On a cold sunny November day we found ourselves back in Cincinnati. The William Howard Taft National Historic Site was our first stop. Taft’s home in an area of Cincinnati near the University serves as the Presidential Center. Built around 1835 Taft was born and raised there, living there until he went off to college at Yale in 1874. Eventually the family left and the home was sold. It was re-purchased in the 1960s and restored.
In addition to the house there is a small museum and visitor center next door. The ranger opened up the house, gave us an overview of the first floor and sent us off on our own. The displays present Taft’s life and career nicely, especially given his unique positions of President and U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Our primary reason for coming to Cincinnati this day was to visit the Cincinnati Museum Center. The former Union Terminal is the home of the Museum Center. This remarkable building is a marvel. When built and used as a train station the incoming vehicle traffic was split into three ramps. The first ramp served taxis and cars, the second buses, and the last was for streetcars. While the streetcar line was never connected, the other two dropped passengers off on the north side ramps then proceeded under the rotunda and came up on the south side where ramps brought passengers down to the vehicles to depart.
The massive 180-foot-wide and 106-foot-tall rotunda, today the second largest half dome in the world (after the Sydney Opera House), is the primary space. When the building opened in 1933, it connected to another important space, the train concourse, a 450-foot-long structure that sat over the tracks below. Here 16 train gates connected to the platforms where passengers and baggage would be loaded or unloaded from the train. Today only 1 example of the gates remains, and it isn’t functional.
Today the CUT operates 3 major museums (Cincinnati History Museum, Natural History & Science and the Children’s Museum), an Omnimax and the Cincinnati Railroad Club. For our visit they had set up a special exhibit called the Art of the Brick, a display using Lego’s. Created by Nathan Sawaya and featuring over 100 works of art showing masterpieces made out of Lego bricks, millions and millions of Lego bricks.
Some of the classics were represented, Greek Sculptures, Mona Lisa, American Gothic, Scream, and others, in addition to some massive original pieces. The 3-d effect the bricks gave really brought depth to the art. The well placed lighting added further.
At the completion of the Lego art exhibit we grabbed a quick lunch before leaving with a group going on a building architecture tour. The guide took us into non public space where he described the construction challenges of the massive dome, the ventilation challenges, including the unique windows that can open, various catwalks, and the stunning lower level ice cream shop finished with Rosewood tiles (a local Cincinnati company).
Also of note are two massive murals depicting industry and transportation in Cincinnati. Originally there were 14 of them throughout the terminal but when a major portion was being demolished 11 of them were moved to the Cincinnati Airport. Ironically with the loss of an airport hub, and subsequent closure of terminals they were in used airport terminals so now 8 of them have been moved back downtown and displayed at the Convention Center.
We moved on to the railroad company offices, completed in the classic 1930s Art Deco style. The offices, boardrooms and dining areas were magnificent. Even the current day Amtrak waiting area had an element of style to it.
Once we completed the building tour we continued on to the Cincinnati History Museum. Immediately upon entering this wing we were greeted by a huge model of downtown Cincinnati in the 1950s, complete with running streetcars and lights, Union Terminal, Crosley Field, and all of the large buildings.
Beyond the model were a full size actual street car, a Crosley car, a complete 1800’s ‘street’ with buildings and a riverboat. Also on the lower level was the traditional Christmas Model Train exhibit, and in keeping with the theme a special Lego train village.
Finally we went to the Control Tower for the railyard where the Cincinnati Railway Club has a display and shop. From this vantage point we could watch the active railyard with what seemed like miles of rail spur lines and sidings.
All in all the day at the museums in Cincinnati was fantastic. I couldn’t ask for more – wait I did – we stopped by Ikea on the way home and I had Swedish meatballs!