Sunrise 25: Ault Park (Foggy Valley, Crusade Castle Vineyard, St. Ursula Villa and R.K. LeBlond, Columbia-Tusculum, and Alms Park Vineyard)
This post is technically
a day late two days late but that’s better than never :). This write up took much longer than I had anticipated, but extra depth was required to get the background information ready. Every time I look for history of buildings in this area, I’m lead to even more websites referencing even more history. It could be a full time job!
Saturday morning I took the chance to do an extended exploration – one of my favorite things to do on a weekend morning with no commitments before 09:00am. I ended up discovering an “ancient” vineyard down below Ault Park that I had no idea existed. The history of the vineyard has led me down a rabbit hole of Cincinnati history. Often times I try not to rely on Google for discovering information about the history of the area I live in, preferring to discover (and sometimes make up my own versions) the history on my own. However if used appropriately the Internet can be a powerful tool in augmenting the exploration of the real world that we live in. More about the vineyard (Crusade Castle), Cincinnati wine, Columbia-Tusculum, St. Ursula Villa and RK LeBlond’s legacy, Alms and Eden Park after the pictures of the sunrise. The ride ended up being about 3 hours from start to finish, and it was one of the most fun rides I’ve been on in a long time.
I started off the morning knowing that I was out of coffee. I left 10 minutes earlier than usual and swung by our local coffee roaster in Mt. Lookout Square, Lookout Joe‘s. I couldn’t believe it – they were closed! OK I can believe it, 6:15am is a bit early to be open on a Saturday Morning. I ended up swinging into the local UDF and was absolutely pleased to learn that they let me fill up my 26oz Nissan thermos for $.99! Thanks UDF! (UPDATE: as of the writing, on Monday, I learned that it is free refill day. $0 is even better than $.99, thanks UDF!) if you’re on the front page, please click continue to read more. I promise you won’t regret it.
The morning turned out to be just beautiful. There was a bit of an overcast layer across the sky, but it must have ended somewhere over the eastern horizon because the sun didn’t have too hard of a time shining through the open air just above the hill line. There were several people up in the park as well, including several joggers and a couple of bikers although they didn’t show up until a bit later. The most surprising visitors to the overlook were a young couple, their four dogs, and a photographer. I thought that the photographer was going to be taking pictures of the sunrise (all I could think was how she was about 15 minutes too late!), but it turned out that they were taking pictures of the dogs with the sunrise as the background. Think family portraits! It was fun to watch and added a nice bit of variety to the morning.
The eastern hills had a thick fog that was sitting down in the valley. Both Armleder Park and Lunken Airfield had thick foggy air, and the peaks of the hills popping above the mist made for a really pretty backdrop. I played around with the different exposure settings on the camera to try and capture the light earthly clouds. Eventually, about 15 minutes after sunrise, the sun slipped up into the clouds but the display was far from over. The upper atmosphere had very few clouds, and the sun light was visibly lighting up the upper atmosphere while at the same time keeping the ground mostly dark. It was really a sight to see, one of the prettiest and more dynamic spring sunrises. I could get used to this, even if means waiting through several days of storms. The air was starting to lose its chill and the sun light provided a noticeably warmer presence on my skin. I eventually took off my sweatshirt when it started to feel like I was sitting in a sauna.
The Crusade Castle / Vineyard
About 30 minutes after the sunrise I hopped on my bike and decided to explore the neighborhood that sits at the bottom of the back side of the hill, below the Heekin Overlook. I’ve been down there once before but I don’t go very often, mostly because it is really steep. The neighborhood is cut into the side of the hill, so by the time you get to the bottom you have descended basically all the way down the hill to be level with the Ohio River – about 400ft below the overlook. Secondly the neighborhood is quiet and only has one other outlet other than the road that goes up to the back entrance to Ault Park. I decided that I wanted to see if there were any strategic spots in the neighborhood that would provide me with an eastern view into the valley for the sunrise. I came across a “No Outlet” at the base of the hill. “No Outlets” are my favorite thing ever because I’ve found that they always have the most interesting homes. There is no reason for a traveler in their automobile to venture down a “No Outlet” because it will only add to your trip time. On a bike exploring the “No Outlets” becomes a rewarding exercise because often times you find that not only is the “No Outlet” street not even a short street at all and may open up to other streets, but often there are exotic and bizarre architecture homes nestled in the privacy that the dead end provides.
