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THE SOUTH FAIRMOUNT PROJECT/ LICK RUN (PART I)

Updated: Feb 5


One of my favorite historic photos of Cincinnati. Taken from Clifton, this shot looks west at Lick Run better known today as South Fairmount.

Cincinnati Post, Monday, April 10,1951

Woman, 75, Still Operates Market Stand By Betty Donovan Mistress Rose Fries, 75, hasn’t missed a day at her market stand at Sixth and Plum Streets since she was six years old She was Mistress Rose Enger in those days almost 70 years ago, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Enger from France. Her parents had a little truck farm in Fairmount Every day the market was open they brought potatoes, sweet Bermuda onions and carrots to the stand. In summer they added lettuce, green onions, and other fresh vegetables and fruits. “I grew up, married and was widowed, but I never missed a market day,” said Mrs. Fries. “When my parents died over 40 years ago, I took over the stand and ran it alone.” Everyone at market calls her “Mistress Rose,” a name given her in childhood. She knows the first and family names of hundreds of Cincinnatians. Some of her customers represent the third generation of families which have bought fruits and vegetables from Mistress Rose. She arrives at Sixth and Plum Streets about 6a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. By that time she has already spent about two hours at the commission houses, picking out the produce she will display on her stand.“Sometimes strangers stop and tell me I’m too old to work like this,” she said. “They’re usually people who aren’t half as healthy as I am. I’ve never been sick a day in my life, thank God. Fresh air and hard work never hurt anybody.” Mrs. Fries now lives at 3220 Glenmore in Westwood, and has one daughter and five grandchildren. Her hair has turned white and her hands are gnarled with age and toil, but her bright blue eyes are still sharp, and her tanned face remarkably free of lines. Mistress Rose keeps her change in an old cigar box and a hand–crochet coin purse. She wears a faded knitted hat winter and summer and a black coat which looks like a man’s. “Fine potatoes, fresh corn, red ripe tomatoes,” she sings as customers cluster around her stand. “Snap beans, turnip greens, oranges and apples.”She said she hopes the Lord permit her to stay in business until she celebrates her 75th anniversary as “Mistress Rose of Market Square”.“This old market is like an old friend,” she said. “It has grown older and more wonderful looking along with me but when you look at an old friend you don’t see age, you just see friendliness. It’s not every place where you can feel at home for 75 years.”




THE FAIRMOUNT PROJECT

For most of her life Mistress Rose made the trip from her home to downtown Cincinnati's Sixth Street and Court Street markets six days a week, just as her parents did a generation earlier. The three mile trip was made first by a horse drawn wagon and later in an ancient truck from Fairmount, located on the edge of the downtown basin. The flat roads and proximity of Fairmount's Lick Run valley permitted easy access to downtown Cincinnati making it one of the city's first suburbs and later one of the city's earliest neighborhhoods when it was annexed in 1870. Fairmount is just one of Cincinnati's 52 neighborhhods, each with its own past but all woven into the fabric of the city's economy and society. It's story closely parallels that of the nation and is a story in which I take great pesonal interest.




WHY DO THIS ?

I have an affinity for the past. That short statement explains my profession of several decades, teaching history, and much about my life as those who know me can well attest. Knowing the story behind a person or place has always fascinated me, a characteristic I attribute to my grandmother, who lived with my parents through the first thirteen year of my life until she passed away in 1976. The great grand-daughter of German immigrants who came to Cincinnati in the 1830’s, she knew more about the city of her birth than any person I have ever met. Born in the late 19th century, she had an eighth grade education but was amazingly well read and foward thinking, with an impressive collection of books including a complete set of Shakespeare’s works. She instilled in me the love of a good story and a deep affection for Cincinnati, gifts passed to me though I was slow to realize it. I suspect her infatuation with Cincinnati began with “Mistress” Rose, her mother and my great grandmother, a woman born during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant and who died as John Kennedy took office. Though I never met “Mistress” Rose it feels like I know her. A tough business woman, widowed at an early age with two small children she was not afraid of hard work as the Cincinnati Post story clearly indicates. Rose’s daily interaction with Cincinnatians of every ilk in the heart of the city, made her by all accounts a good judge of character and apparently not afraid of letting someone know what she thought of them. She regularly used a German phrase with my father that roughly translated into “self –praise stinks”, when he began dating one of her grand-daughters, my mother. Unfortunately I never met Mistress Rose. It was not until I was well into my teaching career that I rediscovered the Cincinnati Post piece, and began reflecting on Rose and where she grew up and lived most of her life.



