A Brief History of Cincinnati

Geologically, Cincinnati became a thriving city because of its location: the Delta region, formed by the Ohio River, the Licking River, and the Millcreek Valley.  This and the 500 foot hills were formed by two ice ages and the Ohio River. It's perfect for a quiet harbor and in the early days around 1788, the setlers floated down the Ohio from the East and the Delta area made a perfect place to settle. There were a couple of original settlements; Columbia Tusculum was founded by Benjamin Stites and his band of 26 men where they built a blockhouse and used the timbers from the boats for the floors and doors of the log cabins.

Soon after this, Robert Patterson started the beginnings of the city as we know it, just below Sycamore Street, then called Losantiville, later changed to Cincinnati.

In 1789, John Cleves Symmes and his family and a small group of soldiers founded their settlement at North Bend.  The settlers were German and Irish and the availability of good stone and clay for bricks had a lot to do with the success of the city.

That and the River of course.  The River was the highway for moving people and goods, for establishing trade and for creating an atmosphere where ingenuity and hard work yielded the machinery business that in later years produced Cincinnati Milling and the GE Aircraft Industry.  This enabled the machinery for the inclines that allowed the transportation of building supplies to enable the construction of houses on the hill tops, and many other industries related to the development of machinery.

Agriculturally, Cincinnati was a perfect place to grow corn and since there was so much of it, the pig industry grew by leaps and bounds. Pigs were why the front gardens of all the houses downtown have wrought iron fences. When it was time to slaughter the pigs, they were marched down to the slaughter houses.  The pigs were processed into meat and sausages for the table, and leather for the saddles and other equipment for the carriage trade. Then, of course, there was all that extra pig fat left over.  And that's the start of the other big industry in Cincinnati.  The candle making industry which later led to the production of soap. So without the corn, we wouldn't have Proctor & Gamble!

By 1791 Cincinnati was a small settlement of 40 or so log cabins but by 1802 there were over 1,000 residents, three newspapers and a mail service to the outside world.  Cincinnati was incorporated as a village and became a city in 1819.  By 1850 Cincinnati was the sixth largest city in the United States and second in industrial production.

The hard woods which grew so well here led to the furniture factories and piano factories. There were publishing companies, plow making, and the river boat industry with both the machinery and the constructon of the boats themselves.

By the late l980's it became obvious that the delta basic area of Cincinnati was bursting at the seams. But the steep hills around the basin were difficult for travel and impossible for horse drawn vehicles. Out of the machinery and paddle wheel industry came the inclines. This solution was considered highly speculative. Building an inclined plane railway from the basin to the hilltops, like the rack and pinion railways in Switzerland that transport hundreds of skiers today this was developed for these hillsides in Cincinnati. Streetcars with stilts at the rear to provide a level ride on rails like trains on the up rail and harnessed by steel cables to another streetcar on the down rail. The weight of the street car on the way down and a little additional help from engines at the top of the hill. Thus passengers and goods could be hauled from the cargo and passenger boats on the river to the inclines and allowed the development of neighborhoods such as Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, Avondale, Clifton, Mt. Adams and Price Hill. This was a big part of the development of Cincinnati. 

Soon Cincinnati also became known for its support of the arts.  Artists James Audubon and Frank Duveneck worked in a studio on Third Street.  There were Opera companies and Music Hall was built. The decorative arts, Rookwood Pottery and pretty soon we are well known around the world!

For information and blogs about specific neighborhoods in Cincinnati, please visit the Cincinnati Neighbhorhood Section.