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The people and neighborhoods of our region have fascinating stories to tell, and WVXU is committed to telling them. Round the Corner is our community storytelling initiative, shining a light on the people, businesses, history, and events that make Greater Cincinnati such a fascinating place to live, work, and raise a family. Stories will air on 91.7 WVXU and 88.5 WMUB, and stream on, the WVXU mobile app, and on your smart speaker.

Though Camp Washington struggles in some ways, it's 'still high energy'

an aerial view of camp washington
Nick Swartsell

WVXU's Round the Corner series takes you into the heart of Greater Cincinnati's communities. This time, we're getting to know Camp Washington. WVXU's Nick Swartsell explores the neighborhood's origins as Cincinnati's industrial powerhouse.

Camp Washington has long been a place of constant movement. Maybe it's the echoes of the enormous, ancient rivers that carved the Mill Creek Valley the neighborhood sits in. Maybe it's being right next to one of the nation's largest rail yards.

"Camp," as some residents call it, has survived economic downturns, massive fires, vacant buildings and environmental issues. And it's done it all by going to work making everything from machine valves and sausage to fine art.

Camp Washington Business Association President Matt Wagner says despite a lot of challenges, Camp Washington has remained incredibly resilient thanks to its location and its people.

"It's still high-energy," he says. "There are just so many perspectives to Camp, based on its proximity to 75 as well as Downtown. It's very attractive for manufacturing. So you have some really heavy hitters here, with Meyer Tool and KAO Brands being the anchors. But there's so much industry here, just the smaller-type manufacturing base. And just great people, too."

LISTEN: Crosley at the Crossroads, a new podcast from WVXU

The U.S. Army encampment that gave the neighborhood its name trained more than 5,000 troops who served in the Mexican-American War in the late 1840s. A few years later, in 1850, it was the location of the first Ohio State Fair.

Cincinnati annexed Camp Washington in 1869, and by that point, industry had already begun moving into the area in earnest. Most of it was meatpacking. With the industry came people — 10,000 by 1890.

Industrial strength has helped Camp Washington weather big calamities, including the Great Depression. While the 1930s economic collapse was hard for the community, it fared better than many. University of Cincinnati History Professor Dr. David Stradling explains why.

"The industry around here that you'll see, a lot of it has to do with meatpacking," he says of Depression-era Camp Washington. "People continue to eat in the United States. There are some aspects of the industry in Cincinnati that can weather the storm a little bit better than others."

Camp and other Cincinnati neighborhoods suffered a more specific disaster in the latter years of the Great Depression. The historic 1937 flood saw the Mill Creek overflow its banks, causing widespread damage and tipping over fuel containers, which started an enormous blaze.

Camp Washington pushed on. The humble neighborhood next to the Mill Creek hosted hundreds of industrial businesses in the 1940s and '50s along with grocery stores, doctor's offices, bars and just about anything else residents needed.

RELATED: The Mill Creek continues to improve, but challenges remain

Former Camp Washington Community Board Director Joe Gorman says the neighborhood once represented an enormous share of the city's employers.

"Forty-two percent of the city's earnings taxes in the 1940s and '50s," he says. "Which means that we had these powerhouse businesses down here."

During that time, the neighborhood was seeing another huge influx of people. Those new residents found plenty of jobs in Camp Washington.

"There are pushes out of Appalachia, particularly with the collapse of coal mining jobs," Stradling says. "A lot of those folks know that those jobs aren't coming back. So they make their way to cities in the Midwest, and Cincinnati in particular. And Camp Washington gives them good access to factory jobs, particularly in the '40s and '50s."

But those boom years eventually faded. By the 1970s, the deindustrialization sweeping across the country hit Camp Washington hard. The neighborhood suffered particularly from changes to the way factories are structured. In the '50s, companies started building sprawling, single-story factories on cheap suburban land outside the city, leaving some Camp Washington factories vacant.

RELATED: Take a trip down the Mill Creek

The neighborhood still struggles in some ways. Only about 1,200 people live here now — that's about 10% of its peak population. But the last decade has seen a reversal of fortunes. In addition to the many industrial businesses still operating in Camp Washington, there's fresh energy here. New businesses have opened like the American Sign Museum and Mom and Em's Coffee shop. There are new homeowners and renters. And a vibrant art scene has grown here. Community leaders say they're hopeful the trend will continue.

Round the Corner's next Camp Washington episode is all about the history, afterlife and potential rebirth of one of Cincinnati's most iconic buildings. You can also take a deep dive into Camp Washington history with WVXU's Crosley at the Crossroads podcast.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.