American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Western States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1901

CINCINNATI
ALWAYS A STRATEGIC POINT
By MILTON E. AILES

ON the day before Christmas, 1788, twenty six adventurous men, in deerskin hunting shirts and leggins, with tomahawk, powder horn and scalping knife at their belts, embarked at Limestone on the Ohio River in rude barges of their own construction, and fighting their way through dangerous floes, proceeded on a journey which was to prove memorable in the annals of American colonization.

These pilgrims were well aware of the perils and tragedies awaiting them, for their mission was to build them homes and found a city on the edge of the rich Miami Valley, through which mixed tribes of raging Shawnees, Senecas, Iroquois and Miamis roamed, determined to halt the threatening advance of the hated paleface.

The Indian braves realized that a crucial moment in their history had come. Their allies, the British, had gone down in defeat before the Thirteen Fires. Henceforth the tribes must look to their own councils, and rely upon their own strength, and they swore grimly that the Ohio should run with blood, and that the advent of every western pioneer should bring an additional scalp for the grewsome decoration of their lodges.

But these hardy voyagers, now celebrating a frugal Christmas as they steered their course down the swollen and half frozen Ohio, were not to be turned aside by impending conflict with savage tribes. To meet grave danger like brave men was for them no new experience; they had passed through seven years of revolution; they had stood the trying tests of honorable hardships, and were now making their way to found a community which was to develop within a few generations into one of the greatest inland cities of the world. Four days they fought their way through floating masses of debris and ice, finally finding. their haven in Sycamore Inlet, opposite the mouth of the Licking River. Today the traveller, smoking meditatively in a Pullman, will cover the same distance before he has occasion to light a fresh cigar.

In a grove of sycamores, osiers and water maples they struck their flint and built their fires. There was no theatrical assertion of dominion, nor is it on record that sacred rites were invoked to consecrate the struggle for civilization that was to centre round this far outpost of the Republic, and yet their first performance was one of the most dramatic incidents in western history; for, knowing that savage armies lurked in the dim woods that overhung the terraces above them, these twenty six hardy Anglo Saxons dismantled the crafts that had carried them into the far wilderness, and converted the planks and timbers of their barges into cabins. There was to be no retreat. In the name of the new Democracy, they established the primitive beginnings of a great city in the very centre of the famous Indian path over which for unnumbered centuries naked aborigines from the Great Lakes to the Kentucky hunting grounds had hurried to battle or the chase.

The new settlement thus became a bold and signifiôant challenge to the red man, and in its fate was involved the future of the West and of the nation. The earthquake of war, which the founding of Cincinnati invited, was not long delayed, and when it came it startled Wash ington from his incomparable composure, and shook the Republic to its foundations.

From the moment of its inception, Cincinnati was the most important point on the Ohio River. Other settlements, it is true, at the start hoped to outstrip Cincinnati in population. There was Marietta, founded two months before, which had a more romantic birth. And there was North Bend, which enjoyed the personal backing of John Cleves Symmes, the famous pioneer who superintended the first development of the Miami Valley, and from whom Denman, Patterson and Filson, the promoters of the settlement that subsequently became Cincinnati, purchased the site of that city. These and other settlements along the river were, for a time, pointed to with pride by their founders as the coming commercial centres. Cincinnati, moreover, began life with an impossible name. Filson, a fantastic pedagogue who had drifted into Kentucky, combining a smattering of tongues with an unbridled imagination, compounded the name "Losantiville," which means when interpreted, "the village opposite the mouth of the Licking." Historians, in malign humor, seem to rejoice in the sudden translation of this picturesque polyglot and town site boomer, remarking with a certain gleeful unanimity of phrase that "shortly after naming the settlement he was scalped by the Indians."

The offer of free lots to original settlers did not give Cincinnati pre eminence, for similar lures were held out by other aspiring communities along the Ohio; nor will it be seriously contended that the location there of Fort Washington, although this made the spot the headquarters of the American army in the Northwest, gave Cincinnati a superior start, for the sense of security expected because of the presence of the United States garrison was not abiding. General Harmar marched to defeat in i 79d from this pioneer fort and arsenal, and the victorious savages pursued him until their cries of exultation terrified the little hamlet clustered about the military station.

