The primary task of the Rapid Transit Commission and the 1917 Bauer Bill (Senate Bill 264, which authorized the formation of a commission for the design and construction of a rapid transit system) was not the construction of the subway alone, but the construction of Central Parkway, the “grand boulevard” that was to replace the Miami & Erie Canal. The Commission was also tasked with the secondary subway project to ensure that the Parkway was built, since the one could not commence before the other was underway, a means of ensuring the success of both.
When it was first proposed in a 1907 report, written by landscape architect George Kessler regarding the development of a city park system for Cincinnati, Central Parkway was meant to rival Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue and the grand boulevards of Europe, to be landscaped and lined by stately brownstones and mansions. Accented by decorative lampposts, fountains, trees and shrubbery, the new boulevard was to provide a park-like atmosphere for Cincinnatians, with sidewalks to stroll and benches on which to relax and enjoy the scenery of the Parkway as it wound its way north from Walnut Street in the downtown business district to Lundlow Avenue in the residential neighborhood of Clifton.
A prominent figure in early Cincinnati history, Henry Probasco was both businessman and philanthropist, committing his time to numerous Cincinnati organizations and societies, accumulating a large personal library of rare books and manuscripts, as well as an extensive collection of prints and paintings, both rivaling the finest in the country, and dedicating two elaborate fountains to the citizens of Cincinnati in the late 1800s.
Henry Probasco, along with his business partner and brother-in-law, Tyler Davidson, managed one of the most successful hardware companies in Cincinnati in the 1800’s – Tyler Davidson & Company. Probasco joined the business in 1835 as a clerk, and in 1840 was made a partner. The same year, he married Davidson’s half-sister, Julia. Together with Davidson, Probasco succeeded in expanding the business quickly, and by 1846, Tyler Davidson & Company was the largest hardware store in Cincinnati. In 1851, at Probasco’s suggestion, the partners built a new, multi-level structure on the site of the original store at 140-142 Main Street, between Second and Third Streets, and within three years, their sales quadrupled. Pearl Street, Water Street and Front Street were also located in this area, and ran parallel with Second Street to the north and the river to the south. The hardware store, Second, Front, Water, and Pearl Streets no longer exist; all have been replaced with I-71, Fort Washington Way, the Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium, among other attractions along the riverfront.
The Archives and Rare Books Library’s collection of Hamilton County Civil War Exemptions is now available in digital format on the UC Libraries’ Digital Resource Commons. The collection consists of 102 documents dated from August-October, 1862, that can be searched, viewed, downloaded and printed. The documents in this collection were created as proof of exemption status under the Militia Act of 1862, which resulted in the first attempt to conscript Union soldiers in the Civil War. This collection represents a very small window in time during the long years of the Civil War, but it marks an important turning point in how the Union built its army.
The University of Cincinnati’s Archives and Rare Books Library (ARB) maintains numerous collections containing records of historic value for research and scholarly use. These materials are comprised of a variety formats, including printed documents, university records, sound recordings, and photographic prints and negatives.
One of these collections is the Ohio Network collection, comprised of historic local government and public records. The City of Cincinnati Engineer Records is part of this collection, and contains records produced by the engineer’s office from 1851 through 1957, including those of the Rapid Transit Commission for the subway and Central Parkway construction, as well as other street improvements carried out by the city within the same timeframe. And among these records are the negatives and photographic prints that are currently being digitized and that will be made available online via the ARB and Digital Collections web sites.
The subway and street improvements photograph collection is truly a wealth of historic information about the city of Cincinnati in the first half of the 20th century. As with most cities, many of the streets and avenues are named for the founders and prominent families who helped establish the city, as well as important statesmen such as presidents, governors and military heroes. Cincinnati has her fair share of these, with the city directories reading like a “Who’s Who” of Cincinnati’s political, cultural and economic development, with street names such as Ludlow, Symmes, and Patterson, St. Clair, Gamble and Ault, Anderson, Findlay and Wade, among others.
Contained within the subway portion of the photograph collection are images of the interiors of homes along McMicken Avenue taken during the construction of the subway. Originally intended to serve as evidence for claims by homeowners of structural damage to the houses caused by blasting for the subway tunnels, the pictures now serve as a historic reference of domestic life during the 1920s.
The Elliston Project holds over seven hundred recorded readings and lectures given under the auspices of the University of Cincinnati Department of English and Comparative Literature and the U.C. Libraries since 1951. Material includes readings and lectures on poetry by those who have served as George Elliston Poet in Residence, among whom are Robert Frost, Denise Levertov, Louise Glück, Thom Gunn, and C.D. Wright. Other major figures, including Czeslaw Milosz, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, and Rita Dove, are also represented, as are many prose writers and a wide range of poets at various stages of their careers. Readings in this ongoing audio archive feature poets’ comments on their work; both complete performances and individual poems are accessible. Continue reading New Digital Collection: The Elliston Project: Poetry Readings and Lectures at the University of Cincinnati
Downtown Cincinnati at the turn of the 20th century was a bustling business and commercial center, but with a dangerous mixture of pedestrians, horse-pulled wagons and carriages, street cars, and unseasoned automobile drivers. Add to this a mess of unpaved or cobblestoned streets, a lack of traffic laws, speed limits, and stop signs at intersections, with streetcar tracks criss-crossing lanes. It was a recipe for disaster.
The story of abandoned subway stations and tracks hidden beneath busy city streets is not unique to Cincinnati. Other large cities, such as New York, London, and Paris have similarly mysterious and intriguing stories to tell. An article I recently read in The New York Times introduced me to this underground world of hidden subway ventilation shafts disguised by false building facades, with doors from which people occasionally exit, but never seem to enter. Some of these subterranean secrets are in use, while others have been abandoned like Cincinnati’s own subway stations beneath Central Parkway.
What’s fascinating is the effort made to disguise these facilities, to blend them in with the neighboring buildings. While it seems a logically aesthetic means of making the utilitarian more appealing, some have argued that the cities in which these structures are located are trying to hide a deep secret. For comparison, consider the Cincinnati subway – when the subway and Central Parkway were first being constructed, the ventilation chimneys and the entrances to the below-ground stations were nicely appointed with decorative stonework.