Samuel Hannaford

The Legacy of Samuel Hannaford Main Page

Copyright © 2006 Betty Ann Smiddy 

Cummins School (1871), according to a ‘Cincinnati Enquirer’ article (July 22, 1989) ...”gained international acclaim when it was recognized at the Paris Exposition in 1900.” When it opened, the school accommodated 1,008 students in its 18 classrooms, with offices and an auditorium. The brick Italianate elementary school still stands in Walnut Hill as the Walnut Hills Center. The Center houses a day-care facility and serves as offices for community organizations. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building at 2601 Melrose Ave. and William Howard Taft Road was transformed by a $1.9 million rehabilitation through the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. The developer was James Gould. The marble and Rookwood drinking fountain from 1936 is still in place as is the wainscoting, wooden floors and tin ceilings. It is one of the oldest buildings in Walnut Hills.

St. George Church (1872-1874) 42 Calhoun St. This Romanesque Gothic or Romanesque Revival style church was the first Catholic church on the hilltop. It drew German Catholic parishioners from Fairview, Mt. Auburn, Clifton, Clifton Heights and Corryville when it was built. At that time, the German Catholics were moving out of Over-the-Rhine and up the hill to Corryville and neighboring communities. Corryville was a new suburb at that time, named after an early mayor of Cincinnati, William Corry. The cornerstone was laid by Archbishop John Baptist Purcell on Oct. 13, 1872. The church was dedicated June 28, 1874. It church cost over $100,000 and seated 1,200. The building is dark pressed brick, and the twin spires, each containing four clocks, rise 190 feet, making its copper clad spires a landmark.  The rose window above the front doors is of particular note. Not all the stained glass windows are original to its construction.  In Hannaford’s notebook, tucked away in the Cincinnati Historical Society library are the specifications for the building: what type of brick, who was responsible for the foundation and specifications of the type of stone to be used, details such as the wooden baseboards and wall treatments be painted to look like marble, and small sketches as to what the newel post should look like. David Hummel Building supplied the brick and the foundation.

St. George’s parish started in 1868 with a two-story school and chapel built by German Franciscan fathers. The order came from the Motherhouse in Oldenburg, Indiana.  The church was built under the first priest, Fr. Jerome Kilgenstein, O. F. M. and the building committee’s members were George Weber, George John Alt, John F. Menkhaus and Michael Ryan. In 1895 it ministered to more than 700 families. The rectory and monastery were added in 1928.  The parish school across the street was added in 1914.

The interior spaces of the church soar with the nave and side aisles the same height. It is a typical North German design and brought a sense of familiarity to the German Catholic parishioners. As the neighborhood changed, the families attending dropped. Over the protests of parishioners, they were consolidated with St. Monica in 1993 and the building was put up for sale. (St. Monica was deemed the easier of the two buildings to keep in repair and was in better condition.) The huge brass and glass doors, which are not original, tarnished and there was a neglected air to the church for a while. Members of the parish and community leaders tried to come up with another use of the building to save it from the wrecking ball.

The University of Cincinnati wanted the building to be razed by the Archdiocese so it could purchase the land.  In 1994, Old St. George as it was now called, was purchased from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for about $600,000 by the Christian Ministries Center.  A bookstore-coffee house, community and non-profit organizations such as the Mill Creek Restoration Project had offices there as did spiritual organizations such as the Amos project, and space was offered for exhibits and community events, musical performances, weddings, etc. Money was invested in necessary repairs to the building’s exterior and roof, restoration of the front doors, a sound system was added and the interior was painted.

But it was a struggle and eventually the parent organization closed the building in 2004. Walgreen’s offered to purchase the building for $1.6 million to tear it down and build a drugstore on the site. It was purchased for the same dollar amount by the Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation and the building is currently being repaired (2006). The building is on the Nation Register of Historic Places.

St. George has a rich, museum-like quality. Painted angels hover above the marble altar, on which is carved with a pelican. Wonderful stained glass windows bear names of their donators. Rookwood tiles line the floors of the rectory next door, a dining room mural is there of feasting monks, a wood paneled library is on the second floor, and a tiny atrium that looks perfect for a wedding or tea party is alongside the colonnade. It is an incredible building and since it is desanctified, you can look all you want. A reminder of a closely knit Corryville church, it sits alone and out of place on today’s Calhoun Street.

The Cincinnati Observatory is a unique building designed by Hannaford in 1873 in a Neo-Classical/Georgian Revival style of brick and stone. On Dec. 9, 1997 is was declared a National Historic Landmark, which is different from the National Register of Historic Places. NHL is only granted to those properties of unusual worth to the country. It is the oldest functioning observatory in the U.S. Next to the observatory is the Ormsby McKnight Mitchel building, built in 1904 by Samuel Hannaford & Sons in the a Greek Revival style. The ribbed, metal dome was installed in 1895. It has been owned by the University of Cincinnati since 1872 and has tours currently available.

The first observatory was built on Mt. Ida and after the cornerstone laying by former Pres. John Quincy Adams on Nov. 9, 1843, the hill was renamed Mt. Adams in his honor. It was his last public address, delivered in a day long rain. Pres. Adams had a long standing interest in astronomy and promoted his avocation through the proposed foundation of observatories at Harvard and the Smithsonian. Just before leaving for Cincinnati he said; “There is not one study in the whole circle of the sciences more useful to the race of man upon the earth, or more suited to the dignity of his destination, as a being endowed with reason, and born to immortality, than the science of the stars...The history of Astronomy has been, in all ages, the history of Genius and Industry, in their blazing light and untiring toil, patronized by power.”