Then came St. Clair, bold and assertive. Heroes of the Revolution had founded the town. The fort had been named in honor of the great General and President, and as both town and fort represented the extension into the West of that democratic strength of arms which had humbled the most powerful kingdom of Europe, this new settlement from which civilization was to radiate into the western valleys should be dignified with the name of the order that held together in fraternal bond the grizzled survivors of the great war. And so Losantiville, the dream of a bizarre scholar, became Cincinnati.

In the name of that order and city, St. Clair went to war. But sickness laid him low, and he was carried to the field of battle wrapped in flannels. Managing the forces against him was Thayendanegea, the celebrated Mohawk, or Joseph Brandt, as the English called him, as astute as Tecumseh and as fearless. Thayendanegea had been secretary to Sir Guy Johnson. He had learned the tactics of civilized armies, and with masterful native cunning he planned to annihi late the forces of St. Clair. Nearly fifteen hundred officers and men marched away from Cincinnati to crush the semi savage captain who had directed the massacres of Minisink and Wyoming, and back to Cincinnati in rout and dishonor, their guns and blankets abandoned, rushed in unspeakable terror a pitiful five hundred. Before sundown on the day of that battle, November 4, 1791, nearly a thousand scalps of white men dangled from the wigwams of the armies of Thayendanegea.

Other communities along the Ohio looked with envy upon the federal ramparts at Cincinnati, but the protection afforded by the garrison was at first more fanciful than real. The pioneer clergymen of the town ventured to Sabbath services cautiously, rifle in hand, peering down the dim aisles hewn through dense woods of linden and birch that led to a clearing, in the midst of which some charred stump served as a pulpit; or, as congregations grew, a log built chapel housed the earnest worshippers. And by the law of Cincinnati and the territory every communicant was required to go to the altar with loaded firearms, that savages, taking advantage of the hour of prayer to attack the town, might be repulsed. Even when pews were built to give regularity to worship, the brethren were commanded to sit at the outer end, with their rifles in readiness.

If Fort Washington had not been built or had been located elsewhere, Cincinnati would have still become the metropolis of the Ohio. Here water highways crossed. And as it marked the path over which the red men had passed for ages, so now it became the intersecting point of civilized adventure. Out of the shadows of the Licking in their pirogues Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark had hurried across the Ohio to watch hostile campfires from the Cincinnati hills, and thence had descended upon the barbarians to avenge crimes committed in Kentucky. The long beaches at the Cincinnati site afforded safe landing, while the settlement, secure upon the higher ground and the succession of terraces beyond, could not be engulfed by the periodical river floods. North and south the rivers that mingled their waters here furnished natural pathways to vast and fertile valleys.

Here, too, a vanished race once had had a city or perhaps a capital, for Cincinnati is built . upon extensive prehistoric ruins of the Mound Builders. It was a walled city with great gates, pyramids and sacrificial altars, and over these surviving memorials of a people whose origin and destiny are alike a mystery grew, when Cincinnati was founded, oak, beech, sycamore and cedar, whose concentric rings revealed that hundreds of years had elapsed since the disappearance of the race which had reared these shrines and tombs and city walls. Among the prehistoric pottery, the polished pipes of catlinite and stone axes such as a race of troglodytes might have swung to brain abhorrent monsters of forgotten periods, they will show you in the artistic Cincinnati Museum in Eden Park, the famed Cincinnati Tablet exhumed from a tumulus near Fifth and Mound streets in that city. Some antiquarians believe the sculptured stone to be an astronomical calendar or a table of measurement and calculation. Some have imagined it to be a sacred relic from the tomb of kings. Nearby, in the same museum, you see records lucidly deciphered from the second Theban dynasty, and carved inscriptions, intelligently translated, from the balustrade of the temple of Athene, but scholarship is dumb and imagination is the only interpreter of .these strange mementos of a race which found in the site of Cincinnati a natural spot for the building of a large and fortified city.

Although the star of empire may have been destined at all hazards to pause over Cincinnati until the tenth census of the United States should show that the center of the nation's population had moved westward to that city, there was grave alarm in the settlement when the soldiers of St. Clair arrived in confusion and defeat.

