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Monday, April 11, 2016

Fort Thomas Planning "First-Class" 150 Celebration in 2017

A painting of General George H. Thomas, the namesake for Fort Thomas, hangs in the Fort Thomas Museum. FTM file. 
By Jennifer Kohl 

In 1967, Fort Thomas celebrated its' Centennial.

A week-long celebration took place commemorating the 100 year anniversary of when the city was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on February 27, 1867. Originally named the District of the Highlands, the name of the city was later changed by vote of the property owners to Fort Thomas in 1914 in honor of Civil War General George Henry Thomas (pictured above) who ranks among the top Union generals of the war, along with Grant, Sherman and Sheridan.

Next year Fort Thomas will celebrate its' 150 year Sesquicentennial, and Economic Director Debbie Buckley told city council in her 2015 Annual Renaissance Report that she is proposing “an extravaganza, a first-class celebration.”

Buckley said to make it work within the constraints of the Renaissance budget, that they'd likely have to forgo Merchants and Music in September 2017 and instead make the 150 celebration a week-long celebration July 2 through July 9 in Tower Park.

"I think it’s pretty clear what we’re hoping to do, and I think you’ll be excited,” Buckley said to council. “A few of you will remember 1967’s big production when the city actually hired a production crew to come in and direct the celebration.”

Many do remember that celebration. The company was hired to help plan “Hold That Fort,” a pageant that took place on the Highlands football field in which residents dressed in period costumes and recreated historical events of our city's past.

A copy of the 1967 program of Fort Thomas' centennial celebration. FTM file. 

That week, Fort Thomas residents participated in many events on different themed days such as a beard growing contest, sideburns contest, childrens baking contest, and a bike decorating contest.

Mayor Eric Haas says he won first place in the bike decorating contest with his bike converted into a paddle wheel riverboat that even played calliope music.

A young Eric Haas zooms down Fort Thomas Avenue in 1967. FTM file. 
His mother, Mary Haas, recalls running alongside 11-year-old Eric from one end of town to the other during a parade, in case he needed a drink of water. She says she dressed up as a riverboat madam and her husband, Don, played the part of Abraham Lincoln in the production that she remembers required many rehearsals.

Linda Slone, longtime resident and Merchants and Music Chair said, “I remember my sister and I wearing the old fashion bonnets while watching the parade. I grew up on Military Parkway. I was 11 years old. We sat up on the stone pillars at the top of our street so we could see everything. It was a great fun family day. I have always enjoyed the parade. I guess that's why I enjoy being on the committees so much.”

“I remember it being a lot of fun,” said lifetime resident Sally Muehlenkamp. “Everyone was dressed up in their finest attire with the women wearing long dresses and carrying parasols and the men with handlebar mustaches and suits from that era.” 

A copy of the program from the 1967 Centennial celebration. FTM file. 

“I am very excited about being at the next celebration," Muehlenkamp added. “Hopefully our children and grandchildren will remember it years later as it is an important part of our city history.”

And, quite a celebration it will be as city council signed off on several ideas in a March council meeting. If things go to plan, the people living in Fort Thomas in 2067 will surely be talking about this event.

Buckley said volunteers will be fundraising and different committees will be working on several projects.

“We chose that week to incorporate 4th of July festivities.”

In her report, Buckley discussed a white-on-white, farm-to-fork dinner on the street in front of the Mess Hall similar to the Diner En Blanc that takes place at Fountain Square each year.

"At that time, Jim Beam has offered to uncork a “Fort Thomas bourbon” in honor of the celebration, and bottles will be sold at participating businesses," she said.

Residents Bob and Marybeth Heil have offered to head fundraising for the unveiling of a statue of General George Thomas. According to Buckley they hope the statue will stand 10-feet tall and be “larger than life.”

The statue already has a designated spot in front of the Veterans Hospital.

The opening of the staircase to the iconic water tower is also in the works. Buckley hopes it will be a future tourist attraction. Two people have already offered to donate and help with sponsorships, which is estimated to cost over $450,000. That will cover plans to come up with a design that includes metal steps and landings that will go all the way to the top and be open to the public at specific times.

“The tower itself and steel water tank inside is in good condition already,” Buckley said. “We want to make it a fun tourist attraction that people can even reserve for special occasions like getting engaged.”

The city also will be partnering with the VA to bring a portable temporary Vietnam Tribute Wall to Tower Park.
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“This brings full circle our focus on the military heritage of this city.” Buckley joked,“We will have a bike decorating contest again, perhaps in Eric Haas' honor.”

Lastly, the city is working on a plan to bring a big name musical act in for the celebration to make up for the fact that there will be no Merchants and Music act.

“I am really excited; it will be a fun week and very memorable,” Buckley said.

Speaking to the Renaissance Board, Buckley added, "We got approval for our plan. You only turn 150 once. There’s a lot of good stuff going on there.”

If you would like to donate or volunteer for any committee for these events, please contact Debbie Buckley at

Fort Thomas residents dressed in period wardrobe in 1967. FTM file. 
FTM file. 
A parade depicts the famous Pearl Bryan murder case in subsequent hangings. FTM file. 
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FTM file. 
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FTM file. 


  1. The Pearl Bryan float for the centennial parade seems a little dark; however, if that is in play could we pick some other more infamous moments in Ft. Thomas history to theme a float around? :D

  2. Destroying the Enquirer lately