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Dr. S.R. Howard and the new ‘Skyscraper’

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, in last week’s blast from the past, the colloquy was on the time Hillsboro veterinary surgeon Dr. Samuel Rogers “S.R.” Howard saved three cows that had eaten dynamite in 1899.

About a decade later, Doc Howard was credited for saving human lives when part of the oldest building in Hillsboro came tumbling down.

So how did the local vet accomplish that? Glad you asked.

The day was Monday, March 1, 1909, and Doc Howard had his veterinary office in the old Trimble building, also known as the old Scott building, that was erected nearly a century prior around 1812 and 1813. The venerable edifice was located on the corner of North High Street and Gov. Trimble Place, which was called Court Street at the time. But the Trimble building’s days were numbered, as the building’s new owner planned to raze the facility in favor of erecting a new building that would be called the Skyscraper.

When ol’ Doc Howard went to work that morning, it was business as usual, but as it neared lunchtime, that all changed in a real hurry when he heard a peculiar noise he had heard the day before in his office across the street from the Highland County Courthouse in uptown Hillsboro.

From an article in the March 4, 1909 News-Herald, “The north wall of the old Trimble building at the corner of Court and High streets collapsed at about 11 o’clock Monday morning. Neither the workmen who are excavating for the new building nor any occupant of the building were injured.

“Dr. S.R. Howard, who occupied the north room of the building, was the first to notice there was anything wrong with the wall. On Sunday, he had heard a cracking sound but thought nothing of it and when he left the office he had trouble closing the front door. Monday morning, he again noticed the cracking sound and a crack in the wall and he had a great deal of trouble in closing the door.

“He called the attention of Jerry Foley, who had charge of excavating for the new building, to the crack in the wall. He at once secured some timbers and tried to support the wall. The excavation had been made so far below the foundation that it was impossible to prevent its falling.

“Fortunately the defects in the wall were discovered in time to warn both the workmen and the occupants of the building and to give Dr. Howard an opportunity to remove a considerable part of his furniture.”

I don’t know what’s more amazing, that folks were permitted to occupy and work in a building where excavation was being made to construct a new “Skyscraper” ahead of a plan to raze the old Trimble building, or that Doc Howard, who was nearing 50 years old at the time, bravely went in and salvaged a lot of his office items when it was reportedly apparent the wall was about to come tumbling down. I mean, I totally understand wanting to save your stuff, but what good is your stuff if you’re dead under tons of bricks?

Another report that Doc Howard himself clipped and saved in his scrapbook described in detail the rapidity of the wall collapsing, “About 11 o’clock yesterday morning, while the workmen were engaged in excavating for the foundation for the new Durnell Skyscraper, the north part of the old Scott building was seen to show evidences of caving in.

“Immediately, the workmen were withdrawn, and no sooner had they reached points of safety than timbers and brick crashed to the ground with a heavy jar. The office on the ground floor occupied by Dr. R.S. (sic) Howard was in the wrecked portion of the building; however, it is understood that practically all office equipment was saved, and that the doctor immediately moved into the Carroll corner.”

The Cincinnati Post also picked up the story and added that ex-Gov. Allen Trimble (1783-1870) had erected the old building in 1813, and in 1816, Mrs. Eliza Jane Trimble Thompson, “Mother of the (Temperance) Crusade,” was born in the edifice.

The News-Herald also noted that Doc Howard and Mr. Durnell, who owned the building, had disagreed on occupancy of the building, “Dr. Howard had a three years lease on the room occupied by him and since the purchase of the building by Mr. Durnell had been unable to agree with him in regard to what would be done when Mr. Durnell was ready to tear down the old building, preparatory to erecting a new one. Work, however, had gone on rapidly in the excavation for the new foundation of the new building and Monday’s accident will solve the problem.”

Ya don’t say?

Doc Howard didn’t get all of his furniture out of the old Trimble building, and apparently Mr. Durnell felt kind of bad as to what happened (and probably thankful no one was hurt or killed), and had Howard’s items moved to one of his other properties. The Herald noted, “Dr. Howard’s furniture was taken out of the ruins much the worse for plaster and bricks. Mr. Durnell made arrangements for a temporary office for him in the Carroll building at the corner of Main and Court streets, and while the doctor was at dinner his furniture was moved there. When he returned from dinner, he was informed that he had a new office, which was his first intimation of the fact.”

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next week.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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