History of Covington, Kentucky facts for kids

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Covington-Kentucky
Skyline of Covington Kentucky

The beginning

History of Kentucky
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In 1814, John Gano, Richard Gano, and Thomas Carneal purchased 150 acres (0.6 km2) on the west side of the Licking River at its confluence with the Ohio River, referred to as "the Point," from Thomas Kennedy for $50,000. The men named their new riverfront enterprise the "Covington Company," in honor of their friend, General Leonard Covington, an American officer who once trained troops in the area and was killed in the War of 1812.

The investors prepared a plat for the new city that was approximately five blocks wide by five blocks deep. The platted streets lined up with the streets of Cincinnati across the Ohio River, symbolically tying the future of the fledging city to its larger neighbor to the north. The first five streets, running north to south, were named for Kentucky's first five governors: Shelby, Garrard, Greenup, Scott, and Madison.

In February 1815, the Kentucky General Assembly incorporated the land as the town of Covington. At the time of its incorporation, Covington and all of today's Kenton County was a part of Campbell County. Shortly after its incorporation, the investors began selling lots in the new city for $385 a lot. However, for the next 15 years, lot sales were slow and disappointing. By 1830, the young city had a population of only 715 and lot prices were selling for half their value in 1815.

Population growth

The population of Covington grew from 743 in 1830 to 24,505 in 1870 to 42,938 in 1900. From this number, the population grew to its highest recorded count – 65,252 – in 1930. Perhaps due to problems associated with the Great Depression in the 1930s, U.S. Census Bureau recorded the city's first drop in population in its history in 1940, when the population was documented at 62,018. For the next two decades, the population would remain in the low- to middle- 60,000s. Due in large part to urban flight that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, the city's population dropped from 60,376 in 1960 to the lowest recorded census count in recent history in 2010, 40,640. In the most recent U.S. Census estimate, conducted in 2014, the city's population increased slightly to 40,944.

Economic growth

First commercial development

In its infancy, most of the commerce in Covington was connected with the rivers that formed the northern and eastern boundaries of the city. Because the Kentucky side of the Ohio River was relatively shallow compared to the Ohio side of the river, Covington was never able to develop its riverfront as a viable public landing for boats and steamships, which instead moored on the Cincinnati side of the river, where steamship building facilities were located.

The city's first manufacturing concern, a cotton factory, was built near the river in 1828, and three years later, another business, a rolling mill and nail factory, was established along Scott Street near the riverfront.

First commercial center

The first commercial center of the city was established around the "public square" platted between Third and Fourth Streets and Scott Boulevard and Greenup Street. At this location, a market house was constructed in 1831 and a public well was dug approximately one block from the square. During the 1830s, along with the public market, retail stores, businesses offices, and other commercial establishments flourished in this area.

In the mid-19th century, two things promoted the growth of Covington. First, in 1840, the Kentucky General Assembly severed Kenton County from Campbell County. Despite the legislative directive that county seat be at the center of the county, Covington served as the de facto county seat until the City of Independence was incorporated in 1842.

Because Independence was sparsely populated and approximately 12 miles (19 km) from Covington, the residents and lawyers of the thriving urban area found it more convenient to transact business and administer justice at the Covington courthouse, which was constructed near the public square in 1843. Recognizing that Covington was serving as the de facto county seat, the Kentucky legislature, in 1860, enacted a law authorizing Covington as the site for the recording of deeds and mortgages – making Kenton County only one of two counties in Kentucky with dual county seats (the other being Newport and Alexandria in Campbell County).

Madison and Pike Street commercial corridor

Odd Fellows Hall Restored
Restored, Odd Fellows Hall, on Madison Ave.

The other major development occurring during this time period was the construction of the Covington and Lexington Railroad in 1853. While the public square remained a hub for the "courthouse crowd," in large part because of the railroad, the area of Madison Avenue and Pike Street became the city's primary commercial center during the rest of 19th century and into the 20th century.

With a train stop at Russell and Pike Streets, which was also near the terminus of the Covington and Lexington Turnpike, the area of the city soon became a beehive of commercial activity. Packing houses, groceries, dry goods stores, meat markets, printers, jewelers, saloons, lumber yards, machine shops, hardware stores, and more than 20 hotels cropped up in this area of the city.

Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge

CovingtonKY JARoeblingBridge
A view of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge from Covington on the south bank of the Ohio River with Cincinnati in the background.

The next major project that spurred the economic growth of Covington was the decade-long construction of the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge between Covington and Cincinnati. Built by John A. Roebling, construction started in 1856. Work on the bridge continued for two years before the effects of the 1857 depression brought construction to a halt. Work on the bridge resumed in 1863 but once again was delayed because of the Civil War. The bridge formally opened on January 1, 1867, promoting further commerce between Kentucky and Ohio.

