Archive for the ‘HistoryScenes’ Category


courtesy of cincinnatilibrary.org

courtesy of cincinnatilibrary.org

there’s a full-page article in yesterday’s ny times about cincinnati’s own musical legacy, embodied by king records. the author illustrates (unintentionally or not) the patchwork heritage of the city. according to the article, king records’ influence was neglected in part because, as locally based music editor and author larry nager points out, “‘cincinnati was settled by good, solid german folk’ …. ‘to them, honest work was making soap and killing pigs, not making music or cutting records.'” on the other hand, when mentioning a visit to the grave of a king bandleader in a formerly blacks-only cemetery, the author mentions parenthetically that cincinnati is “in many ways a Southern town” (ostensibly to explain a segregated cemetery). to say nothing of the jewish influence that played a big role in king records. the heroes of the article have to be bootsy collins, who takes seriously the mission of keeping king records’ legacy alive, and syd nathan, the contrarian owner of king records, who brought together hillbilly and r&b, and exhibited a color-blindness rare in the day in the running of the record company.

so that’s us, just sittin’ here on the ohio river confounding categories for over two hundred years. king is the perfect musical legacy of a city founded by germans, with a significant but largely separate jewish population, and balanced (or occasionally not) by an influx of african americans and appalachian scots-irish. oh, and even though the point that king records is a “neglected landmark” is made several times throughout the article, i think it’s safe to say that — with bootsy’s hard work and other recent acknowledgments and celebrations (yes, including this article) — that claim just ain’t true any more.

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two day’s after cincinnati’s streetcar plans hit the ny times, the queen city area featured once again in that paper — this time in an article with a more, um, historical perspective. last friday’s travel section mapped out a tour of precolumbian sites on a route between st. louis and chilicothe, oh. a highlight of the trip, archeologically speaking, is the serpent mound located about 70 miles east of cincinnati near the tiny burg of peebles. it’s been years since i went, but i do recall it being quietly sublime in its evocation of another world of people who trod the same ground we tread. and taking an overhead look at the mound really is kind of mind-blowing. the article also recommends spending some time in clifton’s gaslight district on your way: sound advice, what with a row of good restaurants, an excellent movie theater, and the natural energy of an urban university neighborhood. a local adaptation of the tour might start in the morning at sitwell’s with a cup of joe and a new york egg sandwich for fortification, then proceed east along 32 to the serpent mound park. check out mound city in chilicothe, and head home for your choice of fine dining along ludlow — me, i’d recommend skyline.

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new orleans has the faulkner house, st. paul, mn, has fitzgerald’s childhood home, and cincinnati has the harriet beecher stowe house (which, by the way, i always thought was at the corner of mcmillan and auburn, not mlk and gilbert — learn something new every day). but did you know that we’ve also got the location where the lesser-known 19th century poet thomas buchanan read penned the civil war poem “sheridan’s ride“? I have a hunch that the location may have changed a bit since he sat here in 1864 (it’s now a parking garage on 8th St.), thoughtfully scribing these lines in honor of the union general (or more accurately, the horse that brung ‘im):

With foam and with dust the black charger was gray;

By the flash of his eye and his red nostril’s play,

He seemed to the whole great army to say:

“I have brought you Sheridan all the way

From Winchester down to save the day.”

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i picked avondale for my latest foray into the history of neighborhood and comunity names, thinking: “here’s an intriguing place — full of glorious old homes, a former haven to the city’s wealthy, burdened by white flight and significant poverty. nowadays avondale seems to be working hard to develop and foster a sense of pride in community. with a profile like that, it’s got to have an interesting story to its name, right?”

photo courtesy of buidling-cincinnati.com

not so much. avondale is apparently a nineteenth-century precursor to the generic subdivision names of today: glenwood estates, wildwood valley, etc. according to the history of cincinnati and hamilton county, the original symmes purchase was sold, re-sold, divided, and developed over the course of fifty-plus years between 1795 and 1850. In 1854, “[t]he cincinnati & chicago railroad made a subdivision on the corry lands in 1854, to which the engineer in charge of the survey gave the name of avondale subdivision, from which the village-to-be derived its name.” it was incorporated as avondale in 1854 (or was it 1864?), and became home to such high-profile families as the barney krogers, the frank herschedes, and the samuel pogues (nana). the neighborhood was high-profile enough to land the cincinnati zoo in 1873 — this remains the neighborhood’s flagship attraction. it’s also right next door to xavier university, the university of cincinnati, and a number of the city’s hospitals.

