The good news is, Cincinnati has not obliterated all of its history. Even now, some 140 years onward, you may still see about half of the “must see” tourist attractions promoted in an 1875 city guide.
That guide is D.J. Kenny’s Illustrated Cincinnati: A Pictorial Hand-Book of the Queen City. (Beautifully digitized by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.)
The author, Daniel J. Kenny, was an advertising salesman for the Cincinnati Gazette newspaper and he also issued Cincinnati guides in 1879 and 1893.
On page 344 of the 1875 volume the reader found a list of “Places And Sights Which A Stranger Must See,” describing the most impressive attractions in Cincinnati in 1875. There are one dozen “must see” items, and seven are still in accessible today.
Kenny’s 1875 mandatory collection of Cincinnati charms includes these attractions:
Kenny begins his list with the Tyler Davidson Fountain, which he describes as “the largest Fountain in the United States.” Although it has been moved around a couple of times, the fountain still graces our downtown.
The Roebling Suspension Bridge is likewise still extant, though somewhat modified from Kenny’s day. The bridge he described as “one of the finest structures on this Continent,” was significantly reinforced later in that century to accommodate trolley cars.
Today we call it the “Purple People Bridge,” but the old Newport Bridge is still there. It has also been remodeled and is now open only to pedestrians. Its eleven spans, the widest of which is 405 feet, still sit on their stone bases.
Kenny saluted the “harmonious proportions” of the spire of St. Peter’s Cathedral, and described the church as the “handsomest in the United States.”
“The Cathedral is very rich in pictures, some of them possessing great historic, as well as artistic, value. One of the greatest is the altar-piece, representing St. Peter delivered from prison. Its history extends back to the days of the Peninsular War. When Marshal Soult was in Spain, in command of the French troops, and found himself hard pressed by the English under Wellington, he robbed many of the churches and convents of their noblest pictures. Among others he took four Murillos from the Cathedral at Seville, and on his return to Paris, presented them to Cardinal Fesch, Napoleon’s uncle. In 1824 Bishop Fenwick, the first bishop of this diocese, was in Paris, and the Cardinal presented him with one of these four Murillos. The Bishop brought it to Cincinnati, and the ‘St. Peter Delivered’ is now one of the chief glories of art in America.”
Today we know it as the Isaac M. Wise Temple, but Kenny listed it only as the Hebrew Synagogue. He noted that the interior frescoing was very rich and advised readers to apply to the janitor for a tour.
Kenny then lists five attractions that are only memories, beginning with Pike’s Opera House on Fourth Street:
“This building, which externally is one of the finest architectural ornaments on the principal street of the city, is in its interior adornment the most beautiful perhaps in the United States.”
Today, many Cincinnatians still shed tears for the glorious old Public Library on Vine Street south of Seventh:
“Then, passing through a large and handsome delivery-room, the consulting and reading room is reached. All round it, from the floor to the roof, run, tier above tier, large alcoves shelved for the books. Of these alcoves, there are 13 in the lower range and 20 in the four upper, thus making 93 in all.”
The old Cincinnati Hospital occupied the square bounded by Twelfth Street, Central Avenue, Ann, and Plum Streets, across the canal from the site where Music Hall would be built three years later, in 1878.
Kenny cites, specifically, the exchange or main lobby of the Grand Hotel, located on Fourth Street at Central Avenue:
“The Grand is a modern hotel in every sense of the word. It is owned by a joint-stock company. It was completed in 1874, at a cost of nearly one million of dollars. Its exchange is said by all travelers to be the finest of any hotel in the United States. The furniture and appointments are of the very best character throughout.”
The interior of the Masonic Temple at the northeast corner of Third and Walnut streets must have been quite nice:
“The Chapter room proper is 51 feet square by 23 feet high. The furniture is of mahogany, with Gothic open panel-work on a rich crimson satin ground; that of the Masonic hall bronzed, with blue satin. A new and beautiful organ has lately been built, and the hall is lighted by seven Gothic chandeliers of conspicuous beauty.”
The remaining two “must sees” are views of the city, first from Price’s Hill (Kenny advised readers to take the omnibus from the Post Office.) and also from the Lookout House in Mount Auburn. The Lookout House is no more, but essentially the same view can be had from the garages at Christ Hospital or from Jackson Hill Park.
It is interesting that Kenny does not include the Cincinnati Zoo on his list of “must see” attractions, nor the Cincinnati Observatory which had just opened its new campus in Mount Lookout. Although Music Hall was in the future, Kenny ignores the then-extant Exhibition Buildings, located on the property where Music Hall would be constructed. Spring Grove Cemetery, Lincoln Park (now gone), and Washington Park are relegated to a subsidiary list of “Places And Sights Which A Stranger Should See.” The remainder of the “should see” list includes Mount St. Mary Seminary in Price Hill, the reservoirs in Eden Park, the Water Works on Front Street, any of our breweries, the Phoenix Club, the Cuvier Club, the Union Bethel, the Mercantile Library, the printing presses of any of the daily newspapers, studios of any local artist, the Ohio River by moonlight, the U.S. Signal Service weather reporting rooms, and Weilert’s Saloon in Over-the-Rhine.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities