Urban Cincinnati [Part One]

One of the things I attempted to accomplish during Echo's second anniversary celebration was to explain how the landscape of the city has developed in the past 60+ years. And even though I went in-depth, there was still a lot of info I couldn't fit in during the time that I want to share here. Those Beit Carr readers who don't have Cincinnati connections might not find this information interesting, but I think it's rather relevant to our ministry here at Echo and essential to understand for all who chose to do ministry in our city. This information is the accumulative result of research I've conducted over the past few years and I'll do my best to cite the information whenever I can. That said, this isn't an academic research paper so I'm content to attribute some to "public domain." Cincinnati was founded in 1788, a military outpost in the Northwest Territory. For those true geeks, the original name given to the city was "Losantiville" a contraction of different languages and names. In relation to the mouth of the Licking River ["L" for "Licking" & "os" the Latin for "mouth"], it was opposite ["anti"] and a town ["ville"]. While the original founder of the city, John Cleves Symmes, thought that the North Bend or Columbia Tusculum areas would make a good place to start the city, the government chose to locate Fort Washington in the valley where downtown now lies. The most important geographical feature was a hill, between where 3rd and 4th streets are, that created a natural flood wall.As the nation expanded west, the city grew. By 1850, Cincinnati was the 5th biggest city in the nation. More furniture was manufactured in this city than any in the country. The "lower bowl" area [from river to Over-The-Rhine to the Mill Creek] made Cincinnati the most densely populated area in the United States. Basically untouched were Cincinnati's famous hills as no horse could really make it up the hill, making it an unviable option for inhabitation.

After the Civil War, the horsecar/street car system infiltrated the city, making transportation around town easy. And with the advent of inclines, trains were now able to get to the tops of the hills. This made expansion outside of the lower bowl possible and first ring suburbs [Clifton, Mount Auburn, and Walnut Hills] are established.

A few maps for you to illustrate this [click for larger image]:

This is what Cincinnati looked like around the turn of the 20th century. The pink lines are the street cars. You can even see some yellow lines that show the incline system. By the early 1900's, this is an expansive growing city. Areas of the lower bowl area became more dilapadated as people chose to move away from the city to build homes [sound familiar?]. Still, the city maintained a certain fluidity that could be described as "controlled sprawl."

Now let's look at the same map, this time with a close-up of the Walnut Hills area:

Streetcars dominated this part of the city. If you can see that northeast of Eden Park and just south of the cemetary [both in green] there's a rectangular train loop that ran in the Walnut Hills area. The original Walnut Hills Christian Church [the people whose church building Echo rents out every week], started over 125 years ago in this neighborhood. It’s first building was on Locust Street, now WH Taft Road, located at the top left area of the rectangle loop. So in regards to public transportation, it was incredibly accessible, right on a trolley line. Now the current WHCC building is located on East McMillan, at the bottom right corner of the loop, yes, right on the same line; you could get off the trolley and walk straight into the church building. That’s why, in the first fifty plus years of the church, it was one of the more affluent Protestant congregations in the city: nobody drove a car, everyone lived in the city, and they relied on public transportation to get them from place to place.

But it wasn't the advent of the car that changed the landscape here. There were other circumstances at work. Things didn't really begin to change until after World War 2. More on this in the next part of the series.

Maps from the Historical Atlas of Cincinnati Website.