In June, we stayed at two Thousand Trails campgrounds that were each about 40 miles away from Cincinnati but from opposite directions: Indian Lakes to the west, and Wilmington to the east. During that time, we took three day trips to explore the city.
Cincinnati is located on the Ohio River, and was founded in 1788. It’s home to the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, and the Cincinnati Bengals football team. Both stadiums are located on the waterfront.
At the time Cincinnati was first settled, Ohio was not yet a state. Because the city was northwest of the Ohio River, it was technically part of the Northwest Territory, which America had recently won from Britain as part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris at the end of the War of Independence . Ohio didn’t become a state until 15 years later in 1803.
Originally called “Losantiville,” Arthur St. Clair, then governor of the Northwest Territory, changed the name of the young settlement to “Cincinnati” in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, which was made up of Revolutionary War officers, of which he was a member.
The Society still exists today, and is named in honor of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who left his farm in 460 BC to accept a term as chief military leader in Ancient Rome to meet a war emergency. When the war was won, he returned power to the Senate and went back to plowing his fields. The members of the Society saw themselves doing much the same thing.
The Society was very prestigious following the Revolutionary War. George Washington was elected the first President General of the Society, and served from 1783 until his death in 1799. The second President General was Alexander Hamilton. Its members have included notable military and political leaders, including 23 signers of the United States Constitution. Many U.S. presidents have been members, most recently George H. W. Bush.
Because it was the first major American city founded after the American Revolution as well as the first major inland city in the country, Cincinnati is sometimes thought of as the first purely “American” city. During the first half of the 19th century, it was one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
Cincinnati is a working city, and as such is not really a tourist destination. However, we found a number of interesting places to see. Much of the charm of the city is the result of thecivic pride held byits early citizens, especially those who had fought in the Revolutionary War. The sense of optimism is quite apparent.
Spring Grove Cemetery
Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretumis a 733 acre garden cemetery and arboretum located at 4521 Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the second largest cemetery in the United States.
The cemetery dates from 1844, when members of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society formed a cemetery association. The numerous springs and groves in the area provided the name “Spring Grove”. The cemetery was formally chartered in January, 1845. The first burial took place in September.
In 1855, Adolph Strauch, a renowned landscape architect, was hired to beautify the grounds. His sense and layout of the “garden cemetery”, made of lakes, trees, and shrubs, is what visitors today still see. In 2007, the cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark. The Spring Grove Cemetery Chapel is listed separately on the National Register of Historic Places.
We took a self guided walking tour on Tuesday evening, because every Tuesday during June, July, and August, the cemetery closes off its 45 miles of paved roadways to automobiles and makes them available for bicycling, baby strollers, walking, jogging, etc. from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.
Perhaps the one word that best describes the cemetery is “audacious.” It’s hard to imagine any city in America today setting aside 733 acres of prime real estate as a place to commemorate it’s most honored citizens among beautiful lakes and fountains.
Findlay Market is located in the historic Over-the-Rhine district. Founded in 1842, it is Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. The Findlay Market Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It is the last remaining of the nine public markets that once served Cincinnati.
The story of the Findlay Market is another fine example of early Cincinnati’s civic pride. The land was donated by the estate of General James Findlay, who was an early Cincinnati settler and civic leader.
He built a log store near the Ohio River in 1793 and, a year or two later, moved operations to a larger general merchandise store around the corner from the original site. He was among the early entrepreneurs and land speculators who both fueled and profited from young Cincinnati’s rapid growth.
Findlay served as Mayor of Cincinnati in 1805-06 and 1810-11. He and twenty-four other citizens established a public library in Cincinnati in 1802. At the outbreak of the War of 1812 against Britain, he commanded a regiment near Detroit, and was awarded the rank of Major General.
America foughtthe War of 1812 for several reasons, but primarily to finally gain full control of the Northwest Territory, which they had “won” from Britain in the Treaty of 1783. During the War, Findlaybuilt a fort near what later became Findlay, Ohio, and was taken prisoner by British troops.
Following the war, he was elected to the U.S. Congress and served as a Major General of the Ohio State Militia’s First Division. Findlay served in Congress with his brothers William and John, one of only two times in American history that three siblings served simultaneously.
With profits from his successful retail business, James Findlay purchased large tracts of wooded land immediately north of the Cincinnati city line. Hoping to develop the area, Findlay recorded a town plat in 1833, which included a location for a farmers market and general store.
General James Findlay died in 1835 before the market and store could be built. His widow, Jane Irwin Findlay, remained a prominent citizen of Cincinnati. In 1840, she moved briefly to the White House in Washington, D.C. where she assisted her niece, Jane Irwin, President William Henry Harrison’s daughter in law.
The newly elected President had asked Mrs. Irwin to stand in as the nation’s official First Lady because his wife was too ill to accompany him to Washington. The assignment proved short lived because President Harrison himself died of an illness in 1841 shortly after taking office. Mrs. Findlay returned to Cincinnati, where she died in 1851. She and General James Findlay are buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.
After her death, executors of the Findlay estate donated the parcel identified as a market on the town plat to the City of Cincinnati, stipulating that it be used to build a public market named for and commemorating General Findlay.
Today, Findlay Market has more than 40 indoor merchants selling meat, fish, poultry, produce, flowers, cheese, deli, and ethnic foods.On Saturdays and Sundays from March to December, the Market hosts a farmers’ market and other outdoor vendors, street performers, and special events.
We went on Saturday morning. It was crowded, but fun. We very much enjoyed the sights and sounds as well as a fine meal from one of the outdoor food vendors.
The Belle of Cincinnati
One of the best ways to see Cincinnati is by water along the Ohio River. We took an afternoon cruise on the Belle of Cincinnati river boat, which actually launches from Newport, KY on the opposite side of the river.
The riverboat cruise comes with or without dinning. We opted for the sightseeing only cruise for $23.00 each. The lunch cruise is $40.00 and the dinner cruise is $55.00.
We went mid-week on a sunny afternoon. The boat started downriver, crossing under the John A Roebling Suspension Bridge. The bridge was designed by John A Roebling, and at the time was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It was built during the Civil War, and completed in 1866. The bridge resembles in many ways the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, which Roebling’s son, Washington Roebling, went on to build 30 years later.
After passing under the historic bridge, we turned around and went upstream for several miles, before returning back to port. For most of the trip, our captain played river songs on the banjo (not sure if it was live or recorded) and provided historic commentary of this beautiful river city.
We were glad to see that modern day Cincinnati still has some of the civic pride of earlier generations. Along with the two Kentucky cities on the opposite shore, it makes good use of its riverfront. The two most dominant structures on the Ohio side are the Reds baseball stadium, Great American Ball Park, and the Bengals football stadium, Paul Brown Stadium.
Between the two stadiums is The Banks project, which includes apartments, retail, restaurants, and offices, and stretches from Great American Ball Park to Paul Brown Stadium. The Smale Riverfront Park has been developed along with The Banks, and is Cincinnati’s newest park. From the riverboat, we could see lots of activity at the park, which is a long grassy area between the buildings and the riverfront. It looked very inviting.
We also visited Washington Park which is just a few blocks in from the river near Findlay Market. The parks and the market show that Downtown Cincinnati is alive and well.