Cincinnati: Like No Place Else

The Ohio River is a critical part of this Midwestern city's identity.
By: Geoff Williams
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What makes Cincinnati like no place else? It’s the Ohio River. Cincinnati was settled on the banks of the Ohio, and much of its identity is still here. If a giant citywide project is going to be constructed, it’s always a question of: Can we build it by the river?

Several years ago, when the Reds’ new baseball stadium, the Great American Ballpark, was constructed, there was talk about putting it near or in historic Over-the-Rhine, but anyone who knew Cincinnati well, knew that wouldn’t happen, and sure enough, it’s now overlooking the Ohio River with a clear view of the water for stadium visitors as well. If there’s a major festival or citywide gathering, chances are it’s going to be held at Sawyer Point and Bicentennial Commons, a vast park along the Ohio River. When the city decided to organize the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, there was no question — the river would be involved, and indeed, the runners cross the bridges into northern Kentucky and back.

But there’s good reason that the river is such a part of Cincinnati’s image. Historically, Cincinnati was a popular stop for families traveling west, as well as for those on the run, traveling north. A lot of escaped slaves made Cincinnati, the first free city they would often reach, a major stop on the Underground Railroad. And of course, the easy access for boats to import and export goods has been an economic engine ever since the city was founded in 1788.

The river even helped to popularize Ivory soap — around 1879, people were taking their baths in the water, and they were thrilled that Ivory soap could float, which as something that had happened quite by accident when a workman at Cincinnati-based Proctor and Gamble added too much air to the formula.

So while the river is constantly changing, so is the world around it. Even now, there’s still a lot of development going on, on the banks of the Ohio River, as environmentalists, politicians and businesspeople debate how to strike the right balance and not destroy what everyone in the city loves. Cincinnati has much to offer, and there’s much more to it than a famed waterway, but you can’t help but think the city without conjuring up an image of the Ohio River.

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