Fort Washington 1789 & Washington Park

If you’ve read the Allen Eckert books, or studied the expansion of the American frontier in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, then you’ve read about Fort Washington located in the city of Losantiville on the Ohio River. That was an important location and because of that, it’s completely gone, with a large city built over it: Cincinnati, Ohio. The large well-constructed log fort was built beginning in 1789. Cincinnati was still a blip on the map, and Fort Washington still standing, in 1800. Here’s what it looked like.

Fort Washington was a fortified stockade with blockhouses built by order of Gen. Josiah Harmar starting in summer 1789 in what is now downtown Cincinnati, Ohio near the Ohio River. The physical location of the fort was facing the mouth of the Licking River, above present day Fort Washington Way. The fort was named in honor of President George Washington. The Fort was the major staging place and conduit for settlers, troops and supplies during the conquest and settlement of the Northwest Territory.

By 1802, Fort Washington had fallen into disuse and disrepair, and was manned by only half a company (about 35 men). In 1803 it was replaced by the larger Newport Barracks established to house the Kentucky Militia. It was Opened just across the Ohio River in Newport, Kentucky. James Taylor Jr., an influential resident of Newport, Kentucky, had lobbied his cousin James Madison to place the post in Newport.

On February 28, 1806, Congress directed the Secretary of the Treasury to cause the site of the abandoned fort to be surveyed and laid off into lots, streets and avenues conforming to the plan of the city, and to sell the lots to the highest bidders at a sale at the Cincinnati Land Office. The survey, certified July 8, 1807, shows the fort’s boundaries to be Fourth Street to the north, Ludlow Street to the east, the Ohio River to the south, and Broadway to the west.

In October 1952, excavators discovered the remnants of Fort Washington’s gunpowder magazine under the northeast corner of Broadway and Third streets, at the site at which Western & Southern Life Insurance Company’s parking garage was to be constructed. Researchers with the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio first visited the site on October 13, 1952. The location is marked by a plaque at the Guilford School building, at 421 E 4th St, Cincinnati, which now occupies the site.

Surprisingly, none of the maps of Cincinnati made during that period included the fort. Identification of what was long thought to be the fort’s site came from Dr. Daniel Drake, who testified in 1829 where he remembered the fort was. His description was used by Robert Ralston Jones in his 1902 history, “Fort Washington,” which determined the fort’s location at Third and Ludlow Streets. A stone monument was placed in the middle of Third Street in 1901.

After the powder magazine was discovered, marked by a Memorial Plaque, archaeologist Baby published an article refuting Drake’s recollections, using the location of the magazine compared with plans of the fort from 1789 and 1792 that Drake didn’t have. Baby concluded the fort had to be above Third Street, which is at the edge of a natural broad plateau, noting that it would have been a military disadvantage for the fort to be on a lower elevation than the plateau. He also believed the fort was oriented differently, rotated clockwise and extended east across Ludlow Street.  A few months later, King published his own findings, indicating some errors in Baby’s coordinates. While King agreed that the fort was never as south as Third Street, he believed the fort was angled to the west, which would not have interfered with the plats identified on Cincinnati maps from 1790 and 1807.

Not specifically associated with the Fort was a Presbyterian Cemetery adjacent to the church just one city block to the West on 4th Street. The cemetery was established in 1790 and was the first cemetery in Cincinnati.  According to the 1881 book “History of Cincinnati Ohio with Illustrations” complied by Henry A Ford et al., chapter XL “Cemeteries”, page 376, “The first and only public burying-ground in Cincinnati for many years was that upon the square bounded by Fourth and Fifth, Walnut and Main streets, given to the people by the original proprietors, in part for that purpose.

Some of those buried there were John Cutter (1737-1793); William Harris (1746-1797); Jacob Reder (1760-1822); William Skivington (1754-1810); and Ballard Smith (?-1794).

Many arrived here in Losantiville in the late 1780’s and served in the Military with General St. Clair. It is believed most were re interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery at 12th Street which is now Washington Park.  However, although their names are among the 200 Patriots listed on the very large bronze Memorial Plaque in Memorial Hall across Elm Street from the Park no records have been found designating and additional re interment. Cincinnati SAR has placed their names “In Memoriam” in Wesleyan and Spring Grove Cemeteries, their remains most likely still under the ground at Washington Park.

Efforts are underway to Honor the 60 other Patriots whose names are listed only on the Memorial Hall Plaque, hoping a subtle marker may be allowed to connect that process to the Park.

Dr. Michael B. Gunn

Committee Chairman & Cincinnati Chapter – President 2015 – 2016

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4 Responses to Fort Washington 1789 & Washington Park

  1. Cindy Abbott says:

    I am a descendant of a Revolutionary Patriot, John Van Cleve and also a member of the Clough Valley DAR. John Van Cleve died and was buried at Ft Washington. Although his burial spot has been lost to hisyory. Please email me about any information or events that may be happening. I live close by. Thanks, Cindy.

    • Tim Madden says:

      Thanks Cindy for reaching out. Understand that many of these final resting spots have been lost to time.

      Not aware of any upcoming Ft. Washington events. Most likely an event like this would be shared between the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) and the local DAR chapter. So since you are a local DAR member, this should be communicated via DAR notifications. If I hear of anything, I will reach out. Be well!

  2. Bruce Bennett says:

    Are you speaking of the Fort related to the Battle of Ft. Washington, Nov. 16, 1776 that occurred on Manhattan? I just recently found out that one of my patriot ancestors served there, survived capture, and was 9 months later traded back to America during an exchange of prisoners.

    • Tim Madden says:

      Cool to discover those ancestor facts.

      I think the inquiring party is talking about Cincinnati Fort Washington.

      My understanding is that Fort Washington (Cincinnati) (Southeast corner of Fourth and Broadway) was created after the American Rev War (1789?).
      Interestingly, the University Club and the school to the east sit on the footprint of the old fort. Western Southern built a parking garage and during the excavation, discovered the old powder magazine while putting in footings.

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