Re-membering – Gettin’ My 52 on in Paddock Hills

I wound up in Paddock Hills because of my ignorance.

A few weeks ago, I had set up a date to meet with Cincinnati’s Poet Laureate, Pauletta Hansel. Pauletta offered to meet at her home. I knew the general part of town where she lived, around the Norwood Lateral.

Pauletta with her red accents.

Casually, I responded, “Perfect. I think I will make my way to your house. You’re in Bond Hill, right? I may make that one of my 52 walks that day, weather depending! (This was before I wrote about Bond Hill).

Diplomatic as a laureate should be, Pauletta kindly wrote back. “That’s great. Annette. It is 1266 Avon Drive. My neighborhood is Paddock Hills—can’t wait to see what you write about it!

So many walks have been a test of my ignorance. And patience.

The past few times I had set out, rain and cold descended upon me. The day I met with Pauletta, I was wearing proper clothing, but my body didn’t feel up for challenge. I was fighting off a cold, one that I did not want to impede upon my participation in the Women’s March on Washington later in the week.

Pauletta and I were discussing a workshop we were co-facilitating for the Alzheimer’s Association. After two hours, and coverage of countless other topics, I left her charming Tudor-style home, its interior dripping in red accents, armed with some information on the neighborhood.

As a pre-eminent Google stalker, I have to hold myself back and not research too much about an area prior to walking it. I always want my perspective to be fresh, seeing it for the first time.

fullsizerender_1However, I allowed Pauletta to point me in the direction of the Avon Woods Preserve, a small pristine parcel of woods, with a few meandering paths. My shoes were muddied that day because many times, I couldn’t see where I was going and stepped off the path. The park, in summer, boasts of popular nature camps for kids. In winter, the park breeds fantastic fungus forms.

I walked a ways back to my car. My toes were cold. My legs ached. A sure sign I was coming down with something. I decided to eat at the one and only Sugar n’ Spice. I love breakfast and pride myself in exploring all the nook and cranny restaurants of Cincinnati, but I had never eaten at Sugar n’ Spice.

If ever I was in need of comfort, not just comfort food, I found it in the servers here. They gladly helped with my coat, led me to the bathroom, and promptly sat me in what can only be called a student desk/table for a single.

fullsizerenderI swallowed their famous wispy pancakes while preparing to make a phone call. But the restaurant was busy. I didn’t bother. Instead, I studied the art on the walls. That’s when I discovered the largest collection of ducks outside of Eugene, Oregon, where our son attended the University of Oregon whose mascot was the Duck.

I sat back and smiled. Sometimes, the universe sends messages of rubber ducks as a reminder of love.

I drove home that afternoon, dismayed I hadn’t completed my walk. The next two days were filled with tasks prior to my weekend, and I did not return to Paddock Hills until the next week.

Photo credit.

That Monday, I parked at Sugar n’ Spice and walked up Reading Rd. to Tennessee Ave. At the southeast corner of the intersection, the St. Joseph’s Infant Asylum, later changed to St. Joseph’s Infant Home and Maternity Hospital once stood, founded in 1873. According to archives, in the first 100 years, they had cared for 15,000 babies and 10,000 young women. After several iterations, the St. Joseph Home is now located in Sharonville and provides support to individuals with complex disability needs.

fullsizerender_4I continued along Tennessee Ave. in the rain, and stopped outside to watch the young kiddies in this preschool/daycare. Just coming off The March, I asked myself, had I done any good? What would I do, in this my 51st year, to help those little ones achieve their goals. Already, I was tutoring young children in the city that don’t think they need math to succeed. I don’t think they need it either, but they need to know it to move forward in their life.

