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The South Fairmount Project Part 7




Annexation By Cincinnati

South Fairmount's steady growth and economic development during the post Civil War era took place under the auspices of Cincinnati’s municipal government. In May of 1870 large portions of Mill Creek Township including the unincorporated village of Petersburg in Lick Run Valley were annexed along with Camp Washington, Price Hill and Mount Lookout totaling almost 14 square miles.[i] The rapid population growth Cincinnati experienced during the antebellum years ended due to a variety of internal and external factors. One prime reason was the growing importance of Chicago, which quickly supplanted Cincinnati as the Midwest’s major transportation hub, linking the natural riches of the West with population centers in the East through a spider web of rail lines and its location on the Great Lakes ( see post titled Gilded Age Cincinnati by Map). Additionally, a steady exodus out of Cincinnati to the surrounding region slowed the city’s steady growth. The combination of worsening living conditions in the city and new transportation options served as a catalyst for the out migration. Consequently, the city’s fathers decided that to remain one of the nation’s major entities, it was necessary to expand its boundaries through a large scale annexation effort beginning in 1869. A further expansion in 1873 added an additional 4 miles expanding the city to 24 square miles.[ii]

A Self Sufficient Neighborhood

By 1910 Queen City Avenue and Westwood Avenue, which paralleled Queen City served as the retail corridors of South Fairmount. Every type of business one could expect to find in a thriving self-contained community was present; bakeries, barbershops, blacksmiths, a boarding house, shoe stores and repair, cigar and tobacco shops, grocers, a variety of markets, saloons, even a movie theater.[iii] Many of these establishments were located in multi-story buildings allowing a business to operate at street level with residences established on the second and possibly third floors, either as the homes of the proprietors or as rented rooms and apartments. It was a walking community with businesses, homes, schools and churches all within a mile of each other.


The Valley Theater opened in 1911





Lick Run Retail Shops & Services

From The Williams Directory ( 1910 edition) Bakery -- 2 Barbershop – 4 Blacksmith – 2 Boardinghouse – 1 Cigars & Tobacco – 2 Coal Dealers -- 1 Groceries – 9 Livery Stables -- 1 Saloons – 14 Shoes – 3 Tailors -- 9

A sampling of the retail establishments found South Fairmount




The Vitt & Stermer Funeral Home on Westwood Avenue


New homes were also appearing throughout Fairmount and the surrounding hilltop communities. The building booming was made possible because of the presence of good paying jobs found in the industries that dotted South Fairmount and the adjoining Mill Creek Valley which had become the industrial heart of Greater Cincinnati ( see South Fairmount Project Part 6 ). Another important factor that helped finance homes was the presence of no less than five savings and loan companies with names like the Spring Garden Loan & Building Co., The Central Fairmount Building & Loan, The Ernst Station Loan & Building Co., The Lick Run Building & Loan, and The Baltimore Avenue Loan and Building Co. These locally established financial institutions were created primarily to finance homes ownership in surrounding neighborhoods through short term loans ( 5- 10 years ) that could be repeatedly refinanced, an idea that could be traced back to saving and loan associations established by the German immigrant community.

