By BILL MARDIS
Things to talk about on a slow day at the office:
Why are both Somerset, Ky. and Cincinnati, Ohio called “Queen City?”
Second question: How do you spend “an extra day” in Cincinnati, as suggested by Cincinnati USA.com, without driving up I-75 or flying into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport?
Answers to both questions are related. Gib Gosser, executive director of Downtown Somerset Development Corporation and Somerset historian, explains it this way: “Cincinnati is called ‘Queen City.’ Cincinnati built a railroad through Somerset so we became known as ‘Little Queen City.’”
“Little Queen City” didn’t suit the strong sense of place that is the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, so the nickname was modified to “Queen City of the Cumberlands.”
Back to the second question: How do you spend an extra day in Cincinnati without actually crossing the Ohio River?
It’s easy. Hobos do it all the time. Go down to the railroad tracks that go north-south through Somerset. You may not be able to see the skyline, but you’re on Cincinnati soil. The City of Cincinnati built the railroad from Cincinnati through Pulaski County and Somerset to Chattanooga, beginning in 1869. Cincinnati still owns the railroad.
While you visit Cincinnati in Somerset, stay out of the way of freight trains; about 50 trains a day rumble along this busy main line of Norfolk Southern Railway System. Standing on the tracks looking for a glimpse of the bright lights of the big city could leave your body strewn along the right of way.
The Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway (CNO&TP) is a railroad that runs from Cincinnati south to Chattanooga, Tennessee, forming part of the Norfolk Southern Railway system.
John Curp, solicitor for the City of Cincinnati, pointed out that when a Somersetonian is on the tracks and right of way of Cincinnati’s railroad he or she “ ... is on property owned by the City of Cincinnati and not within the corporate limits of Cincinnati. However, based on a journalistic philosophy never to let facts stand in the way of a good story, we have no problem if locals feel like an urbanite as they walk along the tracks.
Curp said the rail line is owned by Cincinnati and is leased to the CNO&TP under a long-term agreement. It is the only such long-distance railway owned by a municipality in the United States. The railroad extends only a couple of hundred yards north of the bridge over the Ohio River. The remainder of the railroad is in Kentucky and Tennessee, Culp noted.
The CNO&TP's lease is currently set to expire in 2026, with an option for a 25-year renewal. The agreement is governed by a board of trustees appointed by the mayor of the Cincinnati, Curp said.
Construction of the railway was spurred by a shift of Ohio River shipping, at the time an important economic engine in Cincinnati, to the nascent railroad industry. Fearful of losing further shipping traffic (and its commensurate employment and tax revenue), Cincinnati recognized the need to remain competitive by developing its own railroad infrastructure.
Forbidden by the Ohio Constitution from forming a partnership with a stock corporation in such an endeavor, the city took upon itself the building of the railway, and city voters approved $10 million in municipal bonds in 1869 to begin construction,” according to Wikipedia.
A fellow by the name of Edward A. Ferguson, an attorney, was instrumental in getting the railroad built through Pulaski County. His name was bestowed on our own City of Ferguson, location of The Shops where about 600 men were employed to repair steam engines.
Apparently, the fact that Cincinnati owns property in Somerset is not a big deal in the Ohio city. We talked with Larry Harris, urban conservator for the City of Cincinnati in the Historic Conservation Office, and he wasn’t aware that his city owns a swath of land through Somerset.
“(But) we’re still called the “Queen City,” said Harris. “At one time our police cars had a “crown” (decal) on the doors,” he recalled.
Somerset doesn’t take advantage of its “queenly” status. Queen City of the Cumberlands is rarely, if ever, mentioned. The ups and downs of Lake Cumberland is the focal point of our publicity.
The Somerset Journal, weekly predecessor of the daily Commonwealth Journal, many years ago included Queen City of the Cumberlands in its masthead. However, in later years, it dropped that to boast about being the only Democratic newspaper in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
We end this saga with a word of advice: If you want to see the Reds play baseball at Great American Ball Park, you will have to drive or fly into Cincinnati. Not even a portable television set will pick up Fox Sports Ohio down on the railroad tracks.