When money is tight and your mind is screaming, “BORED!” set your sights on Cincinnati’s transportation heritage trail to turn a ho-hum day into a hometown adventure. With a $50 budget, CincyWhimsy planned a weekend of activities for two adults that will pique your interest while saving pennies.
Railway Museum of Greater Cincinnati
Just fifteen minutes south of the city in Latonia, Kentucky, a group of train enthusiasts have been acquiring vintage railcars since 1975. Dedicated to preserving equipment of the seven railroads that passed through the Queen City, the Railway Museum of Greater Cincinnati features over 80 railcars dating back to as early as 1908. The majority of the collection includes both rare and classic vehicles from the 1930s-1950s, including several Pullman sleeper cars and passenger cars from the B&O, Chessie, and Pennsylvania Railroads. Several railcars offer “climb aboard” opportunities including one locomotive where you can sit in the engineer’s seat.
While museum volunteers are on site, tours of the Railway Museum are self-guided. A pamphlet and map can be obtained in the welcome booth near the front gate. Expect to spend two hours exploring, and be sure to wear sturdy sneakers as the location is on uneven terrain.
Rivers, Roads, Rails and Runways at Behringer-Crawford Museum
COST: $7 per person
Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00am-5:00pm; Sunday: 1:00pm-5:00pm
Tucked away in the hills of Devou Park, Behringer-Crawford Museum features a three-story building highlighting the development of the Ohio Valley and contributions Northern Kentucky made to the tri-state. Most notable is the Rivers, Roads, Rails, and Runways exhibit, which depicts the history of transportation in the Greater Cincinnati area. With rails extending outside the museum, an 1892 Kentucky streetcar greets visitors in the lobby, and then leads to the timeline of transportation around the corner. The second floor is home to the River Room with an exhibit built inside a multi-level steamboat, as well an indoor-sized version of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. A section about automobiles in Northern Kentucky displays a vintage Cadillac convertible which you can climb into for a picture. Behringer-Crawford Museum also has quarterly rotating exhibits on the third floor, most of which are curated from the collections of Northern Kentucky residents.
Transit history expert Noel Prows organized a walking tour of the Cincinnati Streetcar route to view and document the development of new rail transit in the Queen City. Starting on Central Parkway, the group follows the 3.6 mile loop through Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District. In addition to viewing the construction progress, one can witness the development taking place along the route as abandoned buildings are renovated into new housing, restaurants, boutiques, and community centers. Cincinnati landmarks such as Music Hall, Washington Park, and Findlay Market line the northern portion of the route, while the southern portion is highlighted by the library, Aronoff Center, Great American Ball Park, Dixie Terminal Building, and other Art Deco skyrises. The three-hour tour also passes retailer MiCA 12/v, where you can purchase a Cincinnati Streetcar t-shirt as a souvenir of your journey.
Climb the Mt. Auburn Incline
Between 1871 and 1948, Cincinnati was home to an uplifting mode of transportation: the inclined railway. Positioned throughout the seven hills, residents rode inclines from the basin to the hilltops for both work and pleasure, leading to the expansion of the city. Completed in 1872, Mt. Auburn Incline was the first of five inclines to be erected. It also had the shortest lifespan, as it closed in 1898 due to a serious accident and legal issues brought forth by then-lawyer William Howard Taft.
Mt. Auburn Incline was demolished long ago and replaced with the Main Street Mosaic Steps located at Main and Mulberry Streets in Over-the-Rhine. Remnants of the incline can still be viewed from the stairwell, which spans the entire length of the former funicular. Climbing the staircase, a story of Cincinnati’s history is revealed both through the remaining foundation of the Mt. Auburn Incline, and through the spectacular view of the city as the hill ascends.
Cardboard Boat Museum
Saturday and Sunday: 1:00pm-6:00pm
One of the East Side’s favorite transit traditions is the Cardboard Boat Race, which occurs every summer in New Richmond. Made from cardboard, duct tape, and paint, canoe-sized boats are crafted with intricate detail before being paddled down the Ohio River in a contest of speed and skill. Awards are handed out for the most creative boat, fastest speed, and most dramatic sinking. Boats that survived the race intact are offered a spot in the Cardboard Boat Museum, which displays the vessels alongside pictures from the event. Must-sees are the Island Queen, a built-to-scale functioning paddleboat, as well as audience favorites that resemble a giant cheese coney and a John Deere tractor.