Boss Cox The allure of expanded city services and infrastructure improvements overcame any inclination of maintaining the Lick Run Valley’s ties to Mill Creek Township. The simply organized and inexpensive system of township government could not deliver such luxuries as street lights, waterlines, or improved roads. It was an argument repeated over and over again throughout the late 19th century resulting in a Cincinnati that sprawled well beyond its original boundaries. Cincinnati was governed by a legislative body known as city council, a mayor and a host of independent boards. However, effective governance in the late 19th century proved elusive for Cincinnati as most large cities in America. A combination of growth, rapid economic change and a coarsening of living conditions, created unprecedented challenges for democracy at the local level. Across America political machines dominated municipal government. By the mid 1880’s Cincinnati found itself increasingly under the sway of a Republican machine controlled by George B. Cox. Born in 1853 to English immigrants, Cox lost his father at the age of eight, leading to a hard scrabbled early life working a variety of jobs on the streets of the city. Errand boy, bootblack, newspaper boy, delivery man butcher and barkeep Cox did them all, finally saving enough money by 1874 to become part owner of a saloon. At the age of 21 he was managing a saloon that also served as a gambling parlor at the corner of Longworth Street and Central Avenue christened, "Dead Man’s Corner”.[iv] It was there the quiet “tall, handsome, powerful man”, who “spoke mainly with menacing eyes” honed the interpersonal skills and developed a network of saloon and gambling patrons that would make him a master politician. Motivated by what he viewed as unwarranted harassment by a police force controlled by Democrats, Cox ran for city council in 1879 beginning his assent to the top of Cincinnati’s Republican Party. Once elected and with the proper pressure applied, the harassment of his customers stopped. Initially his influence was limited to the 18th Ward which he represented on council but his reputation for effectively delivering on promises drew the attention of Republican power brokers both in the city and Hamilton County. Essentially once bought, Cox stayed bought. His ability to solve problems for people in the 18th Ward whether with bribes, political influence or pressure gave him iron clad control of the ward. Gradually his influence spread to neighboring wards through the early 1880’s. In the late 1870’s voter fraud was becoming common place, by the mid 1880’s Cox and his associates turned it into an art form along with bribes, graft, blackmail and if necessary voter intimidation. In this respect Cincinnati was no different than any other major city in America. After winning a second term on city council in 1883, Cox never again held elected office suffering defeats in runs for the office of county clerk in 1885 and again in 1889.[v]

The real work however was done behind the scenes with Cox and his friends in less conspicuous appointed positions on boards and commissions, unburdened by the need to win widespread public support. For this reason many of the nation’s most powerful machine bosses did not hold elected office. The burgeoning relationship between Cox and Joseph B. Foraker, who was elected the Governor of Ohio in 1885, played a key role in the rise of Boss Cox . Cox was identified by Foraker’s associates as the man most capable of safely delivering Hamilton County to the Republican Party in future races. To aid Cox in this endeavor a new body was created in Cincinnati in May of 1886 called the Board of Public Affairs, with its members appointed by the governor. This newly created board carried with it the authority to control between 1,200 and 2,000 patronage jobs associated with the city, jobs that became important currency in the game of politics played in Cincinnati.[vi] Cox friends and patrons were awarded jobs in every one of Cincinnati’s 25 wards and in key Hamilton County positions in return for political favors. In some cases this meant supporting Cox favored candidates or awarding public contracts to generous business patrons, and in other cases ensuring favorable outcomes on legal issues involving machine friends and patrons.



Fredrick Sperber & The Cox Machine The tentacles of the Cox machine also reached into South Fairmount. South Fairmount was part of the 24th Ward. There Fredrick Sperber rose to prominence as an important cog in the Cox machine. Born in 1858 Sperber’s life paralleled that of George Cox in many ways. Like Cox, his parents George and Magerreta Sperber, were working class immigrants though Sperber was raised in the relatively semi-rural confines of the valley. Initially employed in a factory producing bristle brush combs, Sperber became a barkeep and opened a saloon on Queen City Avenue in 1884.[vii]


Frederick Sperber and his family


Like Cox, the large thick necked Sperber could look intimidating, a big advantage in Cincinnati’s saloons. Cincinnati’s saloon culture became the epicenter of local urban politics in the late nineteenth century. Murat Halstead, longtime writer and editor of Cincinnati’s Commercial Gazette, recognized the importance of these drinking establishments to grassroots politics, commenting in 1894 that “every saloon is a political clubhouse”.[viii] It was where men like Cox and Sperber practiced the art of real politik, the place where politics was debated, real problems solved and political alliance cemented with a stein of German lager. It was where Cox conducted the business of politics even though he sold his Dead Man’s Corner establishment maintaining an office above the Mecca Saloon and using Wielert’s Café on Vine Street for daily meetings of the machine’s brain trust. At Wielert’s, often described as the finest beer garden in Cincinnati, one was as likely to hear German as English. Sperber like Cox easily maneuvered in two worlds, that of a native born American citizen and of German Cincinnati. Many of the Cox machine lieutenants were “saloonists” or German, which in Sperber’s case was both. This was no small advantage with more 50, 000 German immigrants living in the city, many still heavily concentrated in places like the Over –the-Rhine and the much smaller Lick Run Valley.

