At 5110 Whetsel Avenue, there is a handsome building of red, orange, and yellow brick, built around 1930 as a police substation. For 43 years, beginning in 1953, the main downstairs space was the Hut Café – a cornerstone Black-owned business of Madisonville.
There are two downstairs entrances, and there is a meeting hall upstairs. At different times, different parts of the building have served as an American Legion clubhouse, a church, and Thomas and Benaugh Barbershop (not to be confused with the nearby Benna Barbershop).
In 1953, William Hutchinson opened a bar in this building and named it, after himself, “The Hut.” He ran the bar with his wife Rose. At some point, their daughter Mildred Hutchinson Orr took over management of the bar and re-branded it slightly as “The Hut Café.” Mildred’s son Edwin “Todd” Orr later recalled, “They sold pigs’ feet, fried pork chops, chili, ice cream. My grandmother and them were known for their chili.”
Mildred Hutchinson Orr became one of the most important community activists in the history of Madisonville. She grew up in Madisonville and attended Hughes High School. During WWII, she worked in the foundry at the Wright Aeronautical plant (later General Electric) in Evendale. She was one of the original members of the Madisonville Community Council. In 1967, she was founder and president of the Madisonville Advisory Council, which planned youth programs and other community events. She was an active member of Madisonville’s Greater Liberty Baptist Church.
In 1969, Mildred Orr was largely responsible for convincing the City of Cincinnati to build a swimming pool in Stewart Park – the park that is now home to the Madisonville Recreation Center.
Mildred Orr’s interest in community organizing carried over into her management of the Hut Café. During the 1960’s, Theodore Berry, William Lovelace, Lawrence Hawkins, and William Chenault all gave speeches at political meetings or social teas in the café or in the upstairs hall.
Longtime Madisonville resident Kimberly Tribble Casey was a child during the heyday of the Hut Café. She says she did not go inside, because she knew that alcohol was being served. Still, Ms. Casey recalls that she was never worried about walking past the cafe, because Mildred Orr kept an orderly place, with, as Ms. Casey puts it, “no craziness.” (Ms. Casey was much less fond of walking past the nearby Brown Pelican bar, a more rambunctious establishment.)
Mildred Orr sold the Hut Café in 1996, and she died in 2003. Today, she is best known as the mother of basketball star and coach Louis Orr, who at one time was a member of the New York Knicks and is currently an assistant coach at Georgetown University.
The building at 5110 Whetsel Avenue is now in poor condition. Its future is uncertain. But its past significance, as one of the most important Black-owned businesses in Madisonville, is secure.