Saturday, July 29, 2023

A Reprint of Bald Knob History, as told in 1929

Cincinnati Times-Star; Aug 16, 1929; p. 24

Bald Knob, Picturesque Hill, Playground of Thousands, Is Being Pulled Asunder

By Charles Ludwig

Picturesque playground of thousands, beautiful, romantic Bald Knob, that thrusts its craggy head like a bleak promontory into the city’s northwestern skyline, is being torn down! Its lovers’ lane has been destroyed – men with scythes have cut down the charming sheltered bower. Workmen have laid axes to the magnificent English elms and buckeyes. The breezy rendezvous on the very summit – 800 feet above sea level – to which men in the old days lugged kegs of beer for their parties and where the anti-slavery picnics were held before the Civil War – will soon be no more.

The lovely hawthorns that bedecked the hillside with their jolly red haw-apples have been laid low. The last apple and pear trees, remains of a once famous orchard, will soon be felled. The Indian cave and the delightful, cool spring on the hillside will be ripped up by the steam shovel. The baseball diamond there will be torn asunder. The wild-flower gardens on the lovely slopes, where many a girl picked bouquets; the outlook point, offering a great panoramic view of the city, where mothers and their families held basket picnics – all will be dumped into Millcreek to make a fill for the new union depot.

Old Beer Cellars

Only two historic old beer cellars – that of the Herancourt Company and of another brewery, built into the foot of the hill over three-quarters of a century ago – will escape.

Rare Beauty of Scene

Beautiful indeed was this hill and its surroundings, particularly in the old days when Millcreek flowed by in its pristine purity and bathed the foot of the little mountainside with its sparkling, crystal-clear water that abounded with fish.

It was to this hillside that the Cincinnati pioneer, Emery Brown, removed from Mt. Auburn in the early history of the city, for he deemed it the most beautiful spot in the county. It was along this hill that the Orange family, noted in the pioneer annals of Cincinnati, built their fine and quaint old mansion that housed a memorable collection of art, including works of Joshua Reynolds!

It was on this hillside that the famous pioneer horticulturalist, Ernst, an early president of the Ohio State Horticultural Society, built his home and cultivated his noted orchards and gardens, the vestiges of which still remain.

Climbing the Hill

The Times-Star scribe and photographer visited Bald Knob Wednesday, and found the first group of men that started to clear away the underbrush preparatory to tearing down the hill. Huge shovels and modern machinery will be installed to remove the 6,000,000 cubic yards of earth into Millcreek, where they will make a fill for the relocation of tracks in connection with the new depot project.

A crowd of neighbors gathered and it was almost with tears in their eyes that they saw their beloved hill with its trees being ruthlessly attached to make way for “modern progress.” A number of men, with their children, together with a crowd of boys who love the hill with the devotion that youths give to their playground, formed a part and let the Times-Star delegation to the top.

Trees of Great Beauty

It was like climbing a mountain while it lasted – for Bald Knob has a steep-slope, and at the top presents a very jagged side. The path began at the foot of the fill between two glorious elm trees – one of these trees is no doubt among the finest specimens of its kind in the county. Through the hawthorn bushes, filled with ripening red fruit, the path led up the hill. One of the workmen had just killed a harmless snake near the path, and the boys said there were many still rabbits, squirrels and many birds in the thicket.

Along the path were found many pears – they were the booty of previous expeditions from the pear trees on the hill. All but the boys were puffing hard when the top of Bald Knob was reached – and from the high vantage point a beautiful new of the city was offered, a view looking miles to the basin in the East, as well as toward the valley in the West.

Among the climbers were J. B. Neider, Harry Ismael, and his little son Paul, Joe Staehling, August Brinkman, George Baxter, and Charles Meyer and the boys, John Baumer, Ed Disken, Charles Tungeat, Bob Bunner and Russell Wolfer. Some of the men told how they played on Bald Knob forty years ago, and in the old days would carry kegs of beer to the top for a party. The little boys said that life would no longer be the same after their Happy Hunting Ground, the hill, was removed.

“Pancake Hill”

“There won’t be any fun left,” they sighed. They pointed out their ballfield on the plateau half way up, to the rear, the site of the Indian Cave, the old spring, the pasture where the old Herancourt brewery horses were farmed out for a happy old age, and the places where the boys from Goosetown, Brighton and Lick Run used to do battle for possession of Bald Knob.

The lads pointed out that there are really two Bald Knobs, separated by the declivity, and that the name they always gave the Knob was Pancake Hill. And there are two Pancakes – two bald, craggy hills, with flat, pancake tops.

1867 - Agreement to quarry stone to Lutterby (Lutterbei) & Herman
Steep Cliffs

The lads pointed out the steepest cliffs and showed the steps they had cut in the stone so as to negotiate the most difficult parts of the climb. They showed where the old “Ludebei Quarry” used to be, half century or more ago, and where they flew kites in the stiff wind at the summit. The remains of the old vineyards were still visible. Below was Ernst street, named after the famous Bald Knob horticulturalist of long ago. There too, was the old home of Attorney Sanford Brown – a pioneer dwelling – in which four generations of the Brown family lived. But the home, together with other property in the vicinity, was sold in connection with the depot project.

At the top of the hill the lads pointed out where they sometimes built playhouses and had the thrill of being “Indians.” Miss Harriet Brown recalled how the late Mrs. H. C. Robinson told her that before the Civil War the hill was the scene of the anti-slavery picnics. It was also related that years ago two business men tried to remove part of the hill with cables and buckets and that this accounted for the cut between the two Bald Knobs.

