Fort Thomas History

Fort Thomas History


Information for this article comes from a Ft. Thomas Centennial book published in 1967 and William Rus Stevens material at the Campbell County Historical Society

Fort Thomas' story starts with the Native Americans.  An estimated 500 to 600 Native graves have been found in the area of what is Highland and Newman Avenues.  Some believe it was once a village, but another account says the area was a battleground about 1749 between the Cherokee and a combined force of Shawnee and Miami Indians.

The site of the city of Ft. Thomas originally was part of the grant of land given by the State of Virginia to Colonel John Campbell, an early American Army officer, after whom Campbell County is named. Settlement took its first steps in 1818 when a toll road that became Alexandria Pike was chartered between Newport and Cynthiana.  Travel along Alexandria Pike was enhanced by Robson Spring where horses often were watered.  Settlement didn't begin in earnest until 1846 when a second turnpike was chartered.  That road, now Ft. Thomas Avenue runs from Dayton to Alexandria Pike. 

The road was first called Jamestown Pike and on some later maps was known as Mt. Pleasant Road.  Eight years after that toll road was finished, Twelve Mile Road was constructed, a turnpike running from the Brent ferry crossing on the Ohio River up to Ft. Thomas.  Twelve Mile Road eventually became River Road.  Ft. Thomas during this time was populated with an occasional farm, vineyard or orchard.  But that sleepy atmosphere was rocked by the Civil War. In 1862 as Confederate troops advanced toward Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati constructed defenses including several artillery batteries on ridge tops overlooking major roads including Alexandria Pike and Ft. Thomas Avenue.  The invasion was stalled before it reached Northern Kentucky.

In 1866, Eli Kinney, a rising figure in banking circles in Cincinnati, purchased property in this area which became known as the Eli Kinney Highlands Home Subdivision.   In January 1867 the Kentucky Legislature passed the act forming what would be called the District of the Highlands, and on February 27, John W Stevenson, Lt. Governor signed the act into law.  The name is believed to have come in part from early settlers from Scotland. 

Henry Stanbery was the author of the act and he with several other leading men of the community held a number of informal meetings for the purpose of sponsoring legislation to incorporate and establish the District of the Highlands. Henry Stanbery served as attorney general under President Andrew Johnson and he also served on the district's first board of trustees along with:
John Cline
Jacob Hawthorn
George H Hilton
Thomas Irvin
Eli Kinney

John Lilley

They first met at the home of Joseph Metcalfe at the junction of South Fort Thomas and Alexandria Pike.  It was also known as the Metcalf Hotel and is not the site of the Samuel Woodfill School.  On March 15 the committee named Mt. Vernon Avenue (now Highland Avenue).  Two days later they filed a petition to establish Jamestown Columbia Road from the north end of the Highlands to Jamestown and from there by ferry across the river to Columbia the Miami Settlement, now the east end of Cincinnati.  On May 6, 1867 the charter was officially presented to the above individuals named in the charter to act as trustees until an election could be held one year hence.

When the water works projects started, Samuel Bigstaff was a major figure in them.  He had developed the Cote Brilliant section of Newport and owned the rights to much of the land along Grand Avenue.

When Kinney National Bank of Cincinnati failed, Eli Kinney was declared bankrupt and all his assets ordered to be sold.  Much of the original property of the Kinney Subdivision was purchased by the United States Government in 1887 for an army post to replace the Newport Barracks.

The selection of the site is accredited to the Civil War Veteran, General Phil Sheridan, who gave it the name of  Ft. Thomas in honor of his colleague, the Union Civil War General George H. Thomas.  The site replaced the Newport Barracks.  In the 1890s the Highlands was basically three separate areas, Guyville, Ft. Thomas and Dale.  A streetcar line was laid out after the military post was constructed and came out from Newport along the route of Memorial Parkway to Dixie Place.

The Altamont opened in 1905 where Crown Avenue and Altamont Court are located.  The hotel became a popular resort.  The Shelly Arms was a smaller hotel near the Altamont.  The Avenel was on Avenel Place.  All three eventually closed.

By 1910 some Highlands residents wanted city services so an effort to incorporate was made but it failed.  But in 1912 it was approved.  A law suit was filed by William M Donaldson and Thomas Ford and the courts ruled the incorporation unconstitutional on September 27, 1912.  While the suit was pending, Newport annexed the Highlands District.  But that failed in a vote.  In 1914 the city was incorporated and after a huge debate about a name change, it became Ft. Thomas.

Community Leaders
Called Chairman until 1870  President after 1870

1867-John Cline
1868-1872-Jacob Hawthorn
1873-1875-Samuel Shaw
1876-78-Benjamin Smith
1875-1880-D S Carrick
1881-1896-Samuel Shaw
1897-1898-J M Shaw
1899-1901- O P Barrett
1902-J M Shaw
1903-John Macht
1904-William H Donaldson
1907-Fred Miller
1908-D F Gerauld
1909-C C Weber
1910-1911-H M Stegman
1912-1913-F H Albershardt
1914-William H Donaldson
1915-1917-George Fulner
1918-W H Wheat
20 Dec 1933-Lewis L Ross resigns as councilman and appointed Mayor
4 Dec 1950-Frank B Stegman appointed Mayor
20 Mar 1961-W Donaldson Brown appointed Mayor to fill unexpired term of Frank B Stegeman
18 Dec 1961-W Donaldson Brown elected Mayor
3 Jan 1966-W Bruce Ross son of Lewis Ross elected Mayor
1975-Paul Steven Pendery elected Mayor
2 Jan 1978-Fred W Erschell Jr. elected Mayor


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