A Catawba Wine Love Story


Until recently I never knew how my great grandparents Theo Woellert and Carrie Henke met. It seemed impossible. He was from the suburbs, she was from downtown. How in the days before cars and in such a bustling city would they have ever met? His family lived in Cumminsville, several miles north of the City, and she lived with her Aunt and Uncle Carl Friedrich Spreen and Carolina Henke in Cincinnati’s heavily German West End. All of his siblings Otto, Maria and Magdalena, had met their mates through the Apple Street German Lutheran Church in Cumminsville, or through the neighborhood, where their father operated a popularframe shop that attracted artists like Charles Vogt. Vogt would memorialize Theo’s father and his shop in a painting called the Framemaker’s Shop now on display at the Cincinnati Wing of the Art Museum. That shop would also house one of my favorite restaurants, Honey’s. I can still get their Binkle Fries with spicy chili sauce from Honey’s original Chef Shoshana, who now runs Branch in East Walnut Hills.

Carrie had been half-orphaned – her mother had died only a few short years after giving birth. As was custom at that time a widower was not expected to care for a young girl, so Carrie was given into the care of her paternal Aunt and her husband. She was baptized and grew up in the parish of St. Paul’s German Evangelical Church which is now the Taft Ale House. Washington Park was her playground. Her mother Sophia Sudmeyer and father Johann Heinrich Henke had immigrated from Westphalia in Northwestern Germany. He was a men’s bootmaker his entire life and eventually moved from the West End to the East End near St. Rose Catholic Church when he remarried and started another family. My great grandfather, Theo’s family immigrated from the northeastern German duchy of Mecklenburg, about an hour north of Berlin, but both he and my great grandmother would have spoken a dialect of Plattdeutsch.


Then I found an ad for Carl Friedrich’s Beer and Wine Saloon on the corner of 6th and Baymiller. That was insignificant, until I saw in small letters, “Opposite the C. H. & D Depot.” Well that’s it! The C. H. & D was the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad. My great grandfather, his brother Otto, their father Theo Sr. and several other immigrants from their town of Penzlin, who settled in Cumminsville all commuted daily on it to the downtown framing factory of A. J. Nurre. They would have stopped at that station to walk the several blocks to work. Perhaps he and his brother Otto or others stopped at the Beer and Wine Saloon of a fellow north German for a beer to relax after work.

Carl Friedrich Spreen, not having come from wine country but rather goetta country, wouldn’t have been as exposed to wines as someone who had come from the Rhineland. But, to service his Germanic immigrant clients from both the north and south, he would have had to carried both wine and beer. There were still Rhineland immigrant workers who favored a glass of acidic sweet local Catawba wine, which was like the Rhine and Moselle wines of their fatherland, over hoppy lagers of Bavaria or the north. This sort of North-South German fusion of businesses in Germanic Cincinnati neighborhoods is what gave us things like the Cincinnati Brat (a fusion of the southern Germanic finely ground pork sausages like Weisswurst) and the Cincinnati Mett (a fusion of the northern Germanic mettwursts).

Although it would not have been appropriate for a woman like Carrie to drink in a saloon, my great grandfather Theo certainly would have seen her coming and going from the apartment above the saloon where they lived, or perhaps cleaning up behind the bar or even cooking for the patrons. Maybe she gave Theo an extra large portion of mettwurst or the largest brezel with his lager. Or maybe he, the romantic, said sweet Plattdeutsch sayings to her as she passed in and out of the apartment.

When she learned his name and where he was from in Cumminsville, she could have inquired her uncle Wilhelm Henke who lived in Cumminsville and was a teacher at the public school there about Theo and his family. She would have learned that they were members like her aunt and uncle, of the Apple Street German Church, and that he was also a member of the Cumminsville Turnverein, a sport and social club like the West End turners of which her father had been a member. Maybe she could visit her aunt and uncle one weekend and run into Theo at a church picnic or Turner outing.

Whatever the specifics of their first meeting and courtship, they caught each others eye, courted and were married, which they did at her parish downtown. They rented their first apartment in a double tenement on Liberty Street. Like many of the German immigrants they moved out of sooty downtown and back to the Cumminsville suburbs, where in 1895 they built a two and a half story brick house on Beekman Street with help from a loan from a German Bauverein in Cumminsville or Building and Loan. They had a large family of eight kids, five who lived into adulthood, and the family kept moving up the hills into the northern suburbs. And if not for a glass of Catawba wine or Cincinnati lager, there may have never been that family.


Theo and Carrie Woellert in later years in the backyard of the house they built on Beekman Street in Cumminsville, now the entrance to I-74.