The South Fairmount / Lick Run Project (Part V)
Updated: Feb 28
Long-term subtle changes that began to unfold after the War of 1812 were amplified by the four years of the Civil War altering not just Lick Run but the entire nation. Over the next three decades the once idyllic rural valley on Cincinnati’s western edge filled with immigrants seeking relief from the densely packed confines of the Over-The- Rhine and other neighborhoods of the city basin. By the turn of the century Lick Run was an urban landscape replete with factories, rail lines, and even an ethnic ghetto. An early version of urban sprawl, this pattern was repeated across the country as the market revolution exploded into a full -scale industrial revolution accompanied by urbanization and a new way of life.
The valley’s population growth was overwhelming German in the post war era. Part of a German corridor that stretched from the Over-The- Rhine through Mohawk and Brighton, it was the western end of a funnel that spilled German immigrants and their children on to the green hilltops of Cincinnati’s greater west. People like John Fries and Magdalena Landenwitch , his new bride, were among those who made it their home. Wed on November 9, 1865, shortly after the war ended, John Fries married Magdalena , two years his junior. Their wedding took place at St. Francis Seraph, a Catholic church in the heart of Over-the-Rhine. Built in 1859, St. Francis was operated by the same order serving tiny St. Peter, the Franciscan Friars, one of many links between the busy German district and Lick Run Valley. Lena, as she was known, had immigrated to the United States with her parents at the age of three in 1845.[i]She had called the Over-the- Rhine home through most of her life but Lena and her new husband chose to raise their family in the valley near the Fries farm, avoiding the seven square miles comprising the city of Cincinnati and its 200,000 people.
While the city was a socially and economically vibrant seven square miles, living conditions could be challenging if not outright deadly. A pall of sooty gray smoke tended to hang in the air over the city’s low-lying basin. One British writer touring the United States described Cincinnati as “one of the smokiest and “Auld Reekie” like cities in America, noting the smoke stained brick and stone gave the city a “venerable look” of “premature antiquity”. [ii] Plagued by crime as were all densely populated cities of the era, it also suffered occasional outbreaks of deadly diseases like cholera ( Found in polluted drinking water). In 1866 alone, a cholera epidemic killed 2,028 Cincinnatians. On the single worst day, August 13th, the epidemic claimed 86 lives.[iii] In 1872 almost 1,200 more people died as another epidemic swept through the city, this time small pox.[iv] Though shocking by today’s standards these epidemics were typical of large American cities clearly making the Fries farm a more desirable home than the Over-The –Rhine District . Lick Run’s rural character remained as its dairymen, produce farmers and butchers continued serving the city basin’s five farmer markets. The convenience of reaching the city’s 200,000 people less than four miles away over flat relatively well maintained roads allowed these small family farms to survive at a time when similar enterprises were rapidly disappearing across the nation. The combination of a national market connected by a growing rail network and new technologies rendered small farms virtually obsolete. Labor saving devices like McCormick’s reaper made larger scale operations necessary while the development of the refrigerated rail car and a sprawling rail system allowed produce and beef to be shipped across the country. While many families were the same ones that resided in Lick Run for several decades like the Fries family, the way they lived was changing. Few were purely farmers any longer like John Fries, though John’s mother, Maria, continued to manage the farm. Making a living strictly through farming was increasingly difficult forcing many like Fries into alternative work like retailing produce rather than actually raising it.[v] Lick Run was a central corridor for roads fanning out to the farming communities west of Cincinnati. Rapid Run Pike, Harrison Pike, and Lick Run (Queen City) helped create natural relationships with farmers with much larger but more isolated farming operations in places like Delhi, Green, Miami and Whitewater Townships.
