III. 20th Century Docks (1901 – 1985)

The history of The Fulton Railroad Company, Ltd. and Cincinnati Barge & Rail Terminal, LLC offers a fascinating look at Cincinnati’s backstory as the country’s first Western boom town. This is the 3rd chapter of a 4 installment story of the site’s many uses to the community and in domestic and international trade. This series premiered in The East End Newsletter in early 2013.

20th Century Docks (1901 – 1985)

by Ric Stewart

Looking eastward above Kemper at the lumber yards on today's CBRT site.

1910 – Looking eastward above Kemper at the high stacks of lumber on today’s CBRT site.

As the 20th Century dawned, the shift from shipbuilding to barge and rail traffic (serviced by a lumber yard) continued on today’s Cincinnati Barge & Rail Terminal site. The 1910 census showed that 70% of the residents of the area were now working in a lumber yard, saw mill or planning mill. Occupations included machinist, ship wright, lumber stacker, teamster, box maker, plumber and steam boat pilot. The character of this part of town was dramatically altered by the construction of Columbia Parkway and a shrinking industrial base. As the jobs decamped so did the residents. Ironically, the lumber unloaded onsite helped build the suburban homes they moved into. At midcentury, The East End’s population peaked at 12,000, then waned to 2,000, as units were often torn down due to industrial or roadway expansion.

The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad Company upgraded the Oasis line several times.

A Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad Company bond bill ca. 1905.

This stretch of land transformed from a well-populated industrial area to a transportation corridor with commuters using Eastern Avenue (now Riverside Drive) and Columbia Parkway. Both freight and passengers traveled via Cincinnati’s extensive Penn Station, a large rail yard between CB&RT’s property and downtown. Railway improvements put in by the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad in 1907 furthered the mixture of industrial activity and lower income housing.

Increasingly the neighborhoods east of downtown for miles became viewed as one neighborhood, The East End. Columbia Parkway’s WPA-era improvements in the 1930’s transformed it into a major highway. It ran along the ledge parallel to the Ohio River, and then up the Little Miami River Valley (alongside the rail lines) taking advantage of the easiest transit route. It connected the eastern suburbs as a corridor more so than a series of separate communities. In the 21st Century, this route could re-emerge as SORTA’s Eastern Corridor.

Cincinnati's Penn Station at Eggleston and Eastern Ave.

Cincinnati’s Penn Station trains ran east from dowtown for over 50 years.

The Marine Railway continued operating until 1919. The photo (at top) shows a significant lumber yard, with silo used for wood chips. The yards that had been integral to ship building and repair operations servicing the three steamboat building companies that remained after 1870 had given way to lumber yards and sawmill shops. These businesses relied on the rail system more so than the river. The natural basin along the Ohio River offered the interface of river and rail transport appealing to grain elevators, sheet metal plants and oil terminals as the century progressed.

Meanwhile, Fulton’s historic impact reverberated in the city. Former Marine Railways president Hercules Carrell’s son George served as Cincinnati’s mayor from 1922-25. The fine tooling required to build steamboat engines, spawned the Niles Works leading to Cincinnati’s prominence as a metal machining hub. Prolific machine building offspring like LeBlond, Cincinnati Machine and Lodge and Shipley later evolved from the tooling industry spawned by steamboat manufacturing.  On November 4, 1922, steamboats once again made headlines with a Hindenburg-like disaster at Cincinnati’s Public Landing impacting four steamers. 

The Marine Railway- built Island Queen goes down in a 1922 blaze off the public landing of Cincinnati

The Marine Railway’s Island Queen a 1922 blaze off Cinncinati’s public landing. (Photo: Cincinnati Times-Star)

The first Island Queen (built at Marine Railways in 1896) burned and sank after an overheated tar bucket spilled over and ignited on the Morning Star, then the fires spread to Island Queen, the Chris Greene and the Tacoma. Eventually, steamboats became the object of nostalgia, leading to six Tall Stacks festivals commencing in 1988. 

Today’s warehouse at 1707 Riverside was constructed by Cincinnati Sheet Metal & Roofing Co. in 1907 with a final addition in 1953. That warehouse holds 104,000 square feet, and in 1965, a modern warehouse at 1727 Riverside added 75,000 square feet of capacity. 


The crane permitted by the Army Corps in 1931 offers the only service of its ilk within 300 miles of The Ohio River.

As the 1920’s progressed, Crane & Co. operated from a series of storage sheds, mills and workshops covering the expanse between Weeks and Hazen Streets with railroad siding. It was the forerunner of today’s Cincinnati Barge & Rail Terminal. In the late 1920’s the company transformed into Cincinnati Sheet Metal Company, focusing on  construction materials more in vogue with the times. In 1931, American Building Components installed a 20-ton crane which is still in use onsite today!

The crane proved to be a tremendous resource developing the city as a major inland port, one of the largest on the Ohio or Mississippi Rivers, handling both international and domestic cargoes. Rookwood Oil Terminal took over the remaining portions of the Marine Railway and Dry Dock Co. lumberyard before WWII. The large series of tanks were a landmark for decades along the city’s waterfront.


The Rookwood Oil Terminal was a fixture on the waterfront for decades.

During wartimes, the warehouse and yard served military uses by carrying project cargo and offering space for construction of Quonset huts used in multiple war theaters. In the second half of the 20th Century, New York Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner was more than just Costanza’s boss for a while. The Cleveland based shipping magnate and his family’s American Shipbuilding Company owned and operated the barge terminal as a natural complement to operations on the Great Lakes.

As the 1980’s came along, a visionary entrepreneur with roots in recycling, rail and real estate development had a revolutionary idea.The concept became known as Adam’s Landing. The visionary was George B. Stewart. Much like the pioneers of the 1800’s he saw the river as a place to live as well as work, crafting a series of concept plans, first leading to development of the Adams’ Place luxury environment to the west with a vision extending east to today’s CB&RT property featuring a combination of uses intending to bring both lives and livelihoods to the waterfront again. The stage had been set for a new era of development in keeping with rapidly changing times.

The shift in logistics in the 2000’s back to barge and rail has reduced pollution and highway overload in the US.


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