A Drive On Duck Creek Road - Eastbound, Circa 1965
Northbound on Montgomery Rd. in Evanston, you make the right turn onto the west end of Duck Creek Road. It's a quiet residential area, with older houses and a Catholic school on the corner. The road begins gradually descending into a post glacial valley, a late formation nature created in compensation for the 300 foot rise in the Ohio River bed. The Duck Creek Valley, only a few tens of thousands of years old, an eye blink in the earthly time scale. If you were to continue onward on Duck Creek Road, at Evanston Ave. the pavement widens, and you are along side a 6-lane interstate highway on your left, and a retaining wall on the right holding back the hillsides that were gouged to lay this new portion of the old road, up until it ends at the modern Dana Ave overpass. If you go straight, you'll go right onto I-71. On your right are the abrupt ends of Potomac, Larkspur, and Vista Avenues, no longer connected to this side of the world.
But should you take this drive a different way, and see beyond the concrete and man-made hills and valleys, you could have a very different experience. When you pass Evanston Ave., you suddenly pass through a time portal, and you have regressed in time 38 years. Instead of continuing on in the four lane upgrade, you jog left and into the past. You are at the bottom of a small but pronounced green valley. It's green but not lush. It's the green of locust, overgrown grasses, ragweed, honeysuckle, hackberry, clover, and dandelions. The houses are small but neat, on equally small but neat patches of land. On your right is a tire dealership, then you pass under Vista Avenue's curved viaduct, which forms a triangle with Dana Avenue and Duck Creek. The old 2-lane Dana merges into Duck Creek on your left at the same time it drops 10 feet, almost in a spiral loop incorporating the Vista overpass above you. At this juncture there is a coal dock and the Dana Coal company, the last vestige of a once thriving home heating industry, now completely obsoleted by natural gas, electricity, and other fuels. The N&W railroad's branch line passes directly overhead on a trestle, along side the coal company, as Duck Creek Road bends to the right gently.
Now on your left is a park, with a ball field, dirt parking, and a big old house or barn at the west end. As you pass the park on the left, on the right you see the trees of Grove Park hanging over the road from 30, 40 feet above, shading it. Duck Creek Road then jogs left and right again, and you pass Burwood and then South Madison. At Madison, on your left are angled houses of Spanish, southwestern architecture - a stucco and adobe exterior, corner doors, steeply angled driveways into basement garages they were never designed for. The houses are angled to the street like a spread deck of playing cards. You think there are no houses in anywhere else Cincinnati quite like this, and you are correct. On your right are more of the little single story square houses with tiny yards, nestled into the Grove Park hill, but by now it's back a ways from the road and not hanging over it so closely. A single two story house in the middle stands out.
Between Madison and Jefferson on the left, you pass a street called Westgate, which heads up the hill into Grove Park, veering right then left out of sight. Newer, but traditional design houses occupy Westgate, set back on an angle. If you look up, you may be able to see back yards of the houses on Marlington Ave. As you pass another row of Spanish houses on the left, you see a Sinclair gas station in the triangle formed by two side streets which cross and intersect Duck Creek. Just beyond on your right is a dirt/gravel road, which may or may not be labeled Hires Lane. It takes you up into the industrial area which includes a glass shop, a building materials company, and Hyde Park Lumber. Just the other side is a classic Googie-style Frisch's Big Boy restaurant, separated from the industry behind it by a chain link fence. The restaurant is glass and stone, with a sharply angled roof, and a parking lot filled with carhop call boxes.
After you pass Frisch's, Duck Creek Road now bends almost 90 degrees to the north. You can see ahead a ways, as the Spanish architecture continues on the left, slightly uphill and then curving gently to the right. On the right side is a trailer dealership with a small, plain building and a post-and-chain barrier lot. The rest is more of those overhanging, wild-growing trees and weeds.