John's long association with the markets, a lifetime of farming, and proximity to the city gave him an advantageous understanding of what to sell and how to acquire it. The more established families with deeper roots in the valley were not the only ones clinging to an agricultural past to survive. Some like Philip Enger, an Alsacian, were new to Lick Run. A farmer by trade he left the town of Riechshofen for the United States in 1856.[vi] A resident of the downtown basin he met and married Rosa Roettele another immigrant from Baden on January 8, 1863. By the early 1870’s the Engers moved their young family to the eastern end of the valley to a small truck farm where they raised potatoes, carrots and Sweet Bermuda onions. Like John Fries, Phillip Enger found it necessary to supplement farming with additional income, in his case as a teamster. Enger not only drove rigs pulled by large draft horses but also trained and sold the animals. The Engers were part of the growing German Catholic presence that founded St. Peter in the 1830’s. In 1868 with its numbers swelling the parish now led by Father Jacob Menchen , a Franciscan, bought property a mile to the east of St. Peter with the intention of building a new church. Under the supervision of Father Menchen and six lay “wardens” the cornerstone was laid and construction began early in 1868. The wardens were elected by parishioners to aid in the administration of the parish’s business affairs. This was a special concession to the German parishes of the archdiocese not afforded to the Irish parishes and frowned upon in many dioceses across the United States. Well educated and from a tradition of independence, German immigrants had from the beginning demanded a role in governing their parishes. Archbishop Purcell not wanting a conflict with a large and growing segment of his flock permitted the use of trustees or wardens with the understanding their activities were strictly limited to business or temporal affairs not the spiritual.[vii]In the fall of 1869 the building was completed at a cost of $50,000 and took on a new name, St. Bonaventure.[viii]
A new school was also added to the property as the student body outgrew the old building located at South Branch (Quebec ) and Lick Run roads ( Queen City). Continued growth resulted in subsequent expansion and improvements to St. Bonaventure in the 1890’s and the first decades of the Twentieth Century. Throughout this period it maintained its identity as a German parish with sermons given in German and the Franciscan Order providing pastors.
However the most imposing structure in Lick Run was just to the west of St. Bonaventure, another Catholic institution built in 1886 by the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis. Constructed on a 10 acre plot of land given to the order by Archbishop Purcell, St. Francis Hospital was begun with a $25,000 grant from Rueben Springer. The land had formally been St. Peter’s Cemetery which Archdiocese had taken control of when it was found to be operating in violation of cannon law. Completed in 1889, it served those considered “incurables” with its doors open to all, regardless of income, religion or ethnicity. For almost a century it was a cornerstone of the community until it was closed in 1981.
The Lick Run Turner Hall opened on Montrose St. and not surprisingly was presided over by a physical education teacher, Gottlieb Muellerr, who had a long distinguished career as a teacher with the Cincinnati public school system. Among its members were respected men like William Hoffemeister, a long time valley resident and saloon owner, and Gottlieb Richter the president of St. Martini Evangelical Church. [ix] Another German social organization also appeared in these post war years in the old Baptist Seminary on the hills above Lick Run. The seminary’s vacant buildings were bought at a sheriff’s auction by the Schuetzen –Verein, a German target shooting society in 1867. The Schuetzenbuckel as it became known was regularly used by the society for its gatherings and was rented out to churches, social clubs and lodges for picnics gatherings.[x] A one point there was planning for an incline railway similar to those serving beer gardens in Mt. Adams, Mt. Auburn and Price Hill to carry passengers and wagons from the valley floor to its Fairmount hilltop. In 1888 however, a fire broke out destroying the entire main building.
By 1860 the dream of turning Cincinnati and vicinity into an “American Rhineland” built on vineyards was fading fast. Wine production peaked in 1859 with an estimated 568,000 gallons bottled across Greater Cincinnati. However as the industry grew so did the threat of disaster from mildew and black rot, diseases that afflicted grape crops especially the Catawba, the most popular variety in the region with increasing regularity through the 1850’s. Throughout 1860’s wine production was in rapid decline, a victim of grape rot and to a lesser degree a temporary labor shortage caused by the Civil War. With the death of Nicholas Longworth in 1863 “the culture of the grape” was robbed of its leading advocate sealing the fate of this once promising sector which was all but forgotten in Lick Run and across the entire region by World War I.
While the dream of an “American Rhineland” covered in vineyards was dashed, Cincinnati was becoming the “American Munich” bursting with breweries and rowdy beer halls. The brewing industry, forever associated with Germanic culture, developed a long-term presence in the valley starting in 1847 when George Herancourt one of Cincinnati’s future “Beer Barons” took over operation of the Philadelphia Brewery on Harrison Avenue.
