Music Hall’s Renovation Uncovered Pieces of Cincinnati’s Lithographing Legacy

Destroyed by fire and buried for more than a century, fragments of Cincinnati’s lithographing past have been recovered.

In 1880, after some 40 years in business, Strobridge Lithographing Company moved to the corner of Canal (now Central Parkway) and Race in Over-the-Rhine, where SCPA stands today. They produced world-renowned lithographs: posters for circuses and theaters, Art Noveau drawings, advertisements. But on December 1, 1887, a fire destroyed the building and all of the stones used as printing negatives in the process. So they were chopped up and used as fill for the 1895 renovation of Music Hall. Appropriately, the stones were found and salvaged during the building’s most recent renovation.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

“This was a Cincinnati-based company that went on to have world famous artists work for it,” says Morgan Wampler, an archeologist with Gray & Pape, the heritage management firm that handled archaeology work for the Music Hall renovations.“They opened up an office later on in New York and then in London. They went international. Strobridge was one of the prominent lithographing companies in the country at this point.”

“All they would have to do is load everything up and just ship it down the canal,” says Wampler. As for the Strobridge building? It was repaired immediately and reopened the following July.

Jumbo was the Fiona of his day. That is, a very famous, very large, very gray mammal. “Strobridge was famous for their Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Bros. Circus posters. That’s why that Jumbo the Elephant stone is so important,” says Wampler. “There are actually books about Jumbo’s life.”

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