Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cincinnati's Eight Still Standing Carnegies

The terrain turned mildly hilly as I closed in on Cincinnati from the northwest.  Rather than flattening out for the metropolis, as was the case with Denver, the hills became dramatically steep in this city along the Ohio River.  Some of the climbs up from the river and out of ravines went on for as long as a mile and had grades of fifteen per cent and more for stretches. More than once I was bathed in a burst of perspiration under my multiple layers when a climb turned suddenly steep or kept going longer than expected.  

But that didn't diminish the pleasure of my circuit of the varied neighborhoods of the Queen City seeking out its eight Carneiges, one fewer than had been originally erected one hundred years ago.  Seven of the eight still functioned as libraries.  Unlike Denver, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, who all had a grandiose main library among their Carnegies, Cincinnati's were all branch libraries.  Several of them though were as palatial and breathtaking as a Main Library.

They were nicely scattered not much  more than four miles apart and sometimes less than two. Not long after I crossed into Cincinnati from the north I was able to drop in on the Cumminsville Branch a couple blocks from Highway 27 that had been my route for over one hundred miles.  Its elongated breadth had not been added on to. I was welcomed in the entryway by Carnegie's portrait.  Across from him was a plaque that announced "This building is a gift to the people of Cincinnati from Andrew Carnegie."   

It was late in the afternoon.  Rather than trying to find a vacant lot or industrial wasteland or clump of trees for a campsite I googled "Hostels in Cincinnati."  All that turned up were hotels.  The cheapest was a Quality Inn for $45--a discount of $20 for booking on-line.  It was six miles away in the northeast corner of the city and two miles from the Carnegie in that neighborhood.  I booked it and plotted my route over to it. I had my first steep climb up to Highland Road, living up to its name.  

I arrived at the hotel at dusk.  I was eager for a hot shower and the opportunity to wash some clothes, as the cold weather had prevented me from such chores.  I had to wait to tell the receptionist that I had a reservation, as she was arguing with an unkempt guy, who looked even scruffier than me, over his accommodations. When she turned her attention to me, she almost recoiled when I told her I had a reservation, thinking this old, homeless-looking guy with a bike that looked as if it might be loaded with all his life's possessions had mistaken her hotel for a shelter.  

She took my name and could find no reservation for it. I told her I had made it less than an hour ago on-line.  I gave her my reservation number, but that didn't work either.  She said that sometimes it takes a little while for the reservations to come through and to take a seat.  She wasn't friendly at all and seemed to hope I would just go away.  After half an hour, while I was reconciling myself to the not so unattractive notion of pitching my tent behind the hotel, she told me I ought to call the on-line booking agency and have them resend the reservation.  "You can use that phone over there," she pointed.

All I got was a busy signal.  When I told her I couldn't get through, she asked if I had dialed 9 first.  I hadn't, as she hadn't told me that was necessary, nor was there anything on the phone saying so.  That worked.  The agent I talked to with a thick Indian accent called the receptionist and cleared everything up.  She didn't seem happy about it. With relief I went down a long hallway to my room.  I turned down a wing that reeked of tobacco smoke.  She had consigned me to the smoking sector even though I had  requested non-smoking.  I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of objecting.  I'd suffered worst.  My biggest regret was that all the clothes I washed absorbed the lingering particulates in the air. I couldn't blow my nose into my neckerchief the next day without a whiff of nicotine. I was happy to get clean and to dry out my tent and sleeping bag, but at the expense of my worst sleep of the trip.  The free breakfast was no better than my sleep--a mini-bagel and a handful of raisin brand and a bite-sized muffin.  The pickings were much better at the Aldi's dumpster across the street.

I spent over an hour before I went to sleep using the wifi to plot out my route from one Carnegie to the next, something I wouldn't have been able to do in my tent. I jotted down the roads from one to the next and took a snapshot of each sector of the route with my iPad for further reference.  It all paid off, as I only went astray once when there was no street sign at a turn I needed to make.  

I began my pilgrimage at 7:30 a.m. happy to clear out of the hotel at an early hour.  As I was on the periphery of the city and venturing into residential neighborhoods, I was not impacted by whatever rush hour traffic there might have been. Other than the hotel, Cincinnati had a friendly, relaxed feel similar to St. Louis and Pittsburgh.  It seemed quite habitable. I found my first Carnegie needing to make only three turns.  It was the Norwood Branch, looking as majestic as it must have when it opened a century ago, aside from  the addition of a labyrinth of a ramp to accommodate the handicapped.

It was just two miles and two turns plus one very steep hill to the Avondale Branch.  The stucco building was geatly overshadowed by a Goliath of a Baptist Church next door.  Its side street had been given the honorary name of Dr. Samuel Johnson, a curious choice of the countless literary figures they might have chosen.  Since the libary didn't open until noon, I couldn't find out why.

My route to the Hyde Park Branch took me along Victory Drive past Xavier College to a more affluent part of the city on its eastern side.  It was the best maintained of the libraries I had seen and had the most manicured of landscaping.  There were joggers to go along with the upscale businesses.

I ducked south towards the river and further east on a bike lane part of the way to the East End Branch, now the Carnegie Center for "receptions, meetings, events, performances and fund raisers."  It was quite ornate and in sparkling condition for hosting the city's elite.

I had another bike lane all to myself on Riverside for nearly two miles with the Ohio River on my left before I had to turn up a torturously steep climb to Taft, which continued climbing until a few blocks before the noble Walnut Hills Branch complete with columns and some ornate ornamentation.

I continued on Taft and then made a couple of turns before arriving at the stunningly beautfiul North Cincinnati Branch.  It was the only one of the lot that had had an addition.   It was as impeccable of an addition as I've encountered, actually enhancing the stature of the building, rather than undermining it, as most do.  Everything about it was striking--its yellow exterior, its elaborate light fixtures, roof, windows and landscaping.  Across the street was a row of red rental bikes--the first I had seen either parked or ridden.  And a couple blocks over, the University of Cincinnati.

The last of the eight was 4.4 miles away on the west side in another less well-off neighborhood.  I flew down a steep ravine and then after crossing an expressway had a long climb.  There were closed factories and abandoned buildings where I might have camped if I had come this way before dark . I passed another University (Cincinnati Christian), my third of the day.  Janina had told me the night before when we talked, that she thought Ohio had more colleges than any other state, partially because her daughter had attended Antioch.  Per land mass she was right.  California has the most "institutions offering degrees" with 399.  New York is next with 307, then Pennsylvania with 260, Texas with 208 and Ohio with 194.

The Price Hill Branch Library was the epitome of a Carnegie.  It sat on a hill in a block all to itself surrounded by grass.  It was branded with "PVBLIC LIBRARY." It had a simple, restrained, timeless  elegance with inset columns and high ceilings with long windows letting in lots of light.  It made a fine conclusion to my rounds about the city to these historic buildings.

I had managed to avoid the mini-forest of Cincinnati's downtown skyscrapers and steered clear of them as I followed the river to a bridge between the football and the baseball stadiums to Kentucky.  A nice park along the river linked the two stadiums.  It was too cold and blustery for anyone to be enjoying it but me.  A Carnegie awaited me in Newport across the river.

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