to have a big magazine collection, but that went away when grocery stores started selling them,” Wriht said. “We’d sell 200 Cincinnati Enquirers on a Sunday back in the day when you still had to stuff all the ads inside. I remember coming in here at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to stuff the papers before we opened.”

“We had sidewalk sales in Hamilton. We would get ready for that for six weeks and I’d have employees come back who had worked for us when they were kids in high school and beg to work sidewalk sales because they had so much fun,” he said. “We did all kinds of crazy stuff. We put Kevin Loving in a casket on the sidewalk with the sign ‘Tom’s Is Burying High Prices’.”

Joe Wright/Photo by Richard O Jones
Joe Wright/Photo by Richard O Jones

“Things change,” Wright said. People quit coming to Main Street to do business. Magazines and newspapers are all but gone. People are not smoking as much. Now business is just cigarettes and lottery tickets.

“There’s no profit in tobacco,” Wright said. “We have to sell at state minimums, so we have a profit of 14 percent. The lottery you work on 5 percent.”

Then there’s the vandalism and the thefts. The store was broken into three times in 2014, twice this year, Wright said. Although he’s got some long-time, loyal employees, he’s fired three people this year for stealing. The front windows get broken so often that Scofield’s keeps the glass on hand, cut and ready to go.

“Then the city came down on me. They wanted me to put a new roof on here, a new ceiling. They want me to do about sixty or seventy thousand dollars worth of work on this place. I don’t have the money to do that. I haven’t take a dime out of here in ten years. I kept it open to sell it or to take care of the employees. I have employees who have been with me for thirty-plus years.

“I kept the place open thinking that somebody would come along and continue it.”

That hasn’t happened, and there aren’t any real prospects.

“After a while, it just gets to be too much,” he said. “The place has got a lot of history.”

Now it is history.

“I worked here eight years, a week short of nine,” said Theresa Jenkins quietly as she closed up one recent evening. “I love these people, but it looks like I need a new job.”


Emily Simer Braun contributed to this report.

Additional information: “Tom’s Cigar Store: Open 365 Days a Year Since 1917,” Hamilton Journal-News, June 29, 1975,

HEY! Hamilton! Shop

Brush Up On Your Hamiltonia


By Richard O Jones

With the recent news about our Uncle Al getting booted off the $10 bill, he’s become somewhat of an Internet celebrity. I’ve stumbled upon top ten lists, podcasts and a wealth of information about our favorite Founding Father in the past week.

Here are some interesting sites to read more about Alexander Hamilton, his accomplishments and his legacy:

It’s Hamiltime: “Dedicated to preserving the legacy of America’s most under-appreciated, influential, and handsome Founding Father.”

The Bowery Boys: This podcast and blog focuses on the history of New York City, and they frequently refer to Alexander Hamilton as the city’s “greatest founding father.” The link takes you to the site archives with the tag “Alexander Hamilton” and includes a lot of trivia about the ten-dollar bill and a podcast about the famous duel that took his life.

The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society: This group calls Uncle Al “the second most valuable Founding Father” after George Washington. By its own description, “The AHA Society is made up of a diverse group of individuals from all over the country. Together we are working on a variety of initiatives to share ‘The Essence of Alexander Hamilton’s Greatness.'”

All Things Hamilton:   If you really want to get deep into Hamiltonia, you can spend hours here browsing through compilations of original source documents, books, videos, educational resources, and information about the time period in which Alexander Hamilton lived.

And finally, Hamilton College offers a Trivia Quiz, so after you’ve brushed up on your studies, you can find out how much you really know.

2014 1025 banner