On Friday, September 4, 1908 The Cincinnati Enquirer carried a substantial legal advertisement, comprising four columns of dense type announcing Ordinance 731 as ordained by Cincinnati City Council: “To change the names of certain streets, avenues, courts, terraces, places, and alleys of the City of Cincinnati as designated therein.”
What followed was a list of hundreds of Cincinnati streets that, partially or completely, would receive new names by order of the city administration. The Enquirer, which had cozied up to the political machine of George Barnsdale “Boss” Cox, printed the ordinance without comment. The Cincinnati Post, a constant burr under the saddle of the Cox Machine (and therefore the recipient of no city advertising), smelled a rat. In that day’s edition, The Post identified the rodent:
Cincinnati having no Hall of Fame, Cox’s Council has honored his faithful servants by naming streets after them. For, after erasing names of 50 old streets, Council has substituted names of its own members, and what streets were left were named for members of the Mayor’s office, the Service Board, the Police Department, the City Solicitor’s office, the City Engineer’s office, and even favored friends who don’t hold city jobs, but who do control certain and diverse votes.
Buried in that long list of renamed streets were more than 50 for which the new name honored someone in the city administration, and everyone in the city administration owed their jobs to Boss Cox. Heading the list was Mayor Leopold Markbreit, whose name now graced the former Williams Avenue. The mayor pleaded humble ignorance:
I tell you it’s impossible to tell when, or where, or how lightning will strike, likewise honors. A few years ago I never expected to have even a cat named after me. I’ll have to find out where Markbreit-av. is and see that it is kept clean.
Vice Mayor John Galvin got a street in Lower Price Hill, where the former Belmont Avenue became Galvin Avenue. But it wasn’t just the top administrators who got their names assigned to street. The mayor’s secretary got a street in Avondale. A street in Fairmount was selected to recognize Louise Amthauer, stenographer to City Council (and the only woman on the list). Kuhfers Alley, between Findlay and Charlotte streets in Brighton still memorializes Police Detective Conrad Kuhfers. Hopkins Avenue in Avondale was renamed to honor Thirteenth Ward Councilman J.H. Asmann Jr.
While The Post went apoplectic, the Cox Machine blithely basked in the warm glow of their own genius. This was an era when political machines controlled quite a few American cities, from Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall in New York City, Frank Hague in Jersey City, and Tom Pendergast in Kansas City. All of them bought votes, handed out jobs to supporters, and made legal (and criminal) difficulties disappear. Now Cox had a new reward system, one that cost a lot less than a financial bonus: name a street for your good friends!
Cox, to be sure, kept his fingerprints away from this little gambit. The outrage fell upon City Council. In particular, the ringleader was revealed to be Edwin O. Bathgate, representing the Eighteenth Ward on City Council. He sat on Council’s Streets & Parks Committee and submitted the names in that capacity. A loyal Cox foot soldier, Bathgate had recently been indicted for buying votes.
In fact, there was a perfectly good reason to change many of these street names. Cincinnati was engaged in a voracious annexation binge, and had gobbled up Westwood, Clifton, Avondale, Linwood, and Riverside in 1894. Evanston, North Avondale, and Bond Hill were still being digested. Many of the new neighborhoods had existed as separate villages for a long time and had streets with names identical to street already in Cincinnati.
Price Hill had Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth avenues, for example. There were two Hand streets; one in the West End and one in Winton Place. Both Hyde Park and Mount Auburn had Erie Avenues. Mount Auburn’s became Thayer and, later, Glencoe.
Winton Place and Westwood both had Epworth Avenues (evidence of strong Methodist congregations). Council decided that Westwood’s Epworth would become Bethany Avenue, but had not calculated on James N. Gamble, president of Procter & Gamble, having a fondness for the Epworth Avenue that ran by his church. City Council backed down and the Winton Place Epworth became East Epworth.
Gamble’s intervention reveals a pattern in the street changes—most took place in poorer neighborhoods and it was mostly the wealthier residents who objected. Saloonkeeper Louis Schueler, representing Cumminsville on City Council, named a street for himself. He told The Post [September 9, 1908] that he didn’t think anyone would miss the former Mad Anthony Street:
Cumminsville residents don’t appreciate history. Why, when I was in Council 15 years ago, they asked me to change the name of that street. They said they didn’t care what other name I gave it. As to naming it for myself, I lived on the street over 30 years.
Schueler told The Post that those who objected to the change because of its historic significance (Wayne was a Revolutionary War hero) were the “high-brows” of the ward. The high-brows must have won, because Mad Anthony Street is still there.
Price Hill objected to changing Fifth Avenue to Milwaukee Avenue, and the city relented, naming it Rosemont Avenue.
The Louisville Courier-Journal [September 13, 1908] weighed in:
The Cincinnati Councilmen have presumed to change the names of streets having historical significance to names of no dignity whatsoever, such as the names of local bosses, stenographers, letter carriers, janitors, and Councilmen.
The Post ran a front-page cartoon (see image above) complaining that this eruption of political vanity was destined to destroy the real estate market. Some of the names were changed back or changed again, but many of Boss Cox’s henchmen are still remembered on our daily commutes.