Cincinnati's Historical Buildings (Self Guided), Cincinnati

A place where remarkable landmarks, river views and rolling hills are all part of the cityscape, Cincinnati, OH is a home to one of the most impressive collections of historic architecture in the United States. German homes, French cathedrals and splendid 19th-century mansions are found here in abundance. The list of architectural styles present in the city is truly impressive and includes Greek-, Renaissance- and Gothic Revival, Italianate, Richardsonian Romanesque, Art Deco and Moderne, to mention but a few.

Among the numerous structures noteworthy for their architectural characteristics or historic associations there are several distinctive gems. Suchlike is the St. Peter in Chains Cathedral – a Roman Catholic temple of Greek revival style, whose cornerstone was set on May 20, 1841; upon completion, it was the tallest structure in Cincinnati for its time.

Another prominent place of worship is the historic Isaac M. Wise Temple erected for Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of American Reform Judaism.

Cincinnati City Hall – completed in 1893, this Richardsonian Romanesque structure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 11, 1972. An optical trick, known as forced perspective, makes this building appear larger than it actually is.

Cincinnati Music Hall – built in 1878, this is one of the oldest and largest performance halls in the U.S., particularly noted for its Gothic German architecture.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site – is a two-story Greek Revival house built circa 1845 – the birthplace and childhood home of William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States.

If you're keen to marvel at these and other notable landmarks of Cincinnati, delve into the local history, and see how heritage informs fresh, fun, new experiences, take this self-guided walking tour!
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Cincinnati's Historical Buildings Map

Guide Name: Cincinnati's Historical Buildings
Guide Location: USA » Cincinnati (See other walking tours in Cincinnati)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: Eveline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • St. Peter in Chains Cathedral
  • Isaac M. Wise Temple
  • Cincinnati City Hall
  • Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati
  • Apostolic Bethlehem Temple Church
  • Memorial Hall
  • Music Hall
  • St. Paul Church
  • George Hunt Pendleton House
  • William Howard Taft National Historic Site
1
St. Peter in Chains Cathedral

1) St. Peter in Chains Cathedral

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The basilica is a Greek revival structure located at 8th and Plum streets in downtown Cincinnati. It is dedicated to Saint Peter's imprisonment and liberation. The church's cornerstone was laid in 1841 and the church was formally dedicated in November 1845, as the first large church west of the Allegheny Mountains. On June 29, 2020 Pope Francis conferred the title of Minor Basilica on St. Peter in Chains.

St. Peter in Chains' striking single spire, made of pure white limestone, rises 224 feet (68 m) above street level, which made the church the tallest man-made structure in the city for many decades. The columns are 33 feet (10 m) high, symbolizing the number of years in Jesus' life.

The interior of St. Peter in Chains is distinctly unique among Roman Catholic cathedrals in America, with its Greek-themed mosaics depicting the Stations of the Cross, its ornate Corinthian columns and its massive bronze doors. The crucifix is by Benvenuto Cellini, the murals by Carl Zimmerman and the mosaic in the apse is the work of Anton Wendling.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Isaac M. Wise Temple

2) Isaac M. Wise Temple

The Isaac M. Wise Temple (formerly the Plum Street Temple) is the historic synagogue erected for Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise and his congregation in Cincinnati. Wise was among the founders of American Reform Judaism. The temple building was designed by prominent Cincinnati architect James Keys Wilson. Its design was inspired by the Alhambra at Granada.

The temple is located on Plum Street and was built by members of the Lodge Street Synagogue. It was built chiefly during the Civil War, at a cost of $275,000. The temple was dedicated on Friday, August 24, 1866, and is among the oldest synagogue buildings still standing in the United States.

The temple is across Plum Street from the historic Saint Peter In Chains Cathedral. In 1972, the Isaac M. Wise Temple was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975 for its architecture and its role in the Reform movement.
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Cincinnati City Hall

3) Cincinnati City Hall

Cincinnati City Hall is the seat of the municipal government of Cincinnati. Completed in 1893, the Richardson Romanesque structure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 11, 1972. The building was designed by Samuel Hannaford.

The main building comprises four and a half stories with a nine-story clock tower. The building was constructed using stone quarried in Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, and Indiana. Marble stairways and wainscoting originated in Italy and Tennessee, while granite columns were obtained from Vermont. Stained glass windows were installed which depict Cincinnatus and illustrate Cincinnati's early history.

