Sailin’ Away – Gettin’ My 52 On in Sayler Park

Another jaw-dropping mural from Artworks. These murals have become their own beacons for me.

* This is my eleventh in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to discover what makes the city relevant to me.

When finished, I will most assuredly look back on these days and consider how I strolled Cincinnati’s neighborhoods purely for procrastination (manuscript edits await), and a bit of inspiration.

Again, my husband, Mark, joined as we set off with goal of completing the trifecta of western riverside neighborhoods, landing in Sayler Park via a turnoff from River Road.

We parked near St. Aloysius Church where I turned to Mark and said, “I love a good road named Portage. Because you know you are close to water.”

Heading down Gracely Road (named after one of the town’s founders of Sayler Park), we walked parallel to River Road. Along this route the town was founded, beginning with a square and subsequent hardware stores, plus bakery (This is how I enticed Mark).

We strolled along Gracely for several miles, first encountering a bar stool store, then the many historical homes, brushed like painted ladies from the Victorian era of the neighborhood’s origins in 1911. Several boasted of soaring stairways where might imagine the carriage stopped at the base, and guests, including ladies in heels, had to step up to the main entry.

The neighborhood also developed to the north where a majority of houses surrounded several square blocks and the Fernbank Golf Course, with its executive par 3 course.

After a few miles, we looked downward towards the river and noted the entrance to the Hamilton County Park of Fernbank, a park developed from the combination of three parcels of land and city-county relationships. We hiked through the closed car entrance from River Road and found ourselves near the designated spot for riverbank fishing. That was the closest I had come to the river, other than below Smale Park, which is technically off-limits, and being in the river.

Along the bike/hike path in Fernwood Park, a sign tells the story of the Great Stairway. In 1885, the U.S. undertook the effort to construct 54 dams to put the Ohio River to work, beginning in Pittsburgh (Darn, they always beat us). Dam 37 was located near present day sightlines from Sayler Park. Those dams remained usable until 1929 and in the early 1950’s were replaced by modern day structures.

Prior to rejoining the neighborhood above River Road, we stumbled upon the sign for The Cabana bar, opening April 10th, and the old Fore & Aft. Years ago, I spent a few summer nights out on the Fore and Aft. Because of its distance from the city, I could distance myself from concerns of the day. Many would remember the sinking of the Fore & Aft in 2005.

Circling back, we crossed paths with Cincinnati Parks’ smallest park, Thornton Triangle, and eventually with the Parkland Theatre, showing RockDog and Batman.

Sayler Park felt more town-like than an actual neighborhood, which is where I often get confused. What, exactly, constitutes a neighborhood, other than the city, at one point, coveting someone else’s goods many years ago?

If one’s lifestyle included fishing or boating, this neighborhood was perfect. If one’s goal was to own a painted lady, one should monitor the real estate sites closely. As last check, very few homes were for sale.

Several portions of the drive reminded me of a few areas along the Oregon Coast that circled the bay, with homes situated on the hillside. Thus, I was saddened to come to the end of the line, not of just the walk, but in this neighborhood, of the western portion of city along the river.

I wanted to trek on like the intrepid travelers of old, following the whims of the river, motivated by the chance to chart worlds unknown.


BREAKING NEWS: Sayler Park to get new 13 Below brewery!



Along “The Stretch” – Gettin’ My City On in Riverside

This the tenth in my series of exploring all 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati to discover what makes the city relevant to me. #GettinMy52On.

Despite feeling under the weather, I convinced my husband to turn our Sunday morning walk into one of my 52’s. In the end, some of our photos turned us into activists for the day.

“Where we headed this time?” he asked.

“I thought we would drive out past Sedamsville and hit Riverside.” The neighborhood of Riverside appeared on the map to be more of the same of Sedamsville. More stretches of railroad tracks along the river. More stretches of road along the tracks. More sidewalks abutting stone walls with whispers of what once lived up on the hillside. However, Riverside was on one of the 52 and so we set out.

We parked in the same spot where I had parked in Sedamsville. Our first fifty feet were still in the wrong neighborhood.

Once we hit our stride, I took in the shape of the land, how our forebearers would have found this site a plausible place to make home. The river stretched lazily before us, as if the current wanted to reach the Mississippi ahead as the welcome party. Across the water, hints of green rolled across the pastures of Kentucky. And the hillsides offered their own form of protection.

