Cincinnati is a city that’s rich in history. Once considered the “Queen City of the West” by many, it has experienced a number of economic booms and successes. While it has had its fair share of boondoggled projects like its infamous failed subway system, there’s no way around the fact that its projects have made its outline change time and time again. In fact, it’s hard to imagine what Cincinnati actually looked like even thirty years ago, let alone over one-hundred. Since we were curious, we decided to dig through the archive to check out what the city once was. While the hills are pretty recognizable, so much has changed. Check out these pictures and feel free to share yours in the comments below!

Mt. Adams

Today, Mt. Adams is one of Cincinnati’s wealthiest neighborhoods per capita. Lined with upscale shops and plenty of yuppie bars, it’s recognized as one of the most fun neighborhoods in the city as well. While there’s no straight-line path to get there today, at one time, one of the city’s most frequented inclines took riders to the top. While it’s hard to imagine these today, here’s a quick glimpse at what they looked like.


If you look down from Mt. Adams today, you’ll still see some of the houses in the foreground of this picture. While they’re obviously updated, you won’t see an updated streetcar nor incline system. At one time there were over sixty unique streetcar routes throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, which is a far cry from the single, looped streetcar we have today. The only skyscraper on our skyline at the time was the Union Central Tower, which is known today as the PNC Tower, and it can be seen in the background of the above picture. If you look closely as you drive the streets of Mt. Adams today, you can still see traces of the original incline supports as well!


Hyde Park

In the early 1900’s, being able to travel over a distance still took quite a bit of work. The short drive from downtown to Hyde Park today was quite the endeavor at the time. Because of this, Hyde Park didn’t have the same kind of population density that it does today, but that didn’t keep it from becoming a beloved home for many wanting to escape the bustle of downtown and OTR. The picture below shows a much different view of the high-class Hyde Park Square we know today. Once again, you see a streetcar in the picture.


Walnut Hills

It’s no secret that Walnut Hills is one of Cincinnati’s most prominent up-and-coming neighborhoods. Although it experienced quite the exodus during recent recessions and economic hardships, it was once one of the most fascinating and vibrant neighborhoods in the city. Booming with small businesses and a hub for entertainment, you can still see remnants of this once-proud neighborhood when driving down Gilbert and McMillan. Featured below is an image from the early 1900’s of Gilbert Avenue. Here’s hoping that Walnut Hills will soon be returned to its former glory!


The Miami & Erie Canal

Once connecting Cincinnati to Toledo and Lake Erie, the Miami & Erie Canal was a vital piece of Cincinnati’s economy for the better part of a century. While it’s hard to find a single trace of the canal within the confines of our city these days, it once ran through OTR and was actually the inspiration for the neighborhood’s namesake of “Over-the-Rhine.” Many German immigrants noted that parts of the canal reminded them of the Rhine River back in their homeland, which prompted them to coin the neighborhood’s name and the rest is, well, history.


Fountain Square

Just as many of the prior pictures are unrecognizable to many, this below, vintage picture of Fountain Square is going to throw many for a loop. In fact, aside from the fountain itself, the space is completely unrecognizable compared to today’s surrounding square. While the pulsating, synchronized assortment of lights was a nice touch, it’s hard to imagine what the place may have looked like if we would have put more emphasis on historic preservation at the time. Regardless, it’s cool that we can go back in time through pictures such as these.

Fountain Square

Other Landmarks

Speaking of historic preservation, it’s hard to believe that it was even considered to be an option to tear down two of Cincinnati’s most iconic landmarks: Union Terminal and Music Hall. Both are, without a doubt, one-of-a-kind pieces of architecture which would be sorely missed if removed from the fingerprint of our city. Luckily, some engaged citizens came together to make sure that these landmarks were preserved so that many are about to enjoy them to this day. While they’re both in the process of getting some serious facelifts (hey, age isn’t kind), it’s pretty incredible to think about what they looked like during original construction.


It’s crazy to consider that Union Terminal once one of the largest train hubs in the midwest. Built to accommodate as many as 17,000 travelers and 200+ trains, it was an engineering marvel at the time of its creation. While the concourse was torn down in 1974, and there have been doubts about its preservation at various times, we feel comfortable in saying that there couldn’t be a better home for the Cincinnati Museum Center.

music hall

Completed in the 1870’s, Cincinnati’s Music Hall is revered as the city’s most incredible piece of architecture. With incredible acoustics, a number of ballrooms, and even a little bit of a questionable past, there’s a lot of history surrounding this piece of Cincinnati’s identity. Looking at this picture, taken between 1900 and 1906, it’s also interesting to consider how much the space that we now know as Washington Park has evolved over the past century. With the grand reopening happening later this year, it’s going to feel incredible to once again be listening to music within its halls.


While we have had quite a few monumental successes in architecture, we’ve certainly had some… blunders, too. Most notably was the subway system that never was. You can still see plenty of its remnants below the city and along the highway in various locations when coming down I-75. Upon completion, the track was supposed to be sixteen miles long and circle around a majority of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods. Falling on economic hardship, the project was scrapped; ultimately costing the city millions in lost expenditures.

While we could go on for hours showing pictures and talking about the history of Cincinnati, we’ll just encourage you to do a little digging yourself. We value preservation at CityNova and just wanted to show our readers a glimpse into the past. Here’s hoping future preservation efforts keep our city’s vibrant culture and history alive and well!

Matt Teaford is a meatatarian, craft beer enthusiast, and follower of his spirit animal, which he believes to be a Kodiak Bear. He can often be found hiking in the backwoods of Kentucky or bragging about both his hometown of Cincinnati and expansive knowledge of music. Except Polka. He knows nothing about Polka.

Matt founded CityNova because he wants people to experience life for all that it’s worth. He also thinks that nap time should be offered by all employers. Since he found no such opportunity, he thought a startup might be his best chance.

He’s also a political Independent who vies for true transparency and accountability in government, but that’s neither here nor there…