The first city hall was built on this site in 1852 and was demolished in 1888 to make way for the current structure. Construction costs for the building totaled $1.61 million of which $54,000 was paid to Samuel Hannaford as architect and construction superintendent.

An optical trick known as forced perspective makes the building appear even larger than it actually is. As it becomes taller, its windows get smaller.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati

4) Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati

The Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati, also known as the Cincinnati Fire Museum, preserves and exhibits Greater Cincinnati's firefighting artifacts and honors firefighters, both past and present.

Over 200 years of firefighting history is on display in the Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati. Exhibits include examples of early leather fire buckets, an 1808 fire drum, the oldest surviving fire engine in Cincinnati, and an 1836 hand pumper. The museum also features and interactive exhibit that allows visitors to experience a modern Emergency-One fire engine cab by wailing the siren, ringing the bell, and flashing the lights.

The fire museum is housed in the restored 1907 Court Street Firehouse. The firehouse was part of the Cincinnati Fire Department. The Court Street Firehouse is a registered historic building, listed in the National Register on July 18, 1974.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Apostolic Bethlehem Temple Church

5) Apostolic Bethlehem Temple Church

The Apostolic Bethlehem Temple Church is a historic church building in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. A German Gothic Revival structure built in 1868, it was constructed as the home of the German Evangelical and Reformed Church, Cincinnati's oldest German Reformed Church.

Founded in 1814, the church changed its name to "St. John's German Protestant Church" in 1874, although it remained in the German Reformed Church. This situation continued until 1924, when it departed for the American Unitarian Association and changed its name to "St. John's Unitarian Church." Little more than twenty years later, the congregation abandoned its old building, leaving it vacant until it was purchased by the present owners, a Pentecostal church.

The church building is a rectangular two-story structure facing to the east. Worshippers enter through doors in a prominent tower that occupies the center of the façade. Such a tower is characteristic of the German Gothic churches that this church was built to emulate, as are the transepts on either side of the tower.

In 1973, the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its place in local history and because of its distinctive and well-preserved historic architecture.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Memorial Hall

6) Memorial Hall

The Hamilton County Memorial Building, known by most as Memorial Hall, is a building created as a memorial to members of the military from Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

The building was funded by a cooperation between the Grand Army of the Republic and Hamilton County. In 1908, the two entities enlisted Samuel Hannaford & Sons to design the Beaux Arts-style memorial hall.

The hall hosts a 556-seat theatre that is used for concerts, events and ceremonies. Tourists can purchase tickets to see one of the many shows so they can get a glimpse of the hall's interior. With over 300 shows hosted each year, it is very easy to find a performance. Likewise, Memorial Hall attempts to offer as many low-cost or free performances as possible.

Many visitors forego the performances and simply enjoy viewing the columns and sculpted figures that adorn the exterior of the building. The location of Memorial Hall makes it an easy stop on a walking tour. It is in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, adjacent to Washington Park and south of Music Hall.
7
Music Hall

7) Music Hall

Music Hall is Cincinnati's performance hall for classical arts. Music Hall is the venue for the Cincinnati Ballet, Symphony Orchestra, Opera and Pops Orchestra.

The building was completed in 1878. It was designed by Samuel Hannaford in the Victorian Gothic Revival Architectural Style. It is distinctive from other performance halls in that the building is actually three separate buildings: Music Hall and the North and South Exposition Buildings.

The buildings feature sandstone carvings, a pitched gable roof and a large rose window. Music Hall originally had intricately carved brickwork, but most of the details were destroyed during a renovation of the building.

Those who enjoy sites that are reputed to be haunted should pay particular interest to Music Hall. It is said to be one of the most haunted places in America due to the fact that it was built over a pauper's cemetery.

Music Hall was named a National Historic Landmark in 1975. It has also been placed on the list of America's 11 most endangered historic places.
8
St. Paul Church

8) St. Paul Church

St. Paul Church is a former Roman Catholic church located on the southeastern corner of Twelfth and Spring Streets in Cincinnati, in the city's Pendleton neighborhood. The German-speaking parish was formed in the winter of 1847–1848 to serve the members of St. Mary's Church who lived east of Clay Street.

