Cincinnati is a Heritage City

Lots of History and Lots of Fun

Exhibit from Cincinnati Zoo
Exhibit from Cincinnati Zoo

Cincinnati is a city steeped in historical attractions, fun activities for the whole family and great educational experiences.

The Ohio River separates Ohio from Kentucky. We took a cruise along the river and found it a relaxing way to see the bridges connecting Ohio and Kentucky. We also had great views from the boat of the Cincinnati Reds baseball stadium and the Cincinnati Bengals football stadium as well as the Cincinnati skyline. Incidentally, the Cincinnati Reds baseball team is the oldest major league baseball team.

Outstanding exhibits at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden were a high point on our visit to Ohio. It is the second oldest zoo in the country (opened 1875), and offers an animal collection beyond compare exhibited in 85 acres of naturalistic surroundings including Asian plants and jungle sounds. The zoo houses more than 700 different animal species and more than 3,000 types of plants. There are more than 20 major exhibits at the zoo, and all of the exhibits are outstanding.

We especially enjoyed The Lords of the Arctic exhibit that features polar bears and allows visitors to view the bears walking through a shallow stream or plunging into a 12 foot deep, 70,000 gallon pool. Visitors can also view the polar bears almost nose-to-nose through underwater glass panels. The exhibit also has five dramatic waterfalls and a replica of a bear den with educational interactives.

Rev. John Rankin's home
Rev. John Rankin's home | Larger

For a fascinating historical and educational experience for your family, we recommend visiting the small town of Ripley, Ohio, an hour's drive from Cincinnati along the Ohio River. Ripley, located on the Ohio River, became the point of entry to Ohio for hundreds of fugitive slaves during the years before emancipation. They were helped on their way by some of Ripley's leading citizens, who secretly cooperated in the illegal activities of aiding and hiding the slaves on their way to freedom.

Rev. John Rankin, a white Presbyterian minister, was an outspoken opponent of slavery. His house situated high on a hill overlooking the town of Ripley and the Ohio River, was a stopping point for slaves who crossed the river from the slave holding state of Kentucky into the free state of Ohio. Most of the 2,000 slaves who traveled through Ripley before the end of the Civil War stayed in the home of John Rankin. The Rankin family, which included 13 children, often hid as many as 12 slaves in their small home at one time.

Eliza's Tale
Eliza's Tale | Larger

In the winter of 1838, a slave woman and her baby crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky on floating sheets of ice to the safety of the Ripley shore. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a resident of Cincinnati at the time, included that story and others she heard from John Rankin about escaping slaves, in her novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

The Rankin House is now a National Historic Landmark. We toured this interesting house and even retraced the route of escaping slaves by walking up the "stairway to liberty" which was built on the hill slaves climbed to reach the Rankin House—and safety.

Ohio River
Ohio River | Larger

Another National Historic Landmark in Ripley is the Parker House that faces the Ohio River and northern Kentucky. It is the former home of John P. Parker, an African American who was born into slavery and escaped into freedom. He moved to Ripley where he became a prominent inventor and business leader. John P. Parker often ventured daringly at night into Kentucky to guide fugitive slaves in crossing the Ohio River. He is reported to have aided more than 900 people en route to freedom.

The network of safe houses and trails that helped slaves flee the South before the Civil War is known as the Underground Railroad.

After spending the morning in Ripley, we had lunch at Coheart's River House Restaurant about two blocks from the Parker House. The restaurant overlooks the Ohio River and serves tasty country cooking.

If you like museums, Cincinnati has some of the most interesting ones in the nation. The city has an entire museum center located in an Art Deco building, the former Union Terminal. Once a bustling train station, the Cincinnati Museum Center is now a major tourism destination with more than a million visitors a year. There are three museums at the Center: Cinergy Children's Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science, and the Cincinnati History Museum. The center also has an OMNIMAX theater.

The Cinergy Children's Museum has nine state-of-the-art, totally interactive exhibits appropriate for infants to ten year olds. We enjoyed watching The Woods exhibit where children can look out from a two-story tree house (it is wheel- chair accessible) to view the real waterfall that empties below into a pond of live river creatures. They can also cross the rope bridge spanning the "river" below, or try the horizontal climbing wall.

Another exhibit, Little Sprouts Farm, is ideal for children four years of age or younger. Toddlers and preschoolers can ride down a slide through the barn, sort fruits and vegetables in the garden, fish from a row boat, play at a sand table, and gather around the story tree theater for puppet shows.

Cincinnati History Museum
Cincinnati History Museum

The second museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science, has eight excellent exhibits for visitors of all ages. The third museum, the Cincinnati History Museum, is one of the largest urban history museums in the country. It includes a re-creation of the Cincinnati Public Landing in the late 1850's, where visitors can step aboard a 94-foot steamboat. Plus, visitors can talk with costumed actors who make "history come to life."

If you would like to have some outdoors fun and physical activity, you can find it within 30 minutes of Cincinnati at the The Dude Ranch in Morrow, Ohio. This is a working cattle ranch that offers horseback and trail riding, and authentic cattle drives. It also has a petting zoo of farm animals and pony rides for younger children. Horses are available for all ability levels, including horses perfect for children seven and up.

Roping a steer at the Dude Ranch
Roping a steer at the Dude Ranch

After explaining that we wanted to experience the best the ranch had to offer, but that we had almost no horseback riding experience, we joined a group of 12 novice horseback riders. We mounted our horses and began single file down a slope and then up through a wooded area. Two experienced cowboys rode with us. We then came to a pasture where about 35 Texas Longhorn cattle were grazing. The cowboys instructed us on how to spread out and form a "U" shape and how to drive the cattle through an open gate in the fence into another pasture and then through another open gate into a third pasture. They explained how to advance our horses and shout repeatedly "YAW", "HAW", "MOVE", or anything else that would get the Longhorns moving. What fun it was driving the cattle.

William Howard Taft home
William Howard Taft home | Larger

Ohio has been the home to eight U. S. presidents, including William Howard Taft of Cincinnati. We enjoyed the interesting guided tour of the home where the president lived. It is also a National Historical Site. Next door to the home is the Taft Education Center that opened in 1999 with many interesting exhibits.

For roller coaster fanatics and all those young at heart, Paramount's Kings Island amusement park is a 15-minute drive from Cincinnati. It features 364 acres packed full of world-class attractions, including 12 roller coasters, two complete areas for children, and characters from Hanna-Barbera Land and Nickelodeon. There are also several scheduled shows and a 30-acre water park with a 600,000-gallon wave pool. Two of the roller coasters deserve special mention. The Beast is the world's longest wooden roller coaster, and Son of Beast is the world's tallest, fastest, and only looping wooden roller coaster.

For more information on Ohio Tourism, phone 1-800-BUCKEYE