Cincinnati: A rich history

Ohio Guide: Cincinnati

Cincinnati has a rich and varied history. From early American “Boom-town,” to refuge for escaped slaves across the river, to the founder of professional baseball. This city has been a major player in shaping the history of the United States. Here are just a few of the historical events that have made Cincinnati what it is today:

Early Days: “The First American City”

After the American Revolution ended in 1783, Cinncinnati was the first major city to be founded, making it the first truly American city. A large number of veterans were granted land in the area and settlers from both Ireland and Germany made it their home. Industry grew quickly, particularly in exporting hay and pork products. After the advent of steamboats, its position on the Ohio River made for strong trade links with St Lois and New Orleans. Cincinnati also became a successful wine and agricultural region.

Throughout the 19th century, Cincinnati continued to grow and was one of the early American “Boom-towns”. The city became proudly known as “The Queen of the West” and later just “Queen City.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous 1854 poem, “Catawba Wine” celebrated the Queen City’s beauty and the rich vineyards on the banks of the Ohio:

“And this song of the vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver,
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the beautiful river.”
(Source: Cincinnati Museum Center.)

Escapes Across the Ohio: Cincinnati and the Abolition of Slavery

The Ohio River was the southern boundary between the free states and the slaves states in the time of the anti-slavery reforms. Many Black Americans traveled across the river from Kentucky and Virginia to seek work and freedom in Cincinnati. Many white citizens welcomed them and the city became a center for pro-abolition press. However, many people still supported slavery and relied on business from the slave states. The new arrivals also competed with Irish immigrants for the lower paying jobs. This led to racial tensions and a number of large scale riots broke out.

An Art Deco Icon: The Union Terminal

As the 19th Century drew to a close, river freight and the use of steamboats went into decline. The age of rail began and Cincinnati was less viable as a center of industry. The rail system was built up in a makeshift manner and, by the 1920’s, seven separate railroads and five stations were scattered throughout the city. Many of these were too close to the river bank and were frequently unusable because of flooding. It was difficult for businesses or passengers to access reliable train transportation. A unified approach was needed to keep the city strong. In 1929, construction of the ambitious Union Terminal began.

Opened in 1933, The Union Terminal is one of the world’s largest and most famous examples of the Art Deco style. Architects Steward Wagner and Alfred Felheimer worked alongside designers Roland Wank and Paul Cret to create this beautiful building which was like a city within the city. It featured a number of restaurants, bookstores, toy stores, high-end clothing outlets and an air conditioned picture theater.

Union Terminal closed as a train station in 1972. Much debate was held over the future of the iconic building and it went through a number of different incarnations, including a shopping mall. Today, The Union Terminal is home to The Cincinnati Museum Center. It draws thousands of architecture enthusiasts, trainspotters and history buffs yearly.

Kicking off the Major League: Cincinnati Baseball

The formidable Cincinnati “Reds” hail from Queen City and made U.S history as the first professional Baseball team. The team was originally called “The Red Stockings” and played its first professional season in 1869, finishing with an impeccable 57-0 record. The Red Stockings were expelled from the league in 1880 because of the club’s insistence on playing Sunday games and selling beer. A new team, The Reds, was created and are still a force to be reckoned with.

The original home of the Reds was the Riverfront Stadium but, in 2003 they moved to The Great American Ball Park.The all-time top-ranking Red was catcher Johnny Bench, who scored 389 home runs during his career. A notable season for the team was the 1975 World Series when they made a stunning ninth inning comeback against Boston.


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