I found that there was a really nice view out across Lunken Playfield, so I stopped to take a picture from the street. I often wonder how many people actually see me stop to take pictures and what they think I’m up to. I hope they don’t mind. I typically try to give a body language that seems curious but not so curious as to make it seem that I’m curious in individual people’s business, but rather curious about the homes and neighorhood, trees and flowers. Wandering, not commuting. It is a strange thing to be out in a neighborhood for an hour or so, seeing the same joggers, dog walkers, and cyclists several times as they travel around the neighborhood. I say a familiar “oh hey, its you again!” hello before they slip into memory, most likely never to be seen again by me.
I arrived at the end of the street and came across a pair of stone pillars with an iron gate. The first thing I noticed was the sign that read “No Dogs”. This was odd, a sign that indicates that perhaps this is a public place like an apartment complex. If it was a private residence I imagine the sign would read “Beware of Dog”. I looked at the stone pillar and that is when I saw the plaque that read “Crusade Castle”. As it turns out, this building was built in 1851 and was used as a vineyard for over 60 years. It went on to become the headquarters for the Catholic Student Mission Crusade Headquarters. First, let me stop here and layout several things that went through my head as it dawned on me what I was looking at. You see, there is another interesting event that occurred in the 1910s, right around the time that this vineyard closed its doors. The land for Ault Park was donated in 1911! While Prohibition didn’t officially start until 1920, it is highly likely that in the decade leading up to the official national ban on wine, beer, and spirits the air was filled with anti-alcohol sentiment, not to mention anti-german sentiment. This all ties into the fall of Over-The-Rhine, a story which has to be saved for another day. One thing that has me fuming is that Prohibition essentially wiped out so much cultural heritage of Cincinnati in such a short-sighed action. This vineyard was one of many vineyards that were present in eastern Cincinnati, all of which, from what I understand, were owned by the local catholic archdioceses and were responsible for creating the wine for all the local perishes throughout Cincinnati. While Over-The-Rhine had over 140 breweries in the late 1800s, the hills around Cincinnati were filled with grape vines and wineries. Alms Park used to be a vineyard as well, as did Eden Park in Mt. Adams, Cincinnati. It is incredibly sad to think about how much heritage was lost when Prohibition came into effect :(. The flip side, of course, is that without prohibition the land for both Ault Park and Alms Park may never have been donated and Cincinnati would not have two of its most beautiful parks. There is always a silver lining, right?
I took many pictures of the old building. It is well maintained but I got the impression it is not currently used by anyone officially. The ivy has taken over the lower cellar pillars. There is still a small stained glass window that may or may not be original, probably originating from when the building was used by the catholic crusade headquarters.
There is a small courtyard around the back and side of the building. Can you imagine sitting here 140 years ago, looking out into the Little Miami river valley? This would have been several decades before automobiles were commonplace and it was probably at least half a day on horse to get out to this country estate.
Mt. Lookout Community Council’s website has some history behind this castle as well.
In the 1840’s an unusual Italian villa style building was constructed known as “Crusade Castle”. It was the national headquarters for the Catholic Student’s Mission Crusade, and was a center for organized promotion of Catholic missionary wo…rk throughout the world. The property was reportedly surveyed by George Washington, and the structure included a massive bed that, according to legend, was slept in by the First President of the United States of America. The land in the surrounding area was very fertile, and was used to harvest large vineyards which inspired renowned poet Henry W. Longfellow to write “Catawba Wine”. Perhaps those vineyards prompted Longfellow to write the famous lines “The Queen of the West in her garlands dressed on the banks of the beautiful river”. http://www.mtlookout.org/mtlookout.html
Here is the poem in its entirety! Thanks Internet! This was written before the Civil War, in a time when Native Americans would have still heavily inhabited the area.