One of the primary people responsible for this building was Prof. Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, a professor of science, civil engineering and mathematics and director of the Cincinnati Observatory. He participated in the founding the Cincinnati Astronomical Society in 1842 and also supervised the construction of the new observatory building. He said; “The building of the Cincinnati Observatory has forever settled the great question as to what a free people will do for pure science.” Born in Union Co., Kentucky, he received his education in Lebanon, Ohio where his widowed mother and family moved in with a married daughter. He graduated at West Point in the same class at Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, Mitchel was a Major General on the Union side, dying in 1862 of yellow fever. Ft. Mitchell was named in his honor - the second “l” was a spelling mistake when the area was incorporated. 

The land for the observatory was donated by Nicholas Longworth, who at that time was the second largest landowner in the country, the first being John Jacob Astor. Mitchel and Judge Jacob Burnet persuaded Longworth to donate four acres for the observatory site, which Longworth did with the provision that the building had to be erected within two years or the land title would revert back. This first observatory, monies raised by the heroic efforts of Mitchel who also contributed his own savings, was built through the selling of subscriptions, or shares, to the public who would receive free passes to the observatory in return. The subscriptions were often in kind, either in materials or in services. He was able to use the in kind services not needed in the building of the observatory as a way to partially pay the workmen, or to sell them for cash. Mitchel thought the cost to have brick delivered to the site to be too high, so he changed the design to be made of stone so that it could be quarried right on Mt. Ida. He had the sand needed for mortar to be hauled from the Ohio River shore and burnt the limestone of the hill in makeshift ovens to produce lime. It was the quarrying of limestone from the hill that makes the sides of Mt. Adams so prone to landslides today. When the building was complete the cost in cash was less than $2,000. The lens for the telescope cost $9,000 and it came from Munich, Germany. It was the greatest refractor lens in the world. When it was assembled in Cincinnati, the telescope was 17 feet long and had 10 eyepieces.

By 1855 the observatory had trouble seeing clearly the night skies. The smoke of the slaughterhouses arising from the banks of Deer Creek (Gilbert Ave.), smoke from locomotives, other industry, and the burning of coal, hung over the city night and day. Farmers’ College in College Hill offered to be the site for a new observatory but was turned down.

During the Civil War, the observatory wasn’t used and fell onto disrepair. In 1867, Alfonso Taft, father of President Taft, donated $4,000 for refurbishment. The following year, Cleveland Abbe, the father of meteorology, was appointed director. He had volunteers telegraph the weather conditions in places all along the Ohio Valley and in 1869 he published the first weather reports. The novel idea was found so valuable by the U.S. government that the following year he left for Washington, D. C. to set up the United States Weather Bureau (now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA). The Cincinnati observatory was left without a leader and the telescopic lenses were dismantled and stored.  

In 1871, the University of Cincinnati offered to take over the observatory if it could have the telescope and observatory records. The land title was transferred by the Longworth heirs to U.C. and a new observatory was proposed in Mt. Lookout on four acres of land donated by John C. Kilgour (who also donated $10,000 towards the cost of a new building). The old observatory was leased to the Congregation of the Disclaced Clerks of the most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ who converted the building into a monastery. They purchased the building and later tore it down to build the Church of the Holy Cross and monastery on Mt. Adams.

The new observatory cornerstone was laid on Aug. 23, 1873 by Rufus King and the old cornerstone relaid from the first observatory. The old telescope was reassembled and used until 1904. This first telescope in now housed in the O. M. Mitchel building next to the observatory.

(Sources: The Centenary of the Cincinnati Observatory, Nov. 5, 1943, by the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio and the University of Cincinnati, 1944) Photograph courtesy of the William H. Deak collection.

McMicken College (original building), University of Cincinnati, was constructed in 1874 on Clifton Ave. Charles McMicken was the son of a Pennsylvania farmer who, finding that the horse and plow did not suit him, came to Cincinnati in 1803. Minimally educated, he still could work as a store clerk, and was canny enough to go on buying trips in New Orleans, and Philadelphia. He was attracted to business on the river and made his fortune transporting cotton and speculating on property. Hannaford designed his stores on Main St. between 3rd and 4th streets. Never married, he divided his time among three residences; Cincinnati in spring, east coast in summer and winters at his Feliciana Parish, New Orleans, home. In 1840 he bought a home between Clifton and McMicken avenues. He died on March 30, 1858 aboard a boat returning him to Cincinnati from New Orleans. He left property worth nearly one million dollars in addition to stocks, bonds and cash. Of that he willed a million dollars to found an institute of higher leaning with a caveat that African Americans were not to be educated there. His will freed any slaves he owned. He had a mulatto son, John McMicken, who was a teacher and principal in one of Cincinnati’s African American schools.

Hannaford’s building was quickly outgrown and 43 acres was apportioned from Burnet Woods Park by Cincinnati City Council for new university buildings. The old college on lower Clifton Ave. then became home to the College of Medicine. With the Belleview Incline next door, the medical students would wave body parts out of the windows at passengers.  Later the building became the Law College. This old building was torn down in 1935 and bricks from this building were included in the base of the Golden Gate Bridge since its engineer, Joseph Strauss, studied engineering here in 1892. Until 1977 the University of Cincinnati was owned and operated by the City of Cincinnati for its residents.

Grand Hotel was built in 1874 in the French Second Empire style. It was located on the corner of Central Ave. bounded by 3rd and 4th streets, opposite the Grand Union Station and had 300 rooms. It cost nearly one million dollars, an incredible sum for its day, and was opulent in its furnishing and interior decoration. Advertisement for the Grand Hotel.

 Copyright © 2006 Betty Ann Smiddy