Historic Licking Riverside: Covington, Kentucky
The Licking Riverside Neighborhood's original river mansions demonstrate every major evolutionary style of American architecture from 1815 to 1920. The Thomas Carneal House, the first brick house in Covington, was built in 1815 complete with a tunnel leading to the Licking River. On the west boundary sits Roebling Point, Covington's original business district. Visitors to these shops and restaurants have said, "It's almost like you're in Paris."
The neighborhood is bounded by the Ohio River to the north, Licking River to the east, Greenup Street to the west, and 8th Street to the south.
It is no accident that while much of the Greater Cincinnati area has given way to concrete walls, high rises, stadiums, and various restaurants and shops, the Historic Licking Riverside Neighborhood in Covington has remained largely untouched. With natural and manmade threats forever looming, a strong neighborhood organization sprouted and has remained ever vigilant. Not only have residents restored many of the houses in the district after some were divided into apartments and false facades were added in the mid-20th century, but they have remained united during the seemingly constant threat of redevelopment. Today tour buses are regularly spotted driving through the neighborhood showing off its textbook-quality architecture and shedding light on its history. All the while, residents are getting their hands dirty keeping their lawns and houses pristine.
The district's north and east boundaries are defined by the Ohio and Licking Rivers. Although the rivers afford picturesque views of the Roebling Suspension Bridge and Cincinnati skyline, they are not always kind. The Great Flood of 1937 was the most destructive, causing the river to rise 80 feet and flood 40 percent of Covington. Water was up to the telephone pole cross arms along Riverside Drive, according to one account.
Besides flooding, the biggest threat to the neighborhood has been commercialization. Some residents strategically bought property on different blocks throughout the neighborhood in an effort to prevent development. In 1967 and 1968, with the help of the Northern Kentucky Heritage League, residents kept the district a neighborhood by stopping a proposal for riverfront development and commercial buildings in part of the neighborhood. With the help of strong-minded residents, what was the first area to be settled in Covington is now the city's last remaining riverfront neighborhood.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- City of Covington founded 1815; first plat includes the neighborhood up to 4th Street, and first expansion of city includes rest of what is now the neighborhood
- Neighborhood along migration path for escaped slaves crossing the Ohio River into Ohio and freedom; some houses part of the Underground Railroad
- First house built in 1791; gained prominence in the 1850s when settled by tobacco merchants and riverboat captains; mostly developed by late 1800s
- Major floods in 1884, 1913, 1937, and 1997; in 1937 Covington was under 15 feet of water; Riverside Drive was swallowed up; in 1997 water came within 10 feet of homes on 2nd Street
- In 1967 and 1968 neighborhood is threatened with demolition; residents joined together to stop city-supported proposal that would destroy many residences
- River mansions built early to mid-1800s; modest brick townhouses built mid- to late 1800s
- Mix of mansions, rowhouses, bungalows, apartments, coach houses with garages
- Styles range from Federal and Greek Revival, flamboyant Italianate and French Second Empire structures and edgy High Victorian Gothic to early 20th century bungalow and Georgian Revival
- Recent redevelopment created more modern housing — a hospital was turned into condos, a school into senior housing, and many carriage houses into apartments or single family homes
- Grant House, once owned by the parents of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, and childhood home of Boy Scouts founder Daniel C. Beard, both in district
Planning, Citizen Engagement
- Residents save riverfront mansions from urban renewal in the late 1960s; spurred local and regional historic preservation efforts and protective legislation
- Two National Register Districts — the Riverside Drive Historic District (1971) and the Licking Riverside Historic District (1975) — make up the neighborhood
- With the strong support and leadership from citizens within the Historic Licking Riverside Neighborhood and other historic neighborhoods around the downtown area, the city establishes Historic Preservation Overlay Zoning for neighborhood (1988)
- Historic Licking Riverside Civic Association founded early 1970s; its neighborhood strategic plan (updated 2010) addresses pedestrian amenities, transportation, preservation, civic engagement
- Twelve separate planning documents address the neighborhood and adjacent area
Physical Elements and Amenities
- Two riverfront accesses provide stunning views of the rivers and Cincinnati; include benches, historic streetlights, and seven bronze statues of prominent figures in the area's history
- Adjacent to John A. Roebling suspension bridge (1867); Roebling also designed Brooklyn Bridge
- Anchored to the North by the George Rogers Clark Park; beautified in 1989 by the Northern Kentucky Heritage League, host of annual Duveneck Memorial Art Show for 44 years
- The Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center at neighborhood's the south end; adjacent to Randolph Park; includes Olympic-size swimming pool, sports fields
- Large, handicap-accessible sidewalks lined with tall overhanging trees and planters
- Roebling Point provides small entertainment and dining destination in neighborhood
- City bus routes connect neighborhood to downtown Covington and Cincinnati