For those of us who miss the days when WBNS-FM 97.1 was the place on the radio dial for “Easy Listening,” tuning in to the Sirius XM Satellite Radio “Escape” music channel for a road trip is a real treat. Yesterday, Henry Mancini’s catchy, apropos “Send a Little Love My Way” stuck with me the entire day as I escaped the usual routine to attend an event at the University Club of Cincinnati.
When we parted company after the program, most of the crowd left this handsome building at the corner of 4th and Broadway and headed south, continuing to debate funding ratios and discounted liabilities. I, however, turned the other way, resumed humming Henry’s tune, and explored the Lytle Park Historic District on my three-minute walk back to the car.
Hoofing the streets of downtown Cincinnati isn’t something I’ve had much occasion to do, so this was a welcome opportunity to imagine what the Queen City must have been like when Frances Trollope, author of Domestic Manners of the Americans, suffered through her years living there in the late 1820s, and in the early 1840s, when Bishop John Baptist Purcell oversaw the construction of Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral.
Bounded by Cincinnati’s Central Business District, the Lytle Park Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its centerpiece is Lytle Park, a greenspace of just over two acres. The site began as Fort Washington, built in 1789 to protect Cincinnati’s early settlers, and then was home to William Lytle, surveyor general of the Northwest Territory.
Today, the park is home to an 11-foot bronze statue of a beardless Abraham Lincoln, commissioned by Charles Taft and dedicated by his half-brother, William Howard Taft, in 1917. The park is surrounded by 28 contributing buildings, many of which are fine examples of Greek Revival, Georgian and Italianate architecture. One of them is the circa-1820 brick building that the Literary Club of Cincinnati calls home. Founded in 1849, the 100-member men’s club has hosted notable writers such as Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Another is the building that was the Cincinnati location of the American Book Company, best known for publishing McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. William Holmes McGuffey first started writing this best-selling series of readers for schoolchildren when he was a professor at Miami University in 1834. Do you recognize this logo from the back cover of the readers?
But best of all is the Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft House, now the Taft Museum of Art.
Through January 12, 2014, the museum is hosting Telling Tales: Stories and Legends in 19th-Century American Art, a traveling exhibition of the New-York Historical Society focusing on how narrative artwork from the 1830s to the late 1860s was inspired by religion, literature, history and landscapes. Richly hued paintings like Eastman Johnson’s Sunday Morning, Worthington Whittredge’s The Window, Richard Caton Woodville’s The Cavalier’s Return, William Sidney Mount’s Farmers Bargaining and John Rogers’ detailed sculpture, Why Don’t You Speak for Yourself, John? are some of the works you can see.
To discover more about them — or if you’re a fan of other well-known artists of the day like Benjamin West, George Caleb Bingham, Samuel F.B. Morse, Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt — check out Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy, edited by Barbara Dayer Gallati.
In a few weeks, I’ll tell you about another favorite Cincinnati landmark of mine.