by the late twentieth century, avondale, along with a number of nearby neighborhoods, fell on what can only be described as hard times, as wealthy homeowners moved north and the stately homes were often subdivided and overseen by less-than-scrupulous nonresident owners. the demographic and socioeconomic changes have left avondale with higher-than-average rates of poverty, unemployment, and crime. there is, however, a strong current of hope and pride among avondale’s residents: the north avondale neighborhood association, founded in 1960, has worked to foster community growth and pride, and is “dedicated to preserving and improving the quality of life in the neighborhood.” avondale has been a focus of the ceasefire cincinnati project, a cooperative effort “to reduce shootings and killings in the pilot neighborhoods of avondale and walnut hills through street-level outreach, collaborations with criminal justice, public education, community mobilization, and the leadership of the faith community.” and the avondale community council promotes the vision of ” a safe, healthy, attractive, educated, caring community with a sense of pride and respect.”

its name source may be a bit of a disappointent: a nineteenth-century effort to capture a bit of literary old england in a city of entrepreneurs and immigrants: avondale, the dale of avon — the valley of the river avon of shakespeare’s very own stratford-upon-avon. but the neighborhood itself is steeped in the city’s history: its growth and boom in the nineteenth century, and the subsequent hard times of the twentieth and early twenty-first. in some ways, even more than the city’s more famous (and infamous) neighborhood, over-the-rhine, avondale’s history is a microcosm of the social, economic, and racial divisions and alliances that have helped define — and at times plagued — cincinnati.

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Price Hill sparks a wide variety of responses in locals: pride, despair, nostalgia, disdain, hope. But any way you cut it, the area holds a prominent place in the city’s history, not the least for giving us the very first Skyline Chili.

Originally named for an Indian chief and called Bold Face Hill, the area was renamed in the 1800s for Rees Price, “a thoughtful, handsome, hard-laboring man who possessed great strength” (Price Hill Historical Society). That good-looking strongman Price bought a lot of land to the west of downtown and paved the financial way for his sons to build the Price Hill Incline, which “climbed 350 feet over the top of the hill and brought thousands of newcomers to the area” (PHHS). Operating from 1876 until 1941, the Incline provided quick easy access from (and to) downtown, and enabled residents to escape the squalor of the industrial basin and literally live above it all.

incline-pricehill6.jpg (Cincinnati Transit)

Times changed, the Incline is gone, and even Price Hill’s fiercest advocates (and there are a number) will probably acknowledge that the neighborhood has struggled over the years — with integration, (and more recently, dis-integration into several different Price Hills: Lower, East, and West) crime, housing values, and (perhaps more than any of these) reputation.

But many of the area’s residents have high hopes for new development, the recognition of the new Incline District, and the tide of revitalization that seems to be migrating from downtown. And with a grass-roots philosophy of neighborhood vitalization, Price Hill Will is playing a vital role in community connections, programs, and projects.

All of which bodes well for downtown’s immediate western neighbor, which boasts some of the best views in the area. With the promise of development and renewed attention of the positive sort, that fine-lookin’ fella Rees Price would be proud (heck, Chief Bold Face would be, too).

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And here I thought BHM meant Blogger Hiatus Month…

Anyway, we’re back on the blog, and introducing a new feature on Cincinnati called “What’s in a Name?” (you may have picked that up from the title of this post.) In this feature, we’ll begin the name of a local neighborhood or area and take a glance at what the name signifies and how it got to be part of our fair city. It’s pretty simple stuff, and a way for us to get to know more of the history of our fair city and share some of the tidbits with you. If we get it wrong, or only partly right, we welcome your supplementary and corrective comments. If you’d like to see your neck of the woods featured, feel free to offer suggestions for future posts.

To kick off this feature, we’ll eschew the smaller potatoes of mere neighborhoods and start with the biggie: the city itself. Many know that Cincinnati is named for the too-good-to-be-true early Roman hero Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (my HS Latin teacher is in the back of my head, intoning “Kin-kin-na-toos”). But how did the city come by that name?

