Mohawk: A neighborhood of problems and promise

The Cincinnati neighborhood of Mohawk really isn’t a neighborhood at all, at least by official city definitions.

Technically, it’s the northernmost part of Over-the-Rhine, a narrow slice of a neighborhood bounded by Central Parkway on the south, and Fairview Park and Bellevue Park to the north, with McMicken Avenue bisecting the entire area east to west.

In the 1800s, it was part of the infamous Northern Liberties territory, a no-man’s land just outside the boundaries of Cincinnati, where people seeking to drink, gamble, and indulge in other excesses could evade the laws of Cincinnati and enjoy these earthly delights.

Unfortunately, Mohawk today still struggles with modern-day vices, particularly drugs and prostitution. So much so that in 2014, police barricaded parts of McMicken to discourage cruising for prostitutes.

No doubt, Mohawk has problems. But it also has promise.

A group of committed residents, business owners and property owners are working to restore that promise and create a community where people want to live, work, and visit. They met with city planners recently to weigh in on priorities for re-imagining the distressed neighborhood.

"What should we do to position Mohawk where Mohawk wants to be?” is how Steve Hampton, executive director of the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District, summed up the efforts.

In fact, Mohawk’s future is wrapped up in the Brewery District and Brewing Heritage Trail, a walking tour of Cincinnati’s old beer factories that is nearing the completion of its first phase.

Several old breweries and the storage tunnels beneath them still exist and are significant neighborhood assets. They’ll be part of the Heritage Trail tour. The Clyffside Brewing Co., for example, operated in several buildings on McMicken and was started in the 1930s by a student of the Royal Bavarian School of Brewing in Germany.

The Jackson Brewery, also fronting McMicken, dates to the mid-19th century. Both breweries, and others in the neighborhood, dug tunnels deep into the hills behind them to store and age their beers, taking advantage of the cool temperatures underground.

Cincinnati’s fabled beer history will undoubtedly bring new blood into Mohawk. There are other assets as well. Over-the-Rhine business owner Julie Fay bought the Imperial Theatre, a former vaudeville house built in 1913 that has sat empty for decades. The theater is something of a landmark in Mohawk, visible to passing motorists on Central Parkway.

She is working to stabilize the building, which has suffered from years of neglect. She sees the site as possibly the home of a theater or a working space for artists. The possibilities are many, but for now, she wants to save the physical facility, which she considers an anchor for the neighborhood.

The revival of the Imperial is a big idea, and Mohawk advocates have some that are even bigger. One is building an aerial tram that would take visitors up to Bellevue Hill Park, where some of the most sweeping views of Cincinnati can be seen. It’s a dream pushed by, among others, architect Denny Dellinger, who maintains his office on Mohawk Street.

Dellinger says the tram would be a link to the days when the Bellevue Incline, long since torn down, would transport passengers from Elm Street in OTR to the park, where a popular destination for dining and dancing, Bellevue House, once stood.

The tiny neighborhood of Mohawk is steeped in history. Fortunately, there are people with vision who want to not only preserve that history, but also connect it to the urban revival of today.

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist, Cincinnati native and father of three. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.
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