Sunday, March 5, 2017

Cincinnati Gas Street Lamps

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In researching our 2016 trip to Ohio, we wanted to spend time at the historic Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati. The normal gate hours are 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., but we wanted to start photographing at dawn. I communicated with the cemetery office staff, trying to get someone from security to meet us at dawn, but when I hadn’t gotten confirmation before we left home, I decided we had to start the day somewhere else.

The downtown riverfront seemed like a good idea. We had made reservations at a small motel in Indiana, but when we arrived, we found that they didn’t even offer the kind of room we had reserved with them earlier that morning! We ended up crossing over into Kentucky and staying at another motel. In the morning, in the dark, we crossed back into Ohio and made our way to the riverfront.

Joann knows of my weakness for flying pigs (“When Pigs Fly!”), so she made sure to take a picture of the recently installed one-of-a-kind, interactive artwork, lovingly dubbed “the Oinkithopter.” It’s a variation of a large metal bird called “the Ornithopter.” Both were made by Richter, a German toy company. Since it was dawn, there was no one else in the riverfront park, but Joann figured out that you could climb inside the giant pig and then make it move up and down and flap its wings by pulling on the ropes attached to the huge steel wings.

When we finished at the riverfront, there was still time before the gates would open at the cemetery, so I set the GPS for a cross street that I hoped would take us to some historic gas street lights.

Luckily, the one location I had managed to find in my research turned out to be the center of the Clifton Gaslight District. Clifton was incorporated as a village in 1850. The Clifton farm, from which the village took its name, was 1200 acres of hills and dales. The city of Cincinnati annexed Clifton in 1893. If you’re like me, you probably thought that was more of a modern practice. Apparently, it’s been going on for far longer than I knew.

Cincinnati began to put in streetlights in 1837. In an 1875 inventory, 5,290 public gas lamps were counted, connected by 170 miles of mains and supply pipes.

Today, 1,109 are included in the National Register of Historic Places listing, spread throughout 13 of the city’s neighborhoods, as well as portions of Columbia and Sycamore townships. The oldest light in the inventory dates back to 1843.

The Ludlow Avenue business district of the Clifton neighborhood was designated as a “Main Street neighborhood” in the National Trust for Historic Preservation program. It is considered to be a walking neighborhood, since people living in the neighborhood can meet their needs locally for shopping and entertainment.

The neighborhood also has green spaces including Burnett Woods Park. At the edge of the woods, is a fountain sculpture created by Artist Matt Kotlkarczyk.

Even the drinking fountain in the Burnett Woods Park is historic with an old foot pedal.

In doing more research for this blog, I found that a few other cities have maintained some of their historic gas streetlights, but Cincinnati is the only one I could find that has theirs listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the more interesting facts I found was that some authentic gas street lights from Baltimore were bought for $.03 a pound and line the streets of Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. According to Wikipedia, Walt Disney said, “For those of us who remember the carefree time it recreates, Main Street will bring back happy memories. For younger visitors, it is an adventure in turning back the calendar to the days of their grandfather's youth." That’s what shunpiking does for us.

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. Entertaining return to the days of yore via beautiful photos & engaging narrative. Thank you!

  2. When I saw the photo of the flying pig, I thought "this is right up Ruth's alley!", even before reading the paragraph below it! Thanks for sharing this historical information and photos of Cincinnati. I love the tugboat photo with the bridge and boat lights reflecting on the water!