Over The Rhine
A small riverbank settlement grew as a shipping hub, connecting eastern cities with New Orleans and the other developing outposts along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The completion of the Miami & Erie Canal ran along what is now Central Parkway in 1828. It became the catalyst for making Cincinnati the central trading hub west of the Appalachian Mountains. The canal linked the Great Lakes with the Ohio River and farmland. Corn was the most common crop, which made selling on the open market financially inefficient. Hence, farmers converted their corn into more profitable commodities: They used it to fatten pigs or distill whiskey. The amount of swine and whiskey passing through the city gave rise to the nickname "Porkopolis" and a reputation for a hard-drinking citizenry.The Miami and Erie Canal
How OTR got its name.
In the mid-1800s, Cincinnati was a bustling metropolis with a rapidly growing population. Among the city's first settlers were a group of Germans who, despite constituting only a small percentage of the population, quickly made their mark on the city with their love of beer and their penchant for hard work. They built breweries, opened beer halls, and generally made Cincinnati a more fun and lively place to be.
As the city continued to grow, the Germans found themselves drawn to an area north of the Miami & Erie Canal where the cost of land was low and the houses were made of wood. At the time, this area was mainly gardens and farmland, but the Germans saw its potential and set to work transforming it into a bustling neighborhood.
As more and more German-Americans flocked to this area, they began to refer to it as "going over the Rhine," a tongue-in-cheek reference to Germany's famous Rhine River. You see, the canal that ran through the neighborhood was seen as a sort of miniature Rhine, and crossing it felt like a journey to a new land.
Legend has it that one day, a group of German brewers in Over the Rhine found themselves facing a problem that threatened to derail their thriving business: the Miami River, which flowed through the heart of the neighborhood, was prone to flooding. Every time the river swelled, it would wreak havoc on the brewers' breweries, causing their barrels of beer to float away and forcing them to start from scratch.
Determined to find a solution, the brewers banded together and decided to build a system of elevated tracks that would allow their beer barrels to roll safely from the hills down to their breweries, bypassing the troublesome river altogether. And where did they build these tracks? Why, "over the Rhine," of course!
And thus, the neighborhood that was already known for its German heritage and love of beer came to be called Over the Rhine, cementing its place in Cincinnati's history as a testament to the ingenuity and industriousness of its German immigrant population. Today, Over the Rhine has been shortened to simply OTR. OTR remains one of Cincinnati's most beloved neighborhoods. It's home to some of the city's best breweries, bars and its charming streets and historic architecture continue to draw visitors from near and far.a testament to the enduring legacy of those early German settlers who transformed a patch of farmland into a thriving community. Prost!
For more in depth history of OTR continue reading.
All ethnicities and social classes called OTR home, but its socioeconomic structure started to change when people with money began migrating to the hillsides in the late 1860s and 1870s. By the late 1800s, the majority of residents were working-class German-Americans. The neighborhood was still the epicenter of Germandom in Cincinnati, remaining the physical headquarters of most German societies. Still, most successful Germans lived in Clifton Heights, Mt. Auburn Corryville, or Price Hill. Over-the-Rhine became both famous and infamous. Some say the name originated from the affluent German families as a slight to the area where they worked but did not live. The neighborhood was full of saloons, beer gardens, restaurants, and theatres that catered to tastes ranging from legitimate theatre to burlesque. OTR was also a power center where corrupt Republican Party head "Boss" Cox ran the city through deals and schemes hatched at beer halls like Wielert's (still standing on Vine St.). Wielerts was doomed after prohibition and auctioned everything. Various businesses operated out of the building over the past several decades including Yokum Athletic Club, where Cincinnati boxer Ezzard Charles trained.
1830's - the 40s
Over-the-Rhine's hip vibe and culture are rooted in its history. OTR was a stopping point for many immigrants; it was like a Little Germany, with residents pouring in from various European German states, including Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony. They brought a variety of customs, habits, attitudes, and dialects to the German language, with a range of religions, occupations, and classes that characterized OTR for the rest of the century.
The old St. Mary's Church, with its Greek Revival and Late Victorian architecture, was built in 1842 and is the oldest standing church in Cincinnati. The Roman Catholic church still holds mass in German and Latin, just as it did at its inception.
An increasing number of German immigrants flooded the city as "Forty-Eighters," those who supported or participated in some of Europe's failed revolutions of 1848. Until the city annexed the land in 1849, the city's northern border was inside this immigrant area. The border road was called Liberty Street because it separated the city from the outlying land, called "Northern Liberties," which was not subject to municipal law. Thus, along with immigrants, it attracted a concentration of bootleggers, saloons, gambling houses, dance halls, brothels, and others that were not tolerated in Cincinnati. One famous bootlegger reportedly inspired the Great Gatsby.
