100 Years in Walnut Hills: Historic Map Fun

2118 St. James, #1, located in Walnut Hills.
2118 St. James Avenue, #1, Cincinnati, Ohio (MLS # 1420145).

Historic maps are fascinating, revealing changes to a neighborhood whose present form we may take for granted. Old Sanborn fire insurance maps, in particular, reveal when buildings were built–or at least a “built by [insert year here] date”–additions (and demolitions!) to buildings, long-gone outbuildings, and shifted property lines. There are 2 historic properties currently for sale on St. James Avenue in Walnut Hills2118 St. James, #1 (MLS #1420145), and the single family residence at 2100 St. James (MLS# 1420830).

2100 St. James Avenue in Walnut Hills (MLS# 1420830)
2100 St. James Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio (MLS# 1420830)

Here is a survey of their corner of Walnut Hills, 1904 compared to 2014. Bounded by Eden Park on 2 sides and a stone’s throw from Samuel Hannaford’s water tower, their world includes St. James Avenue, Alpine Place, Luray Avenue, Nassau Street, and St. Paul Place (Okay, it just so happens to be 1 historic map sheet).

Base map -
Base map – Insurance Maps of Cincinnati, Volume 2, Sheet 180. Sanborn Map Company. Published 1904-1930

The most imposing change from then to now is the addition of the St. James at the Park condos along Alpine Place. Considered stately by modern standards with a pool, tennis courts, and parking lot, the construction of this high-rise wiped out 5 not-so-small homes on Alpine and 2 Victorian townhomes facing St. James (the latter is where the building’s large cooling apparatus sits, which sounds something like a relaxing waterfall in the woods). With this exception–and the loss of a small outbuilding at the north end of the street–the east side of St. James Avenue appears much as it did 100 years ago (minus the modern utilities, cars, and weekly appearance of garbage bins, of course).

Intersection of Alpine Place and St. Paul Place with the St. James high-rise in background
Intersection of Alpine Place and St. Paul Place with the St. James high-rise in background

Alpine Place has seen its fair share of additions and subtractions.

2150 Alpine Place, sitting between its historic neighbors
2150 Alpine Place, sitting between its historic neighbors

Picturesque 2145 Alpine was built in 1929 up on the hill, while present-day 2150 Alpine–a modern bungalow–replaced a 1921 building. On a side note, this Sanborn map has a publication date of 1904-1930, meaning it was released in 1904 with subsequent revisions up to 1930. When revisions were done, updated sections were pasted over the existing layer and appear slightly off-color and angular in shape (see map). Often, revisions were not 100%–new additions to a neighborhood could be missed, such as 2145 Alpine Place. You can tease out the changes to a neighborhood better by looking at a series of maps or even cross-referencing with the  Hamilton County Auditor’s website for property lines and build dates.

2145 Alpine Place, built in 1929
2145 Alpine Place, built in 1929

St. Paul Place has a couple of “extra” early twentieth century buildings that fit the streetscape nicely (again, 2 of the structures were missed by map revisions post-1904) while Luray Avenue has The Overlook (another impressive high-rise), a multi-unit built in the 1950s, and some Art Deco condos constructed in 1939.

2109 Luray Avenue, built in 1939
2109 Luray Avenue, built in 1939
2151-2163 Luray Avenue, early 20th century bungalows
2151-2163 Luray Avenue, early 20th century bungalows

There are also 4 tidy bungalows-in-a-row (2151-2163 Luray) built from 1913 to 1922.

To complete this neighborhood survey, we arrive at my favorite property, which sits along Nassau Street and is now just a vacant lot. The lot was definitely quarried and has 2 steep stone walls for its southern and western boundaries.

Vacant lot on Nassau Street (foundation depression in foreground, stone walls in background)
Vacant lot on Nassau Street (foundation depression in foreground, stone walls in background)

According to the Sanborn map, however, this property was once occupied by a commercial building with adjacent garages (labeled “autos” and post-1904 as it is an off-color rectangle). If you look closely at the property, the foundation depression of the building is still visible through the grass…Historic maps are so fun.