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
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.