Not long after I arrived in Cincinnati, I noticed that a lot of things are on Vine. Or just off Vine. Or you could get there from Vine, and I began to get the idea that Vine is a pretty important street. Soon, I found myself eschewing the freeways, driving up and down Vine when I needed to get from North to South, and sometimes even when I didn’t, aka just for fun.
Vine begins at the River and goes straight on through the city and out the other side, continuing on into the wilds of Ohio as State Route 4. It’s been around as long as the city itself . . . Today it connects with Walnut to form the approach to the Roebling Bridge; back in the day, it was just a cut down to the river. And not the oldest either: the earliest image of the city I can find has Walnut on it, and nothing but pasture where Vine would sprout.
Today, a traffic circle marks the conjunction of Walnut and Vine, and when I’m there I try to imagine the oxen and mules dragging their loads up from the water—dry goods, tobacco, grain, all delivered on flat-boats and barges. Vine and its sister Walnut were arteries carrying the life-blood of the city, distributing it to feed the growing population, which exploded in first half of the nineteenth century.
Shortly after the completion of the Miami and Erie Canal, Cincinnati had grown to 115,000 souls, largely because of its status as the chief hog-packing city in the country, which earned it the nickname “Porkopolis.” Standing at Fifth and Vine, I imagine hordes of terrified, half-wild pigs flowing around me, squeals and rank odor baking in the sun. In no time, Vine became as it is today: the prime North-South route up from the River. While most towns split addresses based on which side of Main they’re on, in Cincy, East and West mean by-God east and west of Vine.
Like a lot of streets in Cincinnati, Vine isn’t always Vine. Here are some of its other names, in no particular order: Springfield Pike. Rosa Parks Street. Dixie Highway. Jefferson Avenue. It borders—along with Fifth Street—Fountain Square which, according to Google is a “Civic plaza hosting cultural events” and chicken dances. Ok, I added the last part; after all, chicken dances are cultural events in the Queen City.
Vine also runs through a good number of townships and neighborhoods, the most notorious of which is Over the Rhine, which after the 2001 riots had the dubious distinction of beating out Compton in L.A. as the country’s most dangerous neighborhood. Supposedly, at least. Since then, the so-called Miracle on Vine has succeeded in transforming the neighborhood, adding trendy eateries and bars, while still keeping the flavor—and excitement—of the occasional drive-by shooting. Of course, the Miracle on Vine it wasn’t such a miracle for its residents, many of whom had to move out because they couldn’t pay the regentrification freight. C’est la guerre.
When I drive Vine’s length, I can’t help but notice how it connects and nourishes all the institutions of our city—threading its way between the Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium. Gliding past Carew Tower, Fountain Square and the Kroger Building. Past gleaming towers and 19th-century Italianate gems. Libraries, markets and hospitals. Fairgrounds, soap factories and Zoos. All linked, all nourished by the commerce and humanity that flows through and out of Vine.
I hope you’ll join this blog on its peripatetic wanderings as exploring Cincinnati as seen from this mod iconic street.