Camp Washington

Meet the makers: Here are the people renewing the community from the inside out

A hundred years ago, Camp Washington was one of the region’s largest hubs of industry, producing everything from pork products to steel casings. It also housed 12,000 residents, many of them making up the labor force that forged the “golden era” of Cincinnati’s economy in the early 20th century.

 

In many ways, Camp Washington is now a shadow of its former self.

 

Among other things, Camp Washington has lost almost 90% of its population. The installation of the I-75 highway around 1960 cut the neighborhood off from neighboring communities. And the community has lost its library, its neighborhood school, its grocery store, and much of its historic business district.

 

But one thing has stayed the same — Camp Washington is still a neighborhood of “makers.” And these makers are busy at work, renewing the community from the inside out.

 

Building on the past, welcoming a new generation of makers

 

In 2018 the Camp Washington Community Council, with the help of commercial development company Urban Fast Forward, embarked on a comprehensive assessment of Camp Washington. They wanted new baseline measurements for everything from land use and housing info to income, demographics, and residents’ own input about their desires.

 

Community leaders were crafting a development plan for the neighborhood.

 

The community had already implemented a Camp Washington Industrial Area Plan, written in 2009, that aimed to make good use of the existing industrial infrastructure. The challenge now, almost a decade later, was to ensure the characteristic self-reliance of the community would continue into the future and that residents were afforded all the amenities and resources they needed.

 

Another goal of the plan was to attract new residents and burgeoning 21st-century industries by identifying and developing the character of the neighborhood.

 

The new community plan was, appropriately, titled “Made in Camp.”

 

 

Meet the Makers

 

Camp is a quiet, bustling community of people hard at work. And it would be difficult to adequately capture the breadth and diversity of the people who contribute to the creative, industrious culture of the neighborhood. There’s just too much going on to pin it all down.

 

Soapbox sat down with eight of the neighborhood’s resident makers and business owners — some new and some who’ve been around the neighborhood for decades — to see what brought them to Camp in the first place and to ask what excites them most about the future of their neighborhood.

 

Meet Mark Dejong.

Mark DeJong is well known for his "swing house."

 

You might know him from: Swing House.

 

His Camp Washington story:

Mark Dejong’s mother moved onto Avon Place in Camp Washington when Mark was a child. A potter herself, she purchased a warehouse building on the same street in 1980 to use as a pottery studio. Dejong purchased it from her in 2005 and now lives in the building. He uses part of the lower level as his workshop and leases the rest to other artists and artisans.

 

Dejong’s signature work is what he calls “art houses.” These large-scale immersive pieces employ his skills in carpentry and restoration to reframe the viewers’ experience of the history, architecture, and materials of the home.

 

He is currently working on his third art house on Avon Place in Camp Washington — the Stair House.

 

When asked to describe Camp Washington in a dozen words or fewer, he said:

“The Camp is where it’s possible to realize your dreams.”

 

He thinks the most interesting or exciting thing in Camp Washington right now is:
 

The community/family of like-minded dream makers.

 

“It’s truly unique,” he says. “I’ve been involved in many communities, but nothing like what’s happening here.”

 

 

Meet Tom Wartman

Tom Wartman is the owner of Neonworks of Cincinnati.

 

You might know him from: the ubiquitous “OPEN” sign.

 

His Camp Washington story:

 

Tom Wartman is the owner of Neonworks of Cincinnati, a business that restores vintage neon signs, neon clocks, and electric signs. They also make custom neon pieces.

 

Neonworks rents space in the same building as the American Sign Museum and, though a separate business, they operate as a part of the museum experience with their workshop visible from the museum exhibit space.

 

They moved to Camp Washington in 2010 from Evendale.

 

When asked to describe Camp Washington he said:

 

“Camp Washington is a great place to get something started.”

 

He thinks the most interesting or exciting thing in Camp Washington right now is:

 

That the American Sign Museum will double in size in the next couple years.

 

“I can't think of anything more exciting than that!” he says.

 

 

Meet the Deutsch family.


The Deutsch family actively supports the Camp Washington community.
 

You might know them from: your favorite Kings Island t-shirt.

 

Their Camp Washington story:

 

SpringDot, originally Sidney Printing Works, was established in 1904 downtown by 18-yr-old Hungarian immigrant Sidney Deutsch. The business moved to Camp in 1959.

 

SpringDot is a 4th generation family business.

 

The commercial printer is an active supporter of the Camp Washington community, with representatives serving on the Citizen's Board for River City Correctional Center and on the Board for Camp Washington Business Association. They also volunteer with community cleanups and social events.

 

SpringDot makes a wide range of printed commercial products, signs, and custom products for the local and national markets. (They’ve recently began printing custom face masks, as well.)

 

According to SpringDot representative Thomas Deutsch, “If you live in Cincinnati you have touched our product over the last 100 years.”


When asked to describe Camp Washington they said:

“Camp Washington is an evolving neighborhood. It’s a creative hub with an art community, inner-city residential growth and a strong manufacturing base.”


They think the most interesting or exciting thing in Camp Washington right now is:

 

The home and loft values are actively rising, which is a reflection of Camp's renaissance.

