After nearly 159 years, Findlay Market keeps charm, edge

CINCINNATI -- Its sights, sounds and smells have been a part of Over-the-Rhine for nearly 160 years.

Last week, state and local officials, along with community dignitaries, gathered to celebrate a decade since Findlay Market’s last major renovation in 2004.

Donated to the city by a trust established by the market’s namesake, Gen. James Findlay, the market has seen three major renovations in its long history, a history that outdates other regional icons such as the Roebling Suspension Bridge, Music Hall, the Cincinnati Reds and the Ingalls Building. (The last is the first reinforced concrete high-rise in the nation, still located at 4th and Vine streets.)

Findlay also helped establish a public library in 1802, was mayor of Cincinnati in 1805 and 1810, commanded a regiment during the War of 1812, became a Major General in the Ohio Militia, and was elected to the U.S. Congress, according to Remarkable Ohio.org

During the three-century span of the market, the area around Findlay has maintained some of its rough and rugged character associated with the “Northern Liberties,” later known as Over-the-Rhine, where it is located.

In the beginning, the Liberties, and the market, was located just outside of Cincinnati proper, and city council’s rules and regulations. Known for its drinking and gambling establishments, and prostitution, the Northern Liberties was eventually tamed, somewhat by incorporation.

Of course, the region, and the market, never had all of its rough edges smoothed, most recently reflected in the current city council's efforts to curb prostitution with barricades along McMicken Avenue.

Opened in 1855, many of Findlay’s stall owners and farmer merchants stored their perishable products in the nearby drinking establishments' beer cellars, according to the market’s website. That finally ended in the 1920s, years after incorporation, when Cincinnati’s health department deemed conditions at the market too unsanitary for the throngs of nearby German immigrants and other visitors.

The ruling forced the open-air structure’s first major renovation. The original cast iron structure of the market designed by architect Alfred West Gilbert was enclosed and refrigeration units installed.

But one break with a neighborhood’s business (the beer cellars for refrigeration) during the time didn’t kill the market's deep roots to the neighborhood around it.

In the 1920s, neighborhood groups and Findlay Market merchants lined the street near Findlay and wound their way to nearby Crosley Field for what would become a region-wide holiday known as the Findlay Market Reds Opening Day parade by the 1930s.

And as those immigrants began moving away from Over-the-Rhine and the Northern Liberties, the Market and parade always insured their return, once a week, or at least once a year.

Ultimately those ties would lead to Findlay outlasting 8 other large municipal markets in the city. One of those last surviving markets, the Pearl Street Market, donated its bell to Findlay’s tower in 1934.

The enduring love for the market led to it being the oldest continually operating market in Ohio, surviving the steep decline of the OTR neighborhood, according to Remarkable Ohio. A federal grant helped pay for a second renovation of the market in 1975.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who was once on Cincinnati city council, spearheaded the third renovation celebrated last week. During that planned renovation, concerns were expressed over the possible “Disneyfication” of the market.

No worries though, the market’s character remained, as reflected in a 2013 effort to install $70,000 outdoor toilet stalls at the outdoor entrance to the market to, at least in part, cut down on scenes of nearby public urination.

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