|The exterior of the water tower being constructed.|
On the 27th of February 2017, the City of Fort Thomas will be celebrating its one hundred fiftieth birthday. Since 1867, our city has grown to become one of the best places to call home in Northern Kentucky. Our story begins before the founding of the District of Highlands in 1867.
|This is an advertisement.|
This man was Samuel Bigstaff. At the age of 15 he ran away from home to enlist in the Confederate Second Kentucky Cavalry. At the battle of Versailles, he was captured by the Union, but would later escape to join his regiment in Liberty, Tennessee. After the battle of Snow Hill, with a rifle ball in his leg, he was sent to several prisons before being transferred to the Newport Kentucky Barracks. Bigstaff soon became friends with many of the workers at the barracks and citizens in Newport. After being released he would marry Mary Alice Webster, daughter of a successful attorney, and later attend law school. He worked his way up the ladder becoming Vice President of the Newport Street Railway Company and found himself in the real estate business after inheriting property in Newport.
|The Greenline streetcar on N. Fort Thomas Avenue.|
Work began on the Fort in 1883. The first structure constructed at the fort was the commanders house located at 1 Alexander Circle. The homes were built quickly on Battery Lookout first before other structures on the property. As the buildings were finished the army moved in. To make sure the fort would always have enough water, a 102 ft. high stone water tower was constructed at the entrance of the fort. It could hold up to 100,000 gallons of water. At the time the men building it probably didn’t know that they were building an historic iconic landmark that would go on to be used years after the army post left. Forty-nine buildings were completed by 1893.
The Midway District soon emerged near the Fort. Named after the Midway Carnival at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This new Midway featured restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, and prostitution which soon made the area to the south of the Fort an entertainment spot for the soldiers. After a large fire broke out destroying several buildings in the Midway District, local churches decided to “clean up the Midway”.
Hotels soon sprung up across the developing city. The first hotel, named The Ft Thomas Hotel, was located at 1051 South Ft. Thomas Avenue. The most famous hotel in the area was The Altamont Springs. People traveled for miles seeking the “health benefits of the hotel’s cleansing spring waters”. The hotel, stood overlooking the Ohio River, where Crown Point is today, was popular for years until it was proven that there was no health benefit in its water.
|The Altamont Hotel.|
The time had finally come to name the district and declare it a city in 1914. The north end of town wanted to have the new city named Highlands, after the district, while the southern part of town wanted to have it named after the Fort that made the area flourish. Families were divided, friendships broke apart, the new city had entered a community civil war. Northerners even marched to the south end of town dressed in Highland costumes playing bagpipes demanding that they respect the name of the Highlands. Northerners pointed to Park Hills and the seven hills of Cincinnati, which were named after their topography.
The southerners claimed that this was the name known throughout the state and country, and backed up their position with surrounding areas such as Fort Mitchell and Fort Wright. The factor leading to the name choice was ultimately decided by the area post office. The post office that had recently moved near the Fort was called “Fort Thomas Branch, Newport, Kentucky” within a year the name was shortened and would forever be known as “Fort Thomas, Kentucky”.
Photos special to Fort Thomas Matters. Thanks to NKY Views.