One of the first questions asked about the history of Norwood is "how did it get its name?" That seems like a simple question that should have a clear and simple answer. But, the more you stir the waters by not only asking how, but who and why, the murkier it gets.
The quick and easy answer is that in 1869 a new subdivision needed a name, and since it was north of Cincinnati, heavily wooded and on a hill, the name Norwood Heights (short for North Woods Heights, which really is hard to say three times fast) seemed fitting. The name became popular with other developers and they began naming their subdivisions with versions of the name — East Norwood, West Norwood, South Norwood and even a plain ol' Norwood. The name of Norwood quickly replaced the old name of the area — Sharpsburg. When the village was incorporated in 1888, the name to use was obvious.
As far as can be determined, this answer is true. There was a subdivision named Norwood Heights, and it was the first in the area to use the name Norwood. Within a very short time, it did replace the name of Sharpsburg. After that, almost all the subdivisions below Norwood Heights did use Norwood in their names. But as was said above, that is the "quick and easy" answer. The "murky water" answers follows.
It is commonly believed that the person to come up with the name was Sarah Bolles, the wife of one of the proprietors of the Norwood Heights subdivision. In the 1894 book Norwood, Her Homes and Her People, it was stated that the name "Sharpsburg" was "not considered pretty enough for such a spot, and the suggestion of Mr. and Mrs. Bolles to call it Norwood (an abbreviation of Northwood) met with indorsement, and so it was that the suburb was christened anew."
Mrs. Bolles' 1912 obituary mentioned that she was "the woman whose suggestion gave the city of Norwood its name." It goes on to say, "It was while reading a book in which the name 'Northwood' appeared several times that she received the idea which was later carried out." A 1938 newspaper article about Norwood's 50th anniversary, quotes her son-in-law, Horace Richardson, repeating the claim that she came up with the name, "a contraction of North Woods."
The 1943 WPA Guide, Cincinnati, A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, suggested the book was Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's anti-slavery book Norwood, or Village Life in New England. This "fact" has been repeated often since then — e.g., a May, 1953, Cincinnati Times-Star article for Norwood's fiftieth anniversary as a city. Unfortunately, no record has been found of Mrs. Bolles remembering the name of the book. Beecher's story was first printed in the New York Ledger newspaper as a serial in 1868, and compiled and published in book format in 1869, the year of Norwood Heights' creation. It would seem that if this was the book Mrs. Bolles had read, she would have remembered who wrote it. Henry Ward Beecher was an extremely well-known man at the time and his book was just published! Besides, it was said that the name used several times in the book was "Northwood," not "Norwood."
If the name was influenced by a book, another one may meet the criteria. Northwood: A Tale of New England, the original title of a novel by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, was first published in 1827, and republished under different titles at least twice, the second in 1852. Here the name "Northwood" was used many times. It was written by a very well-known and popular woman at the time, and like the Beecher book had an anti-slavery theme. Since it was published many years before the Norwood Heights naming, Mrs. Bolles, could have read it and forgotten some details.
To muddy the waters even more, in 1907, Norwood's famous pharmacist and author, Professor John Uri Lloyd, wrote an article attributing the naming to J. M. McCullough. According to McCullough's son Albert, his father had come up with the name after reading Beecher's book. McCullough platted his own subdivision just north of Norwood Heights.
In May 1888, a week after the Hamilton County Commissioners approved the incorporation of the Village of Norwood, a column by a Times-Star reporter (probably Norwood resident Ren Mulford, Jr.) told the story of Norwood's name. Since the Bolles lived at the new subdivision, in the previous land owner's home, they decided upon the name. In the reporter's words, "Nor, being an abbreviation of north and wood applying to the native forest, which is on the place, rendered Norwood a very appropriate name." The two other owners, Parvin and Lane, agreed. The reporter continued, "the position, with respect to Cincinnati, had more to do with it than anything else." In reference to the Beecher story, he said, "about that time Beecher's novel, called Norwood, was published, but the place was not named after it."
What he wrote next is very interesting. "Before deciding upon the name the intention was to wipe out the name of Sharpsburg, the old and unsavory name of the station of the C., W. & B. R. R. and change the name of the Post Office." This is evidence that the name change of the area was a premeditated plan of developers. The new name was a secondary consideration; the main point was to remove the old name. But, it brings up the question — what was so "unsavory" about the name Sharpsburg?
(According to the USGS (US. Dept. of the Interior/ U.S. Geological Survey) web site the Sharpsburgh [sic] Post Office was established on March 19, 1867, and its name was changed to Norwood P.O. on May 9, 1870.)
John Morton, in his "Primitive Norwood" writings, states that Sharpsburg was said to have been second to Cleves for being known as a bad place of saloons, which even the "upright character of the pioneers" and subsequent citizens could not dispel. So, a new name had to be created if the area was to attract homeowners.
The catch with this story, however, is that according to the 1870 census (at the time the Sharpsburg name was being replaced by Norwood) the area was populated by farmers, dairymen, carpenters and professional men — and the only occupation even close to a saloon keeper was a "coffee hause" man.