We took a side street denoted as a detour, and came upon several historic homes, which looked to be in better shape than those around them. Then, we walked along a road name Hillside, where the last scoops of dirt and stoops of stone were all that remained of many, many homes years ago.

The state was undertaking a $500,000 investment in storm drainage along Hillside Ave., perhaps with the intent some of this land could be redeveloped into useable space. Though through some quick research, I found very little to back up my supposition.

The original River Road was one of Cincinnati’s first roads constructed. The site of the Anderson Ferry, with a short cruise across the river, made for a favorable crossing for many, including Native Americans. The ferry crossing had been in use for over 200 years and was the oldest ferry in continuing operation in the United States.

We had accessed the ferry in the past, when we had returned from an airport drop off, sat outside Drew’s on the River and toasted to shipping off another kid. The café officially opens April 3, appropriate. Imagining the ferry as horse-powered provides quite the startling contrast to today’s transportation efforts.

River Road was once called “The Stretch”, developed as part of the first turnpike system. For anyone following the current Brent Spence Bridge toll debate, there was also a toll road located nearby, in use until 1910. Wealthy families rode in their carriages out for rides on Sundays. The community enjoyed its autonomy and affluence for many years. In 1890, Riverside’s population was near 2100.

As recent at 2005, builders proposed development that would have included Target, WalMart, or other large retail chains, but nothing came to fruition. This sign indicates the area is once again being considered for large-scale development, as down below already contains manufacturing and other light industries.

Looking up from Riverside Road, a fair portion of hillside is dedicated to Embshoff Woods nature preserve, but not accessed via Riverside.

My legs had grown weary from our second six-miler in a row. We turned for home, first encountering this billboard, which I posted to Facebook. Herein is one of many reasons I objected, stating later: This billboard sends a message that mommies need a makeover at all, suggesting that even during this life-altering time, society will still be conscious of and perhaps demand that a mother attain the perfect body.

We also passed the Riverside Academy (a charter school) where my eyes were drawn to a makeshift bus shelter at an actual Metro bus stop. My husband and I both snapped photos, incredulous that a bus stop on a main route, near a school would have, as its shelter, a metal lean-to frame.

Upon our return home, Mark posted his photo to a Facebook politics group. And there ensued the uproar over the bench. What kind of bus system we were running in the city (other than one that needs more funding and a complete overhaul in its logistics)? And because the bench had been brought to the attention of the SORTA board, confusion reigned on whether removal was required or necessitated due its to lack of compliance. (At last check, the bus shelter remained.)

Policies that allow for the removal without replacement for some of our most basic needs of bus riders are foolish. Bus systems that lack the connection for people to access over 75,000 current jobs are antiquated. Anything less than an overhaul is an embarrassment to our city. This is not a transportation issue.

If those jobs are inaccessible, so is education, and access to a way of living that is a want for all citizens. As is the case, people don’t often choose where they live, they live where they do, because of generations of others. Or because they are financially mobility-challenged.

Many homes in Riverside are spectacular, others falling into disrepair. The neighborhood council is named Riverside Civic and Welfare Club. For those not familiar, there is currently an expansive plan for biking and hiking trails along our river’s western edge. Gilday Riverside Park is a part of that trail, and I hope the city continues to create a viable development at the base of the river in Riverside. With so many moving citizens moving into the city, this looks like a promising neighborhood, and I’m sure many will want to visit Jim and Jacks with live entertainment and the COD father as the marquee menu item.

While the bus shelter argument will live on, if we, as city, have communities with access to groceries,  jobs, and safe and healthy neighborhoods, transportation becomes less important. Riverside has access, character, and history. They deserve a viable bus shelter too.

Coming for the Coneys – Gettin’ My 52 On in South Cumminsville

Mr Gene’s Hot Dogs was the only reference point noted as I searched for South Cumminsville in Google Maps.

“Ok then,” I said to myself. “That’s where I’ll start my walk. For sure, I’ll be hungry if nothing else.”

South Cumminsville used to be part of the larger Cumminsville. But the northern half was assimilated into Northside, while the southern portion remained on its own.