In part because of depressions of 1873 and 1893, commercial construction was not significant in Covington during the latter part of the 19th century. However, that would change dramatically in the early 20th century for a number of reasons.

One of these reasons was that the Suspension Bridge – originally designed for horse cars and pedestrians – was reconstructed in the late 1890s to accommodate electric streetcars – and in a few years, automobiles. During the early 20th century, many new commercial and governmental structures were constructed in Covington.

Heyday

The heyday for Covington as the commercial center for all of Northern Kentucky was the first two decades of the 20th century. During these decades, particularly the 1920s, the city's downtown was a bustling place of activity, with numerous restaurants, department stores, shops, saloons, banks, theaters, and offices bringing swarms of people to the downtown commercial district.

Among the buildings that were constructed during this high-growth period were several near the public square, such as the city and county building, dedicated in 1902 and the Cincinnati, Newport, and Covington Railway Company headquarters, completed in 1903 (later acquired by the Citizens Telephone Company), to name a few. In addition, a number of other commercial structures were constructed in the downtown commercial district that survive today, such as the Masonic Lodge at the corner of Fourth and Scott Boulevard, the Kentucky Times-Star Building in the 500 block of Scott, and the Edward Pieck pharmacy building (later the Greyhound bus station building) at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and Madison Avenue.

It was also during this time period that Covington became the financial center of Northern Kentucky, housing the following lending institutions, primarily on Madison Avenue: the First National Bank, German National Bank, Covington Savings Bank & Trust Co., Citizens National Bank, and Peoples Savings Bank and Trust Company, to name a few.

This was also a period when the manufacturing industry significantly increased in Covington. Of particular note was the growth of The Stewart Iron Work Company, which employed as many as 600 people in 1915. It was a highly guarded secret that Stewart Iron Works made the special "non-sawable" bars for the cells at Alcatraz Prison. The Bavarian Brewery was a large employer in the west side with strong sales until Prohibition in 1918. Other manufacturing firms that operated during this time period include the United States Motor Truck Company and Kelley-Koett Manufacturing Corp. of Covington, Ky., one of the country's earliest manufacturers x-ray accessories and equipment. Known for many of its beautiful churches, this was also the time frame during which one of the city's icons, St. Mary's Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption, was built, which was dedicated in 1910. It was also during this time frame when the city acquired two of its most prized parks: Goebel Park in the Mainstrasse neighborhood and Devou Park, more than 500 acres (2 km2) of pristine land in the western hills of the city.

Decline

While the Great Depression of the 1930s devastated many Covington businesses and residents, the city's decline did not become pronounced until the 1960s. As mentioned above, the city's population remained somewhat stagnant for three decades. But post-World War II urban flight, coupled with a substantial reduction in the city's manufacturing sector, caused a significant decline in the city's workforce as well as its resident population.

If the 1920s was the last great decade for Covington, then the 1970s – and to a certain extent the early 1980s – was the nadir for the city, at least with respect to its downtown. Despite construction of the IRS service center by the federal government in the 1960s, which brought many new jobs to the city, the city began a downward spiral of disinvestment, which continued for several decades. In fact, in the late 1970s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development identified Covington as one of the country's "most distressed cities."

During this time period, as new retail centers and malls grew in the suburbs, long-established Covington retail firms either closed or left downtown Covington. Among the stores and shops that left or closed were Goldsmith's Department Store, Eilermann's Department Store, Coppin's Department Store, Montgomery Ward, S.S. Kresge Co., Herzog's, Louis Marx & Sons Furniture, Modern Furniture, Woolworth's, Penney's, Sears, the First National Bank, and the Madison and Liberty theatres, to name a few. Many of these storefronts remained empty during this time period or were replaced with less attractive commercial endeavors or social service agencies.

Rebirth

CovingtonKY downtown
Covington's downtown neighborhoods have many wooded streets and historic buildings, some of which date to the nineteenth century.

Beginning in the mid-to-late-1980s, Covington began its revival. New buildings were constructed, jobs were created, and the population loss began to stabilize.

The rebirth of Covington as a commercial center occurred in the same place where the city commercial growth first occurred – along the Ohio River and in one of the city's first commercial districts, Main Street. The rebirth on the river began modestly in 1984 when developer David Herriman built the $4.4-million, 34-unit Riverside Terrace condominium complex on Riverside Drive. Two years later, Herriman constructed the 43-unit Riverside Plaza, a companion condominium project just south of Riverside Terrace, for $7.5 million.

With the city and state investing approximately $7 million in infrastructure improvements in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including construction of the 100-foot (30 m) Carroll Chimes Bell Tower with its carillon and glockenspiel in Goebel Park, Main Street and Sixth Street was renamed "Mainstrasse," and returned to its roots as a German village with restaurants, taverns, and specialty retail shops.

