“It seems almost a misnomer to call Walnut Hills a suburb. Rather a city on a hill with no desire to hide its light under a bushel.” Commercial Tribune, May 9, 1897.
The City of Cincinnati is returning two-way traffic to McMillan Street and Taft Road west of Victory Parkway, through the historic business district of Walnut Hills. The streets were converted to one-way back in the 1960s—as part of a wave of conversions that began in the 1950s to alleviate congestion for commuters to the suburbs.
One can argue that this one-way conversion killed the Walnut Hills business district—because no one really stops for anything along these commuters’ roadways now–but the neighborhood’s decline had started as early as the 1930s. With a median housing stock of 1900, Walnut Hills had seen its fair share of residents departing for newer and greener pastures. Many had already left for “more fashionable” neighborhoods, such as Hyde Park, which developed during the early decade so the 20thcentury. In its hey day, however, Walnut Hills was the most urbanized city neighborhood on Cincinnati’s hills.
At the turn of the 20th century, Peebles Corner, the neighborhood’s commercial center at Gilbert and McMillan, was busier than any district outside of downtown. Over 100,000 people rode past Peebles Corner two times a day on electric street cars. Six streetcar lines intersected at McMillan and Gilbert: the Cross-Town, the Vine-Norwood, the Zoo-Eden, the Norwood-Gilbert Avenue, Gilbert Avenue, and the Madison Road. The Corner was named after Joseph Straub Peebles’ grocery store, where a strategically placed advertisement said it all: “All roads lead to Rome. All streetcar lines lead to Peebles!”
Peebles Corner (an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, BTW) was often used interchangeably with Walnut Hills, but the neighborhood proper also provided a plethora of jobs from manufacturing to small retail trade shops. Housing ranged from boarding houses to one and two family homes to mansion. With a population of almost 25,000, there were more churches and schools than in any other city neighborhood outside Cincinnati’s basin. As the neighborhood’s signs still proclaim today, Walnut Hills has been a diverse place to live, work, and play since 1800.
I was driving east on McMillan Street just the other day. There was a large, digital sign announcing arrival of the two-way scheme on October 13, 2012. The expectation is that the two-way conversion will help revitalize the Walnut Hills business district. Let’s hope it does just that.
1983 Cincinnati Historical Society
Walnut Hills City Neighborhood. The Cincinnati Historical Society Studies in Regional and Local History Number 3.