Covington's Cincinnati

June 4 - August 1, 2014

June 4 - August 1, 2014


Samuel Fulton Covington (no relation to Covington, Kentucky) was an Indiana native who built a successful career in the crowded Cincinnati insurance industry during the second half of the 1800's. His experiences and those of his family typify the growing middle class that evolved in industrial America.

Throughout his business career Samuel participated in a number of business and commercial service organizations including the Board of Trade and the Chamber of Commerce. He was recognized by the business community for his judgment and respected for his opinions, leading to his nomination to represent Cincinnati on state and federal boards, particularly those overseeing river transportation issues, and was often invited to give public addresses.

In addition to Samuel's important collection of books on Ohio and mid-American regional history, the family's remarkable collection of diaries, correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs and ephemera provide a fascinating look at life in an earlier Cincinnati.

Book collecting was a popular hobby for businessmen in the late 19th century, and many wealthy men later donated collections that formed the foundations of great research libraries. Covington was not able to collect on that exalted level, but he nevertheless formed an impressive collection of material with a particular focus in local and regional history. In 1915 his widow sold the collection to Miami University. The Samuel Fulton Covington Collection has been added to in the century since then, and today it is a comprehensive collection on the history of the region, and a strong collection of 19th century Americana in general. In the Libraries' catalog, the designation "Cov" in front of the call number indicates a Covington Collection item. Many of the books in this exhibit are from his personal collection. A bibliography of the materials on display in the exhibit may be found here.

We hope you enjoy this look at Covington's Cincinnati and the Covington Collection.



Early Years in Indiana



Samuel Covington's parents met and married in Rising Sun, Indiana, on the Ohio River some 35 miles south of Cincinnati. His father, Robert E. Covington (died 1825), came from Maryland and married Mary Fulton in January 1819. They had two sons, Samuel and John.


Samuel attended Miami University for about a year in 1837-1838, but was forced to return home and seek a job to help support his widowed mother. He was a clerk in a dry goods store, then clerk on the steamboat Renown and changed jobs frequently going from politics to newspapers to insurance. He moved frequently as well between Rising Sun, Madison, Indiana, and Indianapolis.

He married Mary Hamilton in 1843, and they settled for a time in Rising Sun. As with many other middle class American families, education was highly valued in the Covington family. Covington himself was forced to leave Miami University after a year; perhaps this was one reason he saw that his children received educations. His three daughters – Harriet, Mary (Mollie) and Florence (Flossie) – all were educated at girls' schools in and around Cincinnati.

Cincinnati in 1819


  • Incorporated as a city

  • Population under 10,000

  • Steamboat building a rapidly growing business

Cincinnati in 1819


  • Incorporated as a city

  • Population under 10,000

  • Steamboat building a rapidly growing business

The Insurance Business

Just why Samuel moved to Cincinnati in the 1850's is unclear, but the allure of this large business center so nearby was likely simply too attractive to resist.

Coming to Cincinnati
Samuel had settled on a career in insurance and worked for several different firms, finally joining the Globe Insurance Company as its secretary in 1865. He and his family lived in the East End, not a particularly favorable area, but convenient to the downtown area. Later they settled in a flat on Third Street just a few minutes from the office.

During Cincinnati's heyday as the "Queen City of the West", steamboats crowded the public landing, as shown in both the reproduction and original lithographs in the exhibit. The engraving of the Alice Dean below was originally published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1863 and is reproduced from Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War.

Marine Insurance
Steam boating was a big business in 19th century Cincinnati. Dozens of boats came and left the city each day. Many Cincinnati insurance companies offered marine insurance, but it was a very risky trade since ships, especially river steamers, were such accident-prone creations. They collided, exploded, burned, or simply sank, and it was common to insure for a value equal to only one half of the cost of even a new boat. A lesser amount was allowed for older vessels. Almost no insurer would take the full risk; it was always a shared risk. When the Eleanora Carrel burned after just nine months of service at Louisville in January 1866, the loss for the cargo and the boat equaled $170,000. Eighteen insurance companies were involved, but the Globe Insurance Company's share was just $3,000.

Alice Dean
The Alice Dean was owned by Thompson Dean, a wealthy Cincinnati businessman, and named for one of his daughters. It entered service in March of 1863 and engaged mainly in hauling supplies between Cincinnati and Memphis for the U.S. government during the Civil War. On July 8, 1863, it was captured by Confederate forces near Brandenburg, Kentucky, just south of Louisville. It was set on fire and allowed to drift down stream. The boat and its cargo were destroyed.

Covington was involved in this claim, probably during the time he worked for the Western Insurance Company as its secretary. The account book used for the claim is shown in the exhibit, as well as a number of related documents. A replacement boat of the same name entered service in 1864.