Henry W. Longfellow
Birds of Passage 1858
This song of mine
Is a Song of the Vine,
…To be sung by the glowing embers
Of wayside inns,
When the rain begins
To darken the drear Novembers.
It is not a song
Of the Scuppernong,
From warm Carolinian valleys,
Nor the Isabel
And the Muscadel
That bask in our garden alleys.
Nor the red Mustang,
Whose clusters hang
O’er the waves of the Colorado,
And the fiery flood
Of whose purple blood
Has a dash of Spanish bravado.
For richest and best
Is the wine of the West,
That grows by the Beautiful River;
Whose sweet perfume
Fills all the room
With a benison on the giver.
And as hollow trees
Are the haunts of bees,
Forever going and coming;
So this crystal hive
Is all alive
With a swarming and buzzing and humming.
Very good in its way
Is the Verzenay,
Or the Sillery soft and creamy;
But Catawba wine
Has a taste more divine,
More dulcet, delicious, and dreamy.
There grows no vine
By the haunted Rhine,
By Danube or Guadalquivir,
Nor on island or cape,
That bears such a grape
As grows by the Beautiful River.
Drugged is their juice
For foreign use,
When shipped o’er the reeling Atlantic,
To rack our brains
With the fever pains,
That have driven the Old World frantic.
To the sewers and sinks
With all such drinks,
And after them tumble the mixer;
For a poison malign
Is such Borgia wine,
Or at best but a Devil’s Elixir.
While pure as a spring
Is the wine I sing,
And to praise it, one needs but name it;
For Catawba wine
Has need of no sign,
No tavern-bush to proclaim it.
And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.
I continued back down the road to the switchback that turned around to go up the hill behind the vineyard. I noticed a small grass lot and suddenly knew where I was. I have been here before! The forest behind the lot connects to the trail that connects up to the Heekin Overlook. I ventured down that trail a few weeks ago. The lot is for sale, too! Looks like I found my retirement plot :)
There is a giant house up on the hill behind the vineyard. It is marked with a sign for a construction company that specializes in “Historic Home Restoration” so I’m not sure how “original” it is. But it is gigantic. The view is spectacular of course.
It is interesting trying to imagine that all of these hills were, at one time, filled with acres and acres of grape vines. The hills have since been domesticated as the developers sold off the land to build homes for local residents.
I thought to myself “I wonder where other old vineyard ruins are?”. The only one I know of for certain is the wine cellar in Alms Park that was built in 1869 and still stands today. I took off towards Alms Park and hoped that along the way I could come across other ruins of the ancient pre-prohibition wine culture that used to be so prominent. This attitude is what I call the “Forgotten City” theory of mine – exploring Cincinnati within the context of “discovering” ruins from a once-great civilization that collapsed between 60 and 100 years ago. Modern culture, if you will, is often only lightly connected to that ancient civilization. If you’d visit Charleston, SC for example, you’d expect to find bakeries, pubs, post offices, etc. that all have remained in business and unchanged for 150 years. This is not so much the case in Cincinnati – these buildings still exist but more often than not we’re “re-discovering” them after they have sat in abandon for several decades. At least that is my perspective. It could be that Cincinnati natives are more aware of the history than I am so it only appears that there are so many forgotten historical buildings because I’m discovering the history “on my own”.
It is worth mentioning, briefly, that there is another park close to Downtown that sits on top of the high eastern hills that overlook downtown. Eden Park is one of the oldest parks in the city, having been founded in 1859. It also used to be a vineyard and a quarry, but I guess that in the 1850s disease ripped apart Nathan Longfellow’s grapes so he donated a large portion of his land to the city for use as a water supply facility. The water tower still stands in the park at the highest point. I’ll have a separate post dedicated to this park and vineyard when I get the chance to explore it on bike. Also in Eden Park is the Krohn Conservatory, a beautiful french art deco conservatory that was built in 1933, at the height of the deco movement and just before the great depression. I’m getting the impression that 1900-1935 was a great time to be a citizen of Cincinnati.
