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History of Mainstrasse Village Explored in Presentation

Covington's Philadelphia Street may trace its history back to a substantial foreclosure on the land that is now known as Mainstrasse Village. In the early nineteenth century, an Irish ferry operator owned most of the land upon which he had hoped to create a Utopian community named Hibernia, the Latin word for Ireland meaning "abundant land". The ferry operator's dreams were dashed after he stretched his finances too thin and the Bank of the United States foreclosed on him. The bank's headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania likely leant its name to the thoroughfare that runs from Mainstrasse to the Ohio River.

Covington historic preservation officer Beth Johnson explored the history of Mainstrasse Village during an hour-long presentation at the Erlanger branch of the Kenton County Library this week to a packed house of interested folks. The program was full of interesting nuggets from the past, particularly that the neighborhood's history is rooted in that foreclosure.

Once the bank seized the land, it sold the 580 acres off to individual developers. A man named Thomas Bakewell, who operated a cotton bagging business on the river and was a brother-in-law to famed artist John James Audubon, purchased some of the land and now has a street named for him in the neighborhood. A man named Johnson also acquired some of the property and he, too, has a street named in his honor.

In 1832, the City of Covington annexed the area which really took off in the 1840s as an influx of German and Irish immigrants flocked to the United States. Between 1840 and 1845 Covington's population doubled and at one point was welcoming two-hundred German immigrants per day. The mostly Catholic immigrants needed places to worship so the German-speaking parish of Saint Aloysius was built around the same time as the Irish parish of Saint Patrick's. Though different languages were spoken in the churches, each had the same architect in a man named Lewis Pickett.

Aloysius burned after a lighting strike in 1985 while St. Patrick's was demolished to make way for development, though its famed organ is still used for replacement parts elsewhere throughout the Diocese of Covington.

Not all the immigrants were Catholic, however. The Main Street Methodist Church was constructed in 1858 and is now the entertainment and events venue Leapin' Lizard. The Grace Methodist Church on Willard Street was constructed during the Civil War, but work on it had to stop briefly when the workers got wind that John Hunt Morgan and his men were quickly approaching. It is believed that four years after his death, Morgan's body lay in state at the Baker-Hunt building on Greenup Street.

Long before it was known as Mainstrasse Village, the neighborhood was simply Covington's westside. It was full of factories and residents who lived close to their workplaces and who built most of their homes in the Victorian and Italianate style. Of the neighborhood's eight-hundred buildings, most were built by the late 1870s and are still used as residences. Most of the factories, however, are long gone, mostly replaced by what is now the fast food district off the exit from Interstate 75.

The last remaining warehouse building is where the John R. Green Company distributes its school supplies on Sixth Street today. It was built as a tobacco warehouse. 

Those who lived in the time of factories and the sprawling street market near Sixth & Main Streets that was known at the time as the best in the city, would likely recognize many of the buildings, though they are put to different use now. The building in which we find popular restaurant Dee Felice was built by a teacher and city councilman who dabbled in property development on the side. It was known as the EL Pieck Pharmacy for many years. A few doors down, at the turn of the twentieth century, three entrepreneurial sisters opened up a shop where they worked as seamstresses. Lunch and dinner is now served in that space under an awning that reads Otto's. 

Many of the homes can trace their history back to both prominent and working class citizens and sometimes people from both classes lived next door to one another. The 1860 mansion at 511 West Sixth Street was built by the wealth Henry Ranshaw who was a coppersmith and water works commissioner. The next house to the west, 513 West Sixth Street, was built by a man of lesser means but who refused to be outdone by Mr. Ranshaw. To make his home look more expensive, he gave the wooden structure the appearance of being stone.

Other recognizable buildings include 710 Greer Avenue which is now an apartment building but once served as a malt house for the local brewers. 314 West Eighth Street was home to a grocery store on the first floor and home to the grocer on the second. 410 Emma Street, also an apartment building, was constructed in 1850 and is one of the oldest buildings in Covington. The Gothic mansion at the corner of Sixth & Philadelphia Streets that now houses the Lawrence Firm was built as a wedding gift to a newly married young woman. 

Greer Street/Avenue is named for businessman Alexander Greer who lived in a sprawling home on land that was developed into the homes that still sit there today. Many professionals of the time chose to build homes on Greer which is why the architecture on this street varies more from other nearby streets. The people who built them simply had more money.

As the population of the area continued to grow, the city recognized the need for a new park and after a long search, the area upon which Goebel Park now sits was selected. Named for recently slain Kentucky Governor and Covington native William Goebel, the park opened in 1908. One of the homes that sat on the site, a yellow Queen Anne style house, was moved to Sixth Street and is still there today.

It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s, after a couple decades of urban decline brought on by the interstate and "white flight" that some citizens engaged to rebrand the area as Mainstrasse Village. A glockenspiel was commissioned as the Carroll Chimes Bell Tower. The Goose Girl Fountain was put in place in 1980. The Northern Kentucky Visitors & Convention Bureau opened near the clock tower in what was an old Sears catalog house and is now home to Designs Direct.

Three decades later Mainstrasse Village is among the most vibrant entertainment destinations in the Greater Cincinnati region and is home to many preservationists and rehabbers who have made these old houses their new homes.

Interesting tidbit:

Pershing Avenue was once named Berman for a German bank owner, but during the anti-German hysteria during World War I, it was re-named for American General John J. Pershing.

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