Overview History of Downtown Covington

During the late 1700s, the land at the confluence of the Ohio and Licking Rivers was owned by Thomas Kennedy, who operated a ferry to the City of Cincinnati. In 1792, Thomas Kennedy and his wife and children made a settlement in what is today Covington. Kennedy and his family came to the area on a flatboat from Pittsburgh. Upon their arrival, they bought 200 acres of land between the Ohio and the Licking. Other farms were soon developed in the area, which became known as Kennedy’s Ferry. Part of this property was purchased by a group of businessmen in 1815. These men were John S. Gano, Thomas D. Carneal and Richard M. Gano. Soon after, a new city was laid out and given the name Covington. The city was named after General Leonard Covington, who died in the War of 1812. The plat of the town was recorded and the streets were named in honor of Kentucky Governors Shelby, Garrard, Greenup, Scott, and Madison.

Over the next 15 years, Covington grew slowly. Development of the town increased dramatically with the establishment of the Covington Cotton Factory in 1828. Three years later, the Covington Rolling Mill began operation in the growing town. These developments led to the chartering of the city by the Commonwealth of Kentucky 1834. Mortimer Benton was chosen first Mayor. By this time, the city contained a nail factory, two cotton factories, a saw mill, five tobacco and cigar factories, two distilleries and a brewery. The population stood at 1,500.

The growth of industry in Covington had great implications. Beginning in the 1840s, large numbers of German and Irish immigrants began moving to the area looking for employment. German speaking immigrants established their own churches, schools, newspapers, and a series of businesses that catered to the immigrant community including beer gardens and the German National Bank. The Irish, who were much smaller in number, also established a thriving community.

By 1854, one-third of the residents of Covington were foreign born. Native born Americans did not always welcome the foreign born immigrants. The Germans and Irish had customs, religious practices, and standards of morality that did not always fit well with the native born concept of community. Consider the following statement written in the Licking Valley Register in 1841: The moral character of the place [Covington] may be judged of generally by the conduct and behavior of the children and youth of its inhabitants, particularly on the Sabbath day. Let a stranger pass through sonic of our streets on Sunday and he would naturally judge us to be perfect heathens and that parents did not in the least regard the future welfare of the souls of their children or what is due to common decency.”

Many new industries were established in Covington in the 1840s and 1850s. In 1848, Robert Hemingray established a glass manufacturing plant in Covington. By 1869, this plant was producing 10,000 fruit canning jars per day. In that same year, the F. Kenneweg & Company, which manufactured fine cigars, was established on Pike Street.

By 1850, Covington had added a pork packing plant, foundries, a number of large factories, a ship building port, an additional rolling mill, and numerous tobacco processing plants. Another addition from the 1850s was the Meyers Manufacturing Company (established in 1855). This company made birdcages, iron fencing, shutters, and fireplace guards. The business was located on Madison Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets. By 1883, the company employed 125 people, and was doing $175,000.00 worth of business each year. Ten years later, the Meyers Manufacturing Company employed 300 and was conducting $1 million in sales.

Development in Covington slowed greatly during the Civil War. Most Covingtonians were more concerned with a suspected invasion of the city by the Confederate army than the expansion of industry. A string of fortifications was constructed in the area to protect the citizens from attack. Despite the war, social progress was made. In 1860, the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis opened St. Elizabeth Hospital on Seventh Street.

The twenty years following the Civil War were years of great expansion for Covington. In 1867, the Suspension Bridge was completed across the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Also during this same era, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad completed a bridge across the Ohio River. By 1870, Covington was linked by railroad to Cincinnati, Lexington, and Louisville. Manufactured goods could now be shipped quickly and cheaply to most major cities on the eastern seaboard of the United States. One of the new industries introduced to Covington at this time was beer making. In 1869, Bavarian Brewery was opened in the city by German immigrants.

Industrial accidents were common. Men, women and children lost limbs and were killed while on the job. Economic depressions also left many unemployed. No government welfare existed. Private groups were established to aid those in need. Benevolent groups were established to provide aid to the unemployed and to widows. Some of these groups included: The Odd Fellows, Masons, and the St. George and St. John Benevolent groups.

Institutions were also established to care for orphans. In the 1840s both the Protestants and Catholics established orphanages. The Protestants established the Covington Protestant Orphanage. The Catholics established St. John Orphanage and an orphanage at St. Elizabeth Hospital.

Religion was very important to the people of Covington. Protestant churches were the first to be erected in the city. The first was the Methodists in 1827. They were followed by tile Disciples of Christ in 1837, the Baptists in 1838, the Presbyterians in 1841, and the Episcopalians in 1842. By 1870, the African Americans of Covington had established two congregations: The African Methodist Church (often called the Colored Methodist Church) with 250 members, and the Colored Baptists Church with 75 members.

The Catholic Church was established in Covington in 1834 with the construction of St. Mary Parish on Fifth Street. In 1841, the German speaking Catholics of Covington established Mother of God Church on Sixth Street. Over the next seventy years, seven additional Catholic parishes were founded in the City of Covington on ethnic lines. The city was elevated to the rank of a diocese in 1853.

Education also played an important role in Covington’s early history. In 1820, the first school in the city (Private school) was established. This was followed by a subscription school in 1825. A free public school was established in 1830, and was followed by the establishment of a public high school in 1853. Despite the introduction of public schools, private alternatives were also available. The first Catholic school was established in 1834. Over the next 50 years, nearly a dozen Catholic schools were in operation in the city.

Education for African Americans developed more slowly than the public or private school systems. In September 1866, the Freedman’s Aid Society established a school in Covington for the children of freed slaves. In that first year, the school enrolled 92 pupils. When the Freedman’s Society school closed in 1870, a private school was opened in the Methodist church. In time, the school for African Americans would receive tax dollars from city coffers.

The city continued to develop and expand in the years before the turn of the century. The list of achievements was phenomenal: Telephone system (1879), modern police department (1882), Y.M.C.A. (1888), Covington, Newport & Cincinnati Street Railway Company (1901), Covington Public Library (1901) and Devou Park (1911). The city also expanded in size and population to a series of annexations. The following areas were annexed by the city: Central Covington (1906), Latonia (1909), Latonia Terrace (1913), Rosedale (1916) and West Covington (1916).

The years following World War I witnessed the beginning of the suburban movement in Kenton County. Many Covington families left the city for these new communities. The Great Depression, however, slowed this process. The population of the city reached 65,000 in 1930. In the years following World War II, urban flight took a great toll on Covington. The city lost many businesses and thousands of citizens. The construction of Interstate 75 only exacerbated the problem. During the post-war era, Covington was able to annex several large tracts of land south of the Latonia neighborhood. These newly annexed areas became popular residential neighborhoods. Despite the annexations, by 1990, the population of the city had fallen below the 45,000 mark.

Despite a declining population, Covington officials pushed forward several major projects to improve the city. These plans were mixture of both historic preservation and new construction. During this era, thirteen national historic districts were declared in the city. Many homes and businesses were restored to their former beauty. New developed was focused on the area around the intersection of Second and Madison Avenues. These new projects included: Rivercenter Office Towers, Embassy Suites Hotel, The Northern Kentucky Convention Center, a new State Justice Center and a high rise Marriot Hotel. As a result, the 2000 Census indicated a slight increase in Covington’s Population.

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