A History of Alms Park

by Steve Hirschberg

 

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Whenever I take out-of-town guests on a tour of Cincinnati, I make a special point of showing them Alms Park, which sits on Mt. Tusculum and straddles the neighborhoods of Mt. Lookout and Columbia-Tusculum.

I love the park’s intimate scale, its tranquil, contemplative ambience, as well as its panorama of Lunken Airport, the ribbon of the Ohio River and the hills of Northern Kentucky spread out below. I must confess I also like the fact Alms Park is not so easy to find.

At least part of the land that became the park had been owned by early 19th century wine-maker Nicholas Longworth, who cultivated vineyards on the site.
According to documents in the Cincinnati Parks Library and Archives (another hidden gem of the parks system) the genesis of Frederick H. Alms Memorial Park dates back to 1916. That year, Eleanora C. U. Alms bought 59.2 acres for $50 thousand and donated the land for recreation in perpetuity to the Board of Park Commissioners in memory of her husband. Frederick Alms, a Civil War veteran and businessman who died in 1898. He was a partner in the Alms and Doepke Dry Goods Company, located in the building that today houses the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services. Frederick Alms also built the Hotel Alms on Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills.

Over the years, the city park commissioners continued to acquire land for Alms Park until it reached its current size of about 94 acres. During the first half of the 20th century the park as we know it today - with its canopies of shade trees, overlooks and nearly a mile of hiking trails - gradually took shape.

The park’s entrance, installed in 1929, is framed by twin pillars attached to curved walls formed by rustic limestone slabs. A road from the gateway curves upward toward the park’s summit, which is crowned by an Italianate pavilion. This centerpiece, completed in 1929, has an open-air ground floor, with a second floor that sports a covered open-air deck. According to Steve Schuckman, the city park system’s Superintendent of Planning and Design, this structure is different from pavilions in other Cincinnati parks (including the much larger neighbor, Ault Park). The pavilion’s landscaping was designed by Albert D. Taylor, who later created the landscaping for the courtyard of The Pentagon.

Down the slope from the front of the pavilion is a pergola placed at an overlook from which the visitor can gaze almost directly down on the Ohio River. The pergola features a stone compass carved into the floor. The pergola and the pavilion can each be rented for private events.

On the hilltop beside the pavilion is a bronze statue of composer Stephen Foster, sculpted by Italian-born Arturio (Arthur) Ivone. The statue was dedicated in 1937. On the other side of the pavilion is a shaded children’s play area with swings and a steep concrete slide. Opened in 1931, the slide is one of only two such examples remaining in the Cincinnati Parks system. Near the bottom of the slide is the entrance to an old wine cellar dug into the hillside. On a terrace down the slope from the top of the hill, long, curved concrete benches afford a splendid view of the floodplain, the airport and the river below.

A lower level of Alms Park, completed by 1934, was designed as a picnic area, with a parking lot, stationary charcoal grills and picnic tables. A small, open-air shelter, which sits at the edge of a hill, was constructed by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. The picnic grounds feature a round, two-level, stone comfort station with a conical roof - an unusual design for the Cincinnati Parks system. It was built with funding from FDR’s Works Progress Administration.

The most direct way to reach Alms Park is to drive up Tusculum Avenue from Columbia Parkway. But I prefer the more roundabout way, which begins in Mt. Lookout and winds past some of the most beautiful homes in Cincinnati. Turn onto Tweed Avenue from Linwood Avenue, turn right onto Kroger, then left on Stanley and take Vineyard until you get to Tusculum Avenue. Head downhill on Tusculum until you see the park entrance on your left.

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