I took the Viaduct (is that really a name?) to Beekman Street and continued north until I found the coveted hot dog stand. From there, I parked down a side street and began my walk at St. Pius Church and school, erected in 1925 and now existing as an Episcopal Retirement Community-sponsored apartment.

I walked north on Beekman, struck by the murals below the walkway which connects the east and west sidewalks of Beekman, allowing one to traverse Beekman to get to school, or what once was called a school and is now apartments.

At the base of the parkway was a set of colorful murals depicting life in this little community that ran along the Mill Creek. From atop of the pedestrian overpass, I gazed around the small neighborhood bounded by I-74, Mill Creek, and West Fork offshoot of the creek which circles around the western border of the neighborhood.

Before long, I had found Elmore Café, which I plan to frequent because I KNOW they will card this 51-year-old that could, technically, pass for a thirty-year-old. They also have a newer looking outdoor space that could be a great place to meet some new patrons. Their last FB post was in August, 2016, but I believe they are still operating and I want to, you know, flaunt my ID.

I circled through the hushed neighborhood and found an interesting church denomination of Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo. For the record, Eritrea is an African nation in the horn and is currently rejecting any international aid to eliminate the famine happening there.

Returning to Mr. Gene’s as my touchstone, I proceeded south on Beekman but landed in Millvale, so I quietly stepped back out, knowing I would revisit that patch of sidewalk again.

Along my route, I encountered several affordable housing tracts developed through CMHA, Millvale Apartments, and to get in my steps, I turned up a residential hill and found a breath-taking, albeit distant view of Christ Hospital, Cincinnati State, and of course, the trains. Nothing ever seemed far away from South Cumminsville, unless one has to consider crossing the criss-cross of interstates to get there.

I headed back north and “found the funny” in a restaurant on the Mill Creek West Fork, Ocean Breeze. There wasn’t much water running through the creek now to create a breeze, but I like the images evoked.

As I stood to take a photo, a man walked past. “Hey, how are you?” I asked.

“Good, honey, how you be?”

“I’m great today and how ‘bout you?”(I sounded a bit like a former cheerleader, “Yes, yes, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”).

“Honey. I’m good and I’m glad you asked.”

I was prepared for a lengthier conversation, but he skidaddled away and left me with a smile on my face, as I anticipated lunch.

For 50 years, Mr. Gene’s had sold chili dogs and coneys to passersby and anyone washing their car next door. I searched my wallet and only found $2.40, so I was happy to see the credit card sign welcoming my plastic. I was hungry, had covered about four miles, and the time was long past noon. I stepped up to order a coney and Sierra Mist.

The clerk attempted several times to run my credit card. “Oh, honey, its not you, its our system.” She located the manager. The manager couldn’t run the card through either. Finally, an employee handed me my coney and drink.

“But I haven’t paid yet, did I?” I wasn’t certain the card had gone through. “But what about paying?”

“Oh, we’ll figure it out.”

I was happy to walk away with what might be a bonus dog and sat on a nearby step in front of an empty building, eating my dog in the sun, thinking this was how coneys should have been eaten for the last 50 years.

Working in Neighborhoods and the Cincinnati Reds teamed together a few years ago to renovate a playground and ballfields. I know well the attraction to wanting only the basics – safety and something for kids to do. After all, that’s what I remember my parents wanting for us.

The neighborhood has an active community council, an updated Facebook page and community garden produce offered at various events. Even the Cincinnati Enquirer recently covered the neighborhood and its resilient residents.

I wish I would have met just one of the residents in this ever-evolving community, but the temperatures kept most inside.

There is a tight-knit, quiet resolve about this neighborhood unmatched in others I have walked. On these walks, I ask myself, Would I, could I live here? What part of me would do so? There is the writer-me that says, “No, you would always be misspelling or abbreviating the name of the neighborhood.” And there is an inner-me, the part that likes simplicity accompanied by coneys, that answers,”Yes.”

(Read more here about the Artworks murals)

This is the ninth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, to find what has made Cincinnati relevant to me. Sometimes, I’ll coerce my husband to join me.


Gettin’ My Fill – Gettin’ My 52 On in Sedamsville

I found more than lizards in Sedamsville.

My husband and I woke early on a sunny Sunday morning. “Can we do one of my neighborhood walks today? I’m kind of behind,” I asked.

