The Early Years of 109 W. Elder
109 W. Elder—first listed as 45 Elder—appeared in city directories in 1862. A number of tailors lived at the address then, including Rudolph Strubbe, Ernst Delbrugge and George Schultz, as well as cigar-maker Frank Tokup. An early and affluent Over-the-Rhine settler, Rudolph was a Prussian immigrant, born in 1816. He, his wife Mary (also listed as Elizabeth) had at least four children, Rudolph, Catherine, William and Mary; the two older children died very young from “summer complaint” and measles, respectively.
Like other initial inhabitants of 45 Elder, the Strubbe family did not stay long at 45 Elder: Rudolph left Over-the-Rhine to serve as a Private in the Union Army during the Civil War. Upon his return, his tailoring business moved to nearby on Elm Street.
Ernst Delbrugge and George Schultz were also Prussian immigrants, born in 1842 and 1821, respectively. Ernst, still unmarried into his forties, eventually moved out of the city, settling in Clermont County. George was married to a woman named Frederica and they had at least one child together, Wilhelmina, born in 1860.
All of these initial inhabitants—who were tailors or cigar-makers—most likely also worked out of 109 W. Elder. Both of these industries relied on a lot of piecework performed at home wherein immigrant tailors or cigar-makers would assemble garments or cigars from pieces they had purchased. For their piecework, tailors and seamstresses were paid by the number of finished garments they had assembled, sewed or repaired. Cigar-makers, who until 1879 were paid in cigars (and thus had to sell cigars in saloons or pay someone to sell them for them), often employed the help of their entire family at home, exposing everyone to the tobacco leaves.
By the mid-1860s, at least four families lived inside 45 Elder, including cooper Phillip Cohen, tanner John Krebs, porter Phillip Kuhn and cobbler Henry Theile. These men and their families were all German immigrants. John Krebs (1835-1899) was born in Hannover in 1835, immigrated in 1849 and, once in Over-the-Rhine, raised a large family with his wife Mary (Hahn) (1835-1897), who was also a German immigrant.
Their children, all born in Ohio, included Lewis, John, Katie, William, Anna, Emma, Charles, Amelia, Bertha and Mary. Though most of these families worked from and lived in 45 Elder for only one to two years, many of these families moved close by thereafter. After working out of 45 Elder and then 43 Elder at the Market, Henry Theile, for instance, then worked from the corner of Race and Findlay Streets for many years.
45 Elder was most likely a wood-frame structure that was replaced with a four-story brick building by the time that the next tenant, Moses Goldsmith, used the space.
The Moses Goldsmith Company
From the 1870s until the early 1900s, Moses Goldsmith and his family ran a store at 45 Elder, selling notions, toys, household goods and men’s furnishings. The Goldsmith family also used what is now the Luken Warehouse at 121 W. Elder and the storefronts at 115 W. Elder and 117 W. Elder as spaces for their business.
Moses Goldsmith (1848-1912) was a German Jewish immigrant whose family came from Prussia (the family was also listed as from Hesse-Darmstadt and Saxony). Moses was born in Cincinnati to Leopold (1813-1885) and Lena Goldsmith (ca. 1818-unknown). Growing up to be a medium-sized man, standing at five feet and four inches, Moses was raised in Cincinnati with his siblings, Jacob, Henry, Samuel and Fanny. His passport application described him as having a high forehead, hazel eyes, an “ordinary” nose and mouth, gray hair, a round face and a fair complexion.
Moses got his start in life as a peddler, selling shoestrings and popcorn around Findlay Market. He then invested his savings in his notions business, using real estate acquisitions and sales to finance his company. It worked, for he became a millionaire.
His wife Lena (Black) (1849-1932), a French immigrant, was his business partner, as were his sons. His and Lena’s children included Leon, Jacob, Jennie, Morris and Sidney, although Lena also gave birth to three other children that did not survive childhood. Their sons Leon (1866-1923) and Jacob (1868-1919) became secretary and treasurer of the family business, and Morris—or Maurice, born in 1877—worked as a book keeper.
The family never lived at Findlay Market but rather resided on Clinton Avenue for a number of years before moving to 836 Beecher Street in Walnut Hills. Both of these areas had sizable Jewish populations, making the Goldsmiths feel at home.
As the Goldsmiths ran their notions store on the Market, they hired a number of salesmen and women to help them (and, even up to the early 1900s, wanted people who spoke German). Some employees turned out to be less than scrupulous. Moses got so frustrated by untrustworthy employees that he wrote an editorial about it. He had hired David Stern who robbed him of several thousand dollars, yet—as Moses described—the local court system released David without bail. Moses felt such judicial decisions hurt local businesses.
This kind of distrust of the city court system—and Cincinnati politicians and officials in general—finally exploded with the 1884 Courthouse Riots where a man, accused of beating his employer to death, was only given the sentence of manslaughter by the jury. Public sentiment against such corruption manifested in riots which resulted in the courthouse being burned down and more than forty people dead.
Another dishonest employee at 109 W. Elder was Albert Berlyn who was hired on as a bookkeeper in the late 1880s. News broke in 1891 that he had been “systematically robbing his employer,” the Enquirer reported. Moses discovered it himself after some of the salesladies told him that they saw the bookkeeper wrap up merchandise and take it from the store. Moses confronted his employee who at first denied it but then claimed he was going to eventually pay for the stolen goods. Moses found where Albert had been pawning his goods and demanded them back. Around $2000 of stock was estimated to have been taken.
Albert finally admitted, “I know that I am a thief, but I am not the only one in the store.”
Still, Moses was determined to have him arrested—yet upon going to Albert’s house and seeing his wife and four little children, one of whom was physically handicapped, Moses felt that arrest and imprisonment would hurt them more than Albert and decided to drop his charges.
Such a story illustrates the poverty and dire straits for many working-class families in Over-the-Rhine in the late 1800s.
Aside from Jacob, Leon and Maurice, the other Goldsmith children did other things with their lives than the family business. Moses’ daughter Jennie wed David Loewenstein in 1891. Like her, he was a second-generation German immigrant; he worked as a butcher for a living, eventually owning his own wholesale slaughterhouse. They had a son Melvin together, yet the marriage did not last. Sometime between 1910 and World War I, the couple divorced; in 1914, Jennie wed Leo Ehrlich, a jeweler.
Moses and Lena’s youngest son, Sidney, worked in government in his younger years, eventually becoming a merchant like his father. He went on to manage his parents’ estate after their deaths. Married to Maude, he raised two children with her, Lawrence and Ester. When he died in 1912, Moses was known as “the Cincinnati capitalist,” given his financial success, business acumen and that he possessed one of the largest collections of buildings in the city.
He was also known as a generous—and outlandish—host; he and his wife had people over regularly at their home on Beecher Street in Walnut Hills. They were wealthy enough to employ several people at their house for domestic help, including an African American man from Tennessee, William Williams, as the butler; Flora Jutzwitz, an elderly German woman who was the cook; and two young German women, Dora Stopper and Mary Seyke, who worked as maids.
The Goldsmiths also had a house in Clifton on Bryant Avenue which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places given its architecture and connection to the Goldsmiths (they rented it out, never living in it). A frequent traveler to Europe—he filled out numerous passport applications, in 1884, 1893, 1895, 1897, 1903, 1908 and 1910—Moses collected art and decorated their house with it (his collection of “ivories” was thought to be “the finest and most complete in the United States,” according to the Enquirer).
In one hilarious instance showing the Goldsmith family’s hosting capabilities, Moses and Lena held their son Leon’s wedding reception at their Beecher Avenue house, and for it invited local Republican Party elite, including Boss Cox and his colleague (or crony) August Herrmann. There, as guests arrived, Sisters of Charity—that is, nuns—welcomed guests as though they were domestic servants. Suddenly, after guests had settled in, the nuns reappeared, took off their habits and went into a jazzy ballet routine accompanied by minstrel performers. The night lasted long; dinner was not even served until after midnight.
(Unfortunately, word spread of this party, and Democrat and other Republican Party opponents used it as evidence of the party’s debauchery, anti-Catholicism and corruption).
John Veser’s Sons’ Clothing Company
From the early 1900s to the early 1930s, 109 W. Elder housed a clothing shop run by the Veser family. Four brothers—John, Emil, Charles and Arthur—worked as custom tailors who sold men’s and children’s clothes as well as hats and other furnishings.
As was the case with the Goldsmith business, all four floors of 109 W. Elder were devoted to the Veser business, in that no one lived inside 109 W. Elder. John Jr. (1873-1913), Emil (1875-1928), Charles (1877-1926) and Arthur (1881-1935) were the sons of German immigrants Johan (or John) (1844-1901) and Maria Veser (1846-1918). Johan and Maria had several other children too, including Emily (Appel) (1867-1902), Elisa (Streng) (1968-1943), Emma (1871-1946), Marie (Heschong) (1879-1912), Estella (Eichert) (1883-1943) and Elmer (1884-1886). Maria gave birth to one more child who did not live into adulthood.
Johan and Maria had immigrated to the U.S. in 1865 and raised their family in Over-the-Rhine. Johan was a merchant tailor and most of his children grew up working for him, as clerks and salespeople; Emil learned bookkeeping with his father’s company.
In 1901, Johan died, and the brothers went into business together at Findlay Market. John, Emil, Charles and Arthur, along with other family members, lived at the family home at 195 E. McMillian (now demolished). Eventually, some of the tailoring brothers moved out as they started their own families. Emil wed Ida Bardes (1881-1935) in 1911 and had Emil G. with her (1912-1983). The young family lived in Northside and then Avondale (with Ida’s family) before they moved to St. Bernard. Arthur married Elsa (Eichert) (1884-1974) in the spring of 1915 and had Erna (1918-2013) as well as Arthur Jr. and Katherine with her.
They eventually moved to Clifton where members of Elsa’s family, the Eicherts, often lived with them; Arthur’s sister Estella had also married an Eichert. Charles and John did not marry, and sadly in the spring of 1913, John drowned in a flood on the Big Miami River.