I rounded the corner and headed south on Paddock Ave., meandering up and down streets, in and out of woods and gullies, and found an old PC, reminding me of my first years working in Cincinnati at Star Bank. I trekked up staircases that led to nowhere or the Avon Fields Golf Course, then circled back around to Reading Road.img_9041

That day, Avon Fields Golf Course was closed. But the course was one of Cincinnati’s oldest, complete with a rooftop garden (that’s how its referenced in the history books), so I climbed the steps, despite wondering if someone was going to come out and yell at me, to get a look at the foggy view. The view would be more stunning on a clear day. According to the 1943 Guide to Queen City, greens fees were 52¢ in the daytime and 78¢ on the weekend. That’s still a steal as a public course, but the fees now are $19 and $22, for 18 holes of walking.

fullsizerender_1On the stroll back to the car, I followed behind young African American male who was talking to himself, talking to someone on his phone, or repeating lyrics to a song. I decided he was talking to himself. And I laughed, thinking of how I used to come home and find my mom talking to herself while making beds, and now that most of my work is from home, I too talk to myself, and the dog. But the dog doesn’t listen. And so there I stood, in the middle of Paddock Hills, laughing to myself.

My final stop was near a plaque for Oscar Armstrong III. Oscar was a local fireman who died in the line of duty. A father to two children and one on the way, Oscar was twenty-five years old when he died fighting a fire in Bond Hill.

Finished with my walking work, I checked my miles. Close to three, in comparison to my walk around the CUF, and other neighborhood walks. For big, long walkers like myself, the mileage was disappointing, but the points of entry into other neighborhoods, such as Bond Hill and North Avondale, were numerous and if I lived here, I could find plenty of miles to go.

A Tudor-style home in Paddock Hills.

In 1903, the city annexed Paddock Hills, whose name honors Judge Paddack (note the spelling). The community here, living along mostly six to eight streets, is tight-knit and diverse. The community council website offers many options to get involved and shares comments from residents who are welcomers or thank the community for support. There was also a blurb about a lemonade and ball stand, where clever residents gather errant golf balls and clean them to resell. Reading through the newsletter, I felt transported to time of decency in our world.

It would be so easy to know all your neighbors in this enclave, and meet for coffee and eggs at Sugar n’ Spice. And then, head up to Pauletta’s home for a writing circle, surrounded by Depression era glass, red tea mugs, a new cat, and artwork of the moon.

I was grateful to be in Pauletta’s company, having found my way back to her through time, words, and our mothers who are both experiencing dementia.

In researching work for our workshop with Pauletta, I ran across my original proposal to the Alois Alzheimer Center to offer a writing circle for individuals experiencing dementia. That was long before the disease had taken hold of Mom.

I wrote: To help those “re-member” their lives through words, to think again about events, emotions, people, whether from a recent or distant past. “Re-member” – to again become part of a whole, as a member would be.

My words keep me rooted to this city, and this act of remembering my links to img_8955these neighborhoods leads me past ignorance, yearning for more (pancakes, too).

This is the fifth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.


Women’s March at Wash Park – One Local’s Guide on Where to Stand

fullsizerender-57Today, I found a sliver of sun, as I stood across Washington Park’s dry spray fountains, shut down for winter.  I turned and turned and turned, trying to imagine a park filled with (mostly) women who will march for human rights this Saturday .

Hundreds of women and supporters of women’s and human rights will travel to Cincinnati, and in particular, this neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine. Over-the-Rhine has been a lightening rod for civility and civil rights for centuries and continues today. I wondered what the marchers would actually see in the neighborhood. As a writer and local, what did I want these marchers to know?

I felt compelled to share some points of light and darkness, for consideration as women and men from all walks of life peruse the neighborhood before, during, and after the march.

The event is based around Washington Park, a park built on the site of several former cemeteries. Washington Park, along with Music Hall, once played host to the World’s Exposition. In 1870, thousands of travelers came to see the finest our world had to offer.

fullsizerender-56While Music Hall is under construction, now is a time to reflect on the centuries of change Music Hall has endured, what a newly opened up Music Hall will mean to those on the outside looking in, and how this icon has stood the test of time. Through private and preservation funds, Music Hall will reopen this fall as a reminder to the skills and ingenuity of our ancestors and the importance of arts in our communities. As a fact, the hall was built for both industrial and German choral fest purposes.  Read more here on about its preservation and tours.

South of Music Hall on Elm, Memorial Hall has also recently undergone renovation, though less obvious from the outside. Tile has been polished, air conditioning installed and a kitchen added. Memorial Hall is now operated by 3CDC, in conjunction with events coordinated by the Cincinnati Memorial Hall Society, which can be credited for its preservation for many years before a new deal was struck with the county, city and 3CDC. The Magic Flute will be playing on Saturday, but the hope is this space will continue its use as an intersection of civility and the arts. Watch this video to learn more about the perseverance of small group of individuals committed to Memorial Hall.

Continuing to the south, Wash Park Art offers a small gallery amidst plenty of change, open Saturday from 2-5 p.m. And the Transcept, another church renovation, has opened and offers a less finished interior for events and cocktails.

At the corner of 12th and Elm, the Drop Inn Center was located where the Cincinnati Shakespeare is now being built. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre was the first of five theaters to have performed the entire canon of the Bard’s work. Around since 1993, their current headquarters are at Ninth and Race and this new building will be nothing but stunning. Every seat in the house will be no more than 20 feet from the stage.

That being said, its important to take in what was once there. The Drop Inn Center has been relocated to Queensgate at the old Butternut Bread site. Many residents saw this as a loss. But many also believed that a greater number of men and women experiencing homelessness would have greater access to program and case management, and upgraded facilities through a new Shelterhouse.  For its size, Cincinnati has been on the forefront of seeking solutions for homelessness, whether temporary or permanent. You can read more here about the group Strategies to End Homelessness.

The SCPA, School for Performing Arts, was located in the Pendleton area of OTR until a recent move in 1977 and boasts of Sarah Jessica Parker, Nick and Drew Lachey (98 Degress), and countless others who have moved on to star or dance on Broadway or come back and make Cincinnati theatre their own. They too have their own schedule of events one should peruse.

The Ensemble Theatre, a block over on Vine, has undergone its own magical physical and company transformation, under the leadership of D. Lynne Meyers, a Cincinnati icon in the theatre scene, as the little theatre that has grown mightily and become a stabilizing force in the neighborhood, working with nearby social services agencies to offer shows to their clientele, or create a job or position for them.  The Know Theatre, one more block over from Vine, is known for its more experimental work and its famous FRINGE fest.

There is and will be so much creative energy in the space where you are standing. Its hard not to act on behalf of the betterment of our city (not just on the stage) when you are presented with this kind of force. But I would encourage everyone to not look past the past. Take note of the changes and ask yourself if the city has benefited from these changes and how.

img_8383Washington Park was once home to canals and gondolas. Many citizens slept in the open air, to escape summer heat. Over time, as vacancy rates climbed in the neighborhood, this park became know as an area of crime, while also a respite for those experiencing homelessness. As an avid walker and devoted fan of this park, I can say some of its use is mourned (the pool, the basketball court), but other aspects are utilized to the max. I have found more simple conversations happen in this park, over the dogs, the flora, the mix of folks just seated on the bench. I have learned more in this living room, than in any other indoor living room in the city.

Beyond the southwest corner of the park, the newly renovated Central Parkway YMCA stands. The Y was finished in partnership with Model Group and Episcopal Homes who completed the living spaces above for 65 affordable housing units for seniors. One of my favorite neighbors recently moved in here, and I get a kick out of seeing him when I go work out. The club and housing are quite the pairing, and certainly how the original Y was intended for use.

Several churches line Race Street, along the eastside of the park. First Lutheran Church was a site of support for many of the streetcar proponents. This sanctuary housed many first time advocates (like me) who shared their voice in a safe space, with thanks to host Pastor Brian. They also play host to Future Leaders OTR, an organization dedicated to serving the youth of this neighborhood and helping them realize successful gains.

Hyde Park Community Church (OTR) was formerly the Nast Trinity Methodist Church. While the congregation is mostly a white, younger crowd, I have witnessed the many good deeds of the congregants, acting on behalf of and for residents of the neighborhood, including the reinstall of a nearby pocket park.

