Wednesday, August 15, 2012

No Wonder They Call It Eden

Sunday Afternoon in Eden Park, Cincinnati (circa 1910)

Dear George,
Cincinnati has many enjoyable features, but each year I get more impressed by and attached to the park system.  There are over 100 parks in the city, and they make up 10% of the urban land area.  Eden Park, along the river and next to the trendy Mt. Adams neighborhood, is the fourth largest and one of our favorites.  We take all our out-of-town visitors there to enjoy the Ohio River view.  When our son J was a kid, Eden Park was a frequent destination for family expeditions, and now it’s a regular outing for our grandkids on visits here.  It’s also a favorite location for weekly hikes with sheepdogs Mike, Duffy, and Sophie.  Here are some vintage postcards, most of them a hundred years old, which give a picture of the park’s history and many of its prominent features today. 

The Gardens of Nicholas Longworth (ca. 1910)

In the mid-1800's the land which was later  to become Eden Park was owned by Nicholas Longworth, Cincinnati lawyer, banker, real estate speculator, winemaker, and one of the wealthiest individuals in America.  Called the "father of American grape culture," Longworth maintained a huge vineyard of Catawba grapes on the hillsides along the Ohio River east of downtown and made sparkling wines which were distributed throughout the U.S. and Europe.  The vineyard was particularly famous for its Golden Wedding Champagne.  Longworth, his wife Susanna, and their children lived in the Greek Revival mansion in downtown Cincinnati which is now the Taft Museum of Art.  Eden Park’s name derives from Longworth who called his land the Garden of Eden.  Years later a group of Protestant and Catholic clergy created a list of ten places around the world where the Garden of Eden might have been located.  Clermont County, adjoining Cincinnati, was the sole North American site in the list because of its many fruiting trees and the influence of Native Americans who built serpentine mounds in the area.  Because Eden Park faces Clermont County to the east, city leaders dedicated Eden Park’s name in honor of the biblical association.  

Scene in Eden Park (ca. 1910)

The city began acquiring land for Eden Park in 1859.  The original purpose was to construct a new reservoir to hold the city’s water supply, but officials soon recognized that the land could simultaneously serve as a municipal park. Longworth’s vineyard had been tragically destroyed by disease in the late 1850’s, and his son negotiated with the city to allow portions of the land to be used to create Eden Park.  Famed landscape architect Adolph Strauch, who also designed Spring Grove Cemetery, was hired to do the initial landscaping plan.   Because of the park’s centrality to the Ohio River valley, two artillery emplacements were built there to defend the city against invasion by the Confederate Army.  The guns were ever fired.  

Twin Lakes overlooking the Ohio River and Northern Kentucky (ca. 1910)

The most popular spot in Eden Park is the Ohio River Overlook with its twin lakes, footbridge, walking paths, sculptures, and a playground that our grandkids recently enjoyed.  Twin Lakes was originally an old quarry, but it was soon reconstructed to host an overlook with a striking views in both directions of the Ohio River.  It's the most popular gathering place in Eden Park for picnicking or simply relaxing and enjoying the view, and it's almost always the starting point for forays with the sheepdogs.

The Ohio River Monument (ca. 1940)

In 1929 President Herbert Hoover dedicated this 30-foot granite shaft  at the Overlook on Cliff Drive to commemorate the completion of a system of 49 locks and dams that made river traffic possible along the entire length of the Ohio River.   The dedication coincided with a flotilla of boats that stretched along the entire 908 miles between Pittsburgh and Cairo, Illinois. 

Reservoir (ca. 1910)

The city’s new reservoir was constructed near the center of Eden Park, and, though it’s now long gone, giant remnants of its stone walls remain today.  The reservoir was covered over by the present-day Mirror Lake which attracts walkers who circle its perimeter and which features a fountain that shoots a geyser of water sixty feet into the air.  

Water Tower (ca. 1910)

The Water Tower, at 172 feet, is the tallest structure in Eden Park, and it’s visible from many different vantage points.  It was built in 1894 to hold water, but now it’s used by the city as a communications facility.  

Archway, Eden Park (ca, 1910)

The Archway is at the main entrance to Eden Park, located across Gilbert Avenue from the Baldwin Piano Factory.  It was constructed in 1874.  Termed a double-decked viaduct, the top half was first used by horse cars, later by street cars; and the lower deck was used by pedestrians and carriage riders.  The viaduct was in use until 1949 when the Mount Adams Incline was closed and needed bridge repairs proved too costly.

Spring House (ca. 1910)

The Spring House Gazebo, recently renovated by the city, is the oldest structure in Cincinnati’s parks and often used as the symbol of the whole system.  We recently went to an art exhibit about the city where the gazebo was the subject of one of the oil paintings.  It was designed by Cornelius M. Foster and built in 1904, replacing the Longworth’s spring house.  

Krohn Conservatory (ca. 1950)

The Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park has been one of our favorite excursions for many years.  Eden Park was the site of greenhouses since the 1880s.  The park board decided to build a modern greenhouse conservatory in 1930, and the new building was created in Art Deco style, built of aluminum and glass.  It opened in 1933 in the midst of the depression and was named for Park Commissioner Irwin Krohn.  The conservatory features over 3,500 plant species; a rainforest waterfall; an Orchid house; palm, tropical, and desert houses; and an annual Butterfly show.  It’s also a super place for taking photos.   

Art School and Art Museum (ca. 1910)

We love the Cincinnati Art Museum.  It’s probably the most important place that keeps us being semi-cultivated persons.  It was built in Eden Park in 1886, designed by architect James W. McLaughlin who also designed the art academy building next door.  This is one of the oldest art museums in the U.S. and the first art museum west of the Alleghenies.  Its 60,000 works constitute one of the largest collections in the Midwest.  Founders debated whether to locate the museum in Eden Park, Burnet Woods, or downtown, and major donor Charles West picked Eden Park.  That was a sound choice (though Burnet Woods would have been practically next door to us).  

Elsinore Arch (ca. 1910)

The Elsinore Arch is located on Gilbert Avenue, a couple of blocks down the street from Katja’s former workplace.  Elsinore, of course, was the fictional Danish Royal Castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  The Eden Park structure, formerly a valve house for the Water Works, was inspired by a local production of the play.  It may be the most esoteric water works building in the world.  It was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1980.  

Capitoline Wolf (ca. 2010)

The statue of the Capitoline Wolf portrays Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, suckling milk from a mother wolf.  The statue was a favorite of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, and he sent it to Cincinnati in 1931 in recognition of the city being named for the Roman hero, Cincinnatus Lucius Quinctius.  The original ancient Etruscan statue is in Rome, and Mussolini also sent replicas of the wolf statue to Rome, Georgia, and Rome, New York.    

Playhouse in the Park (ca. 2010)

Eden Park today has many other noteworthy features.  The Playhouse in the Park is the city’s most important theatrical venue, and the Seasongood Pavilion is the outdoor site for summer concerts.  We enjoy walking in the Presidential Grove (where elegant hardwood trees are dedicated to the various presidents), the Magnolia grove, and the Hinkle Floral Trail.  The hillside next to the Playhouse offers a wonderful view of downtown and the city, as well as access to Mt. Adams with all its restaurants and bars.  Maybe it isn’t that far-fetched to think of Eden Park as a latter-day Paradise.

"A Walk in the Park: Paradise Found,"
“Capitoline Wolf,”
"Eden Park: A jewel in the crown of the Cincy parks system,"
"Nicholas Longworth (winemaker),"
“Ohio River Overlook and Monument,”

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