UC Researchers Reveal 150 Years of Over-the-Rhine

Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine neighborhood is generally viewed in terms of its extreme poverty or its historic architecture, says Kevin Grace. He and his colleague, Tom White, wanted to contribute a history that reached beyond those stereotypes.

Kevin Grace, a UC adjunct assistant professor in the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services and assistant head of Archives, and Tom White, head of acquisitions for University Libraries, are now revealing the many facets of the region in their book, Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine. The book is a new edition to Arcadia Publishing’s national Images in America series that celebrates the history of neighborhoods and towns across the country.

“Over-the-Rhine was an early Cincinnati neighborhood that had a vital role in the political, civic and religious aspects of the entire city,” Grace says.

Over-the-Rhine’s name derives from the early German settlements to Cincinnati north and east of the Miami-Erie Canal – a reflection of Germany’s Rhine River. A photo of the canal and the surrounding buildings in Over-the-Rhine look strikingly familiar even today, except that the section of the canal that was photographed is now covered by Central Parkway. Grace writes that construction on the Miami-Erie Canal – which moved goods, services and people from Toledo to Cincinnati – was completed in 1831, but was then drained in 1919.

Grace explains that the immigrants established patterns for architecture, social groups and religious organizations. Then, as these groups would become prosperous, they moved out of the neighborhood. However, the German element only accounts for one-third of the neighborhood’s history, and Grace says there has been much more diversity than popular notions lead one to believe.

“The misconception about Over-the-Rhine is that it originally was this beautiful, European-like area, but throughout its history there was always a remarkable range of classes – pockets of prosperity and pockets of slums.

“There have always been race and ethnicity issues. There have always been economic problems. But there has also been this glorious architecture and this vivacity. Over-the-Rhine has always been a planning ground for trying to make progress socially and economically, and there have always been disputes over how to best achieve that.

The diversity of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine and its imagery cover 150 years, from the German settlements to the migration of the Appalachians in the 1940s to the African American population. Contemporary photos range from Findlay Market and the Bockfest Parade to the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, the late housing activist Buddy Gray and current rehabilitation projects.

“What we were surprised to learn about was this tremendous range of cultural activity throughout Over-the-Rhine’s history. There was professional wrestling and boxing, vaudeville, Music Hall, colleges and festivals. Our focus in the book is the neighborhood’s daily life.”

For example, photos of an event at Music Hall show Sam Sheppard in a wrestling match. Although the prominent Cleveland surgeon’s conviction was later overturned in connection with the 1950s murder of his wife, his reputation remained in ruins, and he turned to professional wrestling to make a living.

There are images of the subway tunnels – some of which still exist underground today – a rapid transit project that came to a rapid halt in 1927. And, there are unique views of the interiors of homes along the route.

The book photographically depicts the ethnic tensions that erupted in the 1884 riot that ended with the burning of the courthouse and the deaths of more than 50 people. But Grace believes the recent riots in 2001 were the lowest point in Over-the-Rhine’s history. “The riots have a long-term affect on the neighborhood. What we’re seeing after the riots are attempts to rebuild and reclaim and rehabilitate the neighborhood and the challenge now is to keep that momentum going.”

Grace says one of the most significant events to occur in Over-the-Rhine after the riots is the renovation of the Kroger store on Vine Street, because it “answered a necessary day-to-day need for residents.”  Food, arts and entertainment venues are breathing new life into the area as well as into the social programs that assist the underprivileged. “I think Over-the-Rhine is undergoing a revival. But, it’s all well and good to clean the façade of a building and put in a new nightclub or art gallery, but that has to be done in parallel with efforts of satisfying the nuts and bolts of everyday life.”

Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine is now available ($19.99 paperback) at Barnes & Noble, Joseph-Beth Booksellers and the UC Bookstore.


Thursday, Dec. 4
7 p.m., Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Friday, Dec. 5
4-6:30 p.m., UC Bookstore



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