Over-the-Rhine is a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, located north of Downtown, south of CUF, south-west of Mount Auburn, west of Pendleton, and east of the West End. Over-the-Rhine is a historic district, treasured for its massive collection of 19th century Italianate structures, that was listed in the National Register on May 17, 1983. It contains 943 contributing buildings.
The area's name comes from its builders and early residents, German immigrants, many of whom made a daily trek across bridges over the Miami and Erie Canal which separated the area from downtown Cincinnati. In homage to the Old Country, they called their neighborhood "Over-the-Rhine", imagining the canal to be the Rhine in Germany.
Historically, there were many people in Over-the-Rhine who spoke German, read German newspapers, ate German food, and constructed German-style houses. The neighborhood has changed considerably, in terms of demographics, economics, and architecture, but elements of the old style remain. For example, the German Baptist Church, Philippus United Church of Christ, Trinity Methodist Church, Salem United Church of Christ and many other neighborhood churches have inscriptions in German and Latin. Another church of historical interest is the area is Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, the oldest standing church building in Cincinnati. The church has artifacts on display, and still holds Mass in German and Latin every Sunday. Also of note is the historic St. Paul Church (Over the Rhine), which is now the home of The Verdin Company. The Cincinnati Volksfreund was a daily and weekly German language newspaper based in Cincinnati, published between 1850 and 1908.
Today, Central Parkway, a major thoroughfare located in the area formerly occupied by the Miami and Erie Canal, separates Over-the-Rhine from Downtown. By 1906, the canal had fallen into disuse due to competition from railroads, and parts of the right-of-way were purchased for use by the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad. An electric streetcar line ran along part of the route to connect Cincinnati with Columbus and Toledo, but other parts of the canal remained stagnant pits of dirty water. In 1920, the Cincinnati Subway began construction in the former canal, but it was abandoned by 1928 (several tunnels and stations remain in good condition to this day). That year Central Parkway opened on top of the abandoned subway's right-of-way.
During the 19th century, Over-the-Rhine was one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the Midwest, if not the most densely populated. As the center of German life in Cincinnati, there were more than 50 breweries in the neighborhood alone. However, Prohibition forced most of the breweries to close and most never reopened. At the turn of the 20th century, the population of the district reached 45,000.
During the later 19th and early 20th centuries, German-Americans began abandoning their ethnic enclave, amid a more general trend of slowing European immigration. The increasingly affluent Germans who had already immigrated began moving into more ethnically-neutral, though still predominantly white, neighborhoods further from downtown. This was exacerbated by anti-German sentiment during and after World War I and World War II. This period saw a steady decrease in overall population of the neighborhood as its (previously immigrant) population became more wealthy and moved to more affluent neighborhoods. At the same time, migrants from the South and Appalachia were drawn to Cincinnati by industrial employment, and began settling in the neighborhood. Over-the-Rhine was reconfigured as a working class neighborhood of day laborers. African-Americans fleeing the economic and social climate of the antebellum South became especially prevalent within the neighborhood. By the early twentieth century, the German ethnic population was no longer the major demographic of Over-the-Rhine.
Working class whites left the neighborhood once these industries ceased operation. Cincinnati was once the machine tool capital of the world, and it shares the experience of White flight following deindustrialization. Today, Over-the-Rhine has a vibrant African-American community, despite problems with crime and poverty. The open air drug trade that has plagued the neighborhood for many years has been reduced in Over-the-Rhine due in part to the controversial "vortex unit" of the Cincinnati Police force.
Gentrification and adaptive reuse have brought new faces to Over-the-Rhine in recent years. Attracted by its large collection of historic rowhouses, Italianate architecture, and the sense of community that comes with "stoop sitting" culture, artists and others weary of traditional neighborhoods began a transformation in sections of the neighborhood that today makes Over-the-Rhine Cincinnati's most creative, culturally and economically diverse neighborhood.
On April 7, 2001, Cincinnati police officer Steven Roach shot Timothy Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old African-American wanted on fourteen outstanding warrants, who, the officer claimed, appeared to be pulling out a weapon while running from police in Over-the-Rhine. The claim that Timothy Thomas appeared to be pulling out a weapon has been discredited, as many witnesses saw the young man with his arms in the air. Community members angry about Thomas' death — the fifteenth time a black man had been killed by police in six years — rioted for three days before the city was able to contain the confusion.
After the 2001 riots violent crime increased, largely due to feuding gangs. The number of serious crimes plateaued from 2002 to 2005, after which crime began decreasing at a rapid pace. The decrease has been credited to the redevelopment of the area, the increase in population, and the intense presence of the police and sherrif's deputies.
Crime, while down, has not been eliminated. In 2007 two men who were rehabbing buildings on Findlay Street were shot in an attempted robbery, but both men survived. The suspects were later arrested and sentenced to 5 and 7 years in prison. Some residents were concernd when the controversial sheriff's deputies were pulled from the neighborhood in December of 2007. Since then the number of crimes committed in the first six month of 2008 and 2007 have been similar. In other words, crime has not decreased but it has not increased either. In March, 2008 a local news agency reported that Over-the-Rhine "might now be one of the safest places in Cincinnati."
Recent attempts have been made to revitalize Over-the-Rhine, starting with 12th and Vine Streets immediately outside of downtown. The redevelopment project, called the Gateway Quarter, has been largely successful in its attempts to attract empty-nesters and young professionals into the neighborhood.
A new building is under construction for the School for Creative and Performing Arts. Upon its completion, the $80 million facility will be the only K-12 arts school in the United States.
A streetcar line is planned to run through the downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Based on the Portland, Oregon model, it is wishfully anticipated that this streetcar line will generate billions of dollars in new development in the neighborhood despite serving a limited geographic and demographic area.
There are between 400 and 500 abandoned buildings in Over-the-Rhine. Its current population is just 7,638 people in an area of 0.64 square miles. It has an owner-occupancy rate of just 2.7%.