In the mid-to-late-1980s, the city, using state and local funds, began acquiring properties along the Ohio River for redevelopment. In 1988, the city and local developer Corporex entered into a master development agreement to redevelop the city's riverfront, which kicked the city's renaissance into high gear. The first phase of this redevelopment occurred in 1990 when the $110-million, 18-story Rivercenter office tower and a 230-room Embassy Suites hotel was built atop a 1,100-space parking garage constructed by the city.

In 1994, Fidelity Investments established a 188-acre (0.8 km2) campus in Covington, constructing three office buildings on the campus, totaling approximately 780,000 square feet (72,000 m2) and employing 2,000 employees. At the same time the Fidelity campus was underway, Wessels Construction built the IRS Gateway Center on Scott Boulevard, between Third and Fourth Streets, which would employ approximately 2,000 IRS employees when completed.

In 1997, Rivercenter II was built next to Corporex's first downtown office tower, and during the same year, across Madison Avenue from the Rivercenter complex, a new garage was funded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and built by Corporex. A year after the garage was finished, a 300-room Marriott hotel was built atop a portion of the garage. Two years later, on the remaining portion of the parking garage, eleven floors of office space was constructed, now known as Madison Place, and on top of this office space four floors of multimillion-dollar residential condominiums called Domaine de la Rive were built.

In 1998, across the street from the Marriott hotel, the Commonwealth of Kentucky contributed $30.5 million to build the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. In 2001, a block away from the convention center, Wessels Construction would add a 110,000-square-foot (10,000 m2) expansion of the Gateway Center on Madison Avenue and Third Street. Another block away, Towne Properties would build Roebling Row Apartments, an 86-unit luxury apartment building with architectural features compatible with nearby structures in the surrounding historic Licking Riverside neighborhood.

Meanwhile, a housing boom was taking place in the southern part of the city. Among new subdivisions built in South Covington in the 1990s were Ridgeport (275 homes), Clover Meadow (88 homes), and Heathermoor (100 upscale homes).

The 21st century

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Skyline of downtown Covington

Covington has continued its struggle to rebound into the 21st century. The redevelopment along the riverfront in the 1980s and 1990s slowly moved southward into the downtown area. A few existing structures were rehabilitated and new businesses located there, but by December 2011, nearly one third of the commercial spaces still remained vacant.

In 2005, in an attempt to attract the "creative class" into the commercial district, the City of Covington created the Covington Arts and Technology Zone ("CATZ") on Pike Street . After six years of struggling, it became obvious to city leaders that it did not work as a redevelopment tool and the City Commission voted to repeal the "Covington Arts and Technology Zone" in 2011.

AscentAtRB
The Ascent at Roebling's Bridge

In 2008, Corporex completed the 22-story luxury condominium project, The Ascent at Roebling's Bridge. Designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, with help from local architect GBBN, the wedge-shaped structure won the 2008 CNBC property award for best high-rise in the Americas, and was a featured project in the AIA April 2008 newsletter.

Covington's Neighborhood Movement

Covington owes many of its more recent accomplishments to the action of dedicated residents and neighborhood groups. The first round of this neighborhood movement came about in the mid-to-late-1970s as part of a reformist movement to improve the city. Many neighborhood associations were formed at the time, and the Covington Neighborhood Action Coalition, or CNAC, was established. CNAC served as an umbrella organization for many active neighborhood associations, with each organization having delegates as part of annual CNAC conventions. CNAC addressed citywide concerns and endorsed neighborhood issues, such as opposition to the proposed location of a coal dock in Latonia and advocating for the improvement of sewers in Peaselburg.

CNAC also received federal funding from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) to create the city's first block watch, a forerunner to today's Neighborhood Watch. The neighborhood movement reached its peak in the early 1980s. By the mid-1980s, CNAC membership waned as many citywide issues had been addressed and no funding was available for staff assistance to the neighborhood groups. Several neighborhood associations, such as those in Wallace Woods and Licking Riverside, persisted despite the decline of CNAC.

The Neighborhood Watch Program began in 1985 when Latonia residents began organizing neighborhood watches after a murder and several break-ins in their neighborhood. Watch members work closely with the Covington Police and Code Enforcement Departments and play an instrumental role in making our community safer.

In 1996, residents initiated a call for a new CNAC-like organization. At the same time, the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington, then known as the Covington Community Center, was reorganizing and defining strategic growth areas for its organization. At the request of residents, the Center agreed to help organize and staff the new organization, the Covington Neighborhood Collaborative. Today, CNC has 12 member organizations and works on both citywide and neighborhood issues. Several other neighborhoods, including the Eastside, South Covington, and Mainstrasse, also have active neighborhood associations that are not currently a part of CNC.

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