THE LITTLE MIAMI VALLEY
Begin your exploration of southwest Ohio from downtown Cincinnati, where the art-deco masterpiece Netherland Hotel stands at the corner of Fifth and Race Streets. Its sumptuous 1930s Arcade and Palm Court, and the newly renovated Fountain Square across the street, occupy the position of the huge, elliptical earthwork that once dominated this high Ohio River terrace, as recorded on Dr. Daniel Drake’s 1815 map.
Indeed, Fountain Square is the symbolic heart of Cincinnati. This city grew and prospered in the early 1800s, on its large level terrace, above the confluence of three rivers. Two thousand years earlier, other people were here, and also built monuments on this spot. William Henry Harrison remarked that when he first saw this level plain, in 1791, “it was literally covered in low lines of embankments… The number and variety of figures in which these lines were drawn, was almost endless.”
Mounds occupy prominent sites in several Cincinnati neighborhoods. The most dramatic is the Norwood Mound, about a twenty-five minute drive up US Route 22 (Gilbert Avenue then Montgomery Road). At about 6 miles, climb the hill and turn right (at the Mound Café) onto Indian Mound Avenue, where a small alley on the right between two houses encircles the tall, oval mound. The nearby water tank emphasizes the prominence of this spot, overlooking an ancient, pre-glacial course of the Ohio River.
The Cincinnati Museum Center, housed in the architecturally spectacular train station of 1931, presents excellent history and archaeology exhibits, including an interactive media program on all of the Little Miami Valley sites. Other area museums tell important stories of the history and culture of the area, especially The National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center, the Taft Museum and the Cincinnati Art Museum. The University of Cincinnati Campus (two miles north of downtown on the hill) displays its avant-garde, “earthworks-inspired” landscapes and recent buildings by world-famous architects.
Downtown Cincinnati has many fine hotels and restaurants, including Via Vite, with pleasant views of Fountain Square. West of the city in Shawnee Lookout Park is the well-preserved Miami Fort, a Hopewell era earthwork crowning a steep, isolated promontory overlooking the confluence of the Great Miami and Ohio Rivers [see Great Miami Valley itinerary].