Of boasts, bosses, breweries, and beers

American Legacy Tours

Mark and I enjoyed our Iconic Cincinnati tour so much that we decided to take another American Legacy Tour. This time we went underground.

Home of the American Legacy Tours on Vine Street in Cincinnati, Ohio

The  Queen City Underground: Bosses, Breweries, and Burials tour from American Legacy Tours is billed “a stroll through the Gateway District, home to America’s largest set of historical landmarks.”

John Funcheon was our informative and entertaining tour guide. He knew a LOT about Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine area. He also was very good at jumping from a normal speaking voice to a loud projecting voice when a noisy truck rumbled past.

Examples of Italianate architecture in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine

At our first stop, John pointed out the Italianate architecture on the buildings across the street. This style of architecture is predominant in the OTR district.


When the Germans came to Cincinnati in the 1800s, they settled in Over the Rhine. OTR became a thriving community, boasting a population of up to 48,000 people at its height (the population would later plummet to about 4,000 as people moved to the suburbs). In the 1800s, theaters, breweries, saloons, bars, and beer gardens lined the streets.

Building that housed the theater where the shooting competition between Frank E. Butler and Annie Oakley was held.

The theater in this building hosted a shooting competition sometime around 1875. A well-known marksman, Frank E. Butler, was coming to town. A young Ohioan woman named Phoebe Ann Moses, who learned how to shoot out of the necessity to provide food and money for her family, entered the contest. Much to his surprise, Phoebe beat Frank Butler, and married him later. Phoebe continued to perform under the name Annie Oakley. You can read more details of Annie Oakley’s life at  Women in History or The Dorchester Library.

The Cosmopolitan Theater in Germania Hall at 1313 Vine Street navigated through the changing times in Over the Rhine.  It was built in 1855 as a beer garden and dance hall. In the 1890s, it was renamed Cosmopolitan Hall. “Over the decades, it was used for several different things, including a Prohibition-era speakeasy, an indoor golf complex, insurance offices, a lighting retailer, and a wallpaper store. [… ] In the early 1990s, the second floor dance hall was renovated for scenes in the movie A Rage in Harlem.” (From Creepy Cincinnati.com) More recently the building became The Warehouse, a notorious bar and entertainment venue. It has been empty since the Warehouse closed in 2004.

Henry Holtgrewe, Cincinnati’s ‘strongman’, performed on stage here at the turn of the century. He entertained people by lifting crazy heavy stuff. One of his more famous feats was lifting two baseball teams in a ball park. Eleven players from Cincinnati, and eleven players from the Cubs stood on a platform. Holtgrewe got under it and raised the men in the air with his back. Our well-informed tour guide, John, told us this and other entertaining stories. I subsequently read more about Henry in his obituary posted in The Day, January 4, 1917.

Bosses and Beer Gardens

In 1873 Henry Wielert established a bar in this building. The beer garden, behind the building, sported a glass dome where patrons were entertained with a 40-piece symphony orchestra. Some pretty interesting meetings probably took place in this building. George Barnsdale, known as “Boss” Cox, held some of his meetings here.

John explained to us how Cincinnati fell under the control of “Boss” Cox, “one of the most infamous and powerful political bosses in American history.” (American Heritage pamphlet). But truthfully, I don’t have a good mind for politics and most of what John said just washed right over me. I did later read about Cox’s “drumming up illegal voters” for favored candidates and the way he stopped police raids on his bar by running for city council in Cincinnati in 1879, and serving for two terms.

“While Cox never held political office after his second term as city councilman, he virtually ran the Cincinnati city government by becoming a city boss. Like other city bosses, Cox used gifts and money to build support for himself among the working class in Cincinnati. During elections, Cox would then have his followers vote for the candidate that he supported. [. . .] By the late 1800s, if a person sought a political office in Cincinnati, he had to receive Cox’s endorsement to win the office.” (Ohio History Central)

One thing I do remember about John’s informative and entertaining tour was that the “speak easy” that sprouted up after Prohibition, wasn’t a loud or boisterous place like portrayed in movies. Speak easys were so called because no one wanted to rouse suspicion by being noisy when they were imbibing on the sly.


So far we hadn’t really been underground on this Underground tour, but that was about to change.

In the mid-1800s, it really wasn’t safe to drink the water. And many people didn’t. They drank beer instead. Although the beer that they drank during the daytime was only 2% alcohol.

All this was good for the brewery business. And breweries popped up everywhere in the Over the Rhine district where the Germans knew how to make and drink their beer.

Construction on the building now called the Guildhaus was begun in 1880 by the nephew of a local brewer, John Kauffman.  The brewery expanded to a location across Hamer Street where a bottling plant was established.  Like most others, this brewery produced beer until Prohibition in 1919.

I can’t tell you what happened in this building over the next 80 or 90-some years, but recently someone purchased it to turn it into apartments. The new owner was looking at blueprints of the site and noticed a sub-basement on the drawings. So one day he got a jack-hammer, and cracked through the basement floor creating an entry into a maze of tunnels, and cavernous rooms with arched ceilings, below.