His brothers continued the business thereafter, but in 1926, Charles died, followed by Emil in 1928. Arthur then took over all operations. Yet in 1931, creditors brought involuntary bankruptcy proceedings against Arthur. Perhaps the business failing was merely a sign of the times. The Great Depression hit Cincinnati hard: from 1929 to 1933, Cincinnati lost 41% of its wage-earning jobs as businesses closed, were foreclosed on or laid people off to stay solvent.
By the end of 1931, the Veser business went to auction.
The 1930s and ‘40s at 109 W. Elder
During the Great Depression, Samuel Korn ran a furniture store from 109 W. Elder. He was born in 1902 in New York City to Meyer Korn and Anna Goldstein from Romania.
Sometime as a young man, he—or more likely, he and his parents—moved to Cincinnati. Here, Sam married a woman from England, Lillian Butcher, in 1925; her parents were Russian Jews who left the Russian Empire. Together, they had Eugene and Roslyn Jane, both born in Cincinnati during the Great Depression.
Sam passed away in 1956 and was buried at the Kneseth Israel Cemetery. The Kroger Company operated briefly out of the building during and immediately after World War II. During Kroger’s tenure there, it used the upper floors for storage.
Early on Christmas morning in 1943, fire alarms sounded at 109 W. Elder, causing families in the adjacent Findlay Market buildings to flee. Everyone recalled the 1940 blast that had leveled 115-117 W. Elder and killed fourteen. Luckily, the fire at 109 W. Elder did some damage but did not result in any deaths.
The Chicago Market Company
From the late 1940s until the late 20th century, the Chicago Market Company sold fresh meat cuts from 109 W. Elder. This business was operated by Clarence (1924-2011) and Ruth Blankenburg (1927-2014).
Clarence “Blanky” was born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1924 to Clarence Sr. and Alma (Nardine) Blankenburg. He moved to Hamilton, Ohio in 1927 and attended St. Ann's Parochial School and Hamilton Catholic High School. A veteran, he served in the Army during WWII and attended Xavier University.
Afterward, he bought and operated the meat and grocery store at 109 W. Elder until his retirement in 1987.
His wife Ruth was a native of Perry County, Kentucky. Born to World War I veteran Edward B. Wilson (1892-1959) and his wife Jallie (Watkins) Wilson (1901-1997), the family moved to Cincinnati when Ruth was a small child. In doing so, they joined many other Appalachians here. By 1950, 375,000 Appalachians had moved to Ohio and were concentrated in cities. The search for better jobs and a better life, especially during the world wars and in the midst of the Great Depression, pushed them here. As a young woman, she attended Hamilton Public Schools and graduated from Miami University.
She ended up teaching for the Hamilton City Schools for twenty-five years, retiring in 1990. On June 5th, 1948, she married Clarence A. Blankenburg in Saint Ann's Catholic Church; they had two sons, Mark E. and R. Scott, and one daughter, Barbara Ann (Blankenburg) Kiep together.
While local newspapers were strangely silent on it, the building’s upper levels burned down or were taken down at some point in the mid-20th century (sometime after 1949). Perhaps the fire in 1943 weakened the upper floors’ joists, contributing to the building’s partial demolition or easy collapse during a fire. The Hamilton County Auditor shows a drastic drop in building value in 1954, suggesting a fire or partial demolition around that year; in 1955, the building’s value rebounded, suggesting that maybe it was vacated, partly demoed and then reoccupied.
We do know that by the mid-1970s, the building was only one-story. The building also caught fire during the 2001 riots.
Ruth Blankenburg sold the building in 1987 when she and Clarence decided to retire. The City of Cincinnati took ownership of it in 1998.
Recently at 109 W. Elder
Beginning in the summer of 1995, 109 W. Elder was home to a beloved take-out barbeque restaurant, Mr. Pig, run by Paul Sebron, an alumnus of the Greater Cincinnati Culinary Arts Academy, and Gene Walker. The building was—at that point—in poor condition. The city manager at the time, Valerie Lemmie, referred to it as “a visual eyesore to the Market District.”
Paul started his business with a grill and $300 and eventually expanded his restaurant to include what was Stenger’s Café on Vine Street, a famous Over-the-Rhine restaurant known for its country and comfort food (it closed in 1999).
Yet the 2001 riots hurt Paul’s venture and forced him to close down his operation at Stenger’s old place—and even shut down his Findlay Market grill. Thereafter, Mr. Pig received assistance from Rob Kranz, an investment banking consultant for the Malibu Group in Loveland. He and Paul Sebron worked together to form a business plan for Mr. Pig to get through the slowdown from the riots and create a robust business. This entailed a big renovation project for 109 W. Elder—in the tune of $225,000, which the Cincinnati Empowerment Corporation loaned.
Paul bought the building from the city and started the work. The idea was to transform Mr. Pig from a more makeshift restaurant to a more polished one that seated at least twenty. Unfortunately, Mr. Pig defaulted on its mortgage, and Paul sadly passed away in 2007. The city took the property back over in 2011.