“Sure. Where we going?”

“Umm…” I stuttered while I checked out a map. “How about…Sedamsville.”

It’s pronounced Suh-DAMS-ville,” said the Cincinnatian who often can’t find his car in a parking garage.

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“Do you know where that’s at?” He quizzed me.

“Kind of.”

We drove about seven minutes – though I’m sure I could have walked – straight out Eighth Street, just past State Street, and arrived in Sedamsville in minutes.

I parked the car near the historic center, along Steiner Ave, and we proceeded to walk back towards the city, on the northern sidewalk which skirts the river. The river view was heart-soaring that morning. Most of our walk to the end of the neighborhood centered around The View.

Why was it, a place like Sedamsville, separated from the city center by mere miles, and possibly linked by bike and walking paths, had suffered in the morning shadow of the city? How did we allow, in the 1940’s for a widening of a road and razing of 91 homes?

Although Sedamsville might seem isolated and remote, residents could take the streetcar into the city and the Bromsley-Sedamsville Ferry took people across the river to Kentucky. The city also had a Train station. – Sedamsville Rectory website.

We traversed up and down hills, taking in a few of the historic homes until we encountered Brent, a resident walking his two dogs. Brent had lived there since 2008, purchasing some property, inheriting one other. He and his wife had made this their home, with partial views of the river.

Brent informed us Ray Brown Properties had purchased plenty of the vacant land and homes (ten acres) along the stretch below us, to develop into a Towne Properties type of East End Adam’s Landing stretch of homes. Of course, the view would be perfect at just the right bend in the road.

However, according to some, Ray Brown has not been kind to the neighborhood. (Read the backstory here). His track record, as of 2010 and 2012, including a restaurant that did materialize, does not bode well. Now that our city is in preservation mode AND understands the value of our city’s history, our preservation codes need to be looked at and upheld at EVERY juncture. Otherwise, we have valuable vacant land, with no historic homes, sitting blank. The city looks foolish in allowing this to sit for so long.

Brent also pointed us towards the community gardens where a run of chickens were kept on a hillside, reminding me of ancient European towns.

There was little commerce to speak of in the neighborhood, but we kept on trekking down to the Boldface Park, which resembled many of Cincinnati’s other more grand parks built about the same time.

It was at this time, my walking partner became distracted by the lizards, basking in the warming sun. Unfocused as he was, we circled back through the center of the neighborhood, now anchored by Santa Maria services, and a few old schools and churches that had since closed.

The Santa Maria Center (which I will write more about in a later post about Lower Price Hill and because the center has its origins in Italians) expanded to a location here to serve families, residents and revitalization efforts. Their work is worth the look.

The famed Haunted Rectory was featured on a Ghost Hunters episode and is currently being restored through the Midwest Preservation Association, according to its website. There is a former church and also two other properties which you can read more about.

In 2003, an urban revitalization plan was prepared by UC. Here was a snapshot of the neigbhorhood’s historical significance. “Sedamsville also encompasses a cohesive array of mid-19th and early 20th century residential and institutional buildings, including many fine examples of building types and styles common in the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The neighborhood’s remarkable collection of institutional buildings includes an excellent Gothic Revival parish church, one of Cincinnati’s few surviving Romanesque Revival public schools, and Fire Company No. 26, one of the city’s oldest firehouses.”  We have this amazing resource for Urban Planning at UC’s DAAP, yet continued to ignore any of its proposals. It’s not always money that is lacking, its political will.

The community sits just below two major greenspaces, Mt. Echo Park, which is accessed from Elberon, and Embshoff Nature Preserve which is part of the Riverside neighborhood. Sedamsville could benefit from access to and from these areas, as only a few ancient steps and odd pathways lead near to those locations.

While compact, Sedamsville (.346 square miles) was once mighty, boasting of the birthplace of Pete Rose, and will return again someday, when city leadership realizes the importance of connecting our communities.

What I loved most about this community was its accessibility to everything the city has to offer. View. River. Access. One really could get one’s fill of amenities considered most important to a successful, thriving neighborhood.

I found Sedamsville to be one small dot that shouldn’t be taking this long to connect back into the center.

This is the eighth 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 has made Cincinnati relevant to me.