Where Are Cincinnati’s Snow Police?

There it is, still on the books, enshrined in Cincinnati’s Municipal Code – a clear mandate for property owners to remove snow and ice from their sidewalks or face a fine.

Sec. 723-57. – Removal of Snow. The owner, occupant or other person having the care of any building premises or unimproved lot of land abutting any street where there is a graded sidewalk or a sidewalk graded and paved, shall, within the first four hours after daylight after the ceasing to fall of any snow, cause the same to be removed from the paved or traveled part of such sidewalk. The provisions of this section shall also apply to the falling of snow or ice from any building onto a sidewalk. Snow or ice shall not be moved into the gutter when the gutter has been previously cleaned, and in no event shall snow or ice from any area other than the pedestrian walk be moved into the gutter. Whoever violates any provision of Section 723-57 or 723-59 shall be fined not more than $25.

And yet, as my fellow citizens can attest, this ordinance is very rarely followed and hardly ever enforced in Cincinnati. Was it ever enforced at all? That is a pertinent question as the winter of 2018 promises more icy accumulation than the winters of recent memory.

From Cincinnati Post 4 February 1901 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand


In fact, yes, the “Removal of Snow” law was once honored by the citizenry and enforced by the constabulary. People were actually hauled into court for failure to clear their sidewalks.

It mattered not if you were aged or infirm. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported [10 February 1951] that poor Meyer Rosenbaum of Avondale was fined costs for failure to clear snow from his sidewalks on six days of the previous week. Mr. Rosenbaum testified that he could not shovel on his own as he was recuperating from an operation and had been unable to find anyone who would shovel for him. Although the judge remitted the fine, he gave Mr. Rosenbaum no relief, charging: “Well, keep on trying – but don’t do it yourself, you might collapse.”

It mattered not if you represented a huge corporation of major institution.

Poor Joseph Frey! He was responsible for shoveling all the sidewalks of the University of Cincinnati. Mr. Frey was arrested one February day in 1895 on the charge of failure to clear sidewalks. The University of Cincinnati had just moved to its new campus on Clifton Avenue, with several hundred feet of sidewalked frontage. The University still owned the old University Building on McMicken Avenue at the top of Elm Street. Joe had to shovel both sidewalks on campuses half a mile apart and he had a staff of only himself. The charges were dismissed in court, to the great amusement of the University’s students.

It did not even matter if you were rich.

One of the wealthiest men in Cincinnati was hauled into court in 1883 and, although he proclaimed his outrage, was meted justice for snow-covered sidewalks. William P. Hulbert owned property all over town and lived in a very fine mansion on Freeman Avenue where the National Flag Company is now located. Cincinnati Police Officer William J. Richards knocked upon Mr. Hulbert’s door and informed him that he was under arrest, the charge arising from his failure to clear his sidewalk of snow. Officer Richards was insistent and Mr. Hulbert was enraged. According to the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune [29 December 1883] Mr. Hulbert complained: “Why,” said Mr. Hulbert, “he even refused to allow me to eat my dinner without him, and had the audacity to want to ride with me in the carriage to the station.”

On arriving at the police station, Mr. Hulbert was required to post bail of $25 when, as he observed, “certain parties who have pointed firearms at one another while in a drunken condition” had been released on their own recognizance. Perhaps because of his indignant tone and threats to the officer, Mr. Hulbert was fined $3 and costs.

George P. Poole managed to dodge the snow removal law in 1915 when he was hauled before the bench to account for snow-covered sidewalks at 524 George Street. Mr. Poole, who managed the property on behalf of a man who lived in California, told the court that his client had not authorized additional expenses for snow removal. This defense inspired the judge to sarcasm, according to the Enquirer [29 January 1915]: “I guess the Judge and Prosecutor will have to remove it!”

In fact, over the years, the ordinance has generally been ignored. The following editorial from the Cincinnati Gazette [20 January 1879] is not the first, nor the last, on this topic, but exemplifies the general frustration experienced by pedestrians even today:

“The general neglect of the householders to clear their sidewalks of snow, slush, and ice is a part of that slovenliness and abandonment of all regulation which pervades our whole city, advertising to all comers an incapable city government.”

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