Saturday, February 21, 2015

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Yeatman's Cove. All Cincinnati folks know what this is. I'll bet most have no idea who this Yeatman person is.
For those unfamiliar, Sawyer Point Park & Yeatman's Cove is an outdoor recreational area along the Cincinnati Riverfront. It's popular for many outdoor events like the annual Riverfest Fireworks, Party in the Park and other large community events. The area has a spectacular view of the Ohio River and the bridges from many places including the sprawling Serpentine Wall. You can almost always catch a barge or a steamboat chugging down the river. There are playgrounds, tennis courts, and trails to enjoy. It's very nice place to bring a family, maybe catch some live music or just walk around on a nice day.
1869 sketch of Cincinnati in 1802. The tavern would have been just above the boats by the tree.

illustration of the Square and Compass
of unknown date/origin but it seems old ;-)
Griffin Yeatman, a Virginian born lawyer built the first public house in Cincinnati OH in 1793. Yeatman, a Freemason, called his 2 story log tavern the "Square & Compass", no doubt a nod to the symbol of Freemasonry. Located at Front and Sycamore (where the left field of Great American Ballpark is now) this became the center of social and political activity in the fledgling city with around 800 citizens. A "Who's who?" of the Old Northwest such as Marquis de Lafayette, George Rogers Clark, Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, William Henry Harrison, Arthur St. Clair and Mad Anthony Wayne frequented the tavern. Over time the country became more partisan and so did the Tavern. By 1800 only old Federalists (who tended to be Freemasons) hung out at Yeatman's while the new up and coming Democratic-Republicans (who tended not to be Freemasons) started going to future first Cincinnati Mayor, David Ziegler’s general store next door. Things never change. The new generation always wants their own stuff, new ideas and cool places to hang out.

1936 marker on building prior to the
baseball stadium being built at the location.
Griffin Yeatman wasn't just some attorney turned bar owner. He was a real big shot. For 27 years Griffin served as the Hamilton County Recorder, County Clerk, and Justice of the Peace. Don't be fooled by the word "tavern" either.  Oh sure, you could get a pint of ale and a meal at the "Square and Compass" but it wasn't the chicken wing, burger and craft beer type place we know today. Many taverns of that time served as multi-functional community spaces, much like the modern public park that bears his name. The "Square and Compass" also acted as a hospital, post office, court and town council. By 1819 Cincinnati,  now at 9,000 citizens, had 70 other taverns but I suspect they were more along the lines of our modern notions.

It is difficult to come up with much else on the man or his tavern. I can't find a single image of Griffin or his bustling public house. It's a bit surprising that no period sketches of this high profile spot seem to exist and one would think a man of such prominence would have sat for a portrait or two. Griffin died at age 79 in 1849 of "rush of blood to heart" (?) and like many Cincinnati VIPs is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.
It is worth noting that even though Griffin Yeatman's full story seems to be lost to time, there are attempts to honor his name with an annual Griffin Yeatman Award. The award recognizes people who work to help others understand historic preservation and promote public interest in the topic. <ahem>

sources: - Griffin Yeatman
University of Cincinnati Historical Maps
Cincinnati Cemeteries: The Queen City Underground 
BeerMumbo - Yeatman's Tavern
OhioPix - Ohio Historical Society managed repository of Ohio images
- Cincinnati, a Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors (1943)

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