Members of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition Research Committee are currently working on a project that is of vital importance to urban Appalachian history. The story of the Peck’s Addition neighborhood in Hamilton, Ohio is one that is all but lost at this point. Matthew Smith and Ashley Hopkins are working to bring the story of this urban Appalachian neighborhood back to life and grant it the dignity it deserves. Matthew Smith is Assistant Professor of History and Miami University’s Hamilton Campus. Ashley Hopkins is Senior Assistant Director at Miami University’s Student Success Center and the Miami Cares Resources Program. Both are part of the UACC Research Committee. The two of them have been working to bring the history of Peck’s Addition back to life, while also bringing to life the living history of those who once knew the neighborhood.
Peck’s Addition once served as a port of entry neighborhood in Hamilton, Ohio for Appalachians migrating north for industrial job opportunities. The neighborhood grew rather organically with homes ranging from literal tin shacks to some nice homes that were considered modern at the time. After barely surviving a disastrous flood in 1913, the population of Peck’s Addition increased rapidly during the 1940s as Appalachian migrants continued to flow in for jobs in industries that took hold in the City of Hamilton. But, as Phillip Obermiller’s history of the neighborhood explains, not everyone accepted the influx of people from the Appalachian region, and the city began a process of “artificially depressing home values by withholding public utilities and permits for improvements.” In addition to deliberate strategies to devalue homes and land, the City of Hamilton also located an unregulated dump in Peck’s Addition which rendered the area noxious and nearly uninhabitable. In short, the City of Hamilton deliberately drove the distinctly Appalachian neighborhood of Peck’s Addition into ruin and blight.
Matthew Smith explained that the research on Peck’s Addition is something of “a case study of a neighborhood driven to abandonment. It is a case of redlining [A strategy of deliberate economic exclusion based on race, socio-economic status, ethnic origin, etc.] of an Appalachian neighborhood if you will.” Part of the impetus behind this research is the fact that the Hamilton campus now sits on the site of what was once Peck’s Addition. As Smith pointed out, “as a public university based in this community, we have a responsibility to tell this story.” The legacy of Peck’s Addition and the people who called it home is one that is just beneath the surface of much of what we value today.
This study of Peck’s Addition is taking multiple forms. It offers a case study in redlining and the destruction of an Appalachian neighborhood, and this lends itself to a comparative history of other neighborhoods that were deliberately driven to ruin by powerful government and corporate interests. We may be reminded of Kenyon-Barr in what is now the Queensgate area, an African American neighborhood that was virtually erased to make way for corporate and city development projects. More than 27,000 people were displaced from Kenyon-Barr.
The Peck’s Addition study will also provide an oral history archive as Smith and Hopkins continue to interview people with ties to the neighborhood. This archive will provide valuable resources for scholars and for anyone with an interest in urban Appalachian history. Indeed, Ashley Hopkins has already introduced part of this work into her classroom as part of the Appalachian Studies program through Miami University.
Hopkins explained that the process of bringing the history of Peck’s Addition into the classroom began about two years ago: “In other cultural studies programs there are immersion programs where students can get first-hand experiences with specific cultures. In thinking about cultural immersion in Appalachian Studies, the research on Peck’s Addition brought everything close to home. Students could get involved without traveling to the Appalachian region.” Hopkins facilitated the process by asking students to begin asking questions like what does it mean to be Appalachian? Who gets to call themselves Appalachian? These questions take on a specific relevance when brought to those who have close ties to an urban Appalachian neighborhood like Peck’s Addition. These questions lead to difficult answers and a complex set of further questions.
For the Peck’s Addition work, students interviewed Appalachian people and people with ties to the Appalachian region who also have ties to the neighborhood. This has significant overlap with UACC’s Urban Appalachian Story Gathering. The work of Ashely Hopkins’ students will become part of UACC’s online Story Gathering Project Interview Archive as well as the Peck’s Addition study’s oral history archive. Hopkins said that this archive will not only preserve the story of Peck’s Addition and provide important tools for future researchers, “it also serves as a reminder to never let something like this happen again.” This seems a timely reminder as we again grapple with issues of gentrification and community displacement.
Ashley Hopkins and Matthew Smith have already presented some of their findings at the Appalachian Studies Conference where it generated tremendous interest among scholars and those who work in the areas of advocacy and community engagement. The research on Peck’s Addition provides a crucial piece of the overall picture of the urban Appalachian experience. It also serves as testimony to the injustices endured by Appalachian people both urban and rural. It is safe to say that this kind of research forms part of the core of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition’s calling.
If you would like to participate in UACC’s Story Gathering Project you can follow this link:
Phillip J. Obermiller’s article on Peck’s Addition can be found at this link:
The Peck’s Addition Facebook group can be found here:
For more information on Kenyon-Barr, follow this link:
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.
Cover photo credit: https://digital.cincinnatilibrary.org/