Roebling Bridge Walk
Be one of the few people to say they walked into two states by taking a stroll along the Roebling Suspension Bridge. Built in 1856, the structure served as a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, which was erected in 1883. The Roebling Bridge, named after creator John A. Roebling, served as a pedestrian and streetcar bridge from Covington to Cincinnati and was remodeled without rails in the mid-20th century. Due to a delay in construction from the Civil War, the Roebling Bridge officially opened as a toll route in 1867. Horse and buggy were charged 15 cents and pedestrians were charged a penny. Today of course, the bridge can be used free-of-charge as visitors take in the scenic riverfronts of Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati or the Licking Riverside Historic District in Covington.
Attend a presentation at Cincinnati Transit Historical Association
Every third Saturday 7:30pm-9:30pm
The city’s best and brightest transit historians have been gathering for the past 45 years on Saturday evenings at the Queensgate Metro Garage to share stories, photographs, and films of early transportation. Each week, a new presentation is given by a long-time member of the group who has documented Cincinnati’s legacy in streetcars, inclines, buses, interurbans or railroads. Visuals are from the personal collection of each presenter, most of whom are also the original photographers. Enjoy a 90-minute awe-inspiring presentation with pictures from nearly a century ago. Cincinnati Transit Historical Association has also preserved several vintage buses which they proudly display.
Tour Cincinnati on METRO’s One For Fun Bus
COST: $1.75 per person
Weekdays: 6:00am-8:00pm; Saturday: 7:00am-11:00pm; Sunday: 10:00am-7:30pm
Take a bus tour of the Queen City by hopping on the One For Fun. Cincinnati METRO Route #1 exclusively travels to the landmarks of Cincinnati throughout four neighborhoods. Riding the entire loop takes about one hour.
The easiest place to catch the bus is at Government Square, the Downtown transit hub. Look for the Area F sign, which is where Route # 1 will board. From there, the route heads east passing the Taft Theatre, Taft Museum of Art, and Lytle Park. As it turns onto Third Street, enjoy the view of The Banks entertainment district and Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds. Heading uphill into Mount Adams, One For Fun Bus provides a gorgeous view of Eden Park, Cincinnati Art Museum, and Krohn Conservatory. It then makes a loop through the Walnut Hills Business District, filled with boutique shops and historic architecture. Heading back Downtown, take in the Art Deco towers of the Fourth Street Financial District before going to the West End and circling Cincinnati Museum Center. After passing the majestic Music Hall, a castle-like City Hall appears on Plum Street just before entering the Commercial Arts District on Seventh Street. Arriving back at Government Square, revel in the bustling city center of Fountain Square on the left. In total, One For Fun Bus connects over 40 arts and entertainment destinations in Cincinnati.
Dixie Terminal Building
One of the most elegant and mesmerizing structures in Cincinnati may appear to be just another office tower from the outside. Dixie Terminal Building was once a dynamic transit hub that connected streetcar and bus service from Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati. Streetcars arriving from Covington crossed the Roebling Suspension Bridge and took elevated ramps over Third Street into the southern terminal. Over 100,000 travelers passed through Dixie Terminal on a daily basis. The glistening gold framework and Rookwood Tile archway will catch your eye from the exterior. Inside the main corridor, vibrant vaulted ceilings, wainscoting, and marble floors have remained throughout the building’s changing times.
Trainspotting in Glendale
Cincinnati’s northern suburb of Glendale was established as Ohio’s first planned community in 1855 due to the development of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railway (CH&D). Over 150 years later, an active railroad continues to run through the town, which has established a green space and benches near historical markers for visitors to watch the trains pass by. Keep an eye on the signal lights above the tracks. When the light changes from green to red, a train will soon be passing through the junction. The former station has also been converted into the Glendale Museum, which shares a detailed history of the neighborhood along the rails.
