1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content

Downtown :: History

In 1788, John Cleves Symmes was granted a charter to develop the land between the Great Miami and Little Miami Rivers.  Later that year, 11 families and 24 men led by Colonel Robert Patterson arrived at a site of 747 acres located directly opposite the Licking River. This settlement was first named Losantiville and renamed Cincinnati in 1790 by Arthur St. Clair, the first Governor of the Northwest Territory. Downtown sits in the river valley, surrounded by steep hills on three sides.

In 1802, Cincinnati was chartered as a village and then as a city in 1819. The introduction of steam navigation on the Ohio River in 1811 attracted more residents. The current downtown area was the original city, and much of the original history centers around the downtown Central Business District. The river is what brought the original settlers here, and it was river commerce that kept them coming. Cincinnati attracted many immigrants, mostly those of European descent - Germans, Irish, and English. Germans were the majority of the European immigrants, and most of the incoming Germans were Catholic. Cincinnati also became home to one of the most influential Jewish communities in the nation. Cincinnati attracted many migrant workers, too. Workers came from Appalachia, and Southern African Americans made their way to the free North through Cincinnati and the Underground Railroad.

The Baum-Longworth-Taft House was built in 1820 on Pike Street, and is a National Historic Landmark. It opened as the Taft Museum in 1932, and was renovated and reopened in 2004 as the Taft Museum of Art.

Cincinnati Subway ConstructionConstruction on the Miami and Erie Canal began in 1825. The canal ran up Eggleston Avenue and continued out of downtown along what is now Central Parkway. As railroads began to replace the canals in the late 1800s, the canals fell into disrepair and became a health hazard with leftover water breeding mosquitoes and collecting refuse. Construction began in 1924 along Central Parkway on a subway project designed to make use of the old canal beds, but the project was never completed.

In 1859, Cincinnati introduced six streetcar lines, making it easier for people to get around the city. By 1872, Cincinnatians could travel on the streetcar line within the city and then be transported by rail car to the hill communities. The Cincinnati Inclined Plane Company began transporting people to the top of hill communities.

In 1853, Cincinnati's Fire Department became the first full-time paid fire department in the United States. It was the first in the world to use steam fire engines and to have the first firemen's pole.

The Isaac M. Wise Temple was dedicated in 1866 on Plum Street. It is one of the oldest synagogue buildings in the country, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a National Historic Landmark. It was constructed with neo-Byzantine and Moorish Revival architectural styles.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings, whose name and heritage inspired today's Cincinnati Reds, began their career in 1869 and became the first regular professional baseball team in the country.

Tyler Davidson Fountain HistoricFountain Square has been the symbolic center of Cincinnati since 1871. The square replaced a butcher's market and was a gift from Henry Probasco in memory of Tyler Davidson, his brother-in-law and business partner. The Tyler Davidson Fountain was dedicated on the square in the same year. The 9-foot central figure, the Genius of Water, stands with arms outstretched over groupings of figures representing the uses of water. The square and the fountain were renovated for their hundredth birthday celebration in 1971, and again in the early 2000s.

The Newport and Cincinnati Bridge, now popularly known as the "Purple People Bridge," opened in 1872, stretching over the Ohio River and connecting Newport, Kentucky, with Cincinnati. It was Cincinnati's first railroad bridge to span the Ohio River. Over the course of the next 35 years, the bridge was retrofitted to accommodate streetcar, pedestrian and automobile traffic. It was renamed the Louisville and Nashville Bridge, and in 2003 became a pedestrian-only bridge. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Carew Tower was completed in 1931, and for many years was the tallest building in the city (the now-under-construction Great American Building will become the city's tallest building). A national historic landmark, Carew Tower originally held the two department stores, the H.& S. Pogue Company and Mabley and Carew (neither exists today) as well as a hotel and offices. From the observation deck visitors can see for miles in all directions, and three states (Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky).

Downtown History 1938 FloodThe flood of 1937 was one of the worst in the nation's history, with water levels reaching 80 feet, the highest in the city's history. More than 50,000 were left homeless. Subsequently, protective flood walls were built but weren't finished by the Army Corps of Engineers until the early 1940s.

Steel, iron, and meatpacking industries, which had made Cincinnati the "Queen City" in the 1800s, slowly moved to cities to the North and West, and downtown Cincinnati fell into decline by 1900. The rejuvenation of downtown began in the 1920s and continued into the next decade with the construction of the post office, a large Bell Telephone building, and, in nearby Queensgate, Union Terminal. The grand art deco Union Terminal opened in 1933 to provide a more efficient rail hub for the seven railroad lines that converged in Cincinnati and served thousands of passengers a day.

Although some businesses and residents began moving to the suburbs in the 1950s, Cincinnati's downtown area retained a unique retail and corporate identity while also developing as a center for the city's arts and sports.

In the 1970s, Riverfront Stadium and Riverfront Coliseum were completed. The stadium housed the Cincinnati Reds baseball and the Cincinnati Bengals football teams. In 2000, the Bengals were given a new home at Paul Brown Stadium, and in 2003, the Reds were given a new home of their own at the Great American Ballpark. The coliseum, now called the U.S. Bank Arena, was built in 1975 and has housed minor league athletic games and other special events. The Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League are the current tenant.

Cincinnati celebrated its bicentennial year in 1988. Sawyer Point is a 22-acre recreational park that was built on the Ohio Riverfront in the same year for the festivities. Also in that year, Tall Stacks was first held. Fourteen riverboats cruised into Cincinnati to rekindle pride in Cincinnati's rich river history and to demonstrate the importance the steamboat had on the city. The festival has returned every 3-4 years since 1988.

The Aronoff Center opened in 1996, containing 3 theaters and gallery space on Walnut Street. The Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art opened in 2003, and the National Underground Railroad Center opened in 2004. More recently, The Banks, a multi-use housing and retail development, is now under construction along the river, and many fine old buildings are being converted to urban housing units.

More Information:

Cincinnati History

Cincinnati Subway

Cincinnati Discovery (forgotten Railroad History)

Cincinnati Historical Society FAQs

Fountain Square History

Carew Tower History

Betts House History

Taft Museum History

Canal Map

Subway and Canal Images

Historic Downtown Postcard Images

More Downtown Online

Official Home Page of Downtown:

Follow Twitter updates for Fountain Square!

Read more @ Twitter »

The Genius of the Waters fountain at Fountain Square downtown is once again the place to be in Cincinnati. Surrounded by a slew of new restaurants and featuring its large plasma screen, Fountain Square has truly become Cincinnati's living room.

Read more @ SoapBoxMedia.com »

Downtown Cincinnati has been a great place to work for years. Over the past decade a revitalizing Cincinnati has started trending toward becoming a real livable new urbanist neighborhood.

Read more @ CincinnatiLocavore.Blogspot.com »