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OKI Wanna Know
Perhaps the most hyper-local reporting around, OKI Wanna Know answers listeners' nagging questions about stubbornly unexplained things in the Greater Cincinnati area. Bill Rinehart, local host of WVXU’s broadcast of All Things Considered, dives deep into researching the backstory of each crowdsourced mystery and reports back with his findings twice a month.

OKI Wanna Know: Why are there chimneys standing in a field in Winton Hills?

A chimney stands with a small shed at its base. Two other chimneys are visible in the near distance. A hawk contemplates its lunch on a telephone pole in the foreground. The sky is a bright blue.
Bill Rinehart
Some of the chimneys are attached to sheds, and some stand alone.

OKI Wanna Know is a chance for you to get an answer to that question that's been bugging you, and you don't know where else to turn. This week, WVXU's Bill Rinehart looks into a grouping of chimneys in a Cincinnati neighborhood.

Jim Ayers of Anderson Township has questions about something he sees in a valley along Winton Road between Finneytown and Spring Grove Village.

"I've noticed in one of the farm fields there's several chimneys standing in the field that seem to be disconnected to anything else," Ayers says. "I've driven past them probably a dozen times, and every time I look over I try to crane my neck and see what they might be and I have no idea. So yes, I'm curious."

The answer dates back to the late 19th century, according to the manager of reference and research at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives. Jill Beitz says German immigrants came to the area and some started farming in places like Roselawn.

"But those areas start to be subdivided for subdivisions and things, and the area near Winton Place, which was eventually referred to as Wood Shoe Hollow, wasn't really a great place to build a subdivision," she says. "The land's pretty hilly, and there's water running through it. There's a lot going on. But it was great soil for growing vegetables."

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Wooden Shoe Hollow, or what we now call Winton Hills, was farmland, and not a part of the city.

"They would grow vegetables and produce and then take them to the city and sell them in the local markets. First by wagon; eventually by truck."

Beitz says one of the biggest crops was tomatoes. But tomatoes didn't have a very long growing season in this part of the world, so farmers started looking for ways to grow produce out of season.

"Initially, when they settled they would put glass tops on their flowerbeds. Eventually, they would build greenhouses, and they needed to heat them," she says. "They were heated with boilers that were fueled with coal, hence the smokestacks."

One of the chimneys still attached to a shed, at Winton Ridge, and Kings Run Drive.
Bill Rinehart
One of the chimneys still attached to a shed, at Winton Ridge, and Kings Run Drive.

Beitz says the chimneys became problematic when environmental concerns came to the forefront of the public consciousness in the 1970s .

"Inspectors would go out and cite the farmers for polluting the air with their chimneys," she says. "So they tried to switch to heating oil and things, but that was so expensive. It just became... it wasn't worth it to go back and forth to the city with their produce any more."

You also have to factor in better transportation networks, leading to competition from around the world.

"By the '80s, there were only two out of eight farmers left growing tomatoes. The remaining farmers had turned to growing flowers or bedding plants, which is what's there now."

You may know the string of nurseries and greenhouses like Funkes and AJ Rahn along Gray Road just north of Spring Grove Cemetery. Construction of the current-day Winton Road sliced through the community in the 1960s.

Henry W. Schumacher remembers the earlier days well. His grandfather started farming in the neighborhood around 1918.

"I had to help around the farm before I went in the Army. I went in the Army, I came back, and I got in, and around '59, '60, I got into the business. And I started to do the flowers after that. I did business with my brother Albert," he says. "I think my son took it over around 1992."

Schumacher remembers feeding coal into the boilers that heated the greenhouses.

"When we had the boilers with the coal, first you had a hand fire, then we put in what you call bin-feed, where you just dump the whole load of coal into it," he says. "But you still had to come down and check it every once in a while to make sure, because one time it froze over on top and looked like it had a whole bunch of coal, but as soon as we touched it we found we had a big empty pit below it."

RELATED: Why are the steeples still there while the churches are gone?

Most of the remaining chimneys are along a single-lane road that still carries the name Wooden Shoe Hollow Drive. Beitz says that name has meaning.

"While we all associate wooden shoes with the Dutch, the Germans also wore wooden shoes. I guess they were nice for working out in the fields," she says. "I read an article about a shoemaker in Cincinnati in the 1850s. This was previous to Wooden Shoe Hollow, but he made wooden shoes for the various German settlers."

Henry Schumacher says he didn't wear wooden shoes, but his grandfather did.

"They kept everything from getting wet. I can remember my grandfather putting them in a coal stove to warm them up."

There are still a few greenhouses in the neighborhood today, but they're not heated by coal. So why are the chimneys still standing? Schumacher can't speak for everyone, but he knows why they didn't take down the two he had on his farm:

"Because it costs money to put down and the money we had, we'd rather put it to a better use than taking down chimneys."

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.