Starting in 1886 Fred Sperber rose through the ranks of the new Cox machine holding a variety of municipal and county positions all the while remaining the proprietor of his saloon on Queen City Avenue. In 1886 he was sworn in by the Hamilton County Board of Elections as a registrar for the 24thward that was comprised of North Fairmount, Lick Run ( South Fairmount), Brighton, and Camp Washington.[ix] He was appointed as an assistant in the County Treasurers office in 1892 at a rate of $17. 50 week and by 1900 Sperber was the Superintendent of Street Repairs giving him influence over contracts and jobs, an important form of political currency and in many ways the life blood of urban political machines.[x] Appointed positions like the Superintendent of Street Repairs, were rewards for faithful service to the Cox machine. Sperber who continued to run his drinking establishment, was expected to take care of his saloon patron’s and the needs of Lick Run with jobs or other political favors. As a member of Hamilton County’s Republican Central Committee, he was involved in selecting candidates the party would run for office.

By 1903 Sperber’s support ran deep enough to be elected to city council representing the 24th ward. During his term of office which ran through 1905 he introduced bills resulting in significant infrastructure improvements to the ward. In addition to sewer lines and the paving of major streets including portions of Harrison and Queen City Avenues he was a major proponent of the Harrison Viaduct ( later replaced by the Western Hills Viaduct).The Enquirer noted that “ Mr. Sperber has been pushing this gigantic project and it his desire to get it under way before he retires from Council.”[xi]


The viaduct was to span more than 1000 feet in length, 27 feet above several railroads and the Mill Creek, at an estimated cost of $500,000. It would become a vital link not only between South Fairmount and downtown Cincinnati but to Green Township, Delhi Township, Cheviot and Westwood making travel across the Mill Creek Valley easier and less dangerous considering the tangle of heavily used rail lines and the creek bed that occasionally turned into a rushing torrent. A major sewer project followed to help relieve Lick Run from periodic severe flooding.

The Harrison Avenue Viaduct opened for traffic in 1908

The western end of the Harrison Avenue Viaduct crossed by the C& O rail bridge


By the late 19th and early 20th century a small but growing Italian presence began to emerge in Fairmount particularly in Lick Run Valley. One of two such communities that emerged outside of the Downtown basin, “Little Italy” as it came to be known, developed on Queen City Avenue near White Street and coincidentally not far from Sperber’s saloon.

Italian Immigration

Italian immigration to the United States was somewhat limited during the first half of the 19th century but by the end of the century it constituted sizable portion of the second major wave of immigration to wash over America’s shores. The earliest Italian immigrants generally came from the northern Italian states like Venetia. Until 1861 the name Italy denoted only a geographic and cultural region, much like Germany, it consisted of a number of independent states and sizable provinces claimed by Austria and France. Between 1861 and 1870 a series of wars were fought resulting in the creation of a united Italy with King Victor Emmanuel of Pedimont-Sardinia becoming the new sovereign. Until 1880 only 10,000 Italians a year were immigrating to the United States but in the years just prior World War I Italian immigration was reaching a high of 250,000 a year.[xii] This second wave of immigration washing over America’s shores , the first being Germans and the Irish of the 1840’s and 1850’s, included not only Italians but peoples from across the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe as well as a sizable number of Chinese and a more limited number of Japanese to the West Coast. Most faced dismal economic prospects in their home nations though other motivations factored into the experiences of specific groups like Russian Jews who faced an increasing threat of deadly pogroms. The Italian immigrants of the late nineteenth century were principally from Southern Italy. For centuries the South’s economy lagged behind the North. Primarily an agricultural region, Southern Italy had little arable land limiting the prospects of most of the population who lived in small isolated towns and villages. With little land or industry in the South, illiteracy rates running as high as 84% and banditry an ever increasing problem, immigration to America offered hope.[xiii]

