Historic Mount Auburn Avenue

Colorized map of northern Cincinnati area
A colorized map of the Mount Auburn area, c.1869.

Click on photo for a larger image

Cincinnati's "Fifth Avenue"


As you walk down Auburn Avenue imagine yourself back in the 19th Century. Horse drawn carriages traveling down cobblestone streets, ornate gaslights illuminating the brick paved sidewalks, and stately towered mansions rising atop one of Cincinnati's most fashionable hills. In those early years Auburn Avenue was nicknamed Cincinnati's "Fifth Avenue" – rival of New York's famous thoroughfare, and the street and the surrounding side streets boasted some of the most notable people in the country as its inhabitants.

President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft lived here as well as General E.F. Noyes, governor of Ohio and Ambassador to France. Others have included general Jacob D. Cox, Republican governor Ohio, congressman, and president of the university of Cincinnati; Mathew Addy, a Canadian who founded the iron and foundry works in the town that still bears his name: Addyston; Alexander McGuffey, co-author with his brother, William, of the famous McGuffey's Readers; hymn writer and inventor William Doane; Conductor Leopold Stokowski; and numerous industrialists, philanthropists, and jurists.
 
A large house with many windows and multiple-peaked roof
The Gorham Worth House as viewed today.

A Charming Suburb


In 1819 James Key built a wonderful home on the brow of the hill at the end of what is now Bigelow St. and thereafter the community was known as Key's Hill. But in 1837 a Mrs. Sumner, an English woman on visit from her home in Boston placed a sign at the intersection of Liberty and Sycamore Streets reading: "One Mile to Mt. Auburn." The name is said to have come from a line in a poem by Oliver Goldsmith: "Sweet Auburn, Loveliest village of the plain." Nevertheless, the name stuck and in 1849 Mt. Auburn was annexed to the city. Originally Mt. Auburn was a desirable residential location because of its fine country air, beautiful views and proximity to downtown Cincinnati. The wealthy came to Mount Auburn to flee the crowding downtown and growing pollution, both problems even in the 19th Century. They made Mt. Auburn one of most beautiful parts of Cincinnati. "I was charmed by the appearance of Cincinnati and its adjoining suburb, Mt. Auburn," wrote the English author Charles dickens after his visit her in 1842. His sentiments have been repeated often over the years.

The side streets off Auburn Avenue contain many fine historic homes. A notable one is the Gorham Worth House on Auburncrest Ave. which enjoys the reputation of being the oldest standing frame house in Cincinnati and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Worth was one of the original founders of the United States Bank in Cincinnati. Albert Edwards, The Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII, stayed at the house on his visit to Cincinnati in the mid-1800's. The first women's college west of the Alleghenies, the Mt. Auburn female College was founded in 1856 and stood on the site of the present day location of Christ Hospital.

The houses you will visit are of several different architectural styles; the Italian villa or Italianate, the second empire, and the Greek revival. This is due to the fact that the houses were constructed over a 60 year period of the 19th century, and as today, aesthetic preferences changed over that period. The Italian villa style can usually be recognized by a jutting tower rising above the roof line and rich ornamentation around the doorways and windows. The second Empire style, named after the Second French Empire of Napoleon III, is characterized by a mansard roof with protruding dormer windows and an overall rich ornamentation.
 
B&W photo of a trolley car and a rail line ascending up a hill between buildings
Undated photo of the Main Street Incline.

Cincinnati Museum Center

Railways in the City


The first of Cincinnati's famous inclines, the Main Street Incline, was built in 1872 from Main and Mulberry Streets to what is now Eleanor Place. The cost for a ride on the inclne was two and one half cents or five cents round-trip. It was also known as the Mount Auburn Incline and the Lookout Incline. The 312 foot vertical ascent took one and a half minutes to the Lookout House at the top of Mount Auburn, which was one of the city's most fashionable restaurants. The Incline ran successfully wihtout incident until October of 1889 when a tragic accident caused by a mechanical failure and cable failure sent a streetcar plunging back down the hillside, crashing into the bottom of the hill and launching the trolley into a building across the street. Six passengers were killed and several others sustained injuries. After the accident, the incline was completely rebuilt from top to bottom to restore public confidence. Despite the overhaul, the incilne found it difficult to compete with other well-established streetcar companies and eventually, it finally closed in 1898. This gave the Main Street incline the distinction of being the first to be constructed and the first to be closed in Cincinnati. Today, the top of the old incline is now home to Jackson Park. A series of concrete steps follows the old path of the incline from the top at Jackson Park to the bottom at the intersection of Main & Mulberry streets.

Henry Martin, who resided at 1947 Auburn Ave., built the Mt. Auburn Cable Railway in the early 1870's. The railway ran from downtown up Sycamore Street and down Dorchester past its cable house at the corner of highland and Dorchester avenues. The railroad ceased operating around the turn of the century, but the cable house still stands.
 
An elevated railway on the side of a hill
A view of the Mount Adams incline in Cincinnati.  c.1900

Library of Congress

Last updated: April 5, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

2038 Auburn Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45219

Phone:

(513) 684-3262

Contact Us