The Globe Insurance Company, 1865-1889
Samuel was fortunate to have a wealthy associate, Thompson Dean, with surplus money to invest and a desire to establish an insurance company in Cincinnati. Dean did not necessarily want to run it on a daily basis and needed a trustworthy and energetic partner to keep the office running. A building was purchased at 68 Third Street, near Walnut Street, which was at the heart of the Cincinnati financial district of the time. Banks and insurance offices stood shoulder to shoulder in this western Wall Street. Covington was made secretary of the Globe Insurance Company at its establishment in March 1865. Dean had moved to New York City the prior year and so another associate, James H. Pepper, was the president.

In 1867 Covington moved up to vice president and eventually became president of the firm in 1874 when Dean sold his investment to Covington. By 1879, Globe had paid out over $500,000 in claims and $159,000 in dividends. Although prosperous it was never one of the major insurance companies in Cincinnati. The Globe closed soon after Covington's death in 1889.

Cincinnati in the 1850s


  • Population over 100,000

  • Burnet House Hotel is the largest and grandest in the nation (1850)

  • Organized fire department replaces the old volunteer system (1853)

  • Train service connects Cincinnati to Baltimore and East St. Louis (1857)

  • 36 breweries produce 8 million gallons of beer (1859)

Cincinnati in the 1850s


  • Population over 100,000

  • Burnet House Hotel is the largest and grandest in the nation (1850)

  • Organized fire department replaces the old volunteer system (1853)

  • Train service connects Cincinnati to Baltimore and East St. Louis (1857)

  • 36 breweries produce 8 million gallons of beer (1859)

Commuting from Madisonville

On July 30th 1877, the Covingtons moved into a suburban home in Madisonville, Ohio, 13 1/2 miles northeast of Cincinnati.

Madisonville was established in 1809 as Madison in honor of the U.S. President, but changed its name thirty years later to avoid confusion with another Ohio town of the same name. Once the railroad arrived, real estate development became intense. A comfortable home could be built for under $1000. By 1880, the population was 1274 and within a decade it was over 3100. It was annexed in 1911 as part of the city of Cincinnati.

The village was too remote for a convenient bedroom domicile until the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad built an extension across northern Hamilton County in 1866. It made a connection with the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railroad and took the tracks south to the Fifth and Baymiller Street Depot. From there it was a short street car ride for Samuel to his office. The train trip took 35 minutes and cost only $55 a year, if you purchased an annual pass. The trains were surprisingly elegant with upholstery of old gold plush and curtains.

The original 1866 Madisonville station was replaced in 1888 with this stylish Queen Anne depot. It was only about one block from the Covingtons' home.

At Home in Madisonville
The Covington home was at the corner of present day Stewart and Covington (originally Maple) Streets. The view in the upper left shows the house as originally built. It was enlarged some years later by elevating the roof and by the addition of large dormers and a rear extension. After Samuel died in 1889, Mary remained in the house until her death in 1921. Her daughter Florence lived in the house with her after her husband died. Florence died in 1920. Mary Hamilton Covington survived her husband and all five of her children. Several decades after passing out of the Covington family's hands, the house was torn down in the 1960's.

Cincinnati in the 1870s


  • Population 216,239 (1870)

  • Roughly 24 square acres of land, making it the most densely settled city in America (1873)

  • Mitchell Furniture Co. the largest furniture maker in the world (1875)

  • Zoological and baseball parks open (1875)

  • Music Hall opens to the public (1878)

  • City & Suburban Telegraph Co. begins telephone service in the city (1878)

Cincinnati in the 1870s


  • Population 216,239 (1870)

  • Roughly 24 square acres of land, making it the most densely settled city in America (1873)

  • Zoological and baseball parks open (1875)

  • Music Hall opens to the public (1878)

  • City & Suburban Telegraph Co. begins telephone service in the city (1878)

Cincinnati Industrial Exhibits

Beginning in 1870 a series of public industrial and commercial exhibitions were held at the site of present day Music Hall. The 1870 exhibition covered 3 1/2 acres of ground.




Far more than machinery was on view. There was a large variety of consumer goods as well that included furniture, lamps, books and clothing. The exhibition was meant to entertain the whole family. There was a festive air made jollier with German bands, beer and dancing bears. Plants and flowers were on display, and there was an art show that featured paintings, sculpture and wood carving. The entrance fee was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children, and reduced rail fares and hotel rates abounded. The fair opened the first week in September and closed the first week in October. Attendance varied from year to year, but it was generally 300,000 to 500,000. It peaked in 1888 at one million visitors.

The 1888 Industrial Exhibition was the largest ever. It celebrated the city's Centennial and overflowed into Washington Park across the street from Music Hall. It featured gondolas imported from Venice, Italy, that were poled around the canal behind Music Hall by genuine boatmen from Venice.