In Route to Alms Vineyard / Columbia-Tusculum
In route to Alms Park I stopped and looked at the beautiful newly budding flowers at one of the residential intersection parks. Cincinnati Parks maintains all of these small “parks” that can be found across almost every neighborhood in the area. This is technically the edge of Columbia Tusculum, a fact I now consider interesting because I consider Alms Park to be in Mt. Lookout although technically this may not be true. If you get a chance, read the history – it is a fascinating story of Indian wars, settlers going to church with their guns, etc. Columbia Tusculum is a historic district in Cincinnati that extends from the hill that Alms Park sits on top of down to the basin of the river valley. The area is actually pretty small because East End extends up through most of the area down by the Ohio River. Columbia Tusculum was the first settlement in the Cincinnati region. It dates back to 1788 when the first immigrants settled down by the Ohio River. There is even a “Pioneer Cemetery” that dates back to this first group of settlers. The grave site sits on the original site of the first baptist church in the northwest territory, the Columbia Baptist Church – founded in 1790. Only the stone foundation is left of the church. After reading the Wikipedia Article about the Pioneer Cemetery I learned something fascinating. The cemetery is actually on the site of a Native American village, but because of the cemetery the village has never been excavated. Because of this very little is known about the Native American village except that it dates to sometime during the Woodland period. I don’t have any pictures, yet, of the cemetery headstones. Most people don’t even know the cemetery exists, I had no idea until I was told by a local East End resident earlier this year. Columbia-Tusculum pre-dates the settlement of Cincinnati (known as “Losantiville“) by only one month. It is famous for the bright colored homes that scatter the hillside.
St. Ursula Villa
Continuing on the way to Alms Park I took a few minutes to explore the St. Ursula Villa. The villa is located about a half mile from Alms Park. The two locations both sit on top of one of the local maximums on the mountain. The villa is a school that sits up on top of the hill, very close to Alms Park. On one of my first sunrise explorations I met a young guy who went to school at St. Ursula Villa. He told me that there are rumors of old tunnels under the building that are now closed off. He even heard that they may or may not connect over to Alms Park but no one has been able to verify this. Alms Park of course used to be a vineyard before the land was donated to the city in 1916.
Could these doors lead to the underground tunnels? Or maybe just storage under the stairs? Or maybe both??
There is a small courtyard behind the villa that has an ancient fountain that no longer works. This likely was in use before the school was founded, perhaps part of the original LeBlond estate. The stone and fountain have aged considerably. The stone is similar to the kind found in Alms Park and Ault Park. I wonder if they all came from the same local quarry, perhaps Mt. Adams or the old quarry in Clifton that is also now a city park.
I noticed that there were flags around celebrating 50 years of St. Ursula Villa. This meant that the school has only been around since 1961. The main building seems to be much older than this so I became curious as to what exactly the building was before it became a school. As it turns out the building was originally part of the R.K. LeBlond estate. R.K. LeBlond was a Cincinnati businessman who founded the R.K. LeBlond Machine and Tool Company. I found out that the original location of the RK LeBlond Machine and Tool Company is also local to the Hyde Park / Norwood area, and in fact another mind blowing occurred when I realized that I visit the location several times a month. What we now call the “Rookwood Shopping Center” sits on the location of the original factory! I have always noticed the old smoke stacks, ancient clock towers and beautiful pottery and masonry architecture of the shopping center and thought to myself “what the heck used to be here?”. Even the Don Pablo’s is inside a building that looks like it is over 100 years old. I found another blogger who took two beautiful pictures of the Don Pablo building that now lives in the original LeBond factory. You can see the smokestack in the background. The history of the Rookwood Shopping Center is kind of difficult to track down, I’m not sure when it was built and/or what ruins of the old LeBlond factory still exist other than the smoke stack, factory, and railroad ruins.
With a bit of Googling I found a bit more history on R.K. LeBlond, including his obituary in the 1956 issue of Machinery (source). It is still unknown how strongly, if any, LeBlond’s estate was connected with the local vineyards. I have a hard time not believing they were somehow connected though, considering that the estate sits less than half a mile from the Alms Park / Vineyard.
