This is my thirty-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.
I could walk my way out of the rain forest, but became befuddled by direction and landmarks of highways and byways in the midst of trying to establish my base in Northside.
Growing up, Lake Erie was always north. If I couldn’t find my way home, I figured out where the lake was, and went from there. The water was my true north.
But after many moves across country and state, I’ve had to use other compasses.
I quickly understood the issue was Colerain Avenue started running north and, before I knew it, I was walking west, which wasn’t planned. Strolling past the Weslyan Cemetery, I learned there were veterans of every war who had been buried there. But a more lively account of the cemetery’s history as it related to the city can be found here.
I circled around the area a bit, having been in a rush that morning before leaving. I took a few minutes to settle in and figure out my approach.
I never saw a set of steps I didn’t like, so I hiked up the hill and found my way to the northern end of Hamilton Avenue and into the Buttercup Valley Preserve. Since my blogging/walking was not about parks, I didn’t wander too far in and retreated south to Pullan.
I meandered in and around Hamilton Avenue for quite some time. There were simply too many connections in this neighborhood to name them all, but a few cropped up as I traipsed past.
A woman named Janet Kalven, who I met through Women Writing for a Change, once lived at Grailville in Loveland. I used to drive her to writing class in Madisonville. Janet was the most accomplished woman I knew, and she usually started her sentences with “Of course you might know….”, as if not wanting to offend you, if you didn’t already know something. During our commutes, she often bragged about her eventual move to Chase Apartments. Janet died at the age of 99, but she was my first introduction to Northside and its activism.
Recently, another community activist, Maureen Wood, passed away. (This is a great retrospective on her work in Northside). I didn’t know Maureen but I knew Crazy Ladies Bookstore. As members of the board of WWf(a)C Foundation, we purchased the Crazy Ladies building after the bookstore closed to keep the building in the hands of a similar mission. My first task as board member was to clean out what was left of the books. We were encouraged to carry home any of the remainders. And I found, “Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on a Spiritual Quest”, most likely named after Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck.
“And now: it is easy to forget/ what I came for/ among so many who have always / lived here
swaying their crenellated fans / between the reefs / and besides / you breathe differently down here.” – Rich.
In another a long line of connections, WordPlay was also doing great work in the literacy and writing world with students and adults. When the non-profit first opened, the organization sold repaired typewriters as a means of fundraising. They still have a few in their window, though I’m not sure they are still for sale. My sister Jeanne and I had an obsession with typewriters (not like Tom Hanks who owns 700). We swapped photos of typewriters whenever we came upon them. From Jeanne, I recently acquired an old electronic model which weighs more than I do.
There is another writerly connection also established in Northside, that of Chase Public, named after the school, which is space for art and community collaborations.
In Northside in the late 1700’s, treaties with Native Americans were established and settlers hunkered down along what was two Indian trials, St Clair’s Trace and Wayne’s Trace, which became Hamilton Avenue and Spring Grove Avenue respectively. While the land prospered for many years, in the late 1960’s, most industry began to depart, leaving vacancies as residents left for newer suburbs.
Nowadays, there’s hardly a street where renovations are not being undertaken. Prices have remained relatively affordable in the wake of rocketing prices closer into the city. The community’s most persistent problem is that of pedestrian safety. The owner of The Tickle Pickle was recently killed in a car accident and many politicians stepped up efforts to ensure safety for all.
Northside was an easy bike ride from downtown, but if one was returning home, after a beer at the Northside Yacht Club, the ride was not so easy. My husband and I had done it anyhow, working off whatever calories we gained.
As always, by walk’s end, I asked myself, Could I live here? Would I want to? The answer to both questions was yes. Clearly, there were plenty of writerly connections to keep me engaged. While Northside had its share of crime and struggled with the same issues every city community was challenged by, the gathering of business owners, including a friend whose husband owns the Northside Tavern, and residents like my former neighbor, tended to find new ways to work together.
The beauty of Northside was that the neighborhood had all the right elements to define who they wanted to be as a community: Access to UC and Cincinnati State, located near highways and downtown, no single employer dominating the landscape, and no single social service dominating either.
And while I might get a little turned around within the boundaries of the neighborhood, I was never too far from something that would remind me I was clearly in the grips of a community that knew how to laugh.