Dr. Know: Missing and Moving Streets

The good doctor dives into the history of the maze known as Cincinnati’s streets.
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Illustration by Lars Leetaru

I’ve always assumed that Court Street downtown used to be 10th Street and that today’s Central Parkway was 11th Street before the canal was built. That’s why those streets don’t exist now. Your column, though, has shown me that things are rarely that simple. Am I right? —TENTH STREET FREEZEOUT

DEAR FREEZEOUT:

Your hunch would seem easy to confirm, at first. Pity the Doctor’s eternal burden of being a dogged researcher who must stick to the evidence. To wit: During the early years of our canal, Cincinnati maps showed a street below 12th Street called “11th, or Canal.” Case closed, right? But then (surprise) we find legal property descriptions that say “12th Street, formerly called 11th Street.” What? What does one do with that?

One pivots to researching 10th Street instead, that’s what. To wit: Cincinnati built an early courthouse at 10th and Main in 1819, and that is when the street was renamed Court Street. Maps from subsequent years show the street as “10th, or Court.” Case closed, right? But then (surprise) we open a City Street Guide from 1836 and find this: “Court Street, see Ninth.” What?

Therefore, your short answer is: Yes, Cincinnati once had a 10th Street and an 11th Street. Your long answer is: Don’t ask precisely where they were or when they weren’t. Heads will explode.


My great-grandfather Jeremiah Sweeney was a Cincinnati City Councilman in the late 1800s. I think there used to be a short street named for him in the Queensgate area, but it was wiped out by the ramps near the Brent Spence Bridge. Can you confirm? If true, tell me exactly where it was. —ASKING DIRECTIONS

DEAR DIRECTIONS:

Your heart will be warmed by our confirmation that a Sweeney Street did, in fact, exist. Your heart may freeze, however, because we found no proof that the street was named for your great-grandfather. Pity the Doctor’s eternal burden of being a dogged researcher who must stick to the evidence.

To wit: The name “Sweeney” is as common in Cincinnati as the name “Threeway.” When your ancestor Jeremiah was on Council in 1896, the city directory listed 103 Sweeneys. He certainly enjoyed some prominence, but he was also tarred by scandal: pretending to reside in the 19th Ward (as required) while secretly living in (oh, the horror!) Price Hill.

Meanwhile, various police officers named Sweeney (go ahead, roll your eyes at the Irish stereotype) performed famous heroics during this era. Therefore, when Avery Street was renamed Sweeney Street  in 1908—it’s now buried under the Duke Energy Building, between West Fourth and Fifth Streets—it could have been to honor one of those men in blue. Hmm, the valiant policemen or the tarnished politician? What are the chances of a future Sittenfeld Street?


I live on East Hill Avenue in Hyde Park, but I think this street was originally considered part of East Walnut Hills. Why else would the street have that name? My ZIP code and my appraisal documents say Hyde Park, but was this always so? When did my street move? —MOVIN’ ON OVER

DEAR MOVIN’:

Welcome to the Doctor’s first all-street-history column. Let the dogged research and strict evidence continue! Cincinnati real estate agents often advertise a home as if some pixie dust from a nearby upscale neighborhood had sprinkled down upon it. We aren’t suggesting that your street is among those pretenders, because it most definitely and comfortably sits within the 45208 ZIP code. Enjoy that property tax.

However, when the village of Hyde Park was annexed by Cincinnati in 1903, its border was at Observatory Avenue, several blocks away from your street. East Hill Avenue, developed around 1910, shows real estate ads proudly boasting of its location in East Walnut Hills. So why the change, and when? All we can say for sure is that by 1943 when the Post Office established the Postal Zone Delivery System, Hyde Park had stretched out to the O’Bryonville business district, swallowing up your street. By the way, East Hill Avenue is spelled Easthill on your street sign but East Hill at the Hamilton County Auditor website. Maybe that property tax is actually double-billed. Enjoy!

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, radio personality and advertising prankster. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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