The Devote Flats Building, also known as Devote’s Corner, was built in 1860 for John and Augustina Devote (or Devoto), immigrants from Italy. In July 1920, a Black entrepreneur named Lizzie Darneal Branch purchased the building.
At the time of the purchase, The Union newspaper described the Devote’s Corner building as “the well-known three-story brick grocery building and adjacent tenement and garage.” The purchase price was $15,000. The purchase was brokered by Horace Sudduth, a local Black realtor.
Lizzie Darneal was born in Kentucky in 1868. She married James H. Branch in 1889. She was active in the NAACP, and she was a leader of the Cincinnati chapter of the UNIA – the Universal Negro Improvement Association. In The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society, Judith Stein writes,
“The UNIA tried to satisfy working-class aspirations for status outside of the world of wage labor through business, social service, home ownership, and organizational positions. Its ethic of social respectability was strongest in UNIA women like Lizzie Branch, ‘lady president’ of the Cincinnati division. “Accomplished in needlework and flower arrangement, a domestic in the home of affluent whites, she and her husband accumulated enough money to purchase a home in the old Negro suburb of Walnut Hills, where she formed a satellite branch of the UNIA.”
Lizzie Branch was deeply involved in the local affairs of her neighborhood. The Branch home was at 2918 Monfort Street, a building which still exists, immediately north of the Manse Apartments. Lizzie Branch and her husband were devout members of the First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills, and Ms. Branch “worked so zealously that she raised over $6,000 to help build the church.”
Lizzie Branch was also a temperance movement leader, and in 1919, she converted a former beer garden in Walnut Hills into a “temperance resort” called White Ribbon Park. It was at the corner of Gilbert and Churchill Avenues, “within gun shot of the old Lyman Beecher homestead and Lane Seminary.”
During the 1910s and ‘20s, Lizzie Branch was often mentioned in newspaper announcements of real estate transactions. Wendell Dabney says that she was “instrumental in locating and securing” the clubhouse of the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and that she was “the leading figure in the purchase of the Wheatley Flat Building for the Old Women’s Home,” also known as the Home for Aged Colored Women.
Lizzie Branch owned the Devote Building for only a few months before selling it to a group of Black investors led by realtor Horace Sudduth. The group was called the Walnut Hills Enterprise Corporation.
For many years, the building was a cornerstone of African American life in Walnut Hills. The top floors were rented as apartments, and downstairs, the grocery continued to operate. Up to 1921, there was only a single Black-owned savings and loan association in Cincinnati, founded by Horace Sudduth, but in 1922 a second one opened: Major Lee Zeigler’s East End Investment & Loan Company, in the Devote building.
The building also became home to several businesses owned by Black women. A hairdresser named Mrs. P. F. Townsend also operated out of this address, advertising Poro services. (Poro hair treatment was a system devised by a Black woman in St. Louis named Annie Malone.) And in 1925, pharmacist Anna Beckwith signed a lease on a tenant space in the Devote building, where Beckwith operated the Peerless Pharmacy.