Queen and Crescent: Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific Railway
January 29, 2014 2 Comments
We are not the experts on rail history. We can’t even claim to know very much about Cincinnati rail history. Several well done sites have virtually complete histories. Sites like Cincinnati Transit Historical Association, Ronny Salerno’s Queen City Discovery, Jake Mecklenborg’s Cincinnati-Transit, West2k and our favorite, Jeffrey Jacucyk’s Cincinnati Traction History are all wonderful resources maintained by able enthusiasts. But when we happened upon a cache of fascinating photos from early last century, we wanted to make our little contribution to the storytelling. Ladies and gentlemen, the Queen and Crescent Freight Depot.
Where was it?
The depot sat in the flood plain of Cincinnati’s central riverfront. Today, it would sit roughly in Lot D and extending west into the Paul Brown Stadium footprint. Below is a classic aerial view from the 1930’s showing the location. The two long buildings run horizontally (east to west) across the photo in the center. The building was bounded by Commerce Street to the north, Vine Street to the east, Front Street to the south, and Plum Street to the west.
What was it?
The Queen and Crescent Freight Depot was the downtown terminus of an extensive rail system built in the 19th century. The 1,158 miles of track was comprised of five different companies. The northern part of the system was owned by The Cincinnati Southern and operated as the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway. Altogether, the line was popularly known as the Queen and Crescent Route. As you can probably guess, it was named this because it connected Cincinnati (The Queen City) and New Orleans (The Crescent City). The Cincinnati Southern Railway and CNO&TP contributed 336 miles of this system with its path from Cincinnati to Chattanooga.
Leading up to the construction of the downtown Front and Vine Depot, the Cincinnati Southern utilized a few freight terminals across the city. The line entered the city via the Cincinnati Southern Bridge; crossing the Ohio River from Ludlow, Kentucky. The line turned east and utilized a surface track rented from B&O Southwestern to access a dated and inadequate depot. This depot was on a right-of-way owned by the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. It was located at Front and Mill Streets and conflicting sources date the original wooden structure to 1854 or 1857 with a newer station erected in 1873. The Cincinnati Bulk Terminals currently occupy this land along East Mehring Way. Along with facilities in Ludlow, Kentucky, this served as a principal depot until the Front and Vine facility was built.
The line ran farther north along McLean Avenue to a yard located near the present day Cincinnati Union Terminal. Here sat the Lincoln Park Depot pictured below on May 2, 1914. This building was about 400 feet long and sat diagonal in relation to the street-grid in a yard between Hopkins and Kenner Streets. This vantage point would have been looking south from Kenner Street.
Farther north from this, the Brighton Station was also utilized…although probably not during the 1913 flood, which is depicted below. The photo below was most likely taken along Western Avenue. The site today is a parking lot at the SWC of Bank Street and Western Avenue.
But back to that Queen and Crescent Depot on the Cincinnati riverfront. By the early-1900s, the old depot was no longer located convenient to the core of business in the city – and perhaps it never was. It was then the board of the Cincinnati Southern took steps to construct a new freight terminal located closer to the wholesaling activities in the city. We know this area as The Banks now. They also sought to combine all of the operations under one roof to operate more efficiently and in anticipation of growth. This called for a huge complex. Below, you can see a longitudinal section showing the office portion.
Similar to what would be witnessed nearly a century later (ahem, Paul Brown Stadium), the riverfront land acquisition completed circa 1905 was a costly venture, totaling $1,300,000. That would be over $32,200,000 in 2014 dollars. It also involved demolishing warehouses of varying heights (up to 8 stories). But it was below those buildings that you could see where the “business” of the Bottoms happened. Old privy vaults, deep cellars and wells of the structures built soon after the Civil War complicated foundation work for the depot. Digressing, one can only imagine how these subterranean spaces were evacuated of water and waste after severe river floods.
Simply put, the structure formed a giant “U” shape between Commerce Street to the north and Front Street to the south. (In modern times, Commerce Street was renamed Produce Street. Drawing a line due east, it would have lined up directly with present day Augusta Street that lies to the west under the Brent Spence Bridge.)
The office building fronted on Vine Street and occupied a footprint of 130’x50′. It featured reinforced concrete with brick veneer and stone accents. The roof was reinforced steel and tile. It was two stories in addition to a basement. Topping the structure was the handsome clock tower that reached 65 1/2 feet above Vine.
Looking north at the NWC of Vine and Front in 1914.
The outbound freight house was served by two tracks and measured 25 feet wide and was located on Commerce Street. It doubled the capacity of the previous terminal. The inbound freight house was served by one track and measured 42 feet wide and faced Front Street. It added six-times the capacity of the previous terminal. The three sets of tracks in between the houses were separated by an 8 foot platform. Together the tracks had capacity for 81 cars. Both houses had a second story extending 125 feet from the office building used for record-keeping. The walls were concrete and the roof of each house wooden.
Chief Engineer and Superintendent on the project was G.B. Nicholson. He was assisted by H.E. Warrington and Adam Ritter. The building contractor was The Collier Bridge Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. The buildings were completed in the spring of 1906 and cost $250,000 ($6,600,000 in 2014 dollars).
In what should have not been a surprise to anyone, the terminal fell victim to winter and springtime floods. Below are photographs of the 1913 flood.
Content and drawings:
Staff Writer (1905). New Freight Terminal at Cincinnati of the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific. The Railroad Gazette, XXXIX(13), 293-296.
All photographs unless otherwise noted:
Nollau, L.E (1906-1913). University of Kentucky Special Collections, http://kdl.kyvl.org