 

 

Meet Scottie Bellissemo

Scottie Bellissemo creates his own artwork and custom wood furniture.

 

You might know him from: the wood shop.

 

His Camp Washington story:

 

In addition to creating his own artwork and custom wood furniture, Scottie Bellissemo runs the nonprofit Wave Pool’s community Wood Shop. He teaches an eight-week woodworking course and hosts open studio sessions for community members.

 

When asked to describe Camp Washington he said it is:

“A diverse town of people hustling to stay afloat at all costs.”

 

He thinks the most interesting or exciting thing in Camp Washington right now is:

 

The artists who are making the community a more creative and vibrant place to live and work.

 

 

Meet Cal Cullen.


Cal Cullen's Wave Pool has become a creative, stabilizing force in the neighborhood.
 

You might know her from: Firehouse #12 (Wave Pool Gallery).

 

Her Camp Washington story:

 

Cullen moved to Camp Washington with her husband and newborn child six years ago. She says the vacant firehouse on Colerain Avenue is what brought them to Camp, but the neighbors are what keep them there.

 

She considers herself a “social practice artist” and works in a variety of mediums — drawing, painting, sculpture, community dinners, interactive booths, etc. — all for the purpose of “bringing people together and creating positive change.”

 

Wave Pool developed as an extension of her work and a response to community needs. The nonprofit has become a creative, stabilizing force in the neighborhood.

 

When asked to describe Camp Washington she called the neighborhood:

 

“A post-industrial, pre-gentrified, urban island of creativity, grit, and promise.”

 

What’s the most interesting or exciting thing in Camp Washington right now?

 

“I'm very excited about new energy moving into the neighborhood, especially those that are working proactively with long-time residents and the interests of those already here.”

 

“Interesting people from all over the world are noticing and engaging with this corner of Cincinnati and making it a more welcoming, eclectic, and interesting place,” she continues.

 

 

Meet Sean Mullaney.

Sean Mullaney created CampSITE, a social sculpture park.


You might know him from: the most Insta-worthy vacant lot in Camp Washington, CampSITE.

 

His Camp Washington story:

 

Sean Mullaney is an industrial designer and toy inventor who chose Camp Washington because of the availability of studio space to do his work. He makes large scale kinetic sculptures.

 

He created CampSITE — a social sculpture park — on one of his vacant lots. Since it opened in 2019, it has been a popular location for community events, social gatherings, and outdoor art exhibits. It is open to the public.

 

When asked to describe Camp Washington he said:

“Camp is opportunity. It’s a blank, slightly soiled canvas.”

He thinks the most interesting or exciting thing in Camp Washington right now is:

 

Mark Dejong’s new project, Stair House, and the hiring of Sidney Nation as the new executive director of the Camp Washington Community Board.

 

“I am very excited about working in a collaborative fashion with all the residents, companies and organizations in Camp Washington,” he says.

 

 

Meet Jim Bosken.


Jim Bosken's father started, QCA, a trusted resource to the local music scene.
You might know him from: that Elvis Presley LP.

 

His Camp Washington story:

 

Bosken’s father started QCA in his basement in the 1950s, printing album jackets for the innovative, new “long-playing” vinyl record. He moved to their current location on Spring Grove Avenue in 1960. QCA makes nickel stampers used to make vinyl records, print and package CDs, and print record labels. They also provide audio mastering services.

 

In addition to providing services to national music industry leaders, QCA is a trusted resource to the local Cincinnati music scene.

 

When asked to describe Camp Washington he said it is:

 

“A small neighborhood in the middle of nowhere, yet close to everywhere.”

 

He says the most exciting or interesting things happening in Camp today are:

 

Wave Pool and Sunny Blu Coffeehouse.

 

 

Meet Elmer Hensler

Elmer Hensler opened his craft sausage company, Queen City Sausage, in 1965.

 

You might know him from: metts, brats, hot dogs, and goetta.

 

His Camp Washington story:

 

Elmer Hensler opened his craft sausage company, Queen City Sausage, with two business partners in Camp Washington in 1965.

 

The company employs authentic German sausage recipes into iconic bratwurst, smoked sausage, and old fashioned deli meats. They’re working to keep the “old world” sausage making techniques alive in Cincinnati.

 

He has since expanded his operation 14 times at the same Camp location while he’s watched over 40 other meat companies come and go.

 

Hensler fondly refers to Queen City Sausage as “the last man standing” in sausage-making in Cincinnati.

 

When asked to describe Camp Washington he said it is:

 

“Cincinnati’s original maker culture. Porkopolis. Home to the next generation of craft makers.”

 

When asked what is the most exciting or interesting thing happening in Camp today, he said:

 

“Queen City Sausage is thriving and the Camp Washington neighborhood is in the early stages of a renaissance.”

Natalie Grilli is a foodie, photographer, wife and momma happily “Camping” in Camp Washington. Find more of her work at www.nataliegrilli.com and www.studioNphotography.com.

 



The On The Ground: Camp Washington feature series is made possible with support from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr. / U. S. Bank Foundation.

Read more articles by Liz McEwan.

Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.
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