A CITY OF NEIGHBORHOODS: Each of the 52 neighborhood that comprise Cincinnati became part of the city at different times and for different reasons. In many instances geographic features created in the aftermath of the Ice Age - hills, valleys and creek beds defined the boundaries of the city's earliest neighborhoods.




For years I made almost daily commutes through Fairmount, the community in which Rose and several generations of my family had been born and raised, first as a student commuting to the University of Cincinnati and later making early morning drives to work each day. I rarely paid any attention to the long narrow valley and surrounding hills that constituted the neighborhood. Typically I was engrossed in NPR or thinking through the challenges of the coming school day. It was a drive thru-neighborhood eliciting only a passing concern for the volume of traffic I might encounter. That changed about eight years ago when paging through one of my grandmother’s old books titled Vaz You Ever In Zinzinnati, I re-discovered a clipping of the Cincinnati Post article on Mistress Rose I had once seen as a child. That moment was the catalyst for my Fairmount Project. In the months and years that followed, my commutes through Fairmount became more meaningful as I gradually uncovered more than a century long connection between the valley Rose called home, and my family’s past.



This coincided with the beginning of an urban renaissance unfolding in downtown Cincinnati that I find intriguing. I am convinced the "Cincinnati Renaissance" fits perfectly into a larger historical narrative of re-urbanization shaped by America’s new economic realities and corresponding social changes. Just as earlier generations abandoned rural America and moved in larger numbers to its cities followed later by a migration away from cities to sprawling suburbs, I believe we are now experiencing a new migration, a re-urbanization of America as millennials rediscovers an urban lifestyle last familiar to their great- grandparent's generation. Cincinnati fits perfectly into this national historical narrative as does Fairmount, which is poised for a new transformation, driven oddly enough by a massive venture undertaken by the Metropolitan Sewer District. Lick Run would not exist without Cincinnati making it impossible to explore the valley's past independently of the city. Cincinnati's history provides the context for understanding the patterns of continuity and change that shaped Lick Run as Fairmount was known, and the lives of its residents. The Fairmount Project above all else, is an attempt to explore the history of Lick Run and Cincinnati as a good story. It’s a story populated by people I believe to be representative of the valley’s residents, or whom I just plain and simply found interesting.


THE LANDSCAPE

Cincinnati’s location made it important to the expansion and economic development of the United States throughout the early nineteenth century. Founded in 1788 on a flat six square mile shelf bounding the northern bank of the Ohio River, the “Queen City of the West” first made its mark on America as an important transit center for the rich agricultural bounty of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky bound for New Orleans, and as a stopover for adventurous souls seeking a new life in the West. Sitting in a basin surrounded by substantial hills to the north, east, and west and with the river to the south Cincinnati remained a compact though vibrant city as the basin filled with new arrivals. One natural avenue of growth was a broad valley at the western edge the city cut by a stream known as the Mill Creek. Running north from the Ohio River, the Mill Creek Valley broadened with tributaries cutting less substantial valleys to its east and west.



This landscape was born some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago as the Illinois and Wisconsin Glaciers successively grew southward to points just north of Cincinnati pushing mounds of clay, silt, and rock carved from lands in the paths of the icy behemoths into a broad flat tableland stretching from the central portion of the state to the Ohio River. As the Ice Age came to an end and the glaciers retreated, streams began to slowly erode the southern edges of the tableland cutting the valleys and narrow ravines that crisscross the Greater Cincinnati region today.



THE MILL CREEK & LICK RUN CREEK: Lick Run can be found in the lower left corner of the map. The portion of Lick Run that appears in red was buried more than a century ago in a massive underground sewage main. Currently the stream bed is being restored as part of a sprawling re-configuration of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District forced by an EPA action to improve water quality by removing raw sewage that regularly spills into the Mill Creek.