Italian Immigrants & Cincinnati

Not surprisingly then, many of the Italians arriving in Cincinnati came from Sicily, Calabria, Abruzzi and Marche in Southern Italy. Initially they settled in clusters in the lower East End and along portions of West Fifth and Sixth Streets.[xiv] The pace of migration to the city took off after 1900 with only 738 Italians counted as residents in 1890, 913 in the 1900, with the number more than doubling to 2, 245 by 1910 .[xv] In general they were poor and often illiterate. Overwhelmingly Catholic, the Archdiocese established the Italian parish of Sacred Heart in 1893 in the Downtown Basin on Broadway Street which was the heart of the Italian community.[xvi] Church authorities concerned about efforts by protestant denominations “poaching “ Italians from the Catholics flock inspired efforts to deliver social services to the struggling immigrants in the form of the Santa Maria Institute.[xvii]

Fairmount & Italian Immigrants

Established by the Sisters of Charity, headquartered in Delhi Township, Sisters Justina and Blandina, both Italian immigrants were selected by the mother superior of the order “to do mission work among the Italians of Cincinnati” in 1897.[xviii] Essentially a settlement house of the type that became a prominent feature of the urban Progressive Movement, the Santa Maria Italian Educational and Industrial Home opened first at Third and Lytle in 1899 before several moves around the Downtown Basin.[xix] As such it provided a range of services including an employment bureau, an orphanage, kindergarten, daycare services, and a boys’ and girls’ club among others to help the relatively new arrivals.

It was not long before the Italians like the Germans before them, began to move out of the downtown basin. By 1910 they started to trickle into the valley with names like Acito, Augustine, Boneventura, Guerra, Griecco and Ventre. Clustering along Queen City Avenue near White Street they constituted the beginning of “Little Italy”, oddly enough an ethnic neighborhood inside an ethic neighborhood.[xx] In larger American cities these neighborhoods became known as ghettoes, a term that carries a negative connotation in today’s world. Traditionally the term ghetto denoted a neighborhood occupied by first and second generation immigrants and dominated by their culture: language, religion, and values among other things. It was a natural response to the challenges of immigrants in every era of American history. The language deficit, lack of broad economic and social networks and the harsh nativists attitudes faced by the new arrivals, drew Italians together as were Germans of an earlier age. One ally they found in the valley was Fred Sperber whose political and social network as a ward captain in the Cox machine could mean a job and help with navigating the various challenges immigrants faced. From Sperber’s perspective it made for good politics.

By the 1920’s the concentration of Italians in the valley had grown large enough that “that the pastor of Sacred Heart church, at the invitation of the Franciscan Fathers in charge of St. Bonaventure went there to hear confessions and celebrate mass.”[xxi] When the effort did not have the desired effect the Santa Maria Institute bought a three story building on Queen City Avenue for $3,400 dollars in 1921 and opened La Madonna di Montebello. It functioned strictly as a settlement house until St. Antonio Church was dedicated in October of 1922.[xxii]

As more Italian families were moving into the working class neighborhood, many third and fourth generation German families with the economic means were leaving Lick Run for the hilltop communities of Cheviot and Westwood, like that of Joe and Rose Sperber. Joe, one of Frederick’s younger sons and his wife Rose, the great granddaughter of Joseph and Maria Fries (Part I), built a new home in Westwood. Both Cheviot and Westwood were among Cincinnati’s earliest suburbs made possible by the city’s now sprawling streetcar system.


The Sperber Boys




The Progressive Era

By the beginning of the 20th century Americans were tiring of politics as usual. The mix of machine politics, big city bosses and powerful business interests were increasingly seen as a threat to American democracy giving rise to the Progressive Movement. A reform effort lasting almost two decades and spanning across party lines, it aimed to make government more responsive to the desires of the nation’s citizenry. Its impact was not only felt at the federal level but also at the state and local level, as progressive reformers pushed legislation to eliminate corruption and make the American political system more democratic. The reform effort in Ohio brought a host of changes including amendments to the state constitution that added the initiative and referendum allowing the public to legislate through the ballot and to reject laws already passed by the legislature. Both efforts had the effect of placing more power directly in the hands of the voter at the expense of power held by elected officials, many controlled by political machines. Even more significant changes were made with amendments to the US Constitution in the form of the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Amendments. Now, US Senators would be directly elected by the public instead of leaving the selection to other politicians in the form of state legislatures, a further blow to machine power was a massive extension of the franchise by giving women the right to vote.

