Ashland (formerly Walnut Hills) Park

Cincinnati allocated $15,000 in 1906 to produce a master plan for parks and parkways. The planning culminated the very next year in a sumptuous volume containing maps, design studies, drawings and photographs detailing a lavish system of parks connected by elegant parkways, as well as plentiful playgrounds and athletic fields to provide a more verdant and peaceful world for the densely-packed denizens of the Queen City. As recommended in the plan, the city reorganized its park system in 1911, electing a Park Board with more independence and a progressive agenda. The Parks expanded extensively, with acquisitions and donations of land for Mt. Echo, Mt. Storm, Ault and Alms Parks.

The Park Board also embraced a project of social progress, collaborating with the Public Schools in the construction and supervision of playgrounds. Most of the new grounds were built in the city’s crowded and impoverished basin. Inwood playground, built in 1910 on Vine Street Hill, was the first and the model; it included a shelter house with showers, bathrooms and changing rooms, a wading pool, as well as sand boxes, slides, teeter-totters, swings and new gymnastics equipment like rings, balance beams and jungle gyms. Trained teachers and attendants organized age-appropriate stories, songs, tag and chasing games, ball games, races and competitions for toddlers and children up to fourteen.

“The concerts and moving pictures shows given at numerous playgrounds were well attended and thoroughly appreciated,” the Park Board reported. These recreational opportunities were generally free. There were even evening dances for teen-agers, although there was an admission charge of about a penny a number for music at the dances. Six-minute musical selections were broken up by four-minute pauses; close dancing was prohibited. (The dances were segregated, but the board noted “At Sinton Park, in a mixed population, one evening a week was given to colored and one to white dances. No disorders or interruptions occurred.”)

Walnut Hills, already blessed with Eden Park, also got a playground. In 1911, the Park Board spent more than $10,000 for an acre plot at Ashland Avenue and Chapel Street, directly across the street from Jacob Schmidlapp’s Gordon Terrace Low Cost Housing for Wage Earners. In 1912, the Park Board laid out another $617.07 for an additional tenth of an acre and graded the parcel to prepare it for the playground. This small Park did not have as many amenities as Inwood Park, but there was playground apparatus, a ball field and staff at the Walnut Hills Park. (The facility, now known as Ashland Park, across from the boarded Gordon Terrace continues to serve the African American community to this day, carefully concealed by a wooded area outside the rusty park fence from the westbound traffic on Martin Luther King and Victory Parkway.)