In the 1800s, before refrigeration, beer was made below-ground because the temperatures were cooler. Beer needed to be brewed at 43 degrees. The caverns underground naturally maintained a temperature of about 55 degrees. Ice was brought in from the frozen great lakes in the winter, and cold water was run through pipes lining the ceilings to cool this sub basement from 55 degrees to 43.

Once refrigeration became possible, the brewery moved the production up one floor to the basement because it was better and easier for several reasons. They left a hole open in the basement and refuse, largely composed of coal ash, was simply dumped into the sub-basement creating a large pile over time.

Our tour guide John stands in front of the pile of dirt or refuse.

This is why you pay to go on these tours. There is simply no way I can explain to you how cool it was to be underground, in these rooms, imagining the people who worked here.

When Kaufmann expanded his production facility to include a building across Hamer Street, he built a tunnel going under the street and joining into the sub-basement on the other side. John said there is evidence that a large percentage of the buildings in this area of the city have sub-basements.

The process of beer-making created undesirable gasses like carbon dioxide and monoxide which had to be vented somehow from this enclosed below-ground space. Small openings at the bottom of the walls that look like fireplaces served that purpose. Again, I probably should have been paying closer attention, but I was trying to figure out why the once-stone floor was now covered with dirt. John later explained that the building leaked, and over the years dirt had made its way in with the rain.

“By 1919, Prohibition had driven most of the breweries out of business. Christian Moerlein alone had employed over 500 people. Along with World War I sentiments, this was the beginning of the decline of OTR’s population and cultural homogeneity.” (Cincinnati.com)

The population of Over the Rhine is now growing again for the first time in 90 years. The Guildhaus now contains highly sought-after apartments.  The stately building, making a comeback in the Over the Rhine renaissance, gives off no outward sign of the secrets that lie beneath.

Niehaus family circa – late 1870s or 1880s. Gertrude is probably second from left in back row.

Mark and I would like to find out more about the beer-making families in Over the Rhine. One of Mark’s ancestors is a Gertrude Niehaus.I suspected Gertrude was from a family of beer-makers because of research I had done about the Niehaus families in Cincinnati at the time. When I was doing research for this post I came across the Queen City Chapter.com and found a Captain Henry Niehaus who operated THE HENRY NIEHAUS BREWERY located on Sycamore Street near 13th  from 1861 to 1868, and a Joseph Niehaus who established the  NIEHAUS BREWERY, an ale brewery, on Woodward (now 13th) from 1850 to 1862. It would be fun to make a connection into one of those families.

Our last stop on the Underground tour was St. Francis Church, just across Vine Street from the Guildhaus.

When this church was built a cemetery on the site had to be moved. A mass grave was created in a crypt under the church for those individuals whose families didn’t claim or move their burial site. Cracked tombstones line the walls,

and whole, intact tombstones pave the area above the grave.

Photographs of the tombstones are on display so that visitors can read them.

Like the Guildhaus, the altar of St. Francis shows no sign of the secrets that lie beneath.

We ended our tour and trip to Over the Rhine as any self-respecting German, or Irishman for that matter, would do, and joined our tour guide John at Lackman’s corner bar for a brew to quench our thirst, cool our throats, and lighten our spirits.

Did I mention John was informative and entertaining?

Thanks, John, for a great tour.


Herman Lackman and J. H. Sandman open THE LACKMAN AND SANDMAN BREWERY at Sixth and Stone Streets and operate it from 1860 to 1868. In 1868, Lackman buys out Sandman and renames the brewery HERMAN LACKMAN BREWING CO.,  UNITED STATES BREWERY. THE HERMAN LACKMAN BREWING CO., UNITED STATES BREWERY operates until 1890.” (Queen City Chapter.com)

The Art Academy of Cincinnati — a well-kept secret

 Art Academy of Cincinnati — Vision and Mission

Our vision is to excel and to be recognized as a vibrant, creative community dedicated to engaging innovative visual artists who make meaningful contributions to the world. Our mission as an independent college of art and design is to provide personalized education in the visual arts.

Art is not optional

Okay, the Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) is not exactly a secret, but up until the last few weeks I sure didn’t know much about it. And with three children interested in design, I consider myself fairly-well educated on such matters. Although to be truthful, two of my children took summer classes there while in high school. Even so. Why don’t I know more about this incredible institution?

Now I do.

My husband Mark became involved with the Art Academy this year as a volunteer consultant from the Executive Service Corps of Cincinnati to help the college write a two-year strategy and business plan. Last week he took me on a tour of the AAC facility.

Art Academy of Cincinnati
Art Academy of Cincinnati, 1212 Jackson St. at the corner of 12th St., Cincinnati, Ohio

The AAC is one of the smaller non-profit four-year art colleges in the country, and the only one in southwest Ohio. Originally located at the Art Museum in Eden Park, five years ago AAC moved to 1212 Jackson St., in the historic and dynamic Over-the-Rhine (OTR) neighborhood of downtown Cincinnati.

Art Academy store front

The AAC building contains an excellent storefront along the popular 12th Street arts corridor. The possibilities for this as-yet-unused space are limitless and exciting.

