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Cincinnati History

Cincinnati began with three small settlements on the wooded hills along the Ohio River between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers. Before the settlers came, the Iroquois had used the land as a major hunting ground (after pushing other tribes westward during the Beaver Wars). As settlements grew in the Northwest Territories, protecting them was paramount. Fort Washington was built in 1789, adding to the settlements’ strength. The name, though, was a problem. Arthur St. Clair, the territory’s governor, thought Cincinnati a better fit. Cincinnatus was the Roman general credited with saving ancient Rome from destruction before heading back to tend his farm. Since an important part of Arthur St. Clair’s job was to help military officers transition back into civilian life after the American Revolution (giving them land grants provided by the U.S. government), he saw the connection between these points in history. Twenty-one years after incorporating as a city in 1819, Cincinnati also earned an unusual distinction as “Porkopolis,” the pork capitol of the world.  Pigs wandered the streets in droves before they were slaughtered. The German immigrants were hog-packing wunderkinds. Fortunately, Cincinnati’s location on the Ohio River, along with the Miami and Erie Canal and the railroads, led to steamboat manufacturing, iron production and cloth and woodworking industries—and, of course, meat packing. Along with its role in westward expansion, connecting cities farther west with the east, Cincinnati has another distinction, as an important center of the abolitionist movement. Neighbor Kentucky was a slaveholding state. Reaching the Ohio side of the river was a path to freedom for slaves. Ohio abolitionists used Cincinnati as their focal point, both as the voice of the anti-slave movement through newspapers and other publications, and as a prominent location on the Underground Railroad. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” set in Cincinnati, is credited as having a major impact on the movement. If there’s any blight on Cincinnati’s pristine beauty, it’s that the racial tensions that developed during those days are still part of the city’s psychological makeup. Fortunately, the issues that cause tempers to flare are being addressed and strides are being made. The fact that the National Underground Railroad Museum and Freedom Center has a prominent location in Cincinnati’s downtown is not something to overlook. Unlike many other cities whose populations have fluctuated through economic booms and busts, Cincinnati has remained steady. Procter and Gamble, Kroger and Federated Department Stores (now Macy's), among others, have kept Cincinnati as their corporate home. Procter and Gamble’s postmodern-style office complex, with its two distinctive towers capped in octagonal shapes, is one of Cincinnati’s most recognizable landmarks.