Union Terminal Rotunda Tour
Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00pm
Explore the nooks and crannies of Cincinnati Museum Center on this one hour, behind-the-scenes tour led by Cincinnati Heritage Programs. Over 20,000 people passed through Union Terminal daily during the 1940s, making it one of the busiest railroads in the United States. During renovations to create Cincinnati Museum Center in the 1990s, all of the original Art Deco details were restored. The Union Terminal Rotunda Tour takes guests on the catwalk high above the main entrance to get a different view of the murals and history of the building. All of the areas are off-limits to the public, but are prized gems of Union Terminal’s peak era. The President’s Office, Board Room, and Dining Room were well-utilized rooms during this time, and as such, contain intricate woodwork and details highlighting the importance of the railroad. With murals lining every ceiling, visitors learn the significance of transit and industry during the World War II era.
Tower A Railroad Exhibit
Wednesday – Sunday: 12:00pm – 4:00pm
During Union Terminal’s heyday, Tower A was used as the main control tower for railroad operations. Cincinnati Railroad Club has been overseeing preservation of the building for over 75 years. Tower A was recently renovated and restored to its 1933 condition. The original illuminated track diagram board, director's desk, and candle stick phones still remain intact. While the rails are quieter now than in the 1940s, Cincinnatians can still catch Amtrak at Union Terminal. Tower A provides a spectacular view of the commercial rail yard action, as well as a detailed exhibit of passenger trains in Cincinnati. Railroad Club members will kindly welcome you into their historical library, which is a room filled wall-to-wall with pictures and artifacts related to railroads in the Queen City. Be sure to check out their gift shop!
Cincinnati History Museum
COST: $7.25 per person
Monday-Saturday: 10:00am – 5:00pm; Sunday: 11:00am- 6:00pm
Cincinnati History Museum is a must-see for both first time tourists and lifelong Cincinnatians. Their flagship exhibit is Cincinnati In Motion which features a 1/64 built-to-scale replica of Cincinnati from 1900-1940. The diorama encompasses an entire concourse of the former railroad terminal and features working trains, streetcars, inclines, and canal as well as interactive history displays located in front of each landmark. In addition to the Riverfront, the model displays Lunken Airfield, Coney Island, Over-the-Rhine, Mount Auburn, Ivorydale, Price Hill, the West End, and Mt. Adams. The exhibit also includes a “climb aboard” streetcar from the Cincinnati Street Railway and life-sized steamboat in the living village located on the lower level.
Ruthven Gallery at Cincinnati Museum Center
Monday-Saturday: 10:00am – 5:00pm; Sunday: 11:00am- 6:00pm
Near the entrance of the Children’s Museum is a secret gallery that rotates local artifacts throughout the year. The Ruthven Gallery features objects from the Cincinnati Museum Center stacks; collections that the permanent museum doesn’t have room to display. This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in the Queen City, which has been the theme for the 2013 exhibits. Cincinnati was once under siege by the Confederate Army, which required residents to join a volunteer militia. Artifacts in Ruthven Gallery tell the story of courage and cunning as Cincinnatians erected a pontoon bridge to cross the Ohio River to Kentucky and stop the Confederates before reaching the city. In addition to The Siege of Cincinnati, the exhibit highlights early forms of transportation infrastructure that helped shape the outcome of the Civil War.
After completing 14 adventures along the transportation heritage trail, the two of us had only spent $36 of our $50 entertainment budget, so we decided to stretch the remaining $14 at a transit-themed restaurant: Ollie’s Trolley.
Burger, side, drink: $6.95
Serving up famous hamburgers out of a caboose on West Liberty Street, Ollie’s Trolley is known for its soul food, quick service, and of course, the Big Ollie Burger topped with zesty Ollie Sauce. In addition to fries, side dishes include Southern favorites such as mac & cheese, collard greens, coleslaw, black eyed peas, and more. One can easily have a full meal here for under $10. We each ordered the Ollie Burger ($3.95), potato salad ($2), and a drink ($1), which kept both our stomachs and wallets full.
Calculating our costs at the end of the weekend, we discovered fifteen new places in Cincinnati spending a grand total of $49.90. With a dime to spare, it was a Whimsy Worthy weekend on a budget!