At 93, He Looks Back on His Family's Covington Meat Company, & Building 700 WLW
Those from the area know how important the meat industry is to Covington and its neighboring cities.
One of the original pork purveyors in Covington was the Haehnle and Rothmann Provision Company, which originally set up shop on Seventh Street where Heringer Meats is located today. Oscar Haehnle and Charles Rothmann were the original partners in 1903 before Rothmann withdrew his stake in the company, which prompted Haehnle to relocate the meat shop around the corner to Pike Street. There, sausage was made as was the rendering of lard.
The provision company became well known for its mettwurst and country sausage which became their specialties. Popularity for their products grew and demand for kettle lard and sugar cured meats increased to the point where an even larger building became necessary to satisfy the orders of customers.
In 1909 the Haehnle family purchased a packing house on 12th and Fisk Streets and began to overhaul the facility which took over a year to complete. Part of the renovation required the installation of 12 underground cellars made of iron and concrete, three cellars deep, creating a cold storage area of over 250,000 cubic feet. Once the project was complete, the company became a meat wholesaler and changed its name to Blue Grass Products.
Clyde Haehnle, 93, remembers his family’s history in the meat-packing business. His grandfather owned a slaughterhouse on York Street in Cincinnati, and his two great uncles, Oscar and Frank, owned the packing company in Covington.
“I remember going over there around 1933 or so when they bought a new truck. I remember them selling pork chops for a nickel apiece and I thought that was a terrible price to pay. You could buy a candy bar for that.”
Oscar lived on Redwood Avenue in Covington and Frank lived on Hartweg Avenue in Fort Thomas. Eventually the family sold the company to the Rice Brothers who maintained the Blue Grass Products name which is still in business in Crestview Hills.
“I’m the only deviant in the family that didn’t go into the meat business,” Clyde said. “My brother was in the meat business, my father was in the meat business, my uncles, my great-uncles and my grandparents.”
The Haehnle family originally settled from Germany in 1854 to Moscow, Ohio where they built a log cabin on 600 acres and raised 11 children. Eventually, parts of the family moved south to Cincinnati and Covington. When Clyde was a teenager, he worked at his uncle’s slaughterhouse where he helped kill cows, lambs and sheep.
“I learned not to worry about killing things,” he said. “We killed about 10 cattle a day and butchered them. I worked there about three summers.”
The whole family spoke German as Clyde was brought up. He says he can only remember a little German these days and mostly swear words.
“I remember my dad going down to the market every Saturday to buy meat for the family and when they would kill cattle, they had these big hooks that they put up on rails and each weighed about 15 pounds each. My uncle would pack one of those in my dad’s meat package and he had to carry it home on a street car. He’d get home and I would hear him swear as he unpacked his meat and found a 15 pound metal hook in there.”
Clyde would go on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati with an engineering degree and began to work at WLW in 1941 where he ran the 500,000 watt transmitter during the experimental period. He then got involved in the design of the Voice of America facilities and he build transmitters for local television stations. He also became involved in building television transmitters for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he helped develop the television system in 1969.
After that, he became an investment banker where he sold broadcast properties of many television and radio stations and also the Icecapades, the Harlem Globetrotters, and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. From 1978 to 1980, he raised over $300 million in three years.
“I lived through a great life,” he said. “I first learned to drive an automobile on a Model T Ford. If you owned a telephone, it was a party line where you had to share with six other households.”
Traces of the Haehnle Provision Company in Covington have faded over the years, and the site of the 12th Street building is now an empty lot across from the Hellman Lumber Building, and Clyde Haehnle is perhaps the last person with first-hand memories of his family’s former business. Nonetheless, as long as Blue Grass Quality Meats continues to operate, and the building on 7th Street continues to stand, there will continue to be a connection of the past for what was once a prominent industry and family business right here in Covington.
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor