Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

OKI Wanna Know: Why is Vine Street Cincinnati's main street?

A woman crosses Vine Street at Third Street, from west to east, as traffic starts to move east to west. Streets are wet. Sidewalks are snow covered.
Bill Rinehart
An unidentified woman crosses Vine Street on a cold, snowy, January morning in 2023.

OKI Wanna Know is your opportunity to ask that odd little question that's been bugging you for years. Or maybe it's just a day or two. This week, WVXU's Bill Rinehart investigates a question about the layout of downtown Cincinnati.

Mary Lynn Duncan of Newport is curious about a couple of streets on the other side of the Ohio River.

"Why is Main Street not the center or the main street in Cincinnati?"

RELATED: OKI Wanna Know addresses your address questions

There are a number of answers to this question, and the manager of reference and research at the History Library and Archives at the Cincinnati Museum Center has them. Jill Beitz says when the city was first laid out, Main was the main street, because it provided a direct route to the public landing.

She says John Filson was supposed to lay out the streets for the new town. "He went into the woods one day and never returned. They assumed he was killed. Israel Ludlow took over and he drew the original town plat, with a lot of streets we still have today."

Beitz says there was no grand scheme for the naming of the streets. Instead, Ludlow used a lot of the street names William Penn used when he laid out Philadelphia.

Cincinnati's center shifted because of simple geography. "As the city grew, it built up a lot faster on the western half, so they bumped the main street over to Vine, and it became the main road through," Beitz says.

This was reinforced in two ways. First, at the north end of Main Street, there's a hill, that's too steep for a road. Maps from 1815 preserved by the Cincinnati Public Library show Main Street splitting, with the east fork called "The Road to Dayton" and the west fork called "The Road to Hamilton." Vine Street dead-ends into what we today call McMicken.

"Initially, not a lot of people lived up the hill. Everybody was in the basin," Beitz says. “Didn't need to go up I guess."

RELATED: What is Cincinnati's steepest street?

But by 1838, Vine had been extended north from McMicken Avenue. It was still a while after that the recognition of Vine as the main street really happened.

Beitz says city council passed an ordinance to standardize address numbering, with Vine as the center point. "Prior to that everything west of Main was west something. But also as buildings went up, there were numbers assigned and then someone would build a building in between two numbers and it would be a half number. In 1891 they wanted to standardize it but it took them a while to raise the money so the numbering didn't actually occur until 1895."

We have a related question. Was Vine Street ever named Main Street? William Volz of St. Augustine, Florida, says he has a business card from his grandfather, who owned New Era Cafe. The cards states it sold wine, liquor and cigars at the "S.E. Corner of Main and Maple Streets" around the early 1900s

The short answer is no. Vine was always Vine. Jill Beitz did some digging.

"There was a Maple Street. It's now Findlay Street, but Main never crossed it, and it became Findlay really early. The only place I can find a Main and a Maple crossing is in Norwood."

Beitz says she found mentions of the New Era Cafe, and it was at 6th and Vine. So, it's possible the business card has a typo.

While we're on the topic of Downtown Streets, Plum Street very briefly was spelled with a B at the end.

"I'm not sure if (Israel) Ludlow was a bad speller or what happened, but it's just that original plat where it has the B on the end."

As we mentioned earlier, Beitz says the first Cincinnati streets got their names from Philadelphia. But there are other stories.

"Vine however I found a few things that say it could have had to do with the vineyards around here. Race Street, although there was a Race Street in Philadelphia, that's probably where it came from, there are tales of soldiers from Fort Washington having horse races up and down that street. That's a lot more interesting."

If you're feeling lost with your question about the area, ask OKI Wanna Know by filling out the form below.

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.