As you round the bend to the right, you see before you an intersection that could only have evolved over decades of forces acting upon it, natural, economic, and political. An intersections of six directions and five street names, still called "Five Points" from the days before the Smith extension. Duck Creek road bends almost due east here as you stop before a single post traffic light in the middle of this vast intersection. To your left, Williams Ave jogs over 40 feet or so to avoid Duck Creek and butts in to Smith Road. Smith crosses in front of you from the northwest, forking in the middle to either the Smith Extension, aka Edmondson Rd. due south, or southeast onto Markbreit which bends due east before even getting out of the intersection. Ahead of you, should you succeed in crossing this Dodgem court, is Duck Creek Road as it continues onward, bending slightly northeast. On your right, as you wait your turn at the light post, is an aging restaurant/tavern. All of the roads leading out of Five Points immediately go uphill, sharply but only about 15-20 feet, except Duck Cree which remains on the the valley floor.
Finally the light changes and you punch your '60 Chevy across the intersection, eyes ahead. On your left are some small apartment buildings - called "four family" units back then. On your right, another neat row of ten nearly identical one-story houses on small lots, identical except for their color and the bushes and trimmings in the yards. Entering from the right as Duck Creek Road bends north, is Edwards Rd. One of Cincinnati's few totally straight roads, it originates in the affluent Grandin Hills, descends in a roller coaster ride to Hyde Park Square across Erie Avenue, then up and over the hump to Madison Road, and finally terminating it's two mile run sloping ever downward into the Duck Creek valley and at last plunging into a wye with Duck Creek Road, with the motel-like Grandview Apartments on your right.
After a short stretch of mostly greenery on both sides, you come to another intersection with a cross street making the dive to Duck Creek. On your right, Robertson Ave. rises up through the Industrial section of Oakley, with houses on the right and industries on the left. To your left, Robertson completes a mild S-curve and climbs back up to the U.S. Playing Card company and on into the heart of Norwood. There is a Sohio station on the corner. You get the green light and cross the intersection, noting the Playing Card factory on the left, and an ever widening lot full of truck trailers on your right, all terminating at a ridge some 20-odd feet above the ground. On top of this Ridge is the B&O Ohio Division main line.
Duck Creek Road then bends a bit to the left, and you are confronted with a very unusual stop light, on the approach wall of a one-lane underpass that is at this point about 85 years old. It's smallness is not a surprise, what is a surprise is that in post Civil-War Ohio, an underpass was built large enough to accommodate a typical semi-truck rig of the 1960's. But only one direction at a time. The cars trickle slowly through this ancient portal, veeing left in front of you and continuing westbound on Duck Creek. A truck comes through, pulling straight forward and then cutting left, looking as if it's back wheels will take your front fender off. Then the flow stops for a few seconds and you get the green. You make a near right turn into the tunnel. It's properly an underpass, at only 40 feet in length, but it has the arched portal of a true tunnel. Limestone facing wings, and a brick circular arched lining echo your car's exhaust as you drift through, and you give in to the temptation to honk your horn and hear it echo. On the other side, a further line of cars awaits entry as you snake out of the tunnel and veer to the right side of the road and continue on your way.
On your left is the Norwood city incinerator structure, a concrete bin with blue tile above it and a concrete smokestack. Garbage trucks make their way in and out. Duck Creek Road then kinks to the right, more due eastward, at the next intersection which is Harris Ave. Harris descends steeply to Duck Creek, passing under the PRR passenger connection to the B&O main it shares into the Mill Creek Valley some 3 miles west of here. Up the hill and to the right is the Norwood passenger station still serving several trains a day for the Pennsy and the Norfolk & Western railways.
You follow the road to the right, passing under a much more modern railroad bridge, which is the siding to Cincinnati Milling Machine's rail facility. Duck Creek Road now seems more rural than city - off to the right is a large old building housing a restaurant or some kind of establishment with a circular drive in front. Then just woods for another short run, as the road bends and twists gradually due eastward. Then on your left is the first of four automobile junk yards. They get bigger every year, the fences keep the dogs in and the casual lurkers out but don't hide the sight of rusty cars piled 2 and 3 high. Then comes Lester Road, piercing between two junk yards - just up Lester a bit is the new RCA Television tube plant, built during the 1950's when sales of TV sets in America really took off. It's still making tubes for American TV's in 1965. On your right is woods and the creek, on your left... more junk yards. Then you realize you aren't as out in the country as you thought, as houses and more roads loom ahead. Marburg avenue tees in from the right, like every other road it must dive 15 to 20 feet in a short stretch to meet Duck Creek at grade. On your left is the last junk yard, sandwiched into a sliver between the road and the Pennsy tracks above.
