Welcome! This is a walking tour of public art in Downtown Cincinnati centered around Cincinnati's history, with stops at restaurants, shops, and interesting spots along the way. It could take a couple of hours, depending on your speed and how long you spend at each place. Have fun!
Cincinnati was officially founded in 1788, originally called Losantiville. After the American Revolution, the then governor of the Northwest Territory changed the name of the settlement to “Cincinnati” in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, which counted George Washington among its members. The society was named for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a Roman general and dictator who saved the city from destruction and then quietly retired to his farm. His legacy is commemorated in the statue of Cincinnatus at Sawyer Point, along the Ohio River. In one hand he returns the fasces, the symbol of power he has as dictator of Rome and in the other hand he holds the plow, symbolizing his return to the life of a farmer and citizen. This bronze statue was commissioned for the city’s bicentennial in 1988.
Continue walking west through Bicentennial Commons, past the National Steamboat Monument, at the Public Landing. This three-story, 60 ton, exact replica of the original red paddle wheel is from the American Queen riverboat. The series of 24 metal smokestacks offer different sounds which are triggered by passing the columns, including calliope music, a steamboat whistle and voices of river veterans talking about the rigors of life on the Ohio.
Head north on Broadway one block to Great American Ball Park. This is the seventh home of the nation’s first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds. Whether you are going to a game or just strolling past, the statues of former Reds’ greats in front of GABP celebrates the game’s rich history in the city.
Take Freedom Way west to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which Opened on the banks of the Ohio River in 2004. Several prominent abolitionists were from Ohio and they played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. It has been estimated that 40,000 runaway slaves escaped to Canadian freedom by crossing the Ohio River. Among those abolitionists was Harriet Beecher Stowe, who lived with her family in Cincinnati, from 1832 to the early 1850s. She used her experiences in Cincinnati to create Uncle Tom's Cabin, a fictionalized account of slavery and of the struggle to escape via the Underground Railroad. The Freedom Center reveals stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps of freedom today.
Continue north on Vine Street until you reach the heart of the city at Fountain Square. The Tyler Davidson Fountain, was presented “To the People of Cincinnati” by Henry Probasco in memory of his business partner and brother-in-law, Tyler Davidson. This bronze and granite fountain glorifies the blessings of water, from the nine-foot-tall Genius of Water, to the human figures surrounding her that represent water’s practical uses. Thirsty? You can actually drink the water from the four figures around the rim of the fountain!
The Water Wall, east of the fountain, is engraved with the last stanza of Catawba Wine, a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 1850s. Along with memorializing the vineyards that Nicholas Longworth, had at his home, Belmont, now the Taft Museum of Art, the poem also gave the Cincinnati the nickname, The Queen City.
Why not enjoy one of the more delicious aspects of Cincinnati’s history. Revel in the city’s German heritage with a pretzel or cream puff at Servatii Pastry Shop, 511 Walnut St. You’ll also find sandwiches, salads, doughnuts, and decadent cakes at this family-owned bakery.
Cut back across Fountain Square and continue north on Vine Street to Central Parkway. At the corner, across the street from the Kroger Building, you will find the mural Cincinnatus (1983). This work, too, commemorates the city’s namesake, but this time he is depicted in a Roman temple setting, with a trompe l’oeil effect. The pillars of the temple are modeled on those of The Albee Theatre, which once stood at Fifth and Vine Streets. (The original arch can actually be found outside the Duke Energy Convention Center, along Fifth Street) This work, by Richard Haas, was commissioned by The Kroger Company in 1983 to celebrate its centennial.
Cross the street at Central Parkway to find Canal at Vine Street circa 1900, at 101 W. Central Parkway. This ArtWorks mural by Michael Blankenship, echoes a photo taken in 1905, that shows canal boat “West Carrollton” and its crew docked along the Miami and Erie Canals, which is now Central Parkway.
Staying on Vine Street, be sure to stop in Mica 12/v, a carefully curated gift shop and gallery located at the corner of Twelfth and Vine streets in Over-the-Rhine. Many of the items in store are created by local artists, plus you can find cool Cincinnati T-shirts and postcards, so you’ll have a souvenir of your history tour.
The perfect way to end this tour is with some good, old-fashioned comfort food, but with a decidedly contemporary sensibility. The Eagle OTR 1342 Vine St., celebrates straightforward, American fare with all natural, fried chicken, along with salads, sides, and sandwiches plus about 100 beers including 16 local craft and other domestic brews on tap.