Dr. Know: Construction, Offensive Plaques, and Driving Downtown


The railroad tracks along Wasson Road in Hyde Park were recently removed, and so were the grade crossings at each intersection. The metal plate across Wasson and Paxton Avenue, though, was skipped. It connects to nothing now, but I still have to bumble over it every day. Why is it still there? —DRIVING ME BUMPY

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Bumpy:
The Doctor once lived on Rosella Avenue, a short street running parallel to Wasson Road. He shares the joy of all current area residents who no longer suffer the day and (especially) night torture of loud train whistles. The fact that there are popular songs romanticizing these deafening shrieks remains a mystery to him.

As to your question: The Wasson Way Project, an ongoing local effort to convert unused railways into bike and exercise trails, facilitated the removal of those tracks and grade crossings last spring. Nearby, however, the Marburg Avenue Bridge was still under reconstruction, and one of its detours sent traffic across the intersection of Wasson and Paxton. Nobody wanted to test the limits of driver patience by suddenly re-routing the re-routing, so that one metal plate was left behind. The city informs us that its removal is scheduled within the next year or so. It will be replaced by a drive-over sensor that emits a deafening train whistle. Kidding.

Back when the Duke Energy building was CG&E, I remember seeing a plaque by the entrance. It said something about “the first white child in Cincinnati” being born at that location. I don’t see the plaque there anymore. Not that I want it put back, but how long has it been gone? —BABY GOT PLAQUE

Dear Baby:
There was a time—a “different” time, we like to say—when early American communities celebrated the birth of the area’s “first white child.” This was, for European colonists, the human version of a cat marking its territory. Eighteenth-century manspreading, if you will.

It is generally agreed that William Moody, born in 1790, was Cincinnati’s first white child. Whoopie. Fast-forward to 1947—remember, the calendar is still set to Eastern Different Time—and we are standing at the corner of Fourth and Main Streets, roughly the location of Mr. Moody’s birth. The Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company (later Duke Energy) has its headquarters here. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is unveiling a bronze tablet, installed to commemorate Mr. Moody’s rather dubious achievement.

When was the tablet removed? It clearly happened with a lot less ceremony and publicity than the installation. The Doctor has found no one with information, and can only confirm that the plaque was still in place as late as 1983. Or perhaps we should say, “as early as 1983.” It was a different time.

When were Cincinnati’s downtown streets made one way? Did they do it all at once, or was it gradual? I assume there was controversy about it. —DRIVE THIS WAY

Dear Drive:
Cincinnati awoke to refreshingly smooth one-way downtown traffic on the morning of Sunday, July 13, 1952, thanks to a timely plan designed by city government in cooperation with downtown merchants. Gotcha! Except for the date, everything in the preceding sentence is a lie. Government and business bickering over automobile traffic began about three days after the invention of the automobile. The only thing slower and nastier than downtown congestion has been the process of trying to fix it.

The first plan for “one-way streets”—a concept so alien that it required quotation marks—was proposed as far back as 1916. Later schemes even included one-way pedestrian sidewalks. As various political and corporate factions gained and lost power through the 1920s and ’30s, various plans were tried and abandoned. It must have been a great time to be in the sign and signal business.

An experiment during the 1941 holiday shopping season made Main Street exclusively northward every afternoon. Huzzah! That seemed to work! The city immediately responded by arguing for 10 years about what to do next. Not until the demise of streetcars in 1951 did a universal one-way plan win approval, taking effect the following year. Ever since, Cincinnati’s traffic solutions have repeatedly arrived just in time to be outdated.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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