The subway and street improvements photograph collection is truly a wealth of historic information about the city of Cincinnati in the first half of the 20th century. As with most cities, many of the streets and avenues are named for the founders and prominent families who helped establish the city, as well as important statesmen such as presidents, governors and military heroes. Cincinnati has her fair share of these, with the city directories reading like a “Who’s Who” of Cincinnati’s political, cultural and economic development, with street names such as Ludlow, Symmes, and Patterson, St. Clair, Gamble and Ault, Anderson, Findlay and Wade, among others.
Contained within the subway portion of the photograph collection are images of the interiors of homes along McMicken Avenue taken during the construction of the subway. Originally intended to serve as evidence for claims by homeowners of structural damage to the houses caused by blasting for the subway tunnels, the pictures now serve as a historic reference of domestic life during the 1920s.
Road construction. It seems like it’s never ending. Some have joked that Ohio has only two seasons – winter and road construction. And the images in the Street Improvement collection would certainly seem to validate that. What is interesting about the images in the collection of street improvements is that many of the streets recorded in the photographs no longer exist. Or, where they do still exist, they are named differently or the surroundings have been altered to the point that the location in the photograph is no longer recognizable.
One major example of a street changing in both name and appearance is Laurel Street – or as we know it today, Ezzard Charles Drive. Originally a narrow street lined with brick row houses and businesses, Laurel Street extended from 1247 Plum Street west to Freeman Avenue, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Hall towering over the eastern end of the street, as if keeping watch over all who passed. In the winter of 1921, subway construction made its way north along the canal bed to the Laurel Street intersection, where a tunnel ventilator was constructed.
Downtown Cincinnati at the turn of the 20th century was a bustling business and commercial center, but with a dangerous mixture of pedestrians, horse-pulled wagons and carriages, street cars, and unseasoned automobile drivers. Add to this a mess of unpaved or cobblestoned streets, a lack of traffic laws, speed limits, and stop signs at intersections, with streetcar tracks criss-crossing lanes. It was a recipe for disaster.
We began our Monday in the Archives and Rare Books Library with the sad news that a dear friend of our library passed away over the weekend. Former Cincinnati mayor and city councilman, Eugene Ruehlmann died on Saturday June 8 at the age of 88. Since the Archives and Rare Books Library holds his papers, I had the pleasure of assisting Mr. Ruehlmann on several occasions. For someone so accomplished, I always found Mr. Ruehlmann incredibly approachable, easy to talk to, and humble. Our student workers especially enjoyed meeting and talking with him. He will be greatly missed.
Eugene Ruehlmann, the second youngest of John and Hattie Ruehlmann’s ten children, was born in 1925. He grew up on Cincinnati’s West Side and attended Western Hills High School and graduated in 1943. After high school, he joined the U.S. Marines and served in World War II. He then entered the University of Cincinnati, where he was a successful and active student. Ruehlmann was a member of Beta Theta Phi, ODK, and Sophos and was on the board of The Cincinnatian (yearbook) and was a member of the varsity football team. He graduated with honors in 1948 with a degree in Political Science and received the McKibbin Medal from the College of Arts and Sciences. Ruehlmann earned his law degree in 1950 from Harvard. Continue reading Eugene Ruehlmann, former Cincinnati Mayor, will be missed
The story of abandoned subway stations and tracks hidden beneath busy city streets is not unique to Cincinnati. Other large cities, such as New York, London, and Paris have similarly mysterious and intriguing stories to tell. An article I recently read in The New York Times introduced me to this underground world of hidden subway ventilation shafts disguised by false building facades, with doors from which people occasionally exit, but never seem to enter. Some of these subterranean secrets are in use, while others have been abandoned like Cincinnati’s own subway stations beneath Central Parkway.
What’s fascinating is the effort made to disguise these facilities, to blend them in with the neighboring buildings. While it seems a logically aesthetic means of making the utilitarian more appealing, some have argued that the cities in which these structures are located are trying to hide a deep secret. For comparison, consider the Cincinnati subway – when the subway and Central Parkway were first being constructed, the ventilation chimneys and the entrances to the below-ground stations were nicely appointed with decorative stonework.
The photographs contained in the Subway and Street Improvements collection are a valuable source of information for anyone who might be researching the urban development and built environment of Cincinnati in the period surrounding the turn of the 20th century. Many of the images in the collection capture buildings and homes in Cincinnati’s downtown district and the surrounding neighborhoods as the city grew and expanded up the hills and along the Ohio River. And because the photographer wrote location and date information on the negatives, anyone interested in finding a picture of the house in which their grandparents or great-grandparents lived in 1923 may very well find it within this collection. Continue reading What Style is That? = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project
Cincinnatians who drive along Columbia Parkway from downtown to the eastern suburbs know the parkway for its breathtaking scenic views of the Ohio River below. But these commuters also know the danger of driving along this parkway after a quick, heavy downpour or a prolonged period of rain-drenched days.
The hillside embankment along the parkway, cut at a steep angle when the road was constructed in 1938, is well known for becoming unstable after heavy rainfalls, causing mudslides that leave debris strew across the roadway as it passes over the low retaining wall at its base. One of three major urban projects undertaken by the city during the 1930s, nearly half the cost of the parkway was paid for by a grant from the Works Project Administration. In 1929, the city of Cincinnati passed an ordinance to upgrade and expand the existing road, which at that time was named Columbia Avenue and was a simple dirt and gravel road that meandered above the Ohio River eastward from downtown. Continue reading Slip, Slide and A Parkway = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project
One of the country’s oldest surviving public market houses to operate on a continual basis, Findlay Market is one of the nine original municipal markets that were open for business in downtown Cincinnati at the turn of the 20th century. The major source of goods for Cincinnati’s densely populated urban center, these markets began operating in the early 1800’s and continued to provide fresh produce and other goods to local residents through the mid-1960s, with Findlay Market being the sole survivor in the downtown area.
The fascination and level of interest in Cincinnati’s attempt to build a subway is as alive today as it was when the first shovel-full of dirt was lifted from the canal bed in January, 1920. For some, it is a fascination with Cincinnati’s history, a desire to learn more about how their city has developed. For others, it is a fascination with what lies beneath Central Parkway, the desire to walk the tunnels through which no subway train has ever run.