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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

In Other Words: Walking Daily Through the Ghosts of Our Past (And There's an App For That)

Dixie Place steps. 
By Chuck Keller

One day an elderly man knocked on my door. He inquired if the little house next door was occupied. He knocked several times. The house was vacant at the time. He told me was married there and wanted to visit. He was alone. His wife had passed and he was walking though their history and reliving highlights. I felt bad that I couldn’t help him but that got me to thinking about how we pass through the past every day.

Every community has its unique peculiarities and mysteries. Some are quite visible while others are hidden under the veneer of progress or incorporated into our present progress. After a while we just accept that something is that way because it has always been that way and we don’t look into the why.  But each of us carries our own personal history with us. We recall a person or event as we pass a particular place. We could each give a personal tour of the town recounting adventures, wounds, victories, defeats, first kisses and breakups, and lots of trivia like how the Marathon station at Inverness makes and bags its own ice. You’ll never see an ice truck in the lot.

Here are a few other peculiarities.

For example, why are there steps at the end of Dixie Place that drop down to  Memorial Parkway? Shouldn’t Dixie Place just continue a few yards to complete the intersection? Well, there’s a story. And like any good story, I heard it from someone. Chuck Taylor is my primary go-to person for Fort Thomas history. A few years ago he guided me through the major and minor historical events and places in town so I could populate the Fort Thomas app - which is still available for free. Just enter Fort Thomas in the App Store or Google Play and you can download it.

Chuck is quite a character and I always enjoy our conversations. His stories run from the historically intriguing to the bawdy. Seriously, you need to visit with him in the city museum when it opens again.

For example, the steps at the end of Dixie Place are the vestige of the original streetcar route that brought visitors from Newport to the golf course country club that spanned nine holes across the current residential area of Dixie Place, Hartweg, and Water Works across the street from Johnson Elementary School. The streetcar ended at Dixie. Patrons would climb the steps to the club house. Eventually everything disappeared and changed - except the steps. There is another set of step a block further up Memorial Parkway.

So why are the power poles in the middle of South Fort Thomas Avenue? It’s the only street in town where that happens. Well, the electric streetcar ran out to the fort. The power for the streetcar ran down the center of the avenue. The busses ran in the left lane and cars would run in the right lane. Eventually the streetcar was replaced with busses but the little boulevard and power poles remained.

The original Woodfill School designed by local architect C. C. Weber.
Woodfill School is names after Samuel Woodfill who General George Pershing once called “America’s greatest soldier.” The school replaced the Metcalfe Hotel where the papers were drawn and signed that created the charter that would eventually unify the three districts of Fort Thomas known as Mount Pleasant, Highlands, and Dale that would lead to the creation of the city of Fort Thomas in 1867.

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There are a number of Sear homes in Fort Thomas. In fact, Saint Catherine began in a Sears kit building. You could buy an entire house from the catalog. It would usually ship via train and would include plans, lumber, and all of the hardware. They are highly prized now.

The original Sears Saint Catherine building. 
The Subway restaurant hasn’t changed much since it was built but its first life was as a gas station and auto repair. Cars rolled up in the curb lane for gas. Service was done to the side of the building.

The Floyd gas station that houses Subway now.
Like any other small town there are a number of disturbing, potentially violent, or violent events that took place in town including a riot, a naming of the city protest march, and various murders.  The most disturbing event, though, has to be the lynching in 1879. One C. B. Truesdale the Secretary of the Christopher Gist Historical Society reported on the event that took place in the area where Mayo Court is today. He writes, “The lynching of Peter Cline in 1879 was committed in Fort Thomas, but then known as the District of the Highlands and before  the organization of a police department, for that year the community was guarded by but one patrolman or constable, but Peter Cline was taken from the Newport jail and brought to Fort Thomas and lynched for his heinous crime, although he was not a native of Fort Thomas not even Kentucky, but was from Cincinnati and had been an inmate of the Ohio penitentiary before coming to the District of the Highlands and committing his crime on a white woman of your city.” Read into this what you will. I could not find much more than this disturbing report of a mad mob seeking vigilante justice.

So to add to your daily Covid-19 walks about town, download the Fort Thomas app and learn a bit more about your town. The app is free and you can find it on Google Play or the App Store.

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