Cincinnati dates back to 1788, right after the American Revolution, and is thus considered the first major city founded in a young United States. Its nickname stems from its growth in the early 19th century, as one newspaper flagged it, “Queen of the West.”
From the top floor observation deck of the 49-story Carew Tower, I imagine what the fledgling city looked like before skyscrapers dominated the downtown view. “Think about this without all the buildings,” says tour guide Janice Forte. “Everything below you was trees and fertile soils. Within 25 years of getting off the flatboats, this city grew to almost 35, 000. And at any given time from 1830 to 1900, there were maybe 100 riverboats coming and going with goods taken off the boats day and night.” Today, Cincinnati is home to the corporate headquarters of Macy’s, Kroger and Proctor & Gamble, among others.
As a native New Yorker, I love gazing at the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge named after its civil engineer – especially at night. It’s in fact the same design as the Brooklyn Bridge, Roebling’s most famous project, opened 16 years after Cincinnati’s bridge linked the Queen City with Northern Kentucky in 1867. The historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, once home to German immigrants, is noted for its 19th century architecture and many theater venues. Enthralled with history, I also visit the William Howard Taft National Historic Site – his childhood home and where he was born. Taft was the only U.S. president to also serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The two-story, Greek Revival-style home has period furniture, a few original paintings and exhibits detailing his years in public service.
Located near the banks of the Ohio River, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center highlights the continuing struggle for civil rights and the plight of enslaved people – even today – through exhibits, paintings and more. “Our mission is to tell the story of freedom’s heroes during the era of the Underground Railroad to modern times,” says Will Jones, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Freedom Center. A must see is an authentic, restored wooden slave pen moved to the museum from Mayville, KY. “It was so well preserved because it was actually kept within a tobacco barn,” says Jones. “Tobacco soaks up a lot of moisture and that’s why it was well intact when they found it.”
The city’s two world class art museums include the Taft Museum of Art housed in a grand home once owned by the family of President Taft’s brother, and the Cincinnati Museum of Art, located in hilly and scenic Eden Park.
The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, a grandiose art deco former train station, houses several museums and exhibits including Dinosaur Hall and The Cave, where spelunking enthusiasts can traverse twisting pathways in this replica limestone cave. Union Terminal’s rotunda is the largest half-dome in the Western Hemisphere. And neon signs, from Howard Johnson’s to the green and pink trim of a mid 20th century McDonald’s marquis, glow and buzz within makeshift storefronts in the fun and quirky American Sign Museum, featuring more than 100 years of American sign history.
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