This is where the term bootlegger came from. People would hide contraband in boots.
In 1850 approximately 63% of Over-the-Rhine's population consisted of immigrants from across the Miami Canal; the neighborhood's population was estimated at 43,000, with most of the residents being German-American.
An early reference to the canal as "the Rhine" appears in the 1853 book White, Red, Black, in which traveler Ferenc Pulszky wrote, "The Germans live all together across the Miami Canal, which is, therefore, here jocosely called the 'Rhine'"
Beginning in 1855, commercial activity centered on Findlay Market, located between Elm and Race Streets on land left to the city by former mayor James Findlay. The market has remained in continuous operation since its opening and is the only original public market building still open in the city.
Over-the-Rhine's "golden years" were between 1860 and 1900. During this time, the neighborhood lost some of its economic and political influence but gained importance as a social and cultural center.
By the late 1860s, OTR was considered one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the Midwest. By the 1870s and 80s, however, the 5 new inclined-plane railways and electric streetcar transit lines began decentralizing industry and commerce. Residents started going with them, and the population began to decline.
In 1875 writer Daniel J. Kenny referred to the area exclusively as "Over the Rhine." He noted, "Germans and Americans love to call the district 'Over the Rhine."
Most buildings that give OTR its personality were built in its hay day. The neighborhood, with a dense, mixed-use development pattern and excellent architectural quality, is characterized by rows of 3- to 5-story brick buildings. The district's Italianate style is the predominant architectural style, although other nineteenth-century styles are evident, including Federal, Greek Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Renaissance Revival. The neighborhood was full of places to live, work, play, shop, and meet--single-family homes, meeting halls, theaters, churches, stores, breweries, and other industrial buildings.
With beer being a vital aspect of the German heritage, breweries were a sound entrepreneurial investment. Wealthy brewers, like Christian Moerlein, had committed to OTR to live close to the breweries. In the financial panic of 1857, many Cincinnati Germans entrusted their savings to the brewers rather than the banks. Between 1875 and 1900, 15 of the city's 36 breweries were in the neighborhood.
The brewing industry was concentrated along McMicken Avenue and the Miami and Erie Canal with J. G. Christian Moerlein brewery and several other breweries, including Kauffman, Hudepohl, Lion, John & Sons Brewery, Jackson Brewery, Lafayette, John Hauck, and Windisch-Mulhauser Brewing Companies across the canal in the West End. They employed thousands of neighborhood residents. The booming brewing industry spawned off-shoot industries, including barrel making, bottle production, ice delivery, beer distribution, and shipping.
By 1880 Cincinnati was recognized as the "Beer Capital of the World," with Over-the-Rhine at its center.
Music Hall was constructed in 1878 as a musical performance hall. The Springer Auditorium continues to house Cincinnati's Symphony Orchestra, May Festival, and Opera Companies.
The early 1900s
By 1906, the Miami and Erie Canal had fallen into disuse, becoming a health hazard. Cincinnati Subway began construction along the canal in 1920. In 1928 the project was abandoned, and in that year, Central Parkway was built on top of the abandoned subway.
The Hamilton County Memorial Hall was dedicated in 1908 to commemorate service members who had died in American wars. The classic Beaux Arts concert hall is the venue for Cincinnati Chamber Music Society's concerts and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra chamber performers.
War, Prohibition, redlining, and a new highway brought a cultural shift.
Over-the-Rhine's original culture took massive blows from WWI, its accompanying anti-German hysteria, and Prohibition. German culture placed a high value on good beer, and OTR was in the business of making a lot of it.
By 1919, Prohibition had driven most of the breweries out of business, and Christian Moerlein alone had employed over 500 people. Along with World War I sentiments, this was the beginning of the decline of OTR's population and cultural homogeneity. Improved public transportation and automobiles made it easier for working-class families to live in the surrounding hilltop neighborhoods; the people who could afford to leave OTR's densely packed, small apartment buildings moved away.
Over-the-Rhine remained a vibrant, working-class neighborhood in the early twentieth century as industry remained strong, and the area was still considered a working-class neighborhood. Many migrants from Appalachia and African Americans from the South moved in to become day laborers in the 1930s and 40s, and OTR's tenements increasingly became home to the working poor.
Starting during the Depression, Over-the-Rhine saw the arrival of a new era of American-born immigrants. Appalachians left failing farmlands and coal fields in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee for industrial work in Cincinnati, often in industries located in OTR and its neighboring communities. Because of its proximity to jobs and because they could afford the small, coldwater tenements that had come to characterize the neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine progressed into an era when the community became distinctly Appalachian. Although this period was predominately defined by poverty, these residents epitomized the Appalachian culture, producing local bluegrass legend Katie Laur and many other great musicians and artisans.