The construction of the church was finished in 1850. This brick Romanesque structure has broad Doric pilasters set in its corners and between its tall, round arched windows. It has a Renaissance tower capped with a Pope's Mitre cupola roof and gilded cross. The three arched doorways face Spring Street. Light fills the interior and the proscenium is supported by twelve Corinthian columns.

A fire in 1899 destroyed all but the church walls and German-made stained glass windows, but reconstruction began at once, and the new St. Paul's was dedicated on October 7, 1900.

Deconsecrated in 1974, the church complex was named to the National Register of Historic Places in the same year. The buildings compose a historic district, the "St. Paul Church Historic District". In 1981, The Verdin Company, a bell and clock company, purchased the church building, convent, schools, and rectory. The buildings were restored and the church was transformed into a bell and clock museum/showroom. The other buildings were transformed into art galleries.

Today, the church is owned by Cafeo Hospitality. It is now a venue for weddings and corporate events.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
George Hunt Pendleton House

9) George Hunt Pendleton House

The George H. Pendleton House is a historic house in the Prospect Hill Historic District of Cincinnati. It was built in 1870 in the French Second Empire style. From 1879 until his death in 1889, this was the residence of Senator George Hunt Pendleton (1825-89). As a U.S. Senator (1879-1885), Pendleton spearheaded civil service reform, meeting here in 1882 to draft the Pendleton Act, which created the Civil Service merit system.

The house was built about 1870. It is a 2-1/2 story brick building, with a mansard roof providing a full third floor in the attic. The roof has a bracketed eave, and is pierced by dormers with flanking bracketed pilasters. The main facade is three bays wide, with a center entrance flanked by pilasters and topped by a corniced entablature.

Pendleton was a lawyer and Democratic politician, who first won election to the United States Senate in 1857. He left Congress in 1865, but was returned to the Senate in 1879. At the time, jobs in the federal government were largely distributed through political patronage, often without regard to the competence for the position by the individuals hired. Although Pendleton appears to not have been a strong advocate of civil service reform, a Senate subcommittee met in his Cincinnati home in early 1882 to complete a draft civil service reform bill.

This bill, enacted later in 1882 following widespread popular calls for civil service reform, was known as the Pendleton Act, and represents the birth of the modern merit-based civil service that has operated since. Pendleton's involvement in the bill cost him reelection in 1884, due to a lack of support from party operatives who had opposed the reforms.

The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
William Howard Taft National Historic Site

10) William Howard Taft National Historic Site

William Howard Taft National Historic Site is a historic house at 2038 Auburn Avenue in the Mount Auburn Historic District of Cincinnati, a mile north of Downtown. It was the birthplace and childhood home of William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.

William Howard Taft's father, Alphonso Taft, came to Cincinnati from Vermont in 1838 to establish a law practice. He moved his family to this house a little over a decade later.

The house is believed to have been built in the early 1840s by a family named Bowen. Mount Auburn was once a popular area to live for upper-class Cincinnatians, as it allowed those of higher incomes to escape the sweltering heat and humidity of downtown Cincinnati summers. The Taft residence, a Greek Revival domicile, was relatively modest compared to other nearby residences, which were a mix of Second Empire, Italianate, and Georgian Revival.

Alphonso's wife Fanny Phelps Taft died a year after the family moved to the Mount Auburn residence, in June 1852. In December 1853 Alphonso remarried, choosing a schoolteacher from Massachusetts named Louise Torrey. Louise Taft would give birth to their second child, William Howard Taft, in the house on September 15, 1857, presumably in the first-floor nursery in the rear ell. Alphonso had six children living in the house, two by Fanny and four by Louise.

The house was used for social events. Visitors included many local and state dignitaries, including future President James A. Garfield. Rugs in the parlor were often rolled up for dancing. Family activities took place in the library; Alphonso was an avid book collector.

William would live in the house until he went to Yale University in 1874. Afterward, the Taft family would spend less time in the house. In 1877 a fire damaged the second floor and roof. Alphonso and Louise leased the house in 1889 and move to California. In May 1891 Alphonso died in San Diego, California, and was buried in Cincinnati; the tenants of the Auburn house allowed the mourners to gather at the house for the funeral.

The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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