Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Walk Around Madisonville

Photographs and Text By: Candice Jones Peelman
On Behalf of Queen City Discovery

- Corner of Madison Rd. and Whetsel Ave.

With Gordon Bombay on vacation, I offered to write a piece about the sights in Madisonville by taking a walk around the neighborhood. While this doesn’t exactly fit into the abandoned and forgotten category, Madisonville does have an unfair reputation of being an afterthought, more or less forgettable, and abandoned by those who don’t live here. There’s a lot to discover here if you’re willing to go on a short walk or drive around the neighborhood.

Snuggled tightly in between affluent neighbors; Hyde Park, Oakley, Mariemont, Kenwood, and Indian Hill, you will find Madisonville. I bought our house in 2009, on my now-husband’s 23rd birthday. It is the most expensive birthday present he’ll ever receive. We’ve taken a liking to the neighborhood, and it’s nice that his relatives live on nearby streets; Roe, Windward, Bramble and Buckingham. He spent the first few years of his childhood on Ward, so we knew the neighborhood enough not to be fooled by the myths and stereotypes you often hear about it. As a dedicated Eastsider (which you can read more about here) I’ve had a love affair with knowing my neighborhood intimately. When I got out priced out of my beloved Oakley, I was heartbroken, but Madisonville made sense. A mere mile down Madison Road and you have a charming town wanting to be more, waiting for me to discover.

A neighborhood currently at about 22,000 people, Madisonville was established officially in 1809 and named “Madison” after the then newly-elected President James Madison. Settlers had already begun moving into present day Madisonville prior to 1809, erecting log cabins along a Native American trail. It was changed to Madisonville by 1826 to avoid confusion with another Madison, Ohio when a post office was established.

Fast forward to present day, Madisonville is in the midst of an incredible transformation with the proposed Madison Square to be implemented at the intersection of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue (pictured above). And while redevelopment will bring businesses, (and if my dreams come true, specifically a coffee shop), promote a walkable community and give residents from surrounding neighborhoods a reason to stop in ours instead of driving through to get to the Red Bank Road’s ramp to I-71, Madisonville continues to be a community where families already choose to live and whose roots go deep. There is a rich history in a small neighborhood like Madisonville, and a history which many outsiders are unaware.

- Proposed Madison Square. ©City of Cincinnati

Madisonville, it seems, is becoming more confident in itself. Labeled a community misanthrope in recent decades, it is a neighborhood that exists in spite of the rest of the city misunderstanding it. It was, and could be again, “The Soul of Cincinnati,” as one resident said at a neighborhood planning session. You can see when walking or driving the side what people are attracted to, as well as the work that needs to be done. Turn of the century homes line Erie Avenue (yes, the same Erie Avenue that runs through Hyde Park!), as well as historic buildings along Madison Road whose beauty is evident, if not in need of repair. Here’s a look at some of the iconic buildings, hidden treasures, and sights of Madisonville.


This mural was installed in 2007 on the side of the Madisonville Arts Center’s large expansive brick wall. The Madisonville Arts Center, which closed officially in February of 2012 after four lackluster years, is slated for a new beginning as part of the redevelopment process, and is in the works of being acquired by the community with programming that appeals to all, an anchor in the community.


A few months back I had the opportunity to tour the space. The second floor is (was) an impressive small theater that could seat 170 people. The seating and theater lighting now removed, it’s still asking for a play or intimate concert to take the stage. Above is a view of the third floor of the MAC.

As you can tell, the third floor space is well lit and could be a dance studio, meeting space, a rustic coffee shop, an art gallery, or third floor loft apartment. Right now, it sits empty as the community continues to develop its identity as an entertainment and arts district and begin to work the MAC into its plans. Across the street from the Madisonville Arts Center is a brick building whose painted advertisement is still vaguely visible.



Walking down Whetsel Avenue a bit farther and you’ll stumble upon this historic building on the corner of Prentice Street. The Madisonville Fire Company, station 49, still operates. The building, built in 1900 is one of the oldest fire stations still operating in the city of Cincinnati.

- Painted overpass, Madison Rd.

“Madisonville Blooms” is a tagline being used currently by some to express the energy behind citizens taking on how they want their community to look and how they’d like to be involved. Currently, there are six working groups discussing action plans ranging from beautification to the much needed economic development. Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, the Madisonville Community Council, and a local Weed and Seed are all active in the neighborhood. Madisonville, which people often turn their nose up at, is actually working quite hard on a variety of projects.

- St. Anthony's Catholic Church Desmond St.

Madisonville is also home to more than a dozen churches including denominations such as Catholic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Korean Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist, and Presbyterian. Impressive given it’s small population. Walking towards Roe Street, you’ll stumble upon an historical cemetery place in between residential streets.


Laurel Cemetery on Roe Street, founded in 1863 is the permanent resting place of many local residents including 25 civil war veterans, at least one War of 1812 veteran, four Spanish American War veterans, and several notable Madisonville residents. Walking through the burial grounds, current street names are carved into family stones: Clephane, Blaney, Settle, Bramble.