In Cincinnati the Progressive Movement was the beginning of the end for Cox. While reform legislation was the tool for changes, Cox contributed unwittingly to his own demise by supporting a new wave of annexations starting in 1895 that brought thousands of middle and upper class voters within Cincinnati’s boundaries. This urban middle class spurred on by muckraking journalists who zealously identified the economic and political ills plaguing the country became the backbone of the Progressive Movement, not just in Cincinnati but across the nation. The work of muckrakers, a new class of reform minded journalists not above using sensationalism, resonated with middle class voters who had the time and money to purchase and read their books and investigative articles which regularly appeared in new monthly magazines.

Starting in the mid 1890’s places like Avondale, Clifton, Kennedy Heights, Riverside, and Westwood were all added to the city, expanding it to 70 square miles from 25.45 miles in 1890. In 1893 Cox had succeeded in convincing the state legislature to pass a new that provided for annexation when approved by a combined vote of the annexed and annexing cities making it difficult to fend off Cincinnati’s growth efforts. The annexations were viewed as necessary by Cox for fiscal reasons to address flight of middle class and wealthy residents out of Cincinnati to the suburbs. Though each addition to the city added to the tax rolls, it also cumulatively added hundreds of better educated and potential discontented voters with the time and money to work for causes. They read the work of Lincoln Steffens whose Shame of the Cities, a series of articles in McClure’s Magazine published in 1904, detailing the workings of political machines across the country including that of the Cox machine. Locally Henry C. Wright a graduate of Harvard’s School of Divinity penned Bossism In Cincinnati in 1905. As the president of the Union Bethel, a settlement house that served the needs of poor immigrants in Cincinnati’s downtown basin, he sought to stir the city’s citizenry to action. In 1905 the Cox organization showed signs of faltering with a Democrat elected mayor though the machine was far from broken.

One group of young reformers “The Committee of Nine” helped launch the political career of Henry Thomas Hunt, “The Boy Mayor” , who played a central role in the destruction of the Cox Machine. Hunt, a young University of Cincinnati educated attorney, and The Committee of Nine were dedicated to the proposition of ending corruption in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Running as a Democrat his rise to power began with his election to the Ohio General Assembly in 1905 followed by his election to the office of county prosecutor in 1908. As the county prosecutor he successfully fought to close gambling houses and eliminate slot machines throughout Hamilton County. In the mayoral election of 1911 Hunt bested the Cox backed Republican candidate at the tender age of 33. It was severe blow to Cox demonstrating he could no longer deliver votes to his followers, prompting Cox to announce he was retiring from politics. Though not dead, the power of the Cox machine now was in steady decline.

The war on machine politics also affected Fairmount . John James, a Democrat defeated Fred Sperber in the 1905 city council race to represent the 24th Ward, probably more reflective of general discontent with the Cox machine than anything else. James represented the ward for the next two years before losing the seat to John O. Eckert in 1907. Eckert a Fairmount resident and attorney, was one of the younger Republican Party politicians. From the progressive wing of the party and with “a host of friends in the ward” Eckert challenged Fred Sperber for the Republican nomination in 1907.[xxiii] Eckert went on to win the seat twice more in 1909 and 1911. Sperber’s experience and party connections however, kept him entrenched as the Republican ward captain until stepping down in 1912. Sperber’s longevity can be attributed to extensive social ties as a saloon proprietor. Naturally his connections to the German community were deep but also extended to a growing Italian community.

Between the Civil War and World I the United States had gone through a transformation that was also reflected in the changes that took place in South Fairmount. No longer semi-rural with an economy largely tied to agriculture, South Fairmount was part of urban America with its flourishing industrial economy knitted together by railroads and streetcars. Like America as a whole, South Fairmount also became a more diverse society as Germans and later Italian immigrants arrived, looking for new opportunities and a better way of life in its busy shops and factories. The nation's political system was affected by all of this. The lean and simple democratic system of places like Mill Creek Township was no longer adequate for the residents of Lick Run or the nation's growing metropolises. In the case of Lick Run and the surrounding neighborhoods that simplicity was shed in favor of joining the vastly larger City of Cincinnati and enjoying the benefits that came with its better roads , sewers and bridges but at the cost of big government, higher taxes, complex laws and greater exposure to corruption . Across the nation, government grew in size and complexity out of necessity. Two World Wars and a tumultuous economic cycle of boom and bust over the next three decades would again bring change to both South Fairmount and the nation.

