Dunbar Incinerator Site

Site of environmental injustice in Madisonville

On the west side of Madisonville, there was at one time an African American enclave called Corsica Hollow, or Dunbar. In 1931, this area got a new employer, and a major headache, when the City of Cincinnati built a large garbage incinerator.

The incinerator was on Dunbar Place, now called Red Bank Road, at the end of Hetzel Avenue (where the salt dome is now located).

For more than forty years, the smokestack at Dunbar would expel smoke and ash, leave a thin layer of grime each working day on nearby cars, drying laundry, and every other surface.

The Dunbar incinerator was initially one of three in Cincinnati. In 1929, a garbage incinerator was built at the Cincinnati Workhouse in Camp Washington. Then, in 1931, the City of Cincinnati built the incinerator on Dunbar Place, plus another one on Crookshank Road in Western Hills. (Later on, there were several other smaller ones as well.)

The workhouse incinerator was staffed by workhouse prisoners, while the Dunbar and Crookshank incinerators were staffed with regular city employees. Still, the workforce may have been supplemented, in its early days, by prison labor: an African American workhouse inmate named Freeman Taylor escaped from the Dunbar Incinerator in 1931.

The Dunbar facility grew to include a service garage and storage facility, and a newspaper item from 1939 mentions “Eighty-six men employed at the Dunbar Incinerator, Madisonville.”

The workhouse incinerator was abandoned in 1955, but the facilities at Dunbar and on Crookshank Road remained. During the environmental movement of the 1960’s, there were protests against the pollution produced by these facilities.

The facility on Crookshank Road was in a primarily white neighborhood, and a 1969 article in the Cincinnati Enquirer states, “[T]he outcry of protests by Western Hills families finally led the city to take drastic action to slash the pollution put out by the Cruikshank Road incinerator.” City official Charles E. Schumann noted that, “The city spent $250,000 to install that scrubber equipment.”

But then the city balked at the equivalent cost to install the same pollution controls at Dunbar, where, perhaps not coincidentally, most of the nearby residents were African American. The Enquirer article continues: “But the protests of residents near the Dunbar incinerator off Red Bank Road near Madison Road have not been as successful. ‘Yes, it’s true, that incinerator is violating [Cincinnati’s own] air pollution control standards with its fly ash,’ Schumann said. ‘But when you’re talking about $250,000, the city has to think long and hard about it.’”

In 1970, there was a major expansion of the federal Clean Air Act, and the incinerator’s days were numbered. The Dunbar Incinerator finally was closed in 1972, as the city transitioned to landfill-based trash management.

In 1989 the Dunbar incinerator was finally demolished and replaced with a new commercial development, Red Bank Plaza (in the 4700 block of Red Bank Expressway).  This development helped solidify the identity of Red Bank Expressway as a commercial / light industrial corridor, and it helped the city justify using eminent domain to seize houses in the Dunbar area for demolition, rezoning the land for commercial uses. (See the article on Corsica Hollow.)


The Dunbar incinerator
The Dunbar incinerator Source: University of Cincinnati Digital Resource Commons, “Miscellaneous Photographs – Box 53, Folder 17, Dunbar Incinerator.” Creator: Unknown photographer, Cincinnati (Ohio) Highway Department, 1931.


Private property


Chris Hanlin, “Dunbar Incinerator Site,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed May 28, 2024, https://stories.cincinnatipreservation.org/items/show/12.