The recently extended Ridge Rd. now enters from the right, a former dirt road that went nowhere has now been paved, re-graded, and extended all the way south to Madison Rd. Then Duck Creek passes through another 19th century brick-lined arch, this one wide enough to handle two cars passing side by side, but trucks still must run down the middle of it and swing wide when turning into it. The tunnel's brick liner shows the scrapes from the many trucks that misjudged the turn. It has stop lights on both sides, accommodating the merging Ridge and Duck Creek traffic both ways. It takes a while to inch forward and get your turn through the tunnel. Emerging on the other side, Ridge Rd. continues northward after a slight jog to the west, and once again toot the horn of your Chevy, as a Rambler American going the other way toots back. There is a big new Ontario store up Ridge on the left selling groceries, hardware, pet supplies, and all kinds of stuff. These big new stores that want to sell everything... you wonder how they will fare in the long run.
You skip the urge to check out Ontario though, and veer right onto Duck Creek Road once again, now heading due east. On your right the creek flows along side, and you know in heavy spring rains the part of the road you are on would be under water. To your left is yet another junk yard, this one is called Auto Busters Inc. A street called Kennedy Ave. tees in from the north here. If you were to take that turn, you'd experience a curvy uphill climb to Kennedy Heights and eventually to a point further up Montgomery Road than where we started our Duck Creek ride.
From here on, Duck Creek straightens out and climbs up hill a ways, as it's namesake waterway turns south to follow Red Bank Road and old Wooster Pike for a ways before emptying into the Little Miami River, somewhere in the broad pre-glacial basin that the great Ohio River once flowed through - the opposite direction. On your left is Eastwood Ave, which leads to a postwar apartment complex that has been in disrepair for some time and never really was successful. You think it needs to be torn down, but don't know when that might happen. Past Eastwood is a farm on the left, and a row of a few houses, as Duck Creek Road ends it's run, terminating at Red Bank Road. Turning left will take you up into Kennedy Heights, turning right will take you to Madisonville then on to Fairfax and Mariemont.
If you make the right on Red Bank then again at Madison Road - which has never been very far from us, paralleling our Duck Creek journey, there is one of those newfangled automatic car washes. It's automatic but still employs a dozen or so high school kids to wipe the windows, vacuum the interior, and dry the finish. And just a bit further up is a crazy store called a King Kwik. It's just a little store, and it only sells a few things - soda, potato chips, Hostess Twinkies, milk, bread --- all of it priced well above supermarket level. They run lots of commercials on TV, as if they are everywhere, but this is the only one you know of. They also sell something called an "Icee" which is a frozen soda drink of some sorts that costs too much, but your kids beg for it whenever you get this far out into Madisonville. You wonder about this trend - a big store on Ridge selling everything, and this little store selling just a few things at high prices, and you don't see how the latter can survive. 39 cents for bread, which you can get for 24 cents at Albers or A&P. Nobody will ever pay those prices, the place will go under, even if it is "convenient". Surely the expensive TV advertising will put them out of business within a few months.
Sorry there is no video available to go with this narrative! Maybe someday, virtual reality will allow a recreation of this journey to the past. Just think next time you roar through the valley at 65 mph on I-71, covering this same stretch of space in mere minutes without seeing anything but concrete walls. But if you know where to look, you can still see the one lane tunnel, the tops of the Spanish Houses, the sliver of Burwood Park remaining, and the concrete trench that is provided for the flow of the creek that nature refuses to cease, or re-route. And as you pass by the new Rookwood Commons PF Chang's nearly overhanging the northbound lanes of I-71, breathe in... is that fried rice and Szechwan chicken you smell? Or is it onion rings in the fryer at Frisch's Big Boy, 20 feet below and 38 years behind the wheels of your 2003 SUV?