Three miles north of the Ohio River is a winding three mile long valley running east to west from the more expansive Mill Creek. Once known as Lick Run, it and the impressive hills rising above it comprise one of Cincinnati’s older neighborhoods, Fairmount. Even today its hillsides appear forested with a green canopy though the vegetation is substantially different than the native forests of an earlier age. The old growth forest of Fairmount was the victim of a variety of economic endeavors in the early and mid-nineteenth century that ranged from logging to clear cutting for pastures and vineyards by the 1850’s. In fact, ecologists agree it is nearly impossible to find “virgin forests” anywhere in the state of Ohio that had not been disturbed to some degree by economic activity. Several studies have identified the Caldwell Nature Preserve as one of the few old growth forests in Ohio that experienced minimal disturbances. Its location just a few miles to the north of Lick Run with a similar terrain of steep valleys crisscrossed by stream beds feeding the Mill Creek, creates a reasonable argument that Lick Run was once covered by similar flora. Identified as a mixed mesophytic forest, the Caldwell Preserve is dominated by sugar maples and beech trees accompanied by smaller percentages of black cherry, tulip poplar, hackberry, white oak, white ash, and American elm.[i] While the green blanket of the present is a refreshing sight after leaving the concrete, steel and blacktop of the I -75 corridor, it cannot be nearly as impressive an eighteenth century grove of massive maple and beech. Nor is the understory nearly as diverse with Japanese honeysuckle and other invasive alien species crowding out smaller native trees and wildflowers.


The valley’s floor narrows at its western terminus gradually rising in elevation into the rolling hilltops of Westwood and Green Township making it a natural gateway to the uplands of Cincinnati’s "Greater West". The waters of Lick Run Creek sculpted the valley snaking through a clay and soil mix covering a foundation of blue limestone and brittle shale, nourishing creek bottom species of trees like the sycamore, river birch and paw-paw on its way to the Mill Creek. The blue limestone while not unique to Fairmount, was so plentiful at one time that Fairmount was home to several quarries which consequently employed residents of the valley including one of my great-great grandfathers. The blue limestone was typically in bands that were cut in 2 – 6 inch slabs used in walls and foundations across Cincinnati. Steep blue limestone strewn stream beds, cut into both the northern and southern hillsides of Lick Run valley, appearing regularly along its full length. Almost always dry, these stream beds fill with rushing torrents replete with picturesque waterfalls with each spring and summer downpour returning to a perennial dry rocky state only hours after a storm. Today Lick Run Creek is nowhere to be found buried under Queen City Avenue as part of a massive sewer line built in the early 20th century while many of the dry stream beds were blacktopped over by streets that climb the heights of Price Hill and Westwood. However, just enough of the valley’s former beauty remains to provide a glimpse of what it looked like before it was inhabited.



While archeologists have unearthed numerous sites from the prehistoric mound builders across the Greater Cincinnati region, the valley’s dramatic landscape and the surrounding areas were not permanently occupied until the early decades of the 19th century.[ii] By the 18th century, Lick Run like most of Hamilton County, was used by Native Americans of the Miami, Shawnee and Delaware tribes living along the headwaters of the Great and Little Miami Rivers further to the north for hunting. The existence of a well traveled “Indian trail” following the Mill Creek to the Ohio River that crosses over Lick Run, leaves little doubt the valley was visited for game and easy access to the highlands of western Hamilton County.


A FRONTIER SOCIETY

In the early decades of Cincinnati’s existence in the late 18th century, the city was engaged in a struggle for survival as a frontier settlement and Lick Run quite simply was the frontier. In 1788 Lick Run was part of a 330,000 acre land acquisition from the US government by a group of land speculators headed by John Cleves Symmes. Stretching from east to west between the Little and Great Miami Rivers, the Symmes Purchase as it was known, was intended to be a profitable real estate venture consisting of rich farmland with valuable access to the Ohio River. Though a steady trickle of adventurous souls began arriving in the Miami Valley by the 1790’s, it was not the explosive growth for which Symmes had hoped, as Native Americans furiously pushed back against the tide of western migration. The tribes of the Ohio Valley extending as far north as Michigan stood together in an effort to stop the expansion of the still young United States. They had seen the fate of tribes to the east, some of whom now lived among them as refugees, like the Delaware. This collection of tribes sometimes referred to as the Miami Confederacy understood the advancing white civilization meant a fundamental reshaping of the landscape threatening their semi-nomadic way of life that depended on good hunting and small scale agriculture. Though their villages were located far to the north of the Ohio River, Cincinnati and the neighboring Lick Run Valley were part of a vast hunting region on which the tribes historically depended. The Shawnee, Miami and a half dozen other tribes understood the land would be claimed, cleared and the deer, rabbit, and wild turkey that filled places like Lick Run sustaining them for generations would disappear. Having witnessed the pattern for more than century further to the east, they viewed fighting as inevitable as two radically different ways of life collided with each other.


