A Bookish Inclination

(Editor’s note: In May 2009, the University of Cincinnati publication McMicken Monthly featured an article about Lissa and her book, The Inclines of Cincinnati.)

By Kim Burdett, University of Cincinnati

It was in Price Hill Chili that journalism junior Melissa Kramer noticed the large photograph on the wall featuring Cincinnati’s historic Price Hill Incline. The image sparked Kramer’s interest about the inclines — hillside railways constructed in the late 1800s that carted thousands of Cincinnatians up to five pinnacles of the city via streetcar in an attempt to escape cramped downtown living.

Lissa on the University of Cincinnati campus in the spring of 2009.

Intrigued, Kramer started to ask around about the Price Hill Incline and soon discovered its origins were closer to her than she thought: its forgotten location was only about a block away from her house.

Taking a walk, she discovered what was left of the incline that closed in 1943. A plaque, cemented into a wall at the overlook, was all that remained.

“It was a bit of a let down,” Kramer says. “It was really disappointing to see that a little bronze plaque is supposed to speak for the 5,000 or so people that rode the inclines every weekend.”

The inclines were, at one time, the livelihood of Cincinnati. The Highland House at the top of the Mount Adams Incline even helped give Cincinnati the nickname “the Paris of America.”

“The views of the city from many of the hilltop overlooks have been obscured, and it’s very disappointing considering that the grounds of the hilltop houses were places to see and to be seen,” she continues.

Knowing there had to be more information than what was readily available, Kramer hit the books. The history enthusiast went to the library and looked through archives to find out more about the five inclines. She researched old newspapers and interviewed individuals with first-hand accounts about the inclines to get a sense of their history.

“I would tell people about my findings and they would tell me they had no idea these inclines existed,” she says. “It made me feel like as a city we’d been gypped about our own history.”

When an archive librarian suggested that Kramer write a book about her findings, she saw it as a healthy outlet to express her passion about the forgotten structures.

After sending a proposal into Arcadia Publishing, a publisher that focuses on local history, Kramer got the green light to publish her findings. The Inclines of Cincinnati was published on March 23, featuring hundreds of photos and captions.

Its release comes at an important time in the city, when the notion of developing a streetcar system in Cincinnati is a hot political topic. Kramer hopes her book will at least create discussion and educate Cincinnatians about the city’s past.

“Cincinnati is on the brink of a renaissance in more ways than one,” Kramer says. “We need to take the best parts of our history as the Queen City of the Midwest and show them off.”

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