Finding My Italy, Sort of – Gettin’ My 52 On in S. Fairmount

This is my forty-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.

A few weeks ago, when researching neighborhoods, I came across an article about South Fairmount. I had been waiting for my S. Fairmount moment long since I discovered this was where the Italians lived. But I discovered so much more and predicted to my husband, who walked with me that morning, South Fairmount would be the next hot neighborhood in twenty years. By the end of walk and blog, I would feel ambivalent about my prediction.

We began our walk near Error Place on Queen City Ave. And while we were not in error, I could have plotted our stroll more effectively. But we were swept up in the view of cranes and footers and rebar. There was a massive construction project happening called the Lick Run project.

The Lick Run is a watershed that spans about 3000 acres. Sewage and stormwater often overflow from this into the combined overflow in the Mill Creek. The project is intended to keep spillover out of the combined system. Since I’m not engineer, one can read more here.

The project involved sewer system renovations, as well as creating parklike setting around the sewer systems. However, about 90 homes, including historic ones, were destroyed to the effort. Due to funding and controversy, the scope changed over time. Some residents remain concerned their community will resemble more amusement park and not a neighborhood as it once existed.South Fairmount St Francis

The original plans for the Lick Run project also called for two-way Harrison and Queen City Avenue, to allow for a better flow of cars. However, that would not happen either.

With the burrowing of equipment, the elongated stretches of dirt and concrete, the cranes that linger over commuters, residents had a right to be concerned.

We passed the St. Francis Courts and Orion Academy. Once the location of a cemetery and then a hospital named St. Francis Hospital for the Incurables, the buildings were now designated as Section 8 housing. Because I was prone to wandering, we found ourselves pacing to the top of White St. after a dog galloped after us. For once, I was thankful for debris in the road. I picked up a short 2×4, prepared to use it. The dog scurried away upon the owner’s whistle. During my walks, the times I had felt most threatened involved dogs. It was a fear of mine, despite owning one.

Near the top of White, the former Central Fairmount school rose up out of the shadows. A portion of the school looked to have been built in the more recent era of school expansions. The original school was constructed in 1900 and CPS sold it for $300K in 2012, with its last class graduating that same year. It was now owned by an Indianapolis company. Another school building sat empty while our city and county remained perplexed on how to create more affordable housing.

We crossed over on Fairmount and trekked back down Harrison Avenue. Having circled around, Mark suggested we walk counterclockwise to our original direction, along Harrison, crossing over the Westwood which became Queen City Avenue.

We traipsed through Selim, and Esmonde where two sets of stairs were accessible. We processed toward Quebec, finally ending at Sunset Avenue, crossing on Lick Run Way to the “other side” of South Fiarmount. (insert map).

Wanting to the historic church, we approached Orland. I actually walked up Error Place because, well, because I wanted to see what was beyond it.

Back down on Queen City, I found my private Italy, or at least an Italian church, San Antonio, with an upcoming spaghetti dinner on October 8. So much of their early culture resonated with me, as my parents too were raised in the Italian viewpoint of blending in.

Nearing the car, I wanted a break. The treads on my shoes were wearing thin, but I resolved to use the same pair until my treks were complete.

We hopped in the car despite the fact there was still a portion of the community that I wanted to explore. I admitted that my internal compass had gone awry that day.

At first considering a drive home, I changed course and parked near the base of Beekman and Harrison (yes, we could have walked this easily). But temperatures were already nearing 80 degrees at 9 a.m.

I’m thankful we circled around and walked up Pinetree to Tremont. As we made our way up to Tremont, another church beckoned. Having the steeple in my sight, I had merely walked past a woman seated her in car. She called out to us.

“Morning! Hey, do you live on the street?”

“No, we’re just out for a walk.”

“I live here.”  She pointed with pride to compact home. “Been here 11 years.”

Instead of shouting across the sidewalk, Mark and I approached the car.

“I’m Shale.”

“Annette and Mark. Who’s in the back?”

A young woman broadly smiled.

“Nyah. I’m a ninth grader at Clark Montessori.”

Shale spoke lovingly about her home, sharing that she once lived downtown. “Down on Race, near 14th.”

“That’s where we are now.”

“I went to school at Washington Park. I also lived on Vine for a while. They fixed lots of those homes up in Over-the-Rhine, I’m hoping the same happens here. Its not safe, drugs, you name it. I don’t even walk around here.” She eyed us with incredulity.

In broad daylight, maybe she did. But she resided on a side street off Harrison and Tremont was an easy cut-through for anyone wanting to save time or elude observation.

Later, in researching, I found several LLCs cobbling together property for some time, probably since the sewer project had been announced. They too had their eye on the same prize as Shale.

“Stop by anytime,” she encouraged us.

I really could’t wait to return.

We took a few more strides towards the church and discovered a note on the door. Someone had broken into the church. “To the person who broke in, God has seen you,” the note read.

A new academy awaited our exploration, as did an building resembling my old elementary school. The building appeared to be more of a residence now.

We concluded our walk down Waverly, and Howe and Bloom, to the Lunkenmeier Valve Company, which now hosted New Life Furniture and Cincinnati Recycling.

The car was back within our sights. “Can we get to the Mill Creek from here?” I asked.

Without knowledge of the potential for the Lick Run project to connect in any sort of way to the creek, I followed my intuition and there below was the Mill Creek.

And along that area, a pathway that may or may not become a bike path someday, as part of the Mill Creek TrailScreen Shot 2017-10-02 at 12.29.30 PM

I’d love our city’s governing body to actually promote our healthy biking communities.

Instead, we recently lost more federal money and the opportunity to connect the larger biking region.

Here is a list of links to help one continue their education of this controversy better than I can explain:

It’s difficult to capture how the neighborhood feels like it has been scooped out along with the dirt, only to be put back into the ground at a later date. Trekking across the landscape, one would have difficult finding the “center” or core. There is no CRC center, as children visit the one in Millvale. The community council meets at Orion Academy but hosts no website for more information. South Fairmount once contained the highest concentration of Section 8 housing. With the demolition, I don’t know where that stands today.

In conclusion, I vacillated between balancing the needs (and waste) of our 21st century and preserving a way of life from our 19th centuries. As an Italian, I admit to having a hard time letting go of something in the past, its my most endearing trait.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 7.30.55 AMHowever, we only have one history, and eventually, it becomes a shared one. Who decides what to leave in and out of our history? I’ll leave the reader with this last look.

The stretch of four homes in the first photo (Enquirer file), situated north of this garage-like building (below) are no longer.




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