CHAPTER 6. CINCINNATI RENAISSANCE: THE PARIS OF AMERICA

While Philadelphia had provided the young Root and Sullivan with inspiration, it was Chicago’s old rival, Cincinnati that would erect actual buildings in competition with Chicago, that Chicago, once the Depression began to let up, would first copy, and then, in order to remain “the biggest,” have to surpass (examples included the use of Venetian gondolas in the 1893 Fair that Cincinnati had first used in its 1888 Centennial Fair).  Cincinnati was like Philadelphia in a number of ways.  It had been the largest city in the West, until the “Windy City” finally boasted in 1868 that its population had surpassed that of the former “Porkopolis.”  (However, westward expansion had continued during the war and St. Louis’ population had actually surpassed that of Cincinnati before Chicago’s had, so that even by 1870, St. Louis’ population was 310,860 while Chicago was still second in the West with 298,977.  Chicago would not become the largest city in the West until a few more years after the 1871 fire.)  Cincinnati had also always been the nation’s pork-packing capital, nicknamed “Porkopolis,” until the war had also altered the markets in favor of Chicago.  

6.1. CINCINNATI’S POST-WAR REBOUND

With the end of the war, however, Cincinnati began to regain its southern markets, first by completing the John Roebling-designed suspension bridge across the Ohio River in 1866.  Roebling was originally commissioned in 1846 but political haggling between Ohio and Kentucky had stalled its construction until 1856. With a main span of 1057’ it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when completed, a record it held until its Roebling-designed younger sibling in Brooklyn was completed in 1883.

John Roebling, Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River, Cincinnati, 1856-1866. (Online)

Then in 1869, the city of Cincinnati had decided to build its own railroad straight south into the heart of the South at Chattanooga, TN on the Tennessee River, in order to improve transportation to these markets.  While it wasn’t completed until the High Bridge over the Kentucky River was completed in 1877, the railroad had increased its business each year as it made it way ever southward. 

C. Shaler Smith, Cincinnati Southern Railraod “High Bridge” over the Kentucky River, 1875-7. Roebling had been hired to design a suspension bridge in 1854 (note the completed stone towers at each end) but the panic of 1857 stopped the project, until the post-war railroad renewed the project. When it was completed, it was the first modern cantilever bridge in the U.S., the longest cantilevered bridge in the world, and the world’s highest railroad bridge (275’ only 6’ shorter than New York’s 281’steeple of Trinity Church). At the time of its completion, Gustave Eiffel was erecting the Maria Pia Bridge in Portugal. Its iron piers are only 200’ tall. (Online)

6.2. BUILDING THE SAENGERFEST-HALLE

When we left post-war Cincinnati in Volume One, the city had just decided to mount a conscious effort to become the region’s cultural capital, building the largest convention facilities in the country, the Saegerfest-Halle and its associated exhibition buildings. Prior to the Civil War, Cincinnati’s Ohio Mechanics Institute had held 18 annual Arts and Manufacturing Expositions dating back to 1838, that made it the oldest and longest running exhibition west of the Alleghenies.  There was little interest in the Queen City in reviving this tradition following the end of the war, until the loss of the 1868 convention to Chicago’s Crosby’s Opera House had resulted in a campaign to stage a “Grand Industrial Exposition of Arts and Manufacturers… representative of the Central and Western States” in the fall of 1870.  The effort was coordinated by Alfred T. Goshorn, one of the city’s leaders who had resigned in April of that year as the President of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, having successfully guided this amateur group to evolve into the country’s first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. (We saw in the previous chapter that Goshorn would be appointed as the General Director of the 1876 World’s Fair.)

Cincinnati’s Industrial Expostion grounds, 1873. With over 338,000 square feet under roof, it was the largest facility of its kind in the U.S. at this time. (Hurley, Queen City)

Paralleling Cincinnati’s business community’s side of the dual equation of Art-and-Industry had been the city’s cultural community, driven by the city’s dominant German population and its commitment to the musical traditions of the mother country.  Chicago also had a large immigrant German community, and the two groups were often engaged in a “friendly” competition that reflected the larger civic battle being fought between these two Western cities during this period.  Cincinnati was home to the national headquarters of the international German singing society Nord-Amerikanisches Saengerbund that was planning to host its annual convention in the spring of 1870 in Cincinnati.  The local Germans had acquired from the city a vacant site across from Washington Park but had little money for the festival, while the Exposition directors had the funds but no site, so the two groups agreed to combine their respective resources to build the Saengerfest-Halle that was ready in time for the Festival’s opening day of June 15, 1870.  

Saengerfest-Halle, Cincinnati, 1870. Erected for the 1870 Saengerfestfest Convention, it was a wooden auditorium with a metal roof, having dimensions of 110’ wide and 250’ long. (Hurley, Queen City)

The building’s dimensions were 110’ by 250’ that allowed it to seat an audience of 10,000, in addition to 2000 musicians at its front.

Saengerfest-Halle, Cincinnati. Interior. Its capacity was 12,000. (Online)

Three more buildings (a Power Hall, a Fine Arts and Music Hall, and a Mechanics Hall) were completed during the summer in time for the October 5, 1870, opening of the “Grand Exposition,” giving Cincinnati the largest (838,000 sq. ft.) and finest exhibition and convention facility in the country.

Cincinnati Industrial Exposition Buildings. 1870. With the addition of a Power Hall, a Fine Arts Hall, and a Mechanics Hall, the center had a combined convention area of 838,000 sq. ft., the largest such complex in the country. (Online)

FURTHER READING:

Miller, Zane L., and George F. Roth. Cincinnati’s Music Hall. Virginia Beach, Va.: Jordan, 1978.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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