ISRAEL LUDLOW

In Hamilton County the Shawnee struck from the northeast and the Miami from northwest. Fort Washington, established by Federal government in 1789, around which Cincinnati developed, provided some degree of security though it rapidly dissolved with each step beyond the city’s boundaries. The land between the Miamis rapidly became known as the “Miami Slaughterhouse” much to the chagrin of land speculators like Symmes and Israel Ludlow. A native of Morristown, New Jersey young Ludlow was among the most important figures associated with the founding of Cincinnati and the development of the Miami Valley. A surveyor by profession, he arrived in the Ohio country in 1786 as an employee of the United States government. Surveyors like him played an important role in the early history of the United States. Out of necessity they were frontiersman equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to survive months at a time, hundreds of miles from the nearest cities, yet they were the harbingers of civilization plying a trade so necessary in a society that considered private property rights sacred. Land meant independence and freedom in an agricultural economy, making its measuring and marking a requirement of civilization. Ludlow it should be noted, did most of his work with almost no security. In the early years after the Revolution the United States had virtually no army and the few troops that did exist were certainly not going to be wasted on surveyor’s security detail. It took great courage to venture into the Ohio country virtually alone which Ludlow did repeatedly. In December of 1788 Ludlow was made a partner in an expedition that bought acreage from Symmes on the banks of Ohio opposite the mouth of the Licking River, their intention, the founding of a new city, Losantiville. Within the next year Ludlow was plotting the streets of the city shortly later renamed Cincinnati.[iii] Persistent Indian raids made farming the outlying areas difficult at best.


LUDLOW STATION

In March 1790 Israel Ludlow began the construction of Ludlow Station on farm land he owned just a few miles north of Lick Run in present day Cumminsville. It was part of a network of blockhouses he helped organize stretching across the Miami Valley. It was customary for families pushing out into the wilderness of the Miami Valley to band together in building a blockhouse or station for safety. Often it bore the name of a more prosperous land owner that was the de facto leader of the party and from whom many had bought their small tracts of property. Made of stout timbers the blockhouses were often surrounded with a wooden palisades allowing the Cincinnatians working outlying lots to “fort up” in the event of a raid. Almost every firsthand account of the region’s early years mentions relatives and neighbors killed in such raids. William Ludlow, a nephew of Israel, wrote decades later “Few persons today have any just conception of our constant apprehension, our constant sense of danger in those days. My father made it a rule for each of his men to have his rifle loaded and in hand on going out in the morning, and the supply of ammunition was to be constantly attended to. The plowman carried the gun on his back; the man with the hoe placed his gun from time to time against the first tree ahead, and when engaged in rolling or raising logs, sentinels were placed in the outskirts to prevent surprises.”[iv] Often the attacks were raids of opportunity, generally small scale affairs, a lone farmer in a field, an isolated cabin, the theft of a grazing horse or un-guard cattle. By 1790 an estimated 1,500 settlers had been killed in Kentucky and the new settlements north of the Ohio River.



George Washington newly installed as the first president insisted action had to be taken. Twice the United States mounted major military expeditions to crush the confederacy of tribes with both resulting in failure. The first campaign was launched on October 7, 1790 as General Josiah Harmar departed Cincinnati with a force of 1,400, mostly militia along with a small regiment of regulars numbering about 350. Their destination was the Miami village of Kekionga near present day Ft. Wayne Indiana. Within in two weeks the expedition had turned into a disaster with Little Turtle, a Miami chief, repeatedly outmaneuvering Harmar and inflicting heavy casualties ( 223). By November Harmar’s force had made it back to Cincinnati’s Ft. Washington in a shoddy retreat replete with charges of desertion by militiamen.


THE BATTLE OF DUNLAP STATION

Attacks in the Miami Valley were now unrelenting and the costs were high, chilling the growth prospects of the region. John Cleves Symmes wrote, “The Indians kill people so frequently that none dare stir in the woods, and people will not purchase [land] or to venture as formerly, to view the country”. [v] Though most of the attacks were carried out by small raiding parties, the attack on Dunlap Station to the northeast of Lick Run on the east bank of the Great Miami River in present day Colerain Township was clearly planned and a stunningly large scale assault.