I can speak of Prince of Peace, at 15th and Race, through personal connections. They too recently completed a series of renovations. Containing more sparse decor than many other churches, the interior is beautiful nonetheless. They have a dedicated leader, Pastor John, who supports local children through a tutoring program, run by the inimitable Lisa Burns. Pastor John, through Building Hope in the City, works with individuals experiencing homelessness to renovate old buildings in exchange for their service. Prince of Peace also operates a Winter Shelter during the months of January and February.

The above three also serve meals to individuals experiencing homelessness at various times throughout the week. The Downtown Council has put together a small leaflet with that information and is available at the Visitor’s Center on Fountain Square. One will note individuals have access to a free meal at any time of day throughout the week.

photoOn the north corner of 14th and Race, sits the Earl of Race. You can read more about him here. But Earl is happy to chat and engage. He is a favorite of my dog’s, and will tell you what you want to know (and what you don’t) about the neighborhood.

At the north end, near the Anchor restaurant, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing has been serving the community of OTR for decades, through Buddy Gray and RESTOC, and now as OTRCH. They continuously put efforts to maintain the diversity and eclectic nature of Over-the-Rhine behind all their projects. They have a dedicated staff and work hard in conjunction with many state and federal housing programs, as well as 3CDC, to preserve and protect properties for all those who wish to remain living here.

If you walk north on the west side of Race, between 14th and 15th, one will note a Poetry-to-Go mailbox. That’s mine. I installed the box when we moved. I fill the box with poems I have penned about the city, its culture, about celebrations and defeat. Stop by, I try to keep an ample supply of poems in the box.

Of course, there are other streets and point of interests to note of when you walk.

fullsizerender-54Near the northeast corner of Liberty and Race, the St. Anthony Center (not the Messenger) will soon house a mix of social service agencies who have committed to working together under one roof. The Center for Respite Care is for individuals experiencing homelessness needing medical recovery. Also, Haircuts for the Heart, Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, St Francis Dinner Club, Mary Magdalene House, and other agencies will find their way in. This is groundbreaking for Cincinnati and social services to step up and share resources, such a one building, in this fashion.

Down Liberty Street is the distribution center for the Freestore Foodbank, which also operates Cincinnati Cooks! from a center along Central Parkway. I have known several women who have served in various capacities at Freestore, and I am assured this is the best run social service, where 94% of donations go towards programs and services.

fullsizerender-55Further north on Race, Findlay Market has been Cincinnati’s kitchen and grocery for many years. The vendors today are many who have been around for decades, some second, third, and fourth generations. While there are new vendors all the time, some of my favorites are Dean’s Mediterranean, Madison’s, and Macke Meats. (The M’s are coincidental). Take the time to visit them all in, chat with the owners, then make a note to return again.

Across from Findlay Market is Our Daily Bread, serving breakfast and fellowship, lunch programs and kids clubs. The hours are posted on the website, where one can read about its founder, “Cookie” Vogelpohl. Cookie recently passed away but all who work or volunteer here are witness to the passion of one woman. One Woman – with the help of many others.

A few other places to note: Tuckers on Vine, recently reopened after a neighborhood effort to help fund their renovation following a kitchen fire. They are an institution. There is also another Tuckers on 13th, though one should not confuse it with the original. This one too boasts of diner fare and a gregarious owner that my husband and I have often chatted with on our Saturday morning walks.

Along Republic and 13th, there is a little lending library and pocket park. This is the site where Timothy Thomas was killed. His death led to the riots of 2001, which led to another downfall of a once thriving neighborhood. Whether you believe in supporting the police or supporting the young black male who was killed, we can do better with each other and for each other.

Most visitors to Over-the-Rhine know either one of two things about this neighborhood. First, they know OTR was once named a most dangerous neighborhood in the U. S., together with the fact that crime does still happen here, while also housing some of the most passionate, committed social service agencies in the country.  Or, they know Over-the-Rhine as a tourist destination for its many art venues, historic sites and tours, as well as a culinary stop for those visiting the city.

fullsizerender-53I live in that intersection. You can too. Stand in the middle of Washington Park to feel the energy and tension and history that have combined to make this neighborhood a place for protest – and for peace. I try to stand in that place everyday. It’s the only location from which I can see the other side.

