What Do We Mean by Vine?

So, what constitutes Vine Street? It’s not as trivial a question as it seems: the street arguably runs border-to-border, from the Ohio River to lake Erie.  This is because it becomes—fuses with? joins?—State Route 4 just North of the Carthage White Castle.  And State Route 4 runs all the way up to Sandusky.  Including all this would, of course, be silly. Or at least the subject of a much longer blog.  Besides: I have no desire to go to Bucyrus, wherever that is,

Beginning of VineLand

Another problem is that Vine isn’t always called Vine, even before it merges with Route 4.  Down by the river, at the roundabout where it connects with Walnut, it’s called Rosa Parks Street, and as it goes along the east side of the University of Cincinnati it’s called Jefferson, for no reason I can see, unless it has something to do with that whole president thing.

Anyway, it seems reasonable to set some rules and boundaries about what’s considered Vine Street for the purposes of this blog.  Reserving, of course, the right to break those rules and/or violate those boundaries whenever necessary (or whenever I feel like it).

Hillsdale & Vine — the last sign of Vine

So:  For the purposes of VineLand, Vine Street runs from the River roundabout, akawhere it meets Walnut, all the way North to the southern border of the City of Wyoming where, again for no discernable reason, it becomes Springfield Pike.  Actually, I can guess at a reason:  Springfield Pike sounds more town-and-country than Vine; Wyoming is perhaps the most well-to-do ‘burg along its length.

I know the definition is arbitrary, but who cares?  Consistency is, after all, the hobgoblin of small minds.

My Love Affair with Vine

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.

Cincinnati in 1800 (painting by A.J. Swing)

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.

Beginnings Part I

Benjamin Stites II was born around 1746 in Scotch Pines, New Jersey into a family recently relocated from New England.  At age twenty-two or so, he married Rachel Walden, and almost immediately, they set off for the western frontier, located at the time just south of Pittsburg.  They first settled on Tenmile Creek at the site of Pollock’s Mill, where Stites served as a captain in the First Washington County Militia during the Revolution.  After selling the mill site, the Stites relocated elsewhere along the creek, where Benjamin served as tax collector of Morgan Township. By 1786, they’d ended up across the Monongahela (and a bit upstream) at Redstone, today known as Brownsville.  Along the way, they had five children—John, Benjamin III, Phoebe, Richard and Rachel.

The engraving of Benjamin Stites to the left is at the Heritage Village Museum in Sharonville. Although Stites is often called “Major,” he in fact never achieved rank higher than Captain. Also, this image, purportedly of Stites, looks suspiciously like the portrait of John Cleves Symmes shown below.

Sometime in 1786, Stites took a riverboat down the Monongahela to the Ohio, then down the Ohio itself, on what seems to have been a trading trip.  The story goes that he chased a band of Native Ohioans into the Little Miami River valley, and soon he was off to New York, waxing rhapsodically about the rich, fertile soil of that valley. While there, he tried to persuade the Continental Congress to do a little Ohio land speculation and caught the attention of John Cleves Symmes, a Revolutionary War veteran–and member of the Congress–who dreamed of fame and fortune via the buying and selling of land.

Meanwhile, cracks had become apparent in the Stites’ marriage, to wit: Rachel accused her husband of having two lovers, and Benjamin accused her of adultery in turn. At about the time he left for New York, they separated (some would say Benjamin abandoned his wife and children to live as best they could in Redstone; this is apparently what Rachel said in later years).

John Cleves Symmes

Whatever the case, Benjamin returned from the East Coast with a new wife, Mary “Polly” Mills, even though he was still legally married to Rachel. Apparently, Mary was not aware of this little problem, and they had two children together: John Gano Stites and Mary “Polly” R. Stites. (Stites later “married” Hannah Waring and they had three children together: Anne Watson Stites, William Stites and Nathaniel or Waring Stites. When Stites died intestate in 1804, none of these were considered heirs, because they were by law illegitimate.)