Generations have thrilled over the story of the officer on horseback, who, bearing important news, hurried to the President, tossed his bridle reins to an orderly and leaped up the steps of Washington's reception room only to find that the Chief Executive was dining with distinguished visitors and could not be disturbed. The officer was so importunate and so impressive that the secretary was impelled to grant him auaience. The grave President listened without visible emotion to the whispered message from Cincinnati, the officer departed, and Washington returned to the banquet table. Not one of his guests could guess that beneath the calm exterior the farseeing statesman was experiencing one of the most tragic moments of his career. It was not merely that a trusted general had minimized warning and had met defeat, for Washington had devoted a long life, to warfare against both savage and civilized foes, and he was not to be easily moved by the uncertain fortune of battles. But he knew that the defeat which the soldiers of Cincinnati had encountered now threatened the destiny of the country. The East and West were not yet riveted by steel rails into coherent union. Beyond the Alleghanies there were projects of a protectorate under France or Spain, or both, and bolder dreams of a Kentucky republic. With few connecting links with the East, what could hold the western empire, since the federal government had displayed inability to protect the pioneers? Washington's guests departed unaware that their illustrious host who had entertained them with consummate decorum had during those hours felt the nation slipping beneath his feet. But when they had gone the pent spirit of the great leader, in one of the few instances of his lifetime, found expression in tumultuous grief and rage. He voiced in advance the storm of public protest, indignation and fear that broke out when the dismal tidings from Cincinnati became known. And when Congress learned that Washington favored the creation of an army of five thousand to avenge the defeat of Harmar and St Clair, there was little in the resourcefül vocabulary of political abuse spared the President Anti expansionists called him an imperialist bent on converting the Republic into an empire. Why send an army to inevitable slaughter beyond mountain frontiers in a vain struggle for the wilderness of the Indians when the colonies then possessed more domain than the citizens of the Republic would ever be able to use?

Fortunately the anti expansionists, while mordant and powerful, could not prevail, and the war measures became law. Anthony Wayne, whose daring during the Revolution had won for him the admiring sobriquet of "Mad," then took command and hastened to Cincinnati but none too soon. The Six Nations with Little Turtle as their spokesman had followed up their victories by demands that Cincinnati, the capital of the Northwest, should be abandoned and that the Ohio should mark the perpetual boundary between the white man and the red. British arms bristled behind this native ultimatum, and at the rapids of the Maumee, as if to stay Wayne's advance, British forces built a fort and garrisoned it with three companies. The fears of Washington seemed about to be realized.

But at the battle of Fallen Timbers "Mad Anthony" scattered the allied tribes like forest leaves, Nearly half a hundred mighty chiefs fell in that historic engagement, and in their defeat the Indians christened their conquerer "Big Thunder" and for years trembled when they heard his name. Cincinnati and Ohio were saved to the Republic.

Wayne in his campaign and in his no less notable treaties was, brilliantly seconded by a young man who, unannounced and unwelcorned, landed at Cincinnati on the day the broken columns of St. Clair fell back upon the fort. The generals there looked upon his smooth cheeks and his boyish frame with soldierly disdain, one remarking that he would as readily send his sister to the front as entrust this beardless neophyte with the responsibilities of border warfare. This youth, in whose veins flowed the blood of one of Cromwell's generals, was to shame his flippant critics, for he was to win a lieutenancy at the battle of Fallen Timbers, and rising steadily in the service of his country was to become a western Napoleon, avenging the disasters of the River 'Basin and Detroit, defeating the powerful Tecumseh at Tippecanoe, laying firm and broad the foundations of northwestern statehood, serving in the Senate of the United States, and finally going in triumph to the White House. Cincinnati has fostered many famous sons, but none greater than William Henry Harrison.

To many new communities the first settlers have gone with the hope of returning with fortunes to their former homes. Cincinnati was founded and developed by men and women who came to stay. Harrison identified himself with the West at the start by marrying the daughter of John Cleves Symmes, the Miami pioncer, and to the Harrison homestead near Cincinnati, which for a quarter of a century had been an American mecca, the body of the famous General was borne for burial.

From the start, self reliance has been a prevailing characteristic of Cincinnati. Its isolation in the days of the canoe, the barge and the pack horse, developed its originality. A copy of the Centinal of the Northwest Territory, published in 1794, graphically illustrates its remoteness at that period, for news from Marietta had been eight days in arriving, Lexington dispatches were twenty one days old, fiftysix days had been consumed in getting the latest information from New York, and European news antedated the day of issue four months and a half. It was natural among such conditions that the city should look to itself as the centre of interest, and hence at an early day the journals of Cincinnati, instead of canvassing distant localities for belated sensations, were encouraging local writers to entertain the public; It was the press of Cincinnati that first gave the poems of Alice and Phoebe Cary to the world, and they repaid it by conferring immortality in the world of letters upon the blue Miami, where they spent the simple years of their girlhood. And thither, because of the fame their singing had won them, traveled Horace Greeley and other celebrities of the day to do these gifted sisters homage. In Cincinnati was born Gen. Wm. H. Lytle, author of Antony and Cleopatra, and it was the journalism of that city that gave inspiration to his pen. Here, too, was directed the early genius of Wm. D. Howells, Rutherford B. Hayes, Salmon P. Chase, and other men who have dignified literature or public life.

