Downtown Cincinnati: Over The Rhine to West End


Cincinnati Over The Rhine and West End

Either Downtown or Down Tha Way are names that are quite familiar with the streets and urban communities of the Nasty Nati as one of Cincinnati’s roughest areas is home to a bulk of the city’s lower income housing.

Expanding along Liberty Street from Interstate 75 to Reading Road is the heart of the city’s Downtown urban neighborhoods as Liberty connects the two major neighborhoods of the West End and Over The Rhine.

Small public housing complexes like Lincoln Courts and Park Town or single-family homes and apartment buildings in areas known as Tot Lot and Helltown accounts for the makeup of the Downtown neighborhood.


History of Downtown

Long before the downtown’s reputation, Cincinnati’s black population began around the intersection of Liberty and Linn, an area officially known as the West End, as freed and runaway slaves from southern communities of nearby states like Kentucky or Virginia relocated into the Queen City.

During the 1800s, surprisingly, the city of Cincinnati had one of the country’s largest concentration of African-Americans as the West End area grew into becoming a stronghold for many of black families as thousands of people lived in the community.

cincinnati west end

Linn Street, the heart of the Cincinnati West End neighborhood

Despite the thought of escaping the racist and often discriminating south, blacks in Cincinnati’s early days faced harsh laws, segregation, and an environment that was quite similar to the southern communities many escaped.

By the 1930s, sections of the community was destroyed replaced with the public housing units of the former Laurel Homes, both for white and black families as one of the country’s first integrated communities.

cincinnati west end

View of the former location of the old Laurel Homes

The Laurel Homes, which were south of Liberty Street around Linn Street, were demolished and rebuilt during the 2000s with the majority of today’s rebuilt gentrified community being finished in by 2007.

With the destruction and slum clearance of the West End neighborhood, many black residents were forced to relocate into the nearby neighborhoods of Mt Auburn, Walnut Hills, Avondale, Evanston and Corryville, from the 1930s and 1950s.

Cincinnati Over The Rhine

Cincinnati Over The Rhine neighborhood, black families relocated into the area during the 1960s from West End.

While West End was the city’s original black community, the neighboring Over The Rhine neighborhood, which sits east of Central Parkway, did not gain a black population until the 1960s after sections of the West End were destroyed through urban renewal.

A former German immigrant community, Over The Rhine declined after the community left unattended and many of the former residents failed the needed upkeep, which was right before African-Americans entered the area.


History of Surrounding Areas

Before the move into neighborhoods like Avondale, Corryville or Mount Auburn, European immigrants created homes in these communities but their exit into the suburbs helped in each area grow a black population.

For Cincinnati’s black community, the establishment of Walnut Hills begun around today’s intersection of Gilbert and Martin Luther King Drive and would later expand into other sections of the neighborhood as white flight left a vacancy and opportunity for African-Americans to reside in the area.

cincinnati walnut hills

Walnut Hills mural

Following Walnut Hills other neighboring neighborhoods were followed with an increase black presence, by the 1950s as large portions of Cincinnati’s original black community of the West End was demolished and replaced by the Laurel Homes housing project.

Mount Auburn, which was once a very wealthy community as one driving through the neighborhood can witness large homes that were once occupied by the city’s elite, changed after the destruction of the West End’s black community and many relocated into Mt. Auburn.

At first, slum clearance of the 1930s led the movement of replacing the West End with the Laurel Homes and forcing a relocation for hundreds of black families, but the construction of Interstate’s 71 and 75 destroyed parts of many neighborhoods, while furthering the decline of Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods.

Today’s Downtown

For decades this area of Cincinnati has been publicized in the light of negativity, from indictments and mass arrests of the Tot Lot area (around Linn and Findlay) to the constant media attention for the community’s street activities of shootings and other crime.

One of Ohio’s most active communities is on a verge of changing as gentrification is making its way into the community with the demolishing of the former Tot Lot park, the transformation of the neighborhood once around Washington Park, the former Laurel Homes being rebuilt into a smaller development are all examples.

The community is slowly becoming a memory to many of the former residents, whether one stayed on McMicken, Vine Street or anywhere in the Downtown section the writing is on the wall that in just a few years this area will no longer be part of the Cincinnati’s urban community.


*Note: All information is provided either through people of the community, outside sources, and/or research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.

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