Many Memories

The Bald Knobs are among Cincinnati’s most outstanding landmarks, and juts high into the skyline. They are located at Harrison and State avenues, Brighton, and the knobs are immediately opposite the Harrison avenue viaduct. They are visible from the City Hall windows and from any high vantage point in the basin of the city and are south of the well-known Schuetzenbuckel hill.

Many are the memories that will be aroused by the cutting down of Bald Knob. A tear almost came to the eyes of Phil Pfalzgraff, Thursday morning, as he saw what was happening at the hill he has passed so often, “Just think, they were putting the ax to that magnificent elm tree as I passed this morning,”  he said.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Bald Knob and Connections to Cincinnati's Abolitionists and Horticulture

You may have heard of Bald Knob, and how it was used as infill for the development of Union Terminal, but did you know there is also a connection to the abolition movement and early Cincinnati horticulture?

A friend recently posted this image of Bald Knob, which is the hill at the southwest end of the Western Hills Viaduct in South Fairmount. I ended up down a rabbit hole and discovered so much more local history in this one location.
It all starts with Andrew H. Ernst, who was born in Germany in 1796, and arrived in Cincinnati around 1806, along with his parents Zachariah and Dorothy, and brothers Henry and Jacob. His father was a brewer and tavern owner who moved to America to escape the Napoleonic Wars. Andrew married first wife, Elizabeth in 1818. Before the Panic of 1819, Andrew ran a bakery and porter-house on 2nd Street, near Broadway. Andrew made ends meet during the Panic by chopping wood in the country and bartering it for goods.

1847 Map of Hamilton County

Andrew became a confectioner and then a grocer until 1837, when he decided to devote his time and treasures to his plant nursery and gardens called Spring Garden. It was developed on the 80+ acres he purchased in 1829 in the area now known as Bald Knob. A train station was built on part of his land along State Street, and it was known as Ernst’s Station.

Advertisement in Cincinnati in 1841

Unfortunately, Elizabeth died in 1840, leaving Andrew with six children, four of which were under 18 years old. The next year, Andrew went to Massachusetts to marry Sarah Otis, introduced by a mutual friend in the Unitarian Church. Sarah was part of the anti-slavery movement founded by William Garrison. Andrew was also known abolitionist, having been included on a list in 1842 in a Cincinnati publication.
They were friends with Levi Coffin, and Sarah and other women organized an anti-slavery sewing society, to provide clothing to those escaping slavery through Cincinnati that often met at the Coffin's home. In 1850, noted orator, writer, and reformer Frederick Douglass came to Cincinnati. The Ernsts hosted a gathering at their home at Spring Garden that included Douglass along with other abolitionists such as William Brisbane, Levi Coffin, John Gaines, and William Casey. Inspired by Douglass’ visit, Sarah’s sewing society held an annual bazaars to finance an annual Anti-Slavery conference, with speakers such as Brisbane, William Lloyd Garrison, John Rankin among many others.

Cincinnati Daily Gazette; September 8, 1851; Page 5

Douglass described their Spring Garden home as being "situated on a fine sloping hill, covered with magnificent trees of the finest foliage,” and “it overlooks the whole city and valley of Cincinnati. We have never seen, in this country, a garden so large and tastefully laid out, and abounding with so great a variety of fruits and flowers…It was a little surprising to meet with an abolitionist in such a place as that. Sympathy for despised and enslaved humanity does not often appear envisioned by wealth and luxury; yet we know that many a fugitive’s heart had been made glad by the benevolence of the excellent friends in question.” (“Our Western Anti-Slavery Tour,” North Star, date unknown; repr. Salem (Ohio) Anti-Slavery Bugle, 24 August 1850.)

1856 Map of Hamilton County

As one of the first nurserymen in Cincinnati, Andrew joined with other horticulturalists to form the Cincinnati Horticultural Society in 1843, and was initially appointed 2nd-vice president, and served on the committee for fruits. His contributions to the development and propagation of various fruits from the Eastern States and Europe allowed for more diverse and hearty varieties to thrive in Cincinnati. In 1844, he joined the directors who founded Spring Grove Cemetery and served as one of the landscape architects.
In 1851, Andrew began subdividing his land as more industrial businesses were built along Mill Creek. Another subdivision was created in 1857 included the homestead and gardens. After an illness in late 1858, Andrew assigned his property and debts to his son-in-law, attorney Seth Foster, to help settle his estate and debts. Unfortunately, Andrew died in February 1860, leaving Sarah with five children from their marriage, the youngest only three years old. With the onset of the Civil War, Sarah decided to return to Massachusetts with the youngest of her children. Three of Andrew's sons served in the War: Franklin, William, and Oswald, who attended the Military Academy and achieved the rank of Major General by the end of his career.

1869 Titus Map

The land continued to be subdivided and sold, but they were no major developments on this hillside, which is somewhat surprising, given its view over the Mill Creek valley towards downtown, and the advantage of sitting above the smog of the creek valley. The homestead and gardens were also divided and sold, and the home was demolished between 1891 and 1904 to allow for Chicago, Cincinnati & Louisville Railroad line to pass around the hill. The only thing that remains is the small street named after the family off of State Street.

1883-1884 Atlas of Cincinnati
Green outline is the homestead of Andrew H. Ernst.

1904 Sanborn Map showing the rail line through the homestead location

More to come soon about Bald Knob and its connection to Cincinnati's brewing history and what is now there.