Starting on the night of January 9 , 1791 and continuing over the next three days an estimated 300 warriors laid siege to the isolated outpost.[vi] The previous day a surveying party of four men had been attacked just north of Dunlap Station causing some alarm though it appeared to be an attack of opportunity, nothing more. None the less a detachment of 12 soldiers temporarily quartered at Dunlap Station and a half dozen farm families retreated to the security of stockade to bed down for the night after two survivors of the clash made it to the safety of the station. Before dawn in a light snow hundreds of Indians launched an assault on the sleeping stockade. Led by Blue Jacket, a Shawnee chief and Simon Girty, a white man who had lived among the Shawnee for more than two decades, the war party hoped to overwhelm the station’s defenders with a combination of surprise and superior numbers. A lone sentry’s alarm however, sent the bleary eyed garrison and famers to the walls just in time to repel the attack. Over the next three days a siege unfolded consisting of alternating periods of intense attacks followed by truncated negotiations with Girty serving as the translator. Replete with flaming arrows intended to burn down the wooden stockade and a horrible episode of psychological warfare in which the war party tried to break the will of the stockade’s defenders. One of surveyors from the party attacked the previous day had been captured and was staked spread eagle on the ground outside the perimeter of Dunlap Station. A small fire was left burning on the man’s abdomen slowly roasting him to death, his screams reaching every corner of Dunlap Station. Just as quickly as the attack began it suddenly ended three days later with the Indians melting away into the woods as a relief column neared the stockade. The Shawnee carried away their dead making an accounting of their losses impossible while the losses inside the stockade were surprisingly light with two dead and one wounded.[vii] Though Dunlap Station did not fall it was abandoned shortly after the assault, a testament to just how dangerous the land between the Miami Rivers remained.


ARUTHUR ST. CLAIR

The Governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, headquartered in Cincinnati had almost immediately began preparations a for a new expedition after Harmer’s defeat, to be launched during the upcoming summer months. St. Clair however, was plagued with one problem after another –inadequate supplies, a shortage of horses, small numbers regular US troops and the slow progress of recruiting enough militiamen delaying the launch of the new campaign until October of 1791. The new American force of about 2,000 mostly poorly trained militia, again targeted Kekionga. By November illness and desertion had reduced St. Clair’s force to no more than 1,200 effective combatants. On the morning of November 4 a multi-tribal force of 1,200 warriors led by Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, , and Buckongalas , a Delaware chief surprised the American force near the headwaters of the Wabash River. After an intense three hour battle St. Clair ordered a desperate retreat for survival. As the remains of the army straggled to safety it was clear the United States suffered an unprecedented defeat with a 96% casualty rate including 832 killed including camp followers. It was not good news for Cincinnati and the surrounding region from which many of the militia were recruited from the area. Raids continued and many who ventured outside of the city to establish farmsteads near the relative security of the stations temporarily abandoned their land for safer confines of Cincinnati. Even Israel Ludlow who continued work on his lands around Ludlow Station opted for sleeping each night in the city some five miles from his holdings.


THE BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS

It was General “Mad” Anthony Wayne who finally brought the Indian War to an end it in August of 1794. Dispatched by President Washington to Cincinnati in 1792 to bring the Miami Confederacy to heel, Wayne was an old favorite of Washington’s dating back to his days in the Continental Army. Wayne spent much of the next year training his “Legion of The United States” for the ensuing campaign determined to avoid the foolish mistakes of his predecessors. His 3,000 man force began a slow march northward in 1793 building a road over the old Indian trail that paralleled the Mill Creek and the Great Miami River. Along the way he built stockades to ensure a secure route for supplies. Finally on August 20, 1794 his well trained and well supplied force met the Indian alliance led by Blue Jacket near present day Toledo 9 ( The Battle of Fallen Timbers). The short intense battle that followed left Wayne in control of the battlefield. In Wayne’s Legion of the United States the Indians saw a persistent, well trained and powerful enemy, an enemy whom they had defeated twice decisively and now had returned with a larger better commanded force a third time. It broke their spirit, forever shattering their confidence. A year later in August of 1795 the treaty of Greenville was signed and peace descended on the lands between the Miami Rivers.



END NOTES

[i] William S. Bryant, Structure and Composition of Old Growth Forests of Hamilton County Ohio and Environs, Docstoc, March 2010, p. 320.


[ii] There are repeated references in late 19th century sources to the existence of a village located in the vicinity of present day College Hill but specifics ever provided.


[iii] Ohio Biographical Encyclopedia, pg. 672. It has been noted that the name Cincinnati was selected by Ludlow in honor of The Society of Cincinnatus to which his father belonged. The Society of Cincinnatus was fraternal organization of veterans that had served as officers of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.


[iv] Henry and Kate Ford, History of Hamilton County, L.A. Williams and Company Publishers, 1881,Page 335.


[v] John Cleves Symmes, Correspondence of John Cleves Symmes, Macmillan Company, 1926, p.143.


[vi] Stephen Decatur Cone, The Attack on Fort Dumlap, Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1908, Volume XVII, p.62


[vii] Decatur, pg. 71.

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