It’s worth setting the stage with a little understanding Cincinnatus’s place in history: the man was a farmer who served Rome as a consul, retired back to his farm, returned to Rome as dictator in a time of military crisis, and, upon resolution of said crisis, promptly resigned his post as dictator and returned to his farm. Over the centuries, he has remained the exceptional symbol that proves the rule: absolute power corrupts absolutely, except, oh yeah, there was this Cincinnatus fella a while back who had the chance to be dictator of Rome but chose instead to get back to his farm in time for the spring plowing. He gave ongoing hope to all those who believe that great leaders can lead without regard for their own self-interest, without submitting to a lust for power.

The legend (and lesson) of Cincinnatus was strong enough in the post-Revolutionary War era to inspire the formation of the Society of the Cincinnati, an exclusive group of former officers committed to, among other things, preserving “the rights and liberties for which they had fought.” Their first president was (naturally) George Washington, who was praised as the “Cincinnatus of the West” for his own selfless devotion to the new republic.

And it was in this context that the governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, in 1790 changed the name of a new burg known as Losantiville (a stunning quadrilingual neologism translating to city (French, ‘ville’) opposite (Greek, ‘anti’) the mouth (Latin, ‘os’) of the Licking River (um, English, ‘L’ for ‘Licking’ — I guess ‘Lickingosantiville’ or ‘Lickosantiville’ were already taken) to Cincinnati — in honor of the Society of Cincinnati, of which he was a member. In essence, he wasn’t so much honoring some ancient Roman consulate-farmer-dictator-farmer as he was the military heroes of the American revolution (particularly Washington). In fact, given Washington’s stature in both early republican America and the Society, renaming the town Cincinnati was perhaps a nice way of naming it “Washington West” and avoiding any potential confusion.

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Ohio River Rhapsody

I like the river. In fact, I like rivers. I imagine it has much to do with growing up on the banks of one, or maybe it’s a little deeper in my blood — some primal association of the river with sustenance and life or something. I walked on the river in January ’77 (yes, it was frozen), I failed at water skiing numerous times on the river, and my senior prom was held on a riverboat. It’s not even that I need to get out on or in the river — I just like knowing it’s there. When we lived in St. Paul, MN, and people would ask me what that city was like, I’d always smile and characterize it as an old river city, kinda like where I grew up.

I’ve always loved about Cincinnati that you can be tooling along a normal road, turn a corner, and suddenly encounter an expansive vista: the hills of southwestern Ohio, a bend in the river, the trees of northern Kentucky stretching off into the distance. Westerners talk about the breathtaking views of mountains, but for me these lush rolling hills cradling the flowing water will always be my touchstone for beautiful views. The view from the lower pond in Eden Park has always been one of my favorites, although I recently encountered a stunning view from Mt. Echo Park that has put my eastside bias to the test.

Rivers connect us — for better or worse, the river I see today was in Pittsburgh just yesterday and tomorrow will be down near St. Louis. I may loathe the Steelers, but I count on their fans to pass on a river that we can all live with, just as those folks in Louisville, Evansville, and St. Louis count on us to do the same. Doesn’t always work out (carbon tet, anyone?), but it’s a fact; and in a world where we’re increasingly encouraged to think about our own backyard but not so much our neighbors’, it’s a fact worth remembering — and the river’s there to remind us.

They divide us, too — Ohio from Kentucky, North from South, “us” from “them,” and (long ago) free from slave. On her earliest visits to Cincinnati, Carole (one of the aforementioned Westerners, where states are divided not by natural features but by invisible latitudinal and longitudinal reckonings) expressed great delight that she “could see Kentucky! It’s the South! Right there!” Natives of the area might find this oddly endearing, or just odd, but the truth is that this stretch of the Ohio River — our stretch — has a remarkable place in both the real (Underground Railroad) and cultural (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Toni Morrison’s Beloved) histories of our nation.

This post started with the intention of sharing our recent visit to Mirabelle’s; as you can see, I got carried away by the river. But that’s okay, Mirabelle’s can wait for another day– without the Ohio River, I doubt there’s a Cincinnati as we know it; and without a Cincinnati as we know it, there’s no Around and About. So I guess it’s only fitting that we make room for the river as a real Cincy Scene.

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