There is an open-air parking lot within a few steps, but I found a parking space on 12th Street across from the AAC beside the historic Germainia building. You might just recognize the Artworks mural designed by Amanda Checco hidden behind the tree from this angle.

Know Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio

The alternative Know Theatre is a half a block away from the AAC.

Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio

The Ensemble Theatre, with the beautiful pillars and where Mark and I will be seeing Next to Normal on Thursday, is a block away on Vine Street.

Art Academy of Cincinnati

The AAC dorm building is on the corner of Vine and 12th, just a few steps away from the Ensemble Theatre and a mere block from the AAC. It looks like they’re putting in a Belgian Bistro in the first floor storefront. Students can fall out of bed, dash down the stairs, dart into the Bistro for a coffee and be in their studio at the AAC five minutes later. Not bad.

A once-downtrodden area of the city, Vine Street is enjoying a resurgence of life and vitality. Quaint restaurants, storefronts, apartments, and nice condominiums are springing up everywhere in renovated buildings behind newly painted facades.

Before we toured AAC, Mark and I met our youngest son Mark Joseph for a delicious lunch at the Lavomatic Cafe on Vine Street, a block and a half away from the AAC.

The Senate, Cincinnati, Ohio

The Senate Pub across Vine Street from the Lavomatic serves gourmet hot dogs and to-die-for lobster mac-n-cheese, among other things. Because of its popularity, the Senate is doubling its space by renovating and expanding into the neighboring building.

The AAC’s move five years ago, to the rapidly growing arts district called the Gateway Quarter, puts it in a prime location to be a force in the resurgence of a dynamic art community in a revitalized Over-the-Rhine. But the move had its risks. In Cincinnati, OTR has gained a reputation for crime over years of neglect. I suspect anytime citizens reclaim an inner-city area the challenges are the same. Along with the physical renovations, the hearts and minds of the populace need to be re-educated.

In his article for the Cincinnati Enquirer last Thursday, Academy enrollment blooms in urban OTR, Cliff Peale reported, “Six years after the bold move from next to the Art Museum in Eden Park into the heart of one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods, the new class is the latest chance for the Art Academy to prove it can make the location work long term.”

Mark in his temporary office at the AAC.

The drop in enrollment following the move to OTR, on top of the increased expenses due to renovations, created financial problems for the AAC.

Enter the Executive Service Corps of Cincinnati. Introduced to the AAC project as a volunteer and functioning now as a part-time paid consultant, my husband Mark will be working out of a temporary office in the AAC over the next several months to help develop a strategy and business plan and get the school back on solid financial footing.

The good news is that after an initial slump in enrollment following the move to OTR, AAC is enjoying an enrollment of 85 students this year, “the largest freshman class in its 142-year history” (Cinci Enquirer).

In keeping with a Cincinnati tradition, the entrance of the AAC features a decorated pig, probably from the Cincinnati Big-Pig-Gig held several years back.

The building’s interior is edgy with its concrete, and metal structure. Located in the former home of a mattress factory, the spacious AAC rises six stories.

The stairs are offset by seven degrees. I don’t know why, but it makes for an interesting photograph.

Skylights and massive windows throughout the studio and classroom spaces, fill the AAC with  bright natural daylight.

On the top floor you can see panoramic views of the hills of Cincinnati from the walls of windows.

Another perspective affords a view of AAC’s former home, the Art Museum in Eden Park, just barely visible as a light blue-green dome in the upper left corner of the photo. I’ve been told that the new location is seven degrees from the old. I’m not entirely sure what that means, or why it’s significant.

The AAC offers BFA degrees in Art History, Drawing, Illustration, Photography, Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, and Visual Communication Design. They also have a Master of Arts in Art Education program. Large classroom studios and smaller, although still spacious, studios that house four students are located throughout the building. In fact the generous studio space for every student is one of AAC’s advantages over other institutions. Another selling point is the individualized attention students receive with the low student to teacher ratio of 10 to 1.

Here’s a view of Vine Street and the yellow dorm building from the upper floors of the AAC,

and a view of the shops and cafes on Vine Street where we had lunch earlier.

Our son Mark Joseph takes in the student work on display.

Brightly lit critique spaces are located throughout for students to display and present their work.

We ran into student Alicia Little, who was featured in the Enquirer Story, preparing for a critique.

You might want to write her name down. Famous artists have graced the halls of the AAC.

From 1904 until he died in 1919, famous painter Frank Duveneck was at the AAC helm. Other early students and faculty members include  Robert Frederick Blum, John Henry Twachtman, Joseph R. DeCamp, Edward H. Potthast, Elizabeth Nourse, and Joseph Henry Sharp. More contemporary  faculty and alumni include Josef Albers, Paul Chidlaw, Petah Coyne, Malcolm Grear, Charley Harper, John Ruthven, Thom Shaw, and Tony Tasset.

In the Enquirer story, Diane Smith, interim president and a 30-year Art Academy veteran said, “We really feel we’re at a crossroads here. There’s a lot to be excited about, and we want to be the center of creativity in this community.”

Evidence of new growth and new life is sprouting around the Art Academy, in the Gateway Quarter of Over the Rhine. I can’t wait to see what will be created here.

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