After the National Housing Act of 1934 created the Federal Housing Administration to expand access to mortgages, the Home Owners Loan Corporation adopted "redlining" policies from the private real estate sector to assess credit risk in different neighborhoods. This codified housing discrimination in the US. The HOLC and FHA used 1930 census data to determine the risk associated with providing mortgage support in certain areas. The problem is that factors like race and ethnicity were significant indicators of a neighborhood's risk grade. These grades were then mapped, with the worst settings shaded in red, hence the term "redlining." These red areas were overwhelmingly black and immigrant neighborhoods, and these grades allowed mortgages to be denied to these communities for decades, significantly worsening residential segregation and urban decay.
By the 1950s, the neighborhood's residential buildings were outdated, and many units were still without running water. People who could afford to leave the densely-packed apartment buildings and had cars moved to nearby suburbs.
In the 1960s and 70s
With interstates I-75 and I-71, the demographics began to change in OTR. Neighborhoods to the east and west of OTR with large African American populations were eliminated to create significant transportation routes. This left poor black families to fill OTR vacancies among poor and working-class Appalachians. Living conditions were cramped, often unsanitary, and unsafe. Reformers in the 1960s and 1970s started "renovating" OTR's iconic buildings by ripping out historical features and making apartments more energy efficient and easier to clean. By the1980s, a vast number of the neighborhood's housing units were Section 8. Crime rose, and poverty increased. Over-the-Rhine became Cincinnati's most notorious neighborhood. We can only speculate how an Eastern Bypass would effect the city if that were to come to fruition.
By the 1980s,
Crime and poverty were rising but also the district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its exceptional nineteenth-century architecture and its association with the successive waves of German immigration to America in the nineteenth century.
The Ensemble Theater was founded in 1986. While the company's first few seasons of productions were at Memorial Hall, in 1988, it moved to its current location on Vine Street.
In 1991, the Pendleton Art Center opened with the most extensive collection of private galleries under one roof anywhere in the country.
Cincinnati riots of 2001
The riots, the most significant urban disorder in the United States since the Los Angeles riots of 1992, after the taped beating of Rodney King; effectively killed the Over-the-Rhine renaissance of the late 1990s.
An influx of wealthier residents moved into the neighborhood, and growing drug activity led to a dramatic increase in police presence. Critics accused Police of harassing the neighborhood's black youths and being more concerned about the white club-hoppers and house-renovators than Over-the-Rhine's poor black residents. Over-policing, a racial profiling lawsuit, and the killing of four black suspects in November 2000 led to a high distrust between the urban black community and the Police.
On April 7, 2001, at approximately 2 a.m., a white Cincinnati police officer Stephan Roach chased a wanted 19-year-old African-American Timothy Ryan for traffic citations into an "extremely dark" breezeway near Republic and 13th Streets. The officer thought the man had reached for a weapon, so he shot him in the chest, killing him, although no gun was found. This was the 15th time a black man had been killed by Police in six years.
A few days later, protestors attempted to gain access to a meeting in City Hall and upon refusal of entry they threatened to bar the doors. For three hours, they demanded answers from City Council with claims of a police cover-up. It began to get physical with a council member being pushed. The Crowd then moved to the District 1 police station where a crown had already gathered. They met police in riot gear. The citizens grew angrier and threw stones and smashed in the station's front door before Police opened fire with bean bags, rubber bullets, and tear gas.
Violence continued in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown for the next three days begining with a march of around 40 black men. he police closely followed the protest as more joined. This spured violence. Those involved in the rebellion threw bricks through car windows, targeted and beat white motorists, smashed storefronts and looted businesses, set dozens of fires throughout the city, shot at Police, and more. Main Street was targeted by those involved in the rebellion, according to some businesses there. Of those arrested for rioting, 70% were not residents of Over-the-Rhine, and 86% were African-American males. The total cost of damage to the city was at least $13.7 million.
After the Riots OTR struggled to regain its commercial foothold for several decades until 2002, when neighborhood organizations and the City of Cincinnati collaborated to create a detailed and vigorous comprehensive plan. Police, began an unofficial "work slowdown" where they made far fewer arrests, and some started looking for jobs in the suburbs. Crime increased by double digits, and within months of the unrest, nearly 20% of Section 8 voucher holders left Over-the-Rhine. The following year a crowd of "300 black people", which had initially formed to watch a fight between two young black teens, blocked Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine while there were "attacks on cars driven by white people." Businesses moved to other neighborhoods because customers were too frightened to visit Over-the-Rhine, and Main Street lost much of its nightlife to places like Newport, Northside, and Hyde Park. After the 2001 riots, "a huge number of people" left Over-the-Rhine, leaving 500 of the neighborhood's 1,200 buildings vacant and property values extremely low. Also, in 2001, Over-the-Rhine's largest Section 8 landlord declared bankruptcy. This, combined with skyrocketing Crime, prompted many to use their vouchers to voluntarily move out of the neighborhood.
