Under Construction = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By Angela Vanderbilt

When construction of the subway started in January, 1920, three contractors had been selected by the Rapid Transit Commission to complete the work: D.P. Foley General Contractors, Hickey Brothers and Fred R. Jones Company. The construction of the 16-mile subway loop was separated into nine sections, with contractors bidding for work on each section. One section might include construction of tunnels within the old canal bed for underground subway tunnels and stations, while another section might require construction of tunnels through a hillside, above-ground station construction, or grading of terrain for tracks to be laid in the open.

Map of Cincinnati

D.P. Foley General Contractors of Cincinnati won the bid for Section 1, a stretch of subway tunnel to be built within the emptied canal bed from Walnut Street west to the turn at Plum Street, and continuing north in the canal to Charles Street. Foley Contractors lifted the first shovelful of earth from the emptied canal bed on January 28, 1920. Work on Section 1 was completed in December, 1921 and included the dismantling of bridges over the canal, reinforcement of building foundations located along the route, and construction of Race Street Station.

D.P. Foley General Contractors

D.P. Foley General Contractors building subway tunnel in canal bed, view west from Walnut Street, September 16, 1920, 9:32 a.m.

Hickey Brothers of Columbus, Ohio (who in 1923 established an office in Cincinnati), were selected for Sections 2 and 3. Section 2 continued the tunnel construction within the canal bed from Charles Street to Oliver Street, with a below-ground station built at Liberty Street. Work was completed in November, 1921, although the station was not finished. Section 3 continued north from Oliver Street to just past the Mohawk Bridge. This work included dismantling the elaborate bridge that could be raised and lowered over the canal to allow boats to pass under.

Hickey Brothers Construction

Hickey Brothers Construction prepare canal bed for subway tunnel construction north of 12th Street Bridge, Aug. 13, 1920, 2:44 p.m.


Resolution IVThe Fred R. Jones Company won the contract for Section 4, which ran north from Mohawk to Brighton. This was the last section of subway tunnel to be constructed within the old canal bed. This stretch would include building the Brighton Station, one of the below-ground subway stations. Additional work to reinforce structures along the route was required, including underpinning of the Bellevue Brewery foundation as seen in the image of a blueprint below.



Fred R. Jones Construction crew builds subway tunnel tubes in last section of canal bed north of Mohawk, Sept. 16, 1921, 10:35 a.m.


The Hickey Brothers won the final 5 bids for Sections 5 through 9. Section 5 required blasting a one-and-a-half mile section of the hillside between Brighton and Hopple Street for tunnel construction. The remaining sections would encompass construction of the nine-mile stretch from Hopple Street to Oakley, and include both open-surface tracks as well as tunnels beneath St. Bernard, Harris Avenue, and the B&O Railroad.


train cars

Hickey Brothers load train cars with earth while preparing for above-ground tunnel construction in Section 5 north of Brighton Bridge, June 12, 1922, 2:54 p.m.

Several other general contracting and construction companies were hired by the Rapid Transit Commission to complete various work necessary for the project. Such work included laying new sewer lines to replace those that drained into the canal, as well as gas and electric lines, pouring concrete, grading, blasting for tunnels, demolishing buildings, and other work. Images in the collection show equipment used by many of these companies, with names advertised on the sides of cranes, backhoes, concrete mixers, and train cars and wagons used for hauling debris. Companies from around Ohio and the Midwest, such as Holmes Construction Co. of Wooster, Ohio and Wm. Morris Contractor and Builder, competed for contracts to work on the subway project.

Morris Contractor and Builder


Erie Steam

State Library of Ohio

This project is funded by a grant for $60,669 through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the State Library of Ohio

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