Bringing the West End Into the Digital Age:
Cincinnati History Preservation Project
The urban landscape of Cincinnati would be very different without Union Terminal and the railroads – especially Over-the-Rhine and the West End. Construction of Cincinnati Union Terminal wasn’t confined to the building itself, or even the rail yard and its buildings – the project encompassed sites from the Western Hills Viaduct all the way down to the river.
For a long time, Union Terminal was the ‘front door’ to the city: walk out into the sunlight, and you’re looking right at downtown. That’s a world of difference from the airport, which drops you off in suburbia (and could be AnyCity, USA).
Anyone who’s familiar at all with Cincinnati (and Cincinnatians) knows that people just don’t leave, or if they do, they almost always come back! So, the history of Cincinnati Union Terminal – and the development of the city as a result – is really a family history. It’s our grandparents and great-grandparents who worked on building and running Union Terminal. It was our relatives who were trackside at the Concourse in its heyday during and after WWII.
The Cincinnati Railroad Club has been there almost since the beginning, and has amassed a collection of over 70,000 artifacts. The collection encompasses more than rail history; it touches on Americana, architectural, military, sports and Cincinnati history. Like any private collection, the general public hasn’t seen most of it – and much of it is currently inaccessible.
We have begun work on the largest endeavor since the Club was founded – the Cincinnati History Preservation Project, which will accomplish two major goals: conserve and protect these valuable objects for future Cincinnatians, and digitize the collection so that it will be available to anyone with online access.
We’re at a crossroads of history and technology – the Club members’ first-hand experience with the artifacts and railroading, paired with the ability to geo-tag photos, use facial recognition, sort by shape and/or color, and so on, will give users the opportunity to interact with this collection on a very personal level.
That means Cincinnatians will be able to search for their family ties within the collection – whether it be related to the construction of the building or operation of the railroad, a military sendoff or reunion, taking the train to visit loved ones or even seeing a family home in the background of a construction photo.
Historically, Cincinnati has gone through numerous phases of growth in the routes and transportation that join the East Side and West Side with downtown, Northern Kentucky and beyond. What started as deer, Indian, and wagon trails later evolved into our railroads and highways.
Connecting with the past through the collection can be a valuable exercise in planning for the future - lessons learned from past initiatives to integrate streetcars and mass transit can be applied to current planning. This collection can serve as a rich resource for city planners and transit engineers who are working to shape the future of Cincinnati’s urban landscape.
As this diverse collection gets catalogued and scanned, we will be able to connect to other historic collections - libraries, colleges, genealogy Web sites, historical societies and more.
In order to keep this project moving forward, we need your help - donations, volunteers, your memories and most importantly, your feedback on the project site. We encourage you to visit www.savecincyhistory.com to browse, search and discuss – please let us know: what does saving Cincinnati history mean to you?
Here is a sample from the archives, showing construction of the Western Hills Viaduct, 1931:
Director of Special Projects
Cincinnati Railroad Club, Inc.
PO Box 14157
Cincinnati, Ohio 45250-0157