Monday, December 16, 2013

Camp Washington

"The trouble with a bath is that by the time you're through you're just as hot."
--Emma Jones (Street Scene)

Captivating 1934 video of Camp Washington, an urban Cincinnati neighborhood. The silent film provides a sense of 1930s era urban life as seen through the eyes of merchants and street walkers of the time.

I have watched this clip several times over the past couple of days. Unlike many of the jerky black-and-white films of the period, this one seems so vivid--and so local. Although actual intent is unknown, it seems the filmmaker sought to the document the neighborhood's human element for posterity's sake.

Perhaps the filmaker sensed that the street scene would soon change...

Getting its name from the area's role as an army camp during the Mexican War, Camp Washington was established in 1846 and was the site of the first Ohio State Fair in 1850. Camp Washington's evolving role as a transportation corridor shaped its destiny. A nice review of this evolution can be viewed here.
Three early transportation routes--the Mill Creek which defines its western border, Colerain Avenue (later US 27) cutting north/south thru the neighborhood, and the Miami Erie Canal shaping its eastern border--were all in place by 1830, creating supply chain infrastructure that attracted early industry to the area.

Installation of a rail line in the late 1860s cemented Camp Washington's centrality to the industrial corridor that became known as the Mill Creek Valley. In the second half of the 19th century, Camp Washington featured a large concentration of meat processers and meat packers as well as noteworthy clusters of machining and chemical processing concerns. With those businesses came expanding rail lines and more streets, such as Spring Grove Avenue north/south and Hopple Street east/west.

By the 1930's, Camp Washington's street fabric included Central Parkway (the paved over Miami Erie Canal) and the Western Hills Viaduct. However, the neighborhood's first main road, Colerain Avenue, remained the 'main drag.' As is evident in the 1934 video, thoroughfares were thick with small businesses and road/sidewalk traffic that, even during the Depression Era, appeared to complement larger industry in the area.

The video suggests Camp Washington as a vibrant neighborhood--a place of healthy growth and change. As the neighborhood celebrated its centennial twenty years later in the 1950s, however, another change that dwarfed all previous changes in significance was in the wind.

The Federal Aid Highway Act was passed in 1956. The act authorized construction of a national interstate highway system. At the time, some pieces that were to become the Interstate 75 run through Cincinnati were already in place north of the city. The Evendale/Lockland/Paddock Road legs were constructed from Erie Canal and WWII infrastructure in the 1940s and the Norwood Lateral/Ludlow Viaduct legs were completed in the 1950s.

By the end of the decade, I-75 stopped at the northern doorstep of Camp Washington. To gain a sense of the building and street fabric density of the time, the above photo shows Cincinnati's West End looking north toward the south side of Camp Washington in the late 1950s. I-75 would eventually cut through the center of this urban mass--running parallel and just to the right of Western Avenue--which can be seen at the top of the image running past the right field fence of Crosley Field.

Neighborhood demolition proceeded in the early 1960s for the route south through Camp Washington and the West End to the river. With it went the relevance of Colerain Avenue. It was cut off in the north and the south of Camp Washington by the interstate run. Most of the east/west street fabric was torn as well. The above picture of Crosley Fied on Opening Day in 1962 provides some sense of the neighborhood divide wrought by the interstate construction. The leg through Camp Washington to the Ohio River was completed in 1963.

Fifty years later, Camp Washington is still trying to recover from this change. Many businesses large and small are gone. However, what remains is not totally barren. For example, the CSX rail yard on the west side of Camp Washington is one of the larger yards in the country. And neighborhood rebuilding efforts continue.

But re-capturing the vibrance depicted in the 1934 video has proven difficult.

1 comment:

dgeorge12358 said...

The Bottoms - A Neighborhood That No Longer Exists

Cincinnati is a city of neighborhoods. One of them is very, very special—because it is no longer there. The Bottoms: a dense urban neighborhood full of churches, full of people. It ran from the River to Sixth Street, from Walnut Street east to the foot of Mt. Adams.