Bonding over Garbage Cans – Gettin’ My 52 On in Bond Hill

fullsizerender_4I was three-quarters into my route through Bond Hill. Amidst the cold, blurry feeling inside of me, a particular sign warmed my heart.

For citizens in and outside of the city, Graeter’s Ice Cream stood for more than just delectable ice cream and chocolate chips. Graeter’s also meant family, home. Whenever our kids were shopping in other state’s stores, they always looked for Graeter’s.

Until spotting the $11 million production plant of Graeter’s, my walk through Bond Hill had been filled with trepidation. I was strolling through a neighborhood I didn’t know, one I had only driven through twice. Once for a wedding at Maketewah Country Club, and once as a facilitator at Woodward High School for WWfaC’s after school writing program.

“Maketewah was the original Native American name for the Mill Creek prior to the 1790’s. The word is actually a corruption of the Shawnee word “Mkateewa” and meant “it is black” because of the dark rich soil that made up the bed of the creek that at the time was rich in wildlife.”

I had driven north on the freeway and exited at Reading Road and the Norwood Lateral, where Norwood Cinemas used to be. Cavalier in my directions, I parked on Bella Vista, a side street near Maketewah.

img_8835Leaving my car, I looked up stunned. The street was filled with an entertaining variety of Tudor-styles homes. Later, I would learn about each of the homes’ occupants.

I locked the car door and turned north on Reading Road, surprised by the cold. The wind had picked up early afternoon. I was underdressed. And, my phone was dying in the frigid temperatures. I had mentally mapped out my route, but with battery power waning, and the sun (was it even out?) dissipating in the wind, I was a bit concerned I would have no GPS backup. I had left no note at home. My only crumb trail was a quick search on my laptop to confirm I knew where Bond Hill was, exactly.

The Hamilton County Community Action Agency was my first snap. The HCCAA is a conglomerate of city, county, federal services, United Way and, surprise, a Starbucks. Citizens can apply for jobs, head start programs, and a wide variety of housing services all within the HCCAA.

fullsizerenderI retrieved my iPhone from a warm pocket. The battery had already started to fizzle. Intrepid, I pushed on and chugged up the hill where I spotted Woodward Career Technical high School in the distance. The original high school was founded in OTR in 1828 as one Cincinnati’s first public schools by William Woodward and his wife Abigail Cutter. They provided free education for poor children who could not afford private schooling. The high school moved in 1953, where it boasted of many illustrious alumni including NFL players. But the writer in me wanted to give a shout out to Karen Mindy Ackerman, a children’s book award winner.

I continued along Section Road and turned south down Paddock, with the interstate in my distant view. My head was on swivel, per usual on my walks, looking for the unusual. And that’s when I spotted the Graeter’s sign. I was no longer lost.

Except, I had 10 % battery power left.

Continuing down Paddock, I turned up Elm Park Place and found a second collection of smaller Tudor-style homes. Sadly, each street in the subdivision ended at the interstate. Listening to the buzz of traffic, I sighed at how a concrete form of connectivity had subjugated a human form.

Battery power was now down to 5 %. I wasn’t exactly sure which road would lead me back to Reading – and my car. Keeping Maketewah in sight, I spied a familiar road sign, or at least name. Oberlin. Oberlin College. Oberlin High School that used to always beat my high school’s teams in, well, everything. I took that as a sign, and followed Oberlin. Much to my delight, I discovered a third neighborhood of Tudor homes, some much more colorful than the others.img_8850

Finally, Bella Vista was back in my sight. I was on the opposite site of the street from my car when I crossed paths with Jeff.

Jeff had exited one of the Tudor homes and rolled his garbage cans down the driveway in front of me.


Short in stature, he looked up, confused and pulled his hood up over his head.

I had startled him. “Love your neighborhood. Do you live here?” I stuttered and continued. “I’m walking all 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati, haven’t been here yet.”

“You’d better be careful young lady (I loved this man already).” I assured him I had stuck close to circling the course.