Herancourt, a Bavarian, immigrated to the United States in 1830 with the goal of saving enough money to open his own brewery .[xi] His early years in America were spent working for a brewery in Philadelphia though he visited Cincinnati in 1834 where he claimed to have tasted lager beer for the first time in a Main Street saloon.[xii] Lager, a type of beer fermented at low temperatures became the beer of choice for Cincinnatians and hence its breweries by the 1870’s. By the late 1830’s Herancourt had moved to Columbus becoming a partner in the establishment of the City Brewery but left for Cincinnati after the death of his wife in 1839.
As a widower with a young daughter he met and married Barbara Yengling, herself a widow with children, and began working in the Philadelphia Brewery which had been opened by Barbara Yuengling’s first husband on Harrison Avenue in 1844.[xiii]In 1847 George Herancourt took over its operation embarking on a long and illustrious career in Cincinnati’s beer business that ultimately made him a wealthy man . By the 1860’s his brewery had become a significant player in the region operating at the eastern end of the valley under a new name, the Gm Herancourt Brewery, growing even larger with the purchase of his brother’s Box Brewery in 1864.[xiv]
In 1870 the Cincinnati Enquirer recognized Gm Herancourt as the oldest of the “mammoth” breweries in Cincinnati noting that Mr. Hearancourt “richly deserves a large share of the trade both in and out of the city”, describing his beer as “singularly pure and healthy, light but substantial and of the appropriate strength”.[xv]
Other German immigrants set up breweries in the valley following Herancourt’s lead including William Hoffmeister and Adam Shultz. Hoffmeister settled in the valley after leaving Wurtemberg in 1847 at the age of 30. He opened his brewery in 1856 in the back of the family home on Lick Run Pike near White Street. Operating a brewery and saloon there until 1871, he abandoned brewing to concentrate solely on the saloon business. In 1885 Adam Shultz established the valley’s third brewery on Thinnes Avenue. In 1892 the plant was purchased by Casper Becker, another German immigrant and longtime employee of Christian Moerlein. He operated the plant as the Becker Brewery for the next decade until he sold it to a group of investors who changed its name to the Fairmount Brewery.[xvi]
During this post war era another important part of the Queen City’s heritage was also born, baseball. Cincinnati’s obsession with the game began of course, with the founding of the Cincinnati Reds, the first professional club in 1863. While Lick Run played no role in the history of the team one of its residents did, George L. Herancourt, the son of the old German brew master of the same name. While the younger Herancourt’s association with the team was brief it is fascinating story of the machiavellian politics behind the establishment of professional baseball ( Will be examined in an upcoming post).
By the 1880’s German influence in Lick Run was pervasive. From one end of the valley to the other German could be heard in the streets, preached from the pulpit and read in daily newspapers. The valley sat squarely in the middle of a German corridor flanked by the bulk of Cincinnati’s Germans living in the Over-the–Rhine and the outlying farming townships of Western Hamilton County. ( For a deeper understanding of South Fairmount/ Lick Run please see Part I - IV of The South Fairmount / Lick Run Project at cincinnatihistory.org )
[i]1910 United States Census. [ii]Henry and Kate Ford, History of Cincinnati Ohio With Illustrations And Biographical Sketches, L.A. Williams Publishers, 1881, P. 120 [iii]Ibid., p. 103. [iv][iv] Ibid, p. 120. [v]Street level retailers were called hucksters in the late 19th century. 1870 United States Census, series m593, roll 1207, page 172 [vi]1920 United StatesCensus [vii]M. Edmund Hussey, A History of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, p. 24. [viii] The St. Bonaventure 50 Year Anniversary Book. The Church was completed under the leadership of Father Jacob Menchen and a building committee that consisted of W. Schorfheide, B. Schneider, J. Metz, M. Gries, B. Merkel, and G. Steigerwald. [ix]Cincinnati Turner Societies: The Cradle of The Movement,p. [x]Achievement, p. 26. [xi] Cincinnati Enquirer, June 30, 1880, pg. 2 [xii]Cincinnati Enquirer, Brewing Beer In Early Cincinnati, October 29, 1922, p. F7. [xiii]Cincinnati Enquirer, Another Brewery Fight, June 23, 1882, p.8. [xiv]Wimberg, Robert, Cincinnati Breweries,Ohio Book Store, 1997, p.67. [xv] Cincinnati Enquirer, Lager Beer: Its History, Use and Consumption In Cincinnati and Elsewhere, June 13, 1870 p.3. [xvi] History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, S. B. Nelson Company, pg. 331.