Boneyfiddle Commercial District
The Boneyfiddle Commercial District has been a historic and influential neighborhood in the city of Portsmouth, Ohio ever since its founding in the mid 1800’s. Bordered by Front, Washington, 3rd, and Scioto Street, Boneyfiddle was developed during the economic and industrial boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, the Boneyfiddle Commercial District is still recognized as a significant part of Portsmouth’s community, and its rich history has allowed for it to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Backstory and Context
Before the community of Boneyfiddle existed, there was a small town bordering the Ohio River by the name of Alexandria. Established by Alexander Parker in 1799, the town’s close proximity to the river caused issues for settlers, as it would frequently flood (“Boneyfiddle, Ohio”). After many years of trying to combat the constant flooding, the town’s predominantly German immigrants traveled further inland, where they eventually established a community known as Boneyfiddle (“Boneyfiddle, Ohio”). While it is unclear why the district was named the Boneyfiddle, one of the most common theories is that the term was an anglicized version of the German word for “good times” (“Boneyfiddle, Ohio”). Another is that it could be in reference to the bones of livestock slaughtered by the settlers (“Boneyfiddle, Ohio”). Regardless, the communities along the Ohio River, including the Boneyfiddle began to thrive.
One such community was the city of Portsmouth, Ohio founded by Henry Massie in 1803 (“Boneyfiddle, Ohio”). Portsmouth began growing so large that it enveloped Boneyfiddle, and soon the district became apart of the much larger city (“Boneyfiddle, Ohio”). Then established as the Boneyfiddle Commercial District, the area was known for three significant traits which we still recognize today: the area’s industry, commerce, and architecture (“Asset Detail.”). Industry and commerce both boomed for Southern Ohio in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Being a river port city, the town of Portsmouth was an excellent area for trade from cities along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Ohio’s capital of Columbus. As the city’s major shopping district, Boneyfiddle grew significantly in wealth and trade.
All of this changed with the Great Depression, which the city of Portsmouth never truly recovered from. Many stores began to close down as the town slowly slipped into poverty. This poverty only worsened as things such as the opioid crisis and the Portsmouth Bypass caused many people to move out of the area in favor of better opportunities. However, as of late there has been significant effort to revive the town, and in turn the Boneyfiddle Commercial District. A group known as the Friends of Portsmouth has made significant efforts to restore the buildings as well as to bring about a more positive image for the town. Now the Boneyfiddle is a growing shopping district of local shops and restaurants, and is the location for major city celebrations. Such celebrations have included the breaking of three world records; One for the most plants potted simultaneously, one for the most gifts wrapped simultaneously, and one for the most Christmas carolers. The Boneyfiddle also just celebrated being awarded the 2019 Hallmark Christmas Town of the year. Despite its brief decline, the Boneyfiddle Commercial District is an important and fascinating part of Portsmouth’s lore that I encourage many visitors to check out.
“Asset Detail.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/AssetDetail?assetID=50541501-0084-48aa-ab07-784b064ec255.
“Boneyfiddle, Ohio.” Boneyfiddle, Ohio - Ohio History Central, ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Boneyfiddle,_Ohio?rec=3062&nm=Boneyfiddle-Ohio.