He leaned over top of his garbage can. “But yep, this has been my home, since I was 13. Got it after my mom died from my brother.”

The Tudor home was trimmed in mossy green. “Who painted the green?” I asked.

“She did, and afterwards, she called me and said, I really f— up. My mother was kind of a bear. When she wanted something done, she just did it without asking for anybody else’s input.” Hmmm…

By way of nodding his head, Jeff introduced me to the rest of his neighbors. A retired nurse. The dentist (I still call him “Doc”). One older couple lived there ever since he had. Across the street, a young couple, though he wasn’t sure about the blue (trim on the Tudor).

“Me and my family were one of the only non-Jews at the time we moved into Bond Hill. Played as QB on a championship team,” he proudly shared.

“But now, we got a mix. But it’s a good place. Its good people.” He stopped to consider me again. “So you say you’re just out walking?”

My walk had been welcomed with curiosity and warnings. He wanted me to know about where he lived, but he also didn’t want me to know. “You just gotta be safe. Don’t go down California,” he warned. Later, I would.

contentBond Hill has a fascinating history in Bond Hill: The Origin and Transformation of A 19th Century Cincinnati Suburb. How five men plotted out lands, with the intent to create a temperance community with communalism as its core value. Bond Hill grew beyond that hope. And in the 1950’s, the neighborhood fell to the fate of redlining and white flight. Last check on Zillow produced vacant homes in the multiples that were up for auction.

But where Jeff saw and warned of danger, I saw potential. Purples and oranges. School and children. Tudors and more tudors.

img_8857I trekked back down Reading near the Lateral. A former orphanage. St Aloysius, now operated as a center for social and educational services in the community. The chapel was used for weddings and events. I walked the perimeter of the grounds, looking out over the hills children used to farm. There were so many hills I had climbed and descended. Bond Hill itself was probably once a hill that folks walked to get to Bond’s Mill, but there’s controversy about the name’s origins anyhow.

Heading to the car once more, I passed the original 5-mile stop at Avonlea and Reading, where a long ago resident once noted it was a 30-minute commute by horse to the city. When I-75 is stopped up, the commute is still the same.

One final note was of Bond Hill’s connection to Cincinnati’s fine arts in the 1870’s.

Henry Watkins, a founder of Bond Hill, married Laura Ann Fry. She was the daughter of Henry Fry who would go on to establish Cincinnati Woodcarving Arts movement. Henry Watkins owned a commercial printing shop and bookstore on Richmond Street and later on Walnut St. Laura Ann Fry was also an accomplished wood carver and teacher of that art. Much about their life was documented thanks to another well-known Cincinnati writer. Lafcadio Hearn wrote extensively on Watkins and also on Japanese culture. Ironically, our art museum carries over 3000 pieces of Japanese art, some collected as early at 1800’s when Cincinnati had a thriving relationship with Japan. My research had fast become six degrees of separation from Bond Hill.

I returned home to thaw out.

After stumbling upon Jeff (or he stumbling upon me), I am now mentally drawing a picture of each person I chatted with on my route to “52”. I had once considered taking photographs, but didn’t want to impose on anyone’s privacy.

In rereading the history of Bond Hill, one particular segment stood out:

In the basin of the city, an eight-mile journey by train down the Mill Creek Valley to the southwest, thousands of working families lived in overcrowded and unsanitary tenements, exposed to alcoholism, and other seemingly intractable social ills. For “men of moderate means,” the cooperative aimed to provide a new beginning – an affordable home in a temperance community in the undeveloped countryside, just a 30-minute commute to the city’s center. Bond Hill was intended to “establish a species of brotherhood, that is like advantageous in developing the finer feelings of humanity. (R. Nelson, 1874, 25).

The finer feelings of humanity. Feeling lost – and found by a neighbor rolling out his garbage cans. No one knows if Bond Hill was named after a farmer or not. But one could also argue the premise upon which the neighborhood was actually founded – a cooperative aimed to provide a new beginning – might have also played a role.  Certainly, we only bond through cultivating our finer feelings of humanity and trusting in unfamiliar paths.