* This is the twenty-eighth in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to find what makes each relevant to me. Follow me on Instagram for a hint of where I’ll venture next.
Logistics determined my walk the day I trekked around Madisonville. I was cramming in tasks before leaving for the weekend. One task included a visit to see Mom, who lived in Kenwood. There were only a few communities I hadn’t walked nearby, so I chose Madisonville. Madisonville had been featured recently as a city neighborhood in the process of branding itself Soul of the City. In a metropolis branded by branding companies, that, of course, made sense.
I parked my car at the intersection of Oaklawn and Madison, an intersection I had known well for over six years. Madisonville was the neighborhood I first called “home” as a writer. The building formerly belonged to the Ironworkers Union, and in the late 90’s, Mary Pierce Brosmer had located Women Writing for (a) Change upstairs from the “Men Working” sign where someone had added the “Wo”.
Every Monday night, I drove Madison Road, to sit in a circle of women who loved words and the world, and found a way to cherish both in the cramped confines of the upstairs space.
I turned north on Madison Road, passing the Children’s Home of Cincinnati, which had a long history or serving Cincinnati’s children and their families. I stared out across the street. The newly-developed site held so many memories for me. Devin and I used to come to the Oakley Drive-in all the time. My mother’s first Cincinnati gerontologist, before we switched to the house doctor, was located in the Christ Hospital Center. I immediately fell in love with a doctor who took away half her medications and gave me back a bit of my mom. And finally, the Red Dog training center was Enzo’s first puppy camp for four weeks. He failed camp, but never me.
I marched up Madison past the Medpace complex that will eventually hold a new hotel and 200 plus apartments. I am reluctant to say, but fair warning to all who live or pass through, this area is beginning to resemble Fields Ertel, and I hope the onslaught can be slowed or tempered.
As I continued on, I discovered a lovely group of senior housing options and then found myself in the heart of Madisonville, with a variety of homes and businesses strung along my route, some looking like they had just come online, including Mazunte’s Mercado, Lala’s Bites and Mad Llama coffee. As I ventured up and down various side streets, I noted how many of the homes were well-maintained. I had the distinct notion that residents were determined to live out loud and safely here.
I circled near Camargo, which became Plainville, and the homes began to resemble those of Mariemont. I had viewed a map prior to setting out, but when I sighted the Mariemont tower, I was shocked by the proximity and walkability of this hidden gem of a community.
At the next intersection’s bus stop, I noticed a woman drawing and journaling while she sat on a bench. I nodded towards her paper pad. “Are you a writer?” I could spot them a mile away.
She smirked. “Sort of.”
“Well, don’t say ‘sort of’. I’m a writer too and you need to declare it.”
At this point, I had no idea where I was, but knew I was heading in the general direction towards Red Bank Road. So, I trudged up the hill and back down and around, until I came upon an intersection I had passed millions a times in my twenties, but didn’t recognize it from the sidewalk view. I only knew the perspective if I had been in my car. A clear lesson in how viewpoints change when our feet are firmly on the ground and not on the accelerator.
I turned down the quick cut of Brotherton and sent out text. Soon, I was inside Bella Forza Fitness, taking a break to see my sister, Beth Januzzi Underhill, owner and butt-kicker extraordinaire. Until that day, I had never considered her studio to be located in Madisonville.
I still had miles to go, so I left Beth to kick a few more butts and walked up the rest of Red Bank, past the driver’s license office, a Christ Hospital surgery center where Mark never works out of, but his partners do. The new Tap and Screw brewery was located behind this stretch and planned to open soon. I crossed Red Bank to travel north on Madison again and returned to the block that houses Starfire.
Five years ago, I facilitated a writing group at WWfaC, for participants from WWfaC and Starfire. As a mentor to Michelle, one of the participants, I came to witness firsthand the challenges faced by young adults with developmental disabilities and how their families and those young adults desire to live an ordinary life. An outgrowth of that circle was the free writing group that still met at Roh’s Café every other Tuesday, under the moniker Write Me, I’m Yours, and the friendship that continued to blossom and encompass other writers because of our time at Starfire. And our fearless leaders, Eva and Michelle, still are the heart of our group.
Madisonville was originally named after James Madison when it was founded in 1809. Its first settler was Joseph Ward who had two sons named Israel and Usual. Nothing unusual about that! They settled in nearby Columbia until realizing the area’s potential for flooding and they moved. Though my walks and blogs are about Cincinnati’s neighborhoods, one should read a Wikipedia entry for Columbia Township, to understand of how ridiculous our borders are at times. Columbia Township was really a mash up of islands of land surrounded by the city or other neighboring entities.
Madisonville was also once home to one of Cincinnati’s first all-black neighborhoods called Dunbar, a neighborhood paved over for the sake of the Red Bank Expressway. The community was so tight that former neighbors still gathered and chatted about roosters and horses in the neighbor’s corral.
The neighborhood was also a first in branding itself Soul of the City, a moniker that resonated with me that day. The soul was where callings originated from and wantings were born. As I had once done as a writer, this community was desiring of more.
I researched Madisonville’s community council and development corporation, and discovered a document constructed in 2012, calling for a Quality of Life Plan in six areas: economic development, health and wellness, the built environment, community engagement, arts and culture, and education and youth.
I applauded the community for their forward-looking nature, and recognized the difficulty in comparing to my own neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine. Madisonville had a separate set of complexities, each community does. This neighborhood will flourish without the scrutiny given to OTR because of its encompassing the nearby city center, places of activism, large-scale arts centers and tourism. It’s a neighborhood worth relishing and one that will certainly be of interest to future residents for years to come.