Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Exploring Duck Creek

QC/D Contributor Luke Field explores the graffiti and trickling waterways of "The Narrows" in Duck Creek.

The Duck Creek corridor was once a well-traveled pathway into the city of Cincinnati. I first came across mention of the area while browsing Jake Mecklenborg's Cincinnati Transit website. He linked to a website, duckcreek.org, that does a wonderful job of exploring the history of Duck-Creek Road. This artery bordered the creek for much of its length, and ran roughly the same route as I-71 now does.

- Several notable Cincinnati landmarks are situated along this corridor, including the old Bicycle Playing Card factory.

The creek itself is a small waterway that cuts through Oakley area on its way to the Little Miami River. It once formed part of the dividing line between the cities of Cincinnati and Norwood. Much, however, has been covered by the highway construction of I-71. What natural portions of the creek remain continue to be converted into concrete channels, and flood controls have reduced the creek to a trickle.

- Construction appears to be active along the creek just east of Ridge Ave, converting the natural waterway into a concrete trench.

Duck Creek road remains only in small sections, often dwarfed by its large brother, I-71. This one particular stretch of the road contains a large number of Spanish-styled stucco houses - a interesting architectural pocket, barely visible from the highway.

While new sections of concrete continue to be added to the creek, many of the concrete retaining walls have been in place for years. During much of the hike we were bordered by six foot tall
concrete walls - canvases for years of urban artwork.

As the walk continued, the creek was crossed by an old (but active) railroad. The bridge over the creek provided for a few nice photographs, as did the interesting masonry of the railroad tunnel beyond.

Throughout the walk I was continually struck by how peaceful the creek continues to be. The evening sun setting on the layers of aging graffitti softened what might otherwise be a harsh, utilitarian waterway. And the historic remnants of the transportation lines that bordered the creek - the roadways and railroads- combined with the layers of more contemporary built elements and art pieces - all combined to create a rich palimpsest. This mixture of fragments from different times - some dating back nearly a hundred years - created a very self-reflective setting.

Places like these hold a very strong draw for many people. And I believe that as as the urban environment continues to be redeveloped and as the scale and speed of our transportation systems continues to increase, these urban vestiges become even more important us. Such small reminders help to ground us in both place and time - reminding us that things are not always so large, so fast, and so intangible.

As an architecture student, I often though about how to reengage these fragments of time - how to occupy a place like this. I never quite came to any conclusions. A fine line seems to exist between explorations and exploitation - between preserving something and ruining it. For now, simply walking and photographing seems harmless enough, I hope.

A few months back, Queen City Discovery hosted a contest called "Share Your Own Discovery" in which readers of the site could write in with their own ideas for an article to be featured on the site. The winner was Luke Field, who authored the above article. To see Luke's website, check out LukeField.com.


  1. Interesting article, never knew there even was a Duck Creek and I've read all over Cincinnati Transit.net

    Good stuff.

  2. the channels right?

  3. I grew up in Cincinnati in the 1960s in East Hyde Park and spent many happy days playing down near the section of Duck Creek that flowed past Swallens. Found lots of crayfish! I've been living in Europe for the past 20 years and only recently moved back to Cincinnati and found this site. Very nicely written piece, with lovely, evocative photographs.

  4. Through the 40s and 50s Duck Creek Road was lined with fields of wrecked cars for salvage. Is there any trace of them. What action led to their demise. Norwood also had an incerator on the creek. Is it still there? Just curious!

  5. In the late 1950's, my dad drove us from Milford to Norwood to my Grandparents home on South Madison. I remember most of Duck Creek Road looked a mess ("fields of wrecked cars").

    I vividly remember driving by the RCA plant on our right as we drove west.

    Through the one-way tunnel and passed a crummy looking restaurant called HAMBURGER KING where Duck Creek Road met Edwards. Before I-71 existed.

    Guess I'm looking for my youth, unable to find photos of these ghosts.

  6. www.duckcreek.org

    This site has a lot of cool info on one guy's memories of pre-71 Duck creek Road. He has let the site go for some years now, due to lack of new photos of the old days, but it is incredibly fascinating nonetheless.

  7. I used to live in Hyde Park, just up from Duck Creek. This was in the late 60's, early 70's. My friends and I would play in the dirty fields, getting into all sorts of trouble. I recall several junked cars, taking parts that I thought I might use for some car I might some day own! We played King of the Mountain, and I remember rescuing a dog at which some really rotten kids were throwing stones. I used to ride my bicycle to the YMCA on Duck Creek Road and later to Walnut Hills High School. I can't imagine what the community is like now with a highway there. I live in California now, and it's good to be reminded of the area I knew so well as a kid.

  8. There is no trace anymore of what I called "Junk Yard Alley" along the north side of Duck Creek Road. It has all been obliterated by the massive I-71/Norwood Lateral/Ridge/Marburg/Highland interchange. The boxed creek roughly follows the same path. http://duckcreek.org/junkyardalley.jpg - this is from the 1948 fairchild aerial. That's Lester Rd. at the left, ending to the south at Duck Creek with the beginnings of the junk yards on either side. That's Highland Ave that forms a T into Lester at the upper right, before it was extended on to Ridge. Ridge and Duck Creek merge briefly to pass under the Pennsy at the tunnel, then diverge - Ridge to the North, Duck Creek to the east. That portion still exists. The last junk yard was Auto Busters Inc. at Duck Creek & Kennedy Ave. it lasted well past I-71 into the 1970s but has since moved on. The junk yards grew between 1948 and the late 1960s until they filled most of the area north of Duck Creek Road on up to the RR tracks. One of these days I have to re-organize and update my web site. I have some new material but alas, very few "ground level" photos.