If you know where to look, the corners of Over-the-Rhine tell a story. Throughout OTR one can see obsolete street names etched into stone or carved into the wood of building corners. Many of these names appear to be incorrect, but they’re really only relics from another time in Over-the-Rhine.
Some Cincinnati street names were changed due to the anti-German hysteria during World War I, such was the case of Bremen Street which is now Republic Street.
More often, however, street names were changed to make wayfinding by automobile easier for an increasingly auto-dependent populace. Some of Cincinnati’s alleys were once streets as in the case of Pine and Spruce Streets which are now Osborne and Comer Alleys. Mary Street used to be the name of E. 15th Street. Moore Street south of Liberty Street used to be known as Lucy Street. Allison Street was the name of E. 14th Street from Vine to Main.
East of Main Street, the streets south of Liberty Street (formerly Northern Row) were named (from north to south):
- Orchard Street
- Webster Street (now E. 14th St.)
- Franklin Street (now Woodward St.)
- Woodward Street (now E. 13th St.)
- Abigail Street (now E. 12th St.)
- Jail Alley (now Michael Bany Way)
Abigail Street has found new life in Over-the-Rhine as the name of a Vine Street restaurant.
Some streets were renamed multiple times and shortened or lengthened depending on the needs of the neighborhood’s development. What is now Woodward Street is a good example of these changes. In 1842, what is now Woodward Street extended from Main to Broadway and was named Franklin Street. By 1929, the street was named Woodward but still stretched from Main to Broadway. At some point (perhaps the 1950s), the block of buildings north of Woodward between Sycamore and Broadway was demolished – thus creating or expanding Cutter Playground north of the old Woodward High School and former School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). Part of Cutter Playground may become a parking lot as part of Core Redevelopment‘s conversion of the old school to residential use. Uncovering the history of Cutter Playground seems like a job for Digging Cincinnati History. Anyway, Woodward was eventually cut short to Yukon Street so now it only extends half a block east of Main (and is home to OTR’s newest coffee shop and espresso bar Collective Espresso at 207 Woodward).
The same view down Woodward Street today:
North of Liberty Street (formerly Northern Row) some street names were as follows:
- McMicken Avenue was Hamilton Road
- E. Clifton Avenue was Buckeye Street
- Lang Street was Locust Street
- Schiller Street was Williams
The Cincinnati Street Corners group on flickr has some other shots of old street markers. This sign at 15th and Elm might be my favorite. What is that little mark under the superscript “TH”? An apostrophe? A comma? The embellishment of a skilled tradesman? Also, that electrical wiring is highly suspect and probably not up to code. The flag mount is nice but inappropriately placed. This building on the southeast corner of 15th and Elm was purchased by 3CDC in 2005:
This old photo shows the corner of 14th and Race before it was home to The Anchor-OTR.
At E. 14th St. and Vine stands the beautiful Cincinnati Color Building and its iconic Paint sign (which will soon be refreshed with a fresh coat of touch up paint). Kaze OTR, the wonderful new Japanese restaurant, bar and beer garden, recently added its beacon to beckon peckish gourmands. But the three story Paint sign and the sleek Kaze logo play second (and third) fiddle to the senior sign on the Vine Street building’s facade. Tucked between the quoins and the second story Italianate windows and above the Corinthian columns is a little hand-painted placard that simply reads “VINE St.” Can you see it?
Street names and signs are symbols. From changing German street names to renaming thoroughfares to honor fallen citizens, names can express hatred or love. The scale and design of signs can transform how people feel about their environment. A billboard in a lot along Liberty Street or a gargantuan neon sign for the casino along the highway serve different purposes and impart different feelings about a place than new signage for an alleyway or a set of steps that serve as essential pedestrian connections. Signs and street names direct people’s attention, but they also can signify what a community values.