Panorama Is A Window Into Ohio History

Buckeye Farm Beat

Check out the details in this incredible online panorama of the Queen City taken in 1848.

Published on: January 24, 2013

The Ohio Farmer traces its roots to 1848. I have told the story here before, but that number seems to be an average of the original publishing date of the Ohio Cultivator (1845) and The Ohio Farmer (1851). The two merged in 1861 as The Ohio Farmer. The first mention of an anniversary comes in 1948, when the publication celebrates its Centennial and declares it has been "Serving Ohio Agriculture since 1848."

I mention the date because I was recently sent a link to amazing series of photographs of the city of Cincinnati shot on Sept. 24, 1848. It is called the Cincinnati Panorama and is provided by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Check it out yourself.

WATERFRONT NOW: Heres how the city of Cincinnati looks from the Ohio River today. Take a step back in time to see how it looked when the Ohio Farmer was first published.
WATERFRONT NOW: Here's how the city of Cincinnati looks from the Ohio River today. Take a step back in time to see how it looked when the Ohio Farmer was first published.

The detail in this photo is amazing. According to the description in the display "Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter set up their camera on a rooftop in Newport, Kentucky and panned across the Ohio River capturing on eight separate daguerreotype plates a panorama of the nation's sixth largest city, Cincinnati. The Daguerreotype View of Cincinnati, which came to be known as the Cincinnati Panorama of 1848, won top awards for its technique and artistry. At a time when most photographs were confined to portraits, this innovative work attracted worldwide attention and survives as the oldest comprehensive photograph of an American city.

"Daguerreotypes, invented in 1839, were produced by the earliest practical method of photography, and are still recognized for their superior clarity. In 2006, while undergoing conservation work at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, state-of-the art microscopy equipment produced digital images from the 1848 Panorama. Combining the clarity of the original object with 21st century technology made it possible to enlarge the images and see details that Fontayne and Porter could not have seen from their camera location across the river in Kentucky."

You can view each of the photos separately and the library has added some historic details to help you understand the historic importance. For example,

*The population of the city doubled from 1840 to 1850 necessitating a boom business in boarding houses. While there were 11.5% more men than women in the city, the boarding business was one few businesses a woman might run.

*Liquor was a huge business and many thought consumption was healthy. Whiskey made its way across the state in canal and wagons and was loaded to be taken south. Riverside signs for liquor are some of the nation's first billboards.

*Cincinnati was one of the world's largest concentrations of furniture makers at that time. The Ohio offered a way to bring in native species as well as more exotic lumber like mahogany.

*With river traffic brining in coal and iron the city had a big need for tool and die makers and molders.  

Bob Parkinson, who made me aware of the link, is a retired soil scientist with the Ohio Natural Resources Conservation Service. Bob was the state GIS/resource inventory coordinator. His work involved providing a scientific inventory of the land, soil and related natural resources and then put it into an information system.

So of course one of the first observations Bob made to me was erosion and soil slippage are very prominent on the hill slopes especially of the eastern four images. Not only are the hillsides slipping, but in one of the images a new house also seems to be leaning with the forces of gravity. Bob points out that soil erosion was well on its way in much of the early settled parts of the state by 1850.

In another of the eastern images, it is clear that this was very dry season for the Ohio River. There is a man driving his horse cart into the river, "perhaps to load water to take to his parched garden," the caption reads.

Water was in such short supply that year that the river was unnavigable by the larger steamships. The weather prompted one of the city's newspapers The Daily Times to comment on Sept. 6, 1848, "Dust Ho! Yes, dust ho! August never furnished it in its driest glory more abundantly or disagreeably than September winds now raise it."