The long story


Picture, if you will, a time before the automobile: a century ago. Next, envision a city whose population kept increasing every year. This city’s transportation methods included horse-drawn public streetcars, cable cars, and in some locations steam-powered streetcars. Inclined plane railways carried the horsecars up the city’s steep hills. Imagine living downtown where a canal wound its way between buildings and northward to Lake Erie. The Miami-Erie canal carried passengers and goods into and out of Cincinnati, and helped make the Queen City grow. Steam railroads developed at the same time as the canal, and by 1900, the canal was obsolete and unused—but its dirty waters remained.

horse drawn streetcars Bellevue Incline

The city is Cincinnati, Ohio; a city whose residents primarily lived and worked downtown. Industrial progress brought electricity to the city in the l880s, and streetcars became electrified and the horses put to pasture. Cincinnatians rode the streetcars to work, and began to relocate to the developing suburbs surrounding the downtown. Those who stayed lived in deteriorating, overcrowded tenement and apartment houses.

open summer car

Meanwhile, high-speed electric trains blossomed all around the country. The interurbans, or traction lines, carried passengers quickly, quietly and efficiently from Cincinnati to other towns and cities all over the Midwest, often in luxurious comfort. On top of this tangle of transportation choices, the automobile started appearing in Cincinnati, sharing the streets with streetcars, horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians.

A Red Devil

Because of the difference of track gauge between the interurbans and the Cincinnati Street Railway’s tracks, some of the interurbans could not enter downtown, and instead, had to drop their passengers off at the outskirts of town, requiring that the travelers ride the slow-moving streetcars to downtown.

In the early 1900s transportation was a hot issue, and city officials decided that the best way to alleviate this nightmare was to build a rapid-transit system that would encircle the city. The canal could easily be turned into a subway with a boulevard on top.

Reports were commissioned and a bond was voted on and passed in 1917. $6 million was thought to be enough to convert the canal and build a rapid transit loop.

That amount may have been adequate in 1917, but later that same year, Cincinnati was forced to join the Great War. After the war, construction prices had doubled and suddenly--$6 million was not nearly enough to do the whole job.

Construction began in 1920 and ended in 1927. The subway was built into the canal, Central Parkway was built on top, and a partial rapid transit loop had been created. When the job was complete, six stations had been built: three in the subway and three outdoors. The project was over and would never be completed. Over time, the above-ground stations were demolished and the subway faded into obscurity, becoming a local legend and a famous white elephant.

Arnold's plan
Race St.
pouring concrete
Ludlow Avenue Station
subway station
Marshall Avenue Station
Central Parkway

Many people don’t know what really happened: why the subway was built and why the project died. Other sources will cite facts and quote dollar amounts, but who was behind the conception of the subway? Who was the central figure who killed the project? Who were the men who served on the Rapid Transit Commission, and constantly fought with city officials? My book, The Cincinnati Subway, answers all of these questions and more, as the reader is taken on a trip through Cincinnati’s past, with a richly-detailed text and nearly two hundred pictures, maps and diagrams. And many of these pictures have never been published before.

In the final chapter, the reader is taken on a trip through the subway tunnels as they stand today, with a nice selection of modern photographs that show what the inside of the tubes and stations look like.

Race St. Station
Race St. Station cont.
Race St. 3
recesses and stringers

The Cincinnati Subway
isn’t just about the subway. Events happening in Cincinnati are discussed in context with the subway story: the courthouse riots in 1884, the growth of all forms of mass transit, Cincinnati’s involvement with World War I, the Depression, World War II, and the fabulous ‘50s. The book explores the development of the subway, its construction in vivid detail, and the aftermath: the comments made by Mayor Seasongood regarding the subway work and his opinions of the whole situation.

The book doesn’t leave off after the end of construction. The Cincinnati Subway tells what happens with the subway and public transit into the 1930s through present day, and includes many additional facts and anecdotes:

• The emergence of the city bus.
• New plans for rapid transit in the 1930s and 1940s.
• Plans to put the automobile and/or streetcars underground in the existing and new subway tunnels.
• The need for one-way streets and parking garages.
• An air-raid shelter in World War II.
• Underground storage for the war effort.
• The demise of the interurban lines and city streetcar system.
• The reshaping of the city to accommodate automobiles.
• A proposal to build a massive parking lot next to the river, accessible via the subway tunnels.
• General Electric’s interest in the subway.
• The creation of a modern fallout shelter in Liberty Street Station.
• A passenger conveyor belt system proposed by Goodyear.
• Further proposals: a wine cellar, nightclub district, and wind tunnel research facility.
• The use of the subway in a modern light rail system proposed in 2003.

Much of the book focuses on people: who were behind the legends, who did the work, and who caused the trouble. Many of the vintage photographs featuring construction and other aspects show people. An effort was made in the text and photos to show that people created the subway: it just didn’t happen. Furthermore, a lot of urban railroad history is discussed and augmented by many great photographs. In spite of its focus, the book is written for anyone to enjoy—not just the railfan, although many railfans around the country have thoroughly enjoyed the work. Whether you like the history of railroads, city politics, the growth of a city or the discussion of subways, you’ll love the book.

The Cincinnati Subway
was released by Arcadia Publishing in May of 2003, and by September, it had entered its third printing. The book is part of Arcadia’s Images of America series, and is available for $20 at nearly all Cincinnati bookstores. Please check out the Ordering Info page if you would like to order a copy online, or directly from me.