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Our Rich History: MainStrasse began as the Westside Market, thriving with butchers and farmers

By David E. Schroeder
Special to NKyTribune

Today we take for granted dropping by the local supermarket to select food and other goods needed to keep our households running. Before the era of refrigeration, shopping for food on a daily basis was common practice. The main market house in Covington was on Madison Avenue at Washington Street. It was a noisy place filled with live animals, butchered meat and fruits and vegetables of all kinds. It was also a natural gathering place for the community.

6th Street Park original fountain

As the Westside grew in the years leading up to the Civil War, the residents of the neighborhood requested a market in the growing community in 1860. The Covington City Council appointed a special committee to investigate the possibility, with Dr. J.E. Stevenson as chairman. A site on Sixth Street was acquired between Main and Bakewell.

Work on the new market began in 1861. Sixth Street was constructed purposely with a broad grassy strip dividing the two lanes of traffic. On this strip, a large market house and stalls were constructed. The market was supplied with fresh produce and meat from nearby farmers and butchers who paid fees to rent space. The westside market was an immediate success and led to further expansion of housing and commercial enterprises in the neighborhood.

Governor Lew Wallace, author of the well-known novel Ben-Hur, spent some time at the market house. Wallace accepted a regiment command of the Union troops defending Cincinnati from an expected Confederate Invasion in 1862. Legend holds that he set up his headquarters in the Market House. Covington city records do indicate payments of $25 per month from the federal government for rent in the market during this time.

In the years following the Civil War, the market prospered along with the neighborhood. By 1875, the market housed 16 butchers, stalls for 28 farmers and space for 30 area hucksters. A writer for the Ticket newspaper declared the Sixth Street Market House “the best market house in the city.”

View from Sixth Street Park

As times changed and people had better access to local grocery stores and ice boxes, the Sixth Street Market began a downward spiral. The buildings were failing into disrepair and business had dropped off dramatically by 1900. In 1906, members of the newly established Covington Parks Board asked that the market house be closed and that the land be turned into a park. City officials agreed to the plan on May 2, 1907. Shortly after, the market was demolished.

The board made many improvements to the site, including planting large flower beds and installing a wrought iron fountain at the corner of Sixth and Main Streets. The park became popular with the residents of the community and provided much needed greenspace.

In 1974, the Sixth Street Park was named the Steinford Park, in memory of George and Rose Steinford. The Steinfords were well known in the area for collecting and repairing used toys for redistribution to the needy at Christmas. At about the same time, the city began working with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to transform the park, and the five city blocks surrounding it, into a German-themed village named MainStrasse.

Plans for the village included a large German Gothic carillon, a visitor’s center, shelter house, restored Goebel Park and a new decorative Goose Girl fountain. MainStrasse Village was dedicated on September 8, 1979. Since that time, the neighborhood has become a flourishing entertainment and residential district known throughout the region.

David E. Schroeder is Director of the Kenton County Public Library, the author of Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (2014), and coeditor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015).

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