I was fascinated by the placing of this memorial. It was perfectly aligned with what I assume to be the worship room. The building faces the western sky, and this memorial is exactly aligned as an extension from the center of the worship annex on the building. Symbolism is neat, even if I don’t understand it.
On the back side of the hill there are soccer fields. I stopped and watched the young kids play swarm ball for a few minutes and continued on my way.
Alms Park / Vineyard
Alms Park is my favorite park. It is quiet, peaceful, more organic and has an “in the forest” feel to it. The park was created in 1916 after the vineyard shut down, likely due to the impending “Prohibition” doom (see a theme here?). I wonder how connected the Alms Park Vineyard was to the “Crusade Castle” vineyard?
One of my favorite landmarks in the park is the old wine cellar that still stands as a testament to the park’s original heritage. Built in 1869, it was used to store the wine in the “geo-thermal” refrigerator that kept the wine cool because it is burrowed back into the hill. I have specifically not posted a picture of this wine cellar to the blog yet because I wanted to wait until I had something else to post along with it. I find this an appropriate time to post it! I felt like this was a nice capstone to my “vineyard” exploration of the morning.
There is also an old relic of the original playground, likely dating back to the park’s inception around 1920 or 1930. Before plastic and when steel was expensive, kids had to make due with a concrete slide :)
On the way out of the park I made one final stop. In the forest by the entrance to the park there is an old cement structure that is related to the water system in the park. There is a working water fountain up in the park that was put in sometime in the early/mid 1900s and you don’t often think about the infrastructure that must be in place underground in order to support it. The small cement water structure sticks out as an interesting relic in the forest. If you look closely at it, it kind of looks like a well. I wonder if the stone well itseslf is much older than the metal cap that sits on top of it? Perhaps the stone well (if that is actually what it is) dates back to founding of the wine cellar in the mid 1860s, or maybe even earlier. Or maybe it was just built in 1937 after all?? Upon further inspection of the structure I found a date. July 1937. Awesome! So it would have been built about 20 years after the park was created. This also fits into the time line that I’ve created in my head because many Cincinnati water municipal buildings seem to have been built around the same time period (they all have similar architecture). Most of them have the familiar french deco look to them, and the early 1930s would be an appropriate time for that style.
This turned out to be a much longer post than I originally anticipated. Thanks for hanging in there! And if you’re ever in the area and on your bike, drop me a line and I’d love to show you around :)
In summary, let’s look at a simple timeline of events that we talked about in this post.
- 1788 – Columbia-Tusculum is founded (and a month later Losantiville / Cincinnati founded)
- 1851 – “Crusade Castle” vineyard is created. Original name unknown
- 1850s – The Nathan Longworth’s vineyard is “destroyed by disease”; the city asks for permission to build water supply structures in Mt. Adams. How does this connect with the vineyards in eastern cincy??
- 1859 – Eden Park is created; today it incorporates the old Vineyard and Quarry of Twin Lakes in Mt. Adams.
- 1869 – The Wine Cellar that still stands in Alms Park was created
- 1907 – “The Plan” Cincinnati Parks is created.
- 1911 – Ault Park is created above the hill that the Crusade Castle vineyard sits on.
- 1916 – Alms Park is created, Alms Vineyard and Winery (original name?) shuts down operation
- 1920 – Prohibition rips apart Over-The-Rhine and the Cincinnati wine culture.
- 1925 – Lunken Airfield is created.
- 1933 – Krohn Conservatory is created in Mt. Adams / Eden Park
- 1937 – Water support structures are added in Alms Park, ruins still remain (and probably are still functional)
- 1953 – RK LeBlond passes away, leaving his estate to the Archdioceses of Cincinnati. The site of his original factory becomes the Norwood Shopping Center where we can still see the old buildings and railroad ruins behind the backdrop of Whole Foods, Old Navy, and Bed Bath and Beyond.
- 1961 – St. Ursula Villa is purchased from the Catholic Archdioceses, the same guys that probably own the Crusade Castle
- 1971 – Crusade Castle is no longer used as the headquarters of the Catholic Student Mission Crusade Headquarters