Aside from interesting buildings and history, there are other reasons to wander about Madisonville, take for example, The Bramble Patch on the corner of Bramble and Plainville. It’s hard to spend much money here on any given evening. Aside from being a neighborhood dive bar, it also has a respectably clean and updated restroom and a decent jukebox. On Sundays during Bengal’s season, impromptu potlucks happen with people bringing in crockpots of homemade tailgating food. Angelo’s Pizza, across the street, will also deliver pizza to you inside the bar, as you sit on a stool drinking a Hudy Delight with the locals, and someone pumps in cash in the jukebox.


Candice Jones Peelman is a community connector at Starfire, an organization that believes that there is great value to relationships with the community, among neighbors, and in common, ordinary places. She blogs about her work at Cincibility. She spends her days meeting with people around the city, connecting people based on their interests, talents, gifts, and stories and location. As a treasure-hunter of sorts, she gets a glimpse into the city’s hidden icons, old signs, interesting buildings, neighborhood stories and quirky people on a daily basis. As a lifelong Cincinnatian, and current Madisonville resident, she continues to find new and interesting people and places to be curious about and enjoys capturing photographs of what’s unique and beautiful about the Queen City and her neighborhoods.

Update | Oct. 21, 2017:
  • Madisonville Square is still yet to happen, but the neighborhood (and Bramble Patch) are still great as ever. 


  1. That Madison Square concept is really quite lousy. It's a half-assed attempt to make an Oakley or Hyde Park Square out of a glorified traffic island. What used to be a well-defined urban neighborhood street corner is being further eroded away and made less urban. That's not a recipe for success.

  2. Madisonville rocks with or without a fancy square. Let's be real, nobody in the Ville is trying or wants to be like Hoakley or Snyde Park.


  3. Thank you for all the beautiful pictures to illustrate a place I spent much of my high school years. You gave credit where credit is due...finally!

  4. @Jeffrey, I know MCURC would love to have your opinions, ideas, and criticism for Madison Square, truly! Check out their Facebook page and reach out.

    It looks from your resume that you've got a wealth of experience in architecture, historic preservation and design, all things that will be needed moving forward in Madisonville.

    1. Thanks Candice. I know Susan Schultz-McDaniel and Chris Hanlin on the MCURC board. Chris and I work at the same architecture firm, and after comparing notes on this Madison Square proposal we seem to be on the same page about it.

  5. Yes, and the Madison Square ideas look much more attractive when you consider that the demolition and redevelopment of that crappy strip mall with the Family Dollar and the reopening of the arts center figure heavily into the plans.

  6. Great article, thanks Candice! To Jeffrey and anyone else out there, the design for the business district has not been decided. From October 29-November 1, Madisonville will be one of 4 neighborhood participating in a form-based code charrrette, which will give residents and other stakeholders to decide the look and feel of all new development. Where we place parking, where our outdoor performance space, the relationship between the streets and the sidewalk, will all be discussed, debated, and decided in late October. PLEASE like the MCURC Facebook page because there are several upcoming opportunities to get involved in the design discussions. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we want to get it right. On Thursday night at 7 p.m., we're holding the 5th of 6 public working sessions designed to help us decide on the specific strategies to make our vision of Madisonville come true. It's at the Rec Center. Come one, come all!

  7. Candice:
    Thanks so much for posting this photo essay on Madisonville. This is Bill Collins.

    This community has an amazing history and a very bright future because of its access to jobs, transportation and East Side amenities. As you mentioned, Oakley proper is no longer affordable for many folks who previously would have bought houses there. My wife and I moved to the Eastwood Historic District near the old Oakley Drive-In Theater site 19 years ago for that reason. It's the best financial and community decision we ever made.

    These trends, plus the amazing access that Madisonville offers to thousands of jobs along the I-71 corridor from Florence and CVG to Lebanon (especially from downtown to Mason) continues to attract new renters and home-owners.

    For example, another Madisonville resident today was telling me about a couple that bought a house on Tompkins Street (behind Medpace) after renting at Centennal Station. As renters, they liked Madisonville and decided to stay. Another example: on Sunday I met a young woman (Oakley native) whose parents continue to live in Oakley, but helped her buy a house off East Fork Avenue. Another example: a professional woman who moved to Cincinnati from Arizona to take a job at the 5th 3rd Bank complex on Duck Creek Road bought a house on our street so that she could walk to work, and so her young daughter would be safe playing in her front yard on this street with no thru traffic.

    New people are moving in, recognizing the advantages here. That's the first step. The 2nd step is to persuade more young people who grew up in Madisonville to buy homes where if they decide to stay in the Cincinnati area. We're getting there, and despite the continuing Great Recession, the pace of positive change in Madisonville is accelerating.

    Thanks again.

    -- Bill Collins

  8. Candise,
    Very nice photos. I grew up in Madisonville & it will always be home.Of course, my favorite photo is the one of 'The Bramble Patch'...! I was the first 'Bramble Patch' when I bought it in 1987, it was certainly a'dive' bar....however, that changed, it became the neighborhood bar that liked 'sports'.....but, while searching for a name for this bar, I went to the 'History of Madisonville' & found out that when 'Mr. Bramble' owned the property (back in the day, 1800s) it was called 'Bramble Patch'....because that's where the 'wild Indiands & animals' were....being a 'product' of Madisonville, myself, I thought that would be THE perfect name for my bar!
    Thanks for the interesting reading & great pictures.

    Lois Boland
    (Ft. Pierce, Fla.)

  9. Does anyone have a picture of an apartment building called Hetzel House?