Savage yells had not ceased to echo in its surrounding woods before music began to charm in Cincinnati. Even before Wayne came to silence the exultant war cries of the tribes, Thomas Kennedy, in whose honor a street in Covington is named, used to entertam the frontier society with his fiddle, and a Mr. McLean, a butcher, took time to train the voices of the primitive colony. The Rev. Daniel Doty, who visited Cincinnati at an early day, was shocked at the singing and fiddling and dancing in the log cabins, as if the people "feared not God nor regarded Indians." Music, since directed in large measure by the German element in the city, has by its Chorus, its musical groves, its Saengerbund, Haydn Society, and other clubs, imparted distinction to Cincinnati and made it the Vienna of the American continent.

It is not surprising that the pioneer butcher of the city found time from his chopping blocks to strike the tuning fork, for Cincinnati, even after the location there of Fort Washington, was many times on the verge of starvation, and would have starved but for the timely help of frontier hunters under the noted Colonel Wallace, who brought the meat of buffalo, bear and deer to the stridken settlement. Today the city dines well. In truth, it is famed for its good cheer and its bohemian independence.

Cincinnati is a city of homes and churches, and singularly free from the crime that prowls in the slums of other cities. Therefore some of its citizens take pride that the city is creditéd with being one of the greatest whiskey markets in America, that forty three breweries and storage vaults are in demand, and that the city annually turns out 49,000,000 packs of playing cards, making it the largest center of this industry in the world.

In many industries Cincinnati leads. The wealth of cities throughout the continent is locked in banks and vaults manufactured in Cincinnati. The cowboys on the plains and the horsemen on city paddocks sit in saddles fashioned in Cincinnati. Cigars by the millions in this country are packed in boxes manufactured in Cincinnati. It produces more schoolbooks than any other city, and is near the head of the list in turning out religious publications.

On the 22d of February, 1794, a canoe left Cincinnati with a federal mailbag consigned to Pittsburg. This marked the beginning of regular service with the East. In early days, a Cincinnati merchant seeking to buy goods in New York consumed sixty days in makiñg the journey to the metropolis. Today he may lunch in the Queen City, take a train and lunch the following noon in Manhattan. Long before the advent of railways. Cincinnati became a center of travel and distribution. As early as 1801, a full rigged brig took on a cargo at Cincinnati and set sail for the West Indies. Not long after, and many years before Fulton turned his attention to Western waters, citizens of Cincinnati met at Yeatrnan's Tavern to consider a "contrivance for transporting boats against the current by the power of steam or elastic vapor," but with out tangible results; and, in fact, when the first steamboat did paddle noisily past the city the circumstance was dignified with only a four line notice in the Cincinnati press.

Before long, however, the steamboat revolutionized river travel, and thenceforth Cincinnati leaped by bounds from a village to a great city, and every recurrent trip of these harbingers of vast commerce seemed to find a new suburb springing into bustling life on the Cincinnati uplands.

The fact that this city was originally included and still remains in the New Orleans customs district shows its accessibility to ocean traffic. Its superiority in water communication is shown by a computation made by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce regarding the relative cost of transporting freight from points of origin to all parts of the United States. The comparisons per 100 pounds are as follows: From Cincinnati, 81 cents; Chicago, 84 cents; St. Louis, 88 cents; Minneapolis, $1.22. A similar computation applicable to a radius of 600 miles from the point of origin gives the following averages per 100 pounds: From Cincinnati, 66 cents; Chicago, 73 cents; St. Louis, 75 cents; Minneapolis, $1.11.

While growing into greatness, Cincinnati did not forget, in the critical times of the Civil War, its honorable history as the former outpost of the Republic. Its trade was largely with the South, but sternly its citizens decided that arguments in favor of trade interests smacked of treason, and with stoic heroism closed the city to rebellion. And when Lew Wallace, fortifying Cincinnati to anticipate attack, called for volunteers, the whole community responded, and from the Ohio valleys came the sharp shooting "squirrel hunters" in procession seemingly endless to defend the city.

