Saturday, April 20, 2013

Before Sam Caldwell & Co - 118 East 9th

A Facebook follower shared the following photo of 118 East 9th Street, in downtown Cincinnati:
Credit: A. Hartman
This small two story building is the only older building left on the north side of this block.

It is often recognized by the painting on the side of building. The Hamilton County Auditor dates it to 1875, so I went off digging to find out more about Sam Caldwell & Company plus any more history that I could find. I took a look at the ownership card on the Auditor's website:

Sam Caldwell took ownership of the building in 1945. As can be seen in the photo above, Sam was a painter and decorator. He is most known for painting the outfield signs at Crosley Field. This sign was actually painted by his employee, Charles Keiger, who attended the Cincinnati Art Academy. Sam Caldwell passed away in 1965 and the building was sold in 1970 to a relative of the present owner.

But let's dig a little further back...
1887 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
Prior to 1895, the address of this property was 18 West 9th Street. You see, Main Street used to be the dividing line through the city, but since 1895, Vine Street is used to determine the east and west sides. The large X over the building identifies it as a stable. Ah, so that is why the garage door is there today!

I started searching through the city directories and census records to find more information.
1870 US Census -
H. R. Evers is listed in the 1870 directory as a coachman, living at 18 West 9th. He is also listed in the 1875 directory under the same occupation and address. In 1877, his wife Mary passed away and soon after, the Evers family moved away.

1880 US Census -
In 1880, the city directory lists Morris Venia as a coachman at this address and the census lists him as a "hostler" - which is defined as one who takes care of horses and/or mules. The curious thing about the Venia family is that their name was spelled a variety of ways. When Morris passed away in 1898, his name was listed as Maurice Venie and when his wife Mary passed away in 1900, the surname was Vinet. This can be explained checking the census records, which lists Morris and Mary as unable to read or write.

After the deaths of Morris and Mary, the building was used as an office for veterinarian Louis P. Cook, who was also an inspector for the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry.

1910 US Census -
 In 1905 and 1910, Nelson Tribue worked as a butler and lived here. By 1912, the building once again has a commercial use, the Prest-O-Lite Company. This company originally was founded in Indianapolis and created acetylene gas powered lights for automobiles before the invention of electric lights. As you can imagine, dealing with compressed gas in 1912 was a danergous business and in 1912, there was an explosion at 118 East 9th Street:
The Cincinnati Enquirer; May 9, 1912; p. 16
Click to read full article
Despite this catastrophe, Prest-O-Lite remained in business at the location until at least 1917, changing their business to include batteries for autos. However, in the directories, they were also listed as having welding supplies.
The Cincinnati Enquirer; Sep 9, 1917; pg. 21

1904-1930 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
Going from horse stable to autos seems like a natural progression. After Prest-O-Lite came Foster's Garage in 1918 and Grosse Auto Repair in 1920.
The Cincinnati Enquirer; Apr 28, 1918; p. A14
The Cincinnati Enquirer; Dec 4, 1921; p. A12
By 1925, welding returned to 118 East 9th Street with Benz-Welsh Welding Company. Also listed in the directory was Fred Gage, storage batteries, and Vass Electric Company. Few changes occurred over the next 15 years, with 1940 bringing a live bait shop to the building in addition to welding and electric.

We have come full circle, with Sam Caldwell who purchased the building in 1945 for his painting business. Presently, it has been owned by the same family since 1970, however, I am unsure of its current use. But Sam Caldwell's paint sign remains on the front of the building.


  1. You've done an awesome job of finding information on these precious buildings, and your blog is really interesting. I've been focusing on old Cincinnati buildings as a theme for my drawings recently. I just finished a large colored pencil drawing of the house at 425 Whiteman St., if you want to incorporate some artwork into your blog! I'd be honored.

    1. Your work is beautiful! I would love to incorporate it and I will look into the history of that building as well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi,
    I am and have been a painting contractor in Cincinnati for a long time. And I've always considered what I could do to make use of that building and that sign. Recently I had the idea to restart a business called Sam Caldwell & Co Painting. I thought I would try to talk the powers-that-be into allowing me to restore that building and run a painting company under that name. Have you come up with any information during your search that might help me in this effort? Steve Groh 513-362-0456

  3. I am about to post this to my IG account. The first ownership card available on the auditor lists the owner as 'the Children's Home'. Were you able to make sense of that connection?

  4. great was my grandfathers building


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