Your Destination Guide to Cincinnati

Destination Guide Cincinnati - Your Destination Guide to Cincinnati, OH

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History

History
History

© Don O'Brien

One of the largest and most important cities west of the Appalachians during the country's formative years, Cincinnati grew out of forests and fields along the Ohio River. In 1788, John Symmes purchased two million acres of forest at the spot where the Little and Great Miami Rivers, Licking River, and Mill Creek all fed into the great Ohio River. The public landing welcomed a diverse population over time who came together and created a uniquely American city. Cincinnati was home to more U.S. presidents than any other city with the exception of Washington D.C. The Boy Scouts were created here, and the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the country's first professional baseball team in 1869. Still held here every year, Opening Day's citywide fanfare marks the traditional season opener game.

Losantiville, as Cincinnati was first named, had the advantage of being above the flood-prone riverbanks and surrounded by fertile soil. Of course, these advantages had been discovered before. The Hopewell Indians had left their mark on this land through their mysterious and camouflaged earthworks, including Fort Ancient and Serpent Mound. When settlers from the east began to move to Losantiville, attracted by the prospect of land and industry and adventure, they realized they were sharing the space with the Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware tribes. Fort Washington was quickly built in response, erected in 1789 with around 300 troops. These soldiers gave Losantiville the protection and force necessary to grow, and formed one of the first large groups to populate the new city. Revolutionary War veterans and their descendants arrived also, perhaps attracted partly by the city's new name. Chosen by General Arthur St. Clair, it was renamed after the Society of Cincinnati, honoring George Washington, the Revolution, and the democratic ideals of the new country. Future president William Henry Harrison came to the city as a soldier at the fort, and stayed for a marriage. He was in good company as one of five U.S. presidents who at some point in their lives resided in Cincinnati (including Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William Howard Taft).

Of course, Cincinnati would not have become a thriving western metropolis with only soldiers living here. Migrants flowed from the East and the South into the new great boomtown, and many different groups made their home in Cincinnati. German immigrants were a large and important part of the culture of the city, creating breweries, beer gardens, churches, and even names. They largely settled in an area still known as Over-the-Rhine, after yet another formative river. Irish and Italian immigrants settled here in large numbers, too, and in later years people began arriving from Appalachia to make a new urban life in Cincinnati. Judaism, and in particular Reform Judaism, also found an important home in Cincinnati. Hebrew Union College, the first Jewish seminary in the country, was founded in 1875, and the Plum Street Temple was added to the city's impressive collection of religious buildings in 1866. From these many and diverse populations came an undeniably all-American city.

As the city continued to grow, the rivers only became more important. Agriculture was the basis of Cincinnati's success, both the abundance of crops and the proximity to easy transport. Boat building became an important industry, and even more so with the invention of the steamboat in 1815. Abundant agriculture led to milling, brewing, meatpacking, and even soap making. All these industries have left their mark. One of Cincinnati's biggest and most well known companies today is Procter & Gamble, creator of Ivory Soap. The grain access combined with the German beer culture allowed countless breweries to start up, many of which are still around today. Christian Moerlein, Hudepohl, and Burger Beer are just a few of the brewing companies that have stood the test of time, and continue to be a source of local pride. Even The Boston Beer Company (better known as Sam Adams) brews a third of its beer in Cincinnati.

The meatpacking industry may have left an even stronger influence: Cincinnati was the center of pork processing for the country during the early 1800s, and the "Porkopolis" nickname (after the importance of the industry, but also the pigs that could be seen and smelled throughout the city) has stuck to this day. The name may not be in common use, but the flying pig is still the city's most recognizable mascot, not counting the sports teams of course.

As in most large American cities, the diverse populations have not always lived in harmony. Anti-German sentiment has been present throughout the city's history, coming to a head during WWI when German residents were shunned and even German street names were changed. During the time before the Civil War, the area south of the Ohio River was slave country and north of it was, in relative terms, "free." This meant that the abolitionist movement was strong in Cincinnati, as was the Underground Railroad and the blacks and whites working with it against slavery. Yet the economic and social ties with the South kept the city from any sort of political or social agreement. When these struggles came to a head anew during the Civil Rights movement, Cincinnati figures such as Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth again played an important role. Race riots broke out several times, continuing occasionally until most recently in 2001. These incidents had a definite impact on the city's downtown and community relations, causing negative impressions and reactions but also inspiring positive efforts to move forward.

Since the end of the 1800s, the city itself has not grown much in population. However, the national trend toward suburbanization has been true just as much here, and the Greater Cincinnati area continues to grow. The 20th century saw growth along the I-71 and I-75 corridors, and a strong shift to suburban lifestyles. Although Chicago has become the main city of the Midwest, Cincinnati continues to have a thriving arts and music scene, with theaters, galleries, and nationally-renowned museums. Recent years have seen a strong and sustained effort to refocus and revitalize the downtown and Over-the-Rhine areas, attempting to capitalize on the architectural and cultural boons of the city. It seems that Cincinnati is in the midst of a new upward swing.

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