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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Cincinnati is full of fun and history

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Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal [Michael Stavsky photo]

When Canadians hear I took my family to Cincinnati, many tell me they’ve driven through the city on I-75 as they drove down to Florida, but never bothered stopping. Others started humming the theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati, while invariably conjuring up images of the show’s opening credits. 

Cincinnati sits along the shore of the Ohio River in southwestern Ohio. Its unique location allowed the city to become an industrial powerhouse during the 1800s, as goods manufactured in the area were easily shipped to eastern cities. Later, when rail lines reached town, the city grew immensely in a short period of time. By the mid-1850s, Cincinnati was one of the largest cities in the United States.

Situated just north of the Mason-Dixon line, its location gave rise to many pro- and anti-abolitionist factions within the city. Tensions between the two groups led to rioting and civil unrest during the 1830s. Cincinnati’s geographic location, however, led to an economic boom during the U.S. Civil War, as materials manufactured in Ohio were easily shipped to soldiers on the front lines.

Today, the Queen City, as Cincinnati is colloquially known, has become a leading economic centre in the Midwest United States. Many major corporations are headquartered in the city. Its economic prosperity has led numerous major American publications to select Cincinnati as one of America’s most livable and affordable cities.

We began our touring with the Mount Adams section of town. Originally developed by renowned American vintner Nicholas Longworth and bordered on three sides by secluded Eden Park, the area’s steep hillsides were once used to cultivate numerous vineyards.

Both the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Krohn Conservatory are located in Eden Park. The Cincinnati Art Museum houses many fabulous works of art from local and international artists. Each gallery in the museum has a kid-friendly area that allows children to experience the art and sculptures through a series of question and answer displays, along with authentic pieces with which they can hold and play.

The Krohn Conservatory is a stunning, 1930s art deco style arboretum containing more than 3,000 species of flora. The numerous greenhouses have been in continuous use since the conservatory opened in 1932, but have recently suffered from cutbacks in the city’s budget. As a result, the conservatory’s hours of operation are limited to just several days per week.

The Cincinnati Museum Center is an architecturally fascinating complex that houses several museums under one roof. Located inside Cincinnati’s defunct Union Terminal train station, the city renovated the original train depot while maintaining the 1930s train motif, complete with a domed ceiling and detailed mosaics. The structure houses the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science and the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, all of which host frequent special exhibits.

If you’re traveling with kids, Kings Island amusement park is an ideal getaway located just a short drive from Cincinnati. The park is owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment, which also operates Canada’s Wonderland. There are many similarities between the two facilities, which are apparent the moment you walk through the gate. Most rides are clones of those at Canada’s Wonderland, albeit with different names. The highlight of the park is the 1/3 sized replica of France’s Eiffel Tower. For a good workout, and to get a spectacular view of the surrounding area, try climbing the stairs to the observation deck.

Just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, is the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Ky. The aquarium is home to several thousand species of aquatic life, and includes several clear acrylic tunnels that allow you to walk into the large pools, surrounded by exotic fish and plants. Kids will be especially excited with the large shark tanks. Make sure to stop by at feeding time for an added thrill.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens are a must for the whole family. Named the “Sexiest Zoo in America” by USA Travel Guide in 2009, the zoo first opened in 1875 and remains the country’s second oldest. Spread over nearly 70 acres of land, the zoo owns more than 500 species of animals. Walking through the zoo, you’ll notice that green energy and energy conservation are used extensively throughout the grounds. Be sure to see the amazing leaf-cutter ant display in the World of the Insect building.

Cincinnati was an important stop along the legendary 19th century Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves reach freedom in the northern United States and Canada.

In 2004, the city opened the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Located downtown, the museum displays numerous exhibits depicting slavery in its many forms worldwide (forced labour, child labour, sex trafficking, etc.) with a focus on the history of African-American slave experience and the underground railroad.

The building’s main entrance symbolically faces the Ohio River and once slave-state Kentucky. Each point along the self-guided audio tour features a fictionalized voiced account of one individual’s personal suffering under slavery and escape to freedom.

The museum’s most significant artifact is the two-storey log slave pen, built in 1830. The slave pen stood on a Kentucky farm prior to the Civil War as a holding cell for those being resold further south. It was carefully dismantled and reconstructed at the Freedom Center after the museum’s opening.

Cincinnati is home to more than 25,000 Jews, most of whom live in the Blue Ash section of town. The city has long been the centre of Reform Jewish study, since the founding of Hebrew Union College by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in 1875. In 1888, the renowned Manischewitz company first opened in Cincinnati and began producing the first ever, machine-made matzos for Passover.

Just a day’s drive from Toronto or Montreal, Cincinnati is an ideal spot for vacationing families looking for fun and history in one exciting destination.

Michael Stavsky acknowledges the assistance of the CincinnatiUSA Regional Tourism Network in arranging his family’s trip to Cincinnati.

 

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