The city recruited financial support from Cincinnati's businesses and developers with the express intention of preserving the aesthetic and historic character of the neighborhood.
After the 2001 riots, Mayor Charlie Luken dismissed the planning department, believing the city was not good at economic development and that previous studies had been ineffective. Luken met with Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley, and the two announced the creation of a nonprofit to redevelop Over-the-Rhine and the city's business district, named Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The nonprofit, consisting mainly of Cincinnati's business community, raised millions of dollars from city grants, corporate philanthropy, and federal tax credits. In 2003 a bankrupt landlord auctioned off 1,600 low-income apartments. Cincinnati's corporate and philanthropic elite began buying entire blocks at a time, with the most significant player being the 3CDC. 3CDC immediately encountered resistance from the neighborhood's homeless advocates, who claimed they were displacing the poor, but according to 3CDC, "at least 90 percent" of the buildings the agency bought were vacant. As a non-government entity, it became more difficult to slow or stop 3CDC's projects compared to those created by City Hall.
Redeveloped buildings in the Gateway Quarter at 12th and Vine Streets
Since 2004, 3CDC has invested $84 million in 152 seriously deteriorated buildings and 165 vacant parcels. In April 2009, 3CDC reported that 70% of the 100 condos in the Gateway Quarter were sold, with 80% of the buyers being 35 years old or younger. In February 2010, 3CDC reported the redevelopment of nearly 200 condominiums and more than 30 new storefronts, with 60% of those being sold despite a down housing market. According to 3CDC, 2010 will be their most ambitious year yet with $164 million in redevelopment projects, most centered in Over-the-Rhine. By 2012 3CDC expects to deliver 150 new apartments, another dozen renovated condos and new office space.
In 2004 the Art Academy of Cincinnati moved from its Mount Adams location to 12th and Jackson streets in Over-the-Rhine. A new building for the School for Creative and Performing Arts was founded in 1973 built at Elm street and Central Parkway and opened in 2010. The $80 million facility is the only K-12 arts school in the United States. The Emery Theatre, which hosted many of the greatest performing artists of the early 20th century, is undergoing a $3 million renovation. The Cincinnati Streetcar, the city's first streetcar line since the 1950s, runs through downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Based on the Portland model, it was estimated that this streetcar line would generate $1.9 billion in benefits for the city. A $14 million expansion and renovation of Washington Park was finished in 2012, including an $18 million underground parking garage. Cincinnati Public Schools is renovating the historic Rothenburg School at East Clifton Avenue and Main Street to replace the razed school at Washington Park. In 2004, the City of Cincinnati completed a $16 million renovation of Findlay Market, which was 47% occupied. In 2010, the market became 100% occupied and was still growing.
Listed as one of the "Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in America" in 2006 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it has since been removed from the list. It was awarded third place in 2011 in the nationwide This Place Matters community challenge sponsored by the same entity. Also, in 2006, the esteemed Cincinnati Art Academy relocated to OTR from Mt. Adams.
Between 2004 and 2009, Crime in the Gateway Quarter was down nearly 50%. Between 2008 and 2010, forty-seven new businesses opened in the Gateway Quarter. In 2010, new companies began appearing in the neighborhood in preparation for a casino that would be built nearby. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2012, "in just six years, developers have moved Over-the-Rhine from one of America's poorest, most run-down neighborhoods to among its most promising," and according to the Urban Land Institute, Over-the-Rhineis "the best development in the country right now."
With public-private solid partnerships, two of OTR's anchors — Washington Park and the iconic Cincinnati Music Hall — received funding for renovations to help stimulate revitalization efforts throughout the neighborhood.
OTR has sought to reinvent itself by preserving its past and using the neighborhood's original 19th-century layout to promote dense living and multimodal transportation, including the installation of RedBike bike-share stations, e-scooters and the 2016 opening of the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar.
The Over-the-Rhine Foundation and Brewery District Master Plan seek to spur economic activity based on the neighborhood's historic resources.
A 2022 Report on OTR can be found here.
Once one of Cincinnati's most economically challenged areas, Over-the-Rhine now shines as one of its most vibrant neighborhoods. While facing many of the same challenges endured by historic urban communities across the country, OTR serves as a model of neighborhood revitalization. Cincinnati's planning efforts, together with public-private partnerships and the support of the community's residents, give every reason to believe this vitality will continue well into the future. Over-the-Rhine was once world-renowned as a cultural mecca, and we believe this part of our past is preparing to repeat itself. Even the forgotten Subway is now getting some attention.