Cincinnati in the 1880s


  • Population 255,139 (1880)

  • Nearly 30% of the population foreign-born (1880)

  • U.S. Playing Card Co. opens (1880)

  • Central Bridge connects Newport, KY, to Cincinnati (1881)

  • Kroger enters the grocery business (1883)

  • Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Bridge opens on Christmas Day (1883)

Cincinnati in the 1800s


  • Population 255,139 (1880)

  • Nearly 30% of the population foreign-born (1880)

  • U.S. Playing Card Co. opens (1880)

  • Central Bridge connects Newport, KY, to Cincinnati (1881)

  • Kroger enters the grocery business (1883)

  • Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Bridge opens on Christmas Day (1883)

The Miami Connection

John Ichabod Covington was Samuel's only surviving son. His older brother George was mortally wounded at the age of 19 while serving in the Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War. John graduated from Miami University in 1870.



Having pledged a fraternity, he remained active in Beta Theta Pi throughout his life. His diaries, kept during his school years, note his classes and his social activities, as well as frequent baseball games.

While at Miami he fell in love with one of "the Westerns". Clara Pumphrey, from Connersville, Ind., was a student at Western College; she left school to marry John in September 1870. In a love letter displayed in the exhibit, written two weeks before their marriage, John tells her about the announcements he has ordered and hopes she will approve of the monogram. John and Clara had three daughters, two of whom survived to adulthood.

John followed in his father's business and began working in insurance while still in school. He soon became a principal at the Insurance Adjustment Co., then later moved to New York City. He died of a heart attack in 1895.

Clara and her two daughters returned to Oxford where they lived in Lewis Place, the current university president's house, then owned by a former classmate of John's. Both Annette and Mary graduated from Western College. Annette established herself as a regionally known artist. Mary later married Miami Professor Stephen Riggs Williams.

Cincinnati in the 1890s


  • Population 296,908 (1890)

  • Local street railways are carrying over 37 million passengers a year (1890)

  • Proctor and Gamble become a joint stock company (1890)

Cincinnati in the 1890s


  • Population 296,908 (1890)

  • Local street railways are carrying over 37 million passengers a year (1890)

  • Proctor and Gamble become a joint stock company (1890)

To the People of Cincinnati


By the end of the 19th century many of the Cincinnati landmarks we recognize today were in place. Often the city's scientific and cultural institutions were funded not from the taxpayers but from the prosperous business community and its wealthier philanthropic citizens.

Every city needs a focal point, but Cincinnati did not have one until the donation of the Tyler Davidson Fountain in 1871 by Henry Probasco. A large bronze casting made at the Bavarian Royal Bronze Foundry in Munich at a cost of $200,000, it is called "The Genius of Water." Originally located in the center of Fifth Street between Vine and Walnut in a site known as Fountain Square, it was moved to its current location in 1969.

Cincinnati had long had artists, galleries, and dealers but no museums. In 1880 Charles W. West (1810-1884), a grain dealer and miller, offered $150,000 ($375,000,000 in today's dollars) to build such a facility. Other big donors worked to double the size of his gift. The Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park opened in May 1886, the first such facility built west of the Allegheny Mountains.

A noisy thunderstorm prompted music-loving Cincinnatians to build a proper concert hall - the temporary building used since 1870 had a thin tin roof. Reuben R. Springer (1800-1884), a retired merchant, offered $125,000 for a new hall if the public would match it. Large and small donors responded. Music Hall was planned as both a concert and exhibition hall. The concert hall in the center of the three wings was completed in time for May Festival of 1878, when it was the largest concert hall in America. It could seat 4,400 with room for 3000 standees. The remaining north and south wings were finished a year later.

The Globe Modernizes
In the 1882 business directory at left, the Globe Insurance Company is listed with a notation that it is available via telephone. Telephone service began in the city in 1878. On the facing page is an ad for the Burnet House, one of the city's great hotels. When it opened in May, 1850, the Illustrated London News declared it the greatest hotel in the world. It was six stories high and contained 342 rooms. This hotel was a temporary home for Abraham Lincoln, the Prince of Wales, and many other celebrities. In one of its parlors, Generals Grant and Sherman planned the “March to the Sea” campaign that broke the Confederacy. Time and the price of land led to the hotel's demolition in 1926.

Illustrated Business Directory and Picturesque Cincinnati. Cincinnati, Ohio: Spencer & Craig Print. Works, 1882. Cov F499.C5I45 1882

Nicknames Cincinnati has received a few nicknames over the years. "Queen City of the West" from a Longfellow poem is the most familiar. "Porkopolis" dates to the 1820's when a correspondent of Cincinnati banker George W. Jones suggested the name after repeated reports on the pork business. "The City of Seven Hills" goes back to ancient Rome, but while the Seven Hills of Rome can be named, Cincinnati has a dozen or more. Late in the 19th century, local newspapers and businessmen favored the nickname "Paris of America". Covington himself used this term in a public business address -- but this phrase has since fallen into obscurity.

The need for extra copies of correspondence and other documents led James Watt to invent a method for such reproduction in 1779 using a "letter press". The press was heavy cast iron, and the technique involved pressing a thin piece of paper against the original to absorb ink from a recently written letter. The image was reversed, but because the paper was so thin, the message could be read easily from the opposite side In later years, carbon paper and copying machines replaced this method, but the Covington Collection contains many of Samuel's letter books in which he managed his correspondence through this technique.