Since then the growth of Cincinnati has been in keeping with the development of the nation. It does not hope, as Harriet Martineau suggested during her visit here, ever to become the home of the country's capital, but it rejoices in being the great city nearest the American centre of population. Its library of a quarter of a million volumes and its Historical Society cherish the splendid stories of its past and the accumulating data of its current achievements. Its artists and citizens delight in dignifying that record in bronze and marble in the environing parks and city squares.

The visitor to Cincinnati, on a clear afternoon, should take passage on an incline road, rise to the heights of Eden Park, and traversing that high plateau, whose natural beauty and landscape gardening earn for it its name, find his way to the water tower. An elevator lifts him five hundred feet to the observatory platform, where with field glasses he may behold the splendid panorama of Cincinnati. Far below, spanning the river over which "a crazy craft with sails and paddles" once ferried the people, he sees five massive structures of steel and stone, including the famous suspension bridge; begun in the early part of the Civil War, and by its completion during the stress of that conflict testifying eloquently to the faith of its citizens that strife was not to sever the nation, and that these mammoth girders of steel would constitute an important tie in the inevitable reunion of North and South. It was of this strudture that James Patton wrote in 1867, that the whole population of Cincinnati might get upon it without danger of being let down into the water. The five superb bridges in their capacity and security afford marked contrast to the earlier attempts to span the river which floods swept away, including the arched structure which went down in the torrent of 1832, accompanied on its seaward flight by a tumbling Methodist church which the roaring Muskingum had added to the universal baptism.

Not all of the life that now courses through Cincinnati's streets could crowd upon its bridges, for the people of the cities and villages across on the Kentucky shore belong in every commercial and social sense to Cincinnati, and swell its population to the half million mark. In fact, within a radius which the vision from this tower almost sweeps, there are a dozen ambitious and wealthy Ohio cities, founded by the sturdy men of the Revolution who went forth from Cincinnati and still tributary to the parent town.

The traveler is surveying sacred ground. Mount Auburn beside him marks the site where fell a captain serving under George Rogers Clark, one of the first of the many brave soldiers of the American Revolution to mingle their dust with Ohio soil, which thus enriched has produced many Presidents and renowned statesmen almost without number.

Leading away from the city the observer on the tower sees the Miami and Erie Canal, which, connecting Cincinnati with Toledo and furnishing a highway by which boats could pass from New Orleans via the Queen City through various inland waters, finally reaching the harbor of New York, made Cincinnati as early as 1830 a half way house for continental traffic. The canal recalls that on the tow path the barefooted Garfield began his career.

While glancing at the surrounding reservoirs from which water is forced to this tower for the supply of the terrace built city, the traveler may recall the story of the eccentric wanderer, the celebrated Cincinnati "water witch" who with hazel or willow crook went about from hamlet to hamlet indicating hidden springs and at whose direction, in truth, the Queen City dug its first well.

Descending now, the traveler may view the observatory which John Quincy Adams dedicated to science, or move with the crowds flocking to the Zoo or to the groves where free concerts are given, or he may find his inspiration in roaming through the haunts that still treasure the memory of U. S. Grant, or visit the site of taverns that entertained Webster and Andrew Jackson, who paused here on his way. to Washington, and that extended frequent hospitality to Henry Clay, stopping here while journeying to or from the national capital.

Passing over the suspension bridge, the traveler may let the sun go down upon his itinerary as he stands upon the bank of the Licking, made memorable by the vigilant canoe cruises of Daniel Boone. Near by is the cottage home of the Grants. Passing a Shawnee effigy in front of a tobacconist's stand, the visitor sees the illumination of the city beginning to twinkle against the shadowy background. The multi colored lights of myriad street cars flash over bridges and up the steep streets of the hill built metropolis. The headlights of locomotives on nineteen railroads, representing over twenty thousand miles of track, gleam in and out of the city. It is a moving picture, a perpetual memorial and celebration of the valiant labors of those paladins of pioneer conquest who on that Christmas week, 113 years ago, struck their flint and started their fires in the primeval woods, kindling thereby a light which though flaring at times before the whirlwinds of savage war, and all but quenched with baptisms of fraternal bloodshed, now burns with a steadiness and brilliancy that shall last as long as time.


[also see the Ohio Biographies]

Historic towns of the Western States

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