[i] Miller, Zane, p.109. [ii] Ford, p. 407. [iii] Williams Directory, 1910 Edition. The following are the types of retail shops and services located in the valley, the proprietor and the streets on which the businesses were located. Bakeries : Fred Stang - Queen City Aveune, Frank Mueller- Queen City Avenue. Barbershops: Michael Kareth, Albert Russell, Julius Zoz, Edward Weiler all on Queen City Avenue or Westwood Avenues . Blacksmith: Frank Kummer’s blacksmith shop -Queen City, John Speer – Queen City Avenue. Boardinghouse: Annie Langenkamp - Tremont Avenue. Coal Dealers : Jacob Metz - Westwood Ave. Shoe Maker & Repair: Jacob Eckerle - Queen City Avuenue , John Kippenbrock- Queen City Avenue, Jacob Mangold- Westwood Avenue. Cigars & Tobacco: John Binde, Joseph Mauderer, Fred Boehling , Charles Burger, C.G. Klink – all on Queen City Avenue or Westwood Avenue. Groceries: August Felix -Westwood Avenue, John Glaspy Queen City Avenue, William Guethlin Westwood Avenue, Clarence Lentz - Westwood Avenue, Adam Marz -Westwood Avenue, Joseph Pohlmann - Queen City Avenue, Henry Osssege – Westwood Avenue, Joe Westendorf- Queen City & Westwood Ave, Philip Wintzinger - Queen City Avenue. Livery & Boarding Stables: Peter Rebold Queen City Avenue. Saloons: George Abaecherli- Queen City Avenue, Robert Bauer- Queen City Avenue, Charles Becker- Queen City Avenue, William Dreier - Queen City Avenue, Camil Albisser- Quebec Avenue, Peter Herzner- Queen City Avenue, Michael Kareth- Queen City Avenue, Jacob Motz- Queen City Avenue, Emil Naegele- Quebec Avenue, William Rohert –Tremont, Bathazar Schtaz- Westwood Avenue., Albert VanDeRyt –Selim, Thomas Ware - Queen City Avenue. Tailors: Frank Uehlien - Queen City Avenue, Christina Bauer- Queen City Avenue, Morris Bibent - Westwood Avenue, Cornelius Deprez - Queen City Avenue, John Deprez - Queen City Avenue, Fries & Boewer - Queen City Avenue, Anna Penn and Charles Penn - Queen City Avenue, John Weide- Montrose. [iv] Dingilian, Arlene, The Political Education of a Saloon Keeper, Cincinnati Historical Bulletin, October 1966, p.313. [v] Dingilian, Arlene, The Political Education of a Saloon Keeper, Cincinnati Historical Bulletin, October 1966, p.313. [vi] Wright, Henry C., Bossism In Cincinnati , 1905, p.31. [vii] Williams Directory,1884, p. 1283. [viii] Dingilian, Arlene, The Political Education of a Saloon Keeper, Cincinnati Historical Bulletin, October 1966, p.315. [ix] Cincinnati Enquirer, July 25, 1886. [x] Cincinnati Enquirer, August 26, 1892. [xi] Cincinnati Enquirer, December 10, 1905. [xii]Sowell, Thomas Ethnic America, Basic Books, 1981, p. 100. [xiii] Ibid, p.103. [xiv] Miller, p.13. [xv] Ibid., p.13. [xvi] History of The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Rev. John Lamott, 1921, p.145. [xvii] Ibid. p. 305. [xviii] Ibid., p.305. [xix] Ibid, 305. The Third and Lytle location was a fomer convent for the Sisters of St. Francis. The city purchased the site in 1905 for apark forcing a move to West Seventh Street which was outgrown leading to a move to West Eighth Street due to a lack of space. [xx] Williams Directory, 1910. [xxi]Anna C. Minogue, The Story of the Santa Maria Institute, 1922, p.151. In 1940 a new building was constructed and dedicated as St. Antonio [xxii] Italians as an Ethnic Group in Cincinnati, Sally Moffit, 2008. [xxiii] Cincinnati Enquirer, April 4, 1907.

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