📜HISTORY & HIDDEN GEMS TOUR💎 featuring Molly Wellmann
Brought to you by Richter & Phillips Jewelers and The BMW Store
Covington, Ky. Covington’s first permanent white settler was Thomas Kennedy. He came from Pennsylvania in 1790. He landed in Cincinnati at first and then purchased 200 acres right on the banks of the Ohio River across from Cincinnati and close to the Licking River. He ran the ferry boat from the Kentucky side. His brother Francis Kennedy ran the ferry from the Ohio side until he drowned. Thomas Kennedy also owned a tavern he called “The Point.”
In 1814, Thomas sold 150 acres to John S. Gano, Richard Gano, and Thomas D. Carneal. They were all veterans of the War of 1812, and they named their purchase Covington after their commander, General Leonard Covington. The general died at the Battle of Chrysler Field in 1813. The three speculators divided the land up into lots to sell. By 1821, Covington had a volunteer fire company, a log cabin schoolhouse that also served as a church and meeting house. They also had a four-man police patrol. There was a general store and a bank owned by Benjamin W. Leathers at the northwest corner of Greenup and Park Place. There was also an entertainment house on Garrard and Second Street owned by Alexander Connelly. Connelly was also one of the first trustees of Covington. The first big factory in Covington was located on the riverfront between Greenup and Scott Streets. It was a cotton mill owned by Charles Macalester Jr. and a Cincinnati merchant named Robert Buchanan. Buchanan also built the Minrikle Rolling Mill in Covington, just west of his cotton mill. Today, this is the site of the Embassy Suites buildings.
By 1836, Covington had many factories, including a nail factory, a sawmill, five tobacco and cigar factories, two distilleries, a brewery, and a rope walk. Covington’s first newspaper was called “The Farmers’ Record and Covington Literary Journal,” and it was published in 1831. Covington’s early public square was located between Court and Greenup Streets and 3rd and Second Streets, just south of Smoke Justice and the Hayden Apartments.
In the early 1850s, Covington’s population and economy boomed. The Covington and Lexington Railroad went through Covington and stopped at Washington and Pike Streets. More and more industry started to move into that area. Some of Covington’s early businessmen included Amos and Vincent Shinkle. Their business was in coal and riverboats. Amos Shinkle also helped with the building of the Roebling Bridge. Robert Hemingrey owned a large glassworks known for making glass insulators for telegraph wires. Milward and Oldershaw owned a huge pork packing factory along the Licking River. On New Year’s Day 1867, the Roebling Suspension Bridge was completed, linking Cincinnati and Covington. The improvement in transportation and the bridge made it possible to locate plants in Covington and do business in Cincinnati.
James Walsh opened a rectifying house and distillery in the old cotton mill on the banks of the Ohio. His offices were located in Cincinnati. In 1885, the New England Distillery opened along the railroad at Pike and Washington, or Russell Streets.
Madison Avenue, between 3rd Street and Robbins Street, is Covington’s central business district. It flourished in the mid to late 1800s, especially when the Covington and Lexington Railroad was built. In 1896, Henry Eilerman opened H. Eilerman & Sons Haberdashery (men’s and boys’ store) at 610 Madison, the northwest corner of Madison and Pike. Eilerman’s was first established in 1882 in Newport or Monmouth. It went out of business in 1973 and is now a U.S. Bank branch. Another notable establishment on Madison was Coppens Department Store. John R. Coppins got his start working for his Pogue Department Store in Cincinnati when he was 24 years old in the late 1860s. In 1873, he leased a space in Covington on Madison Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets and opened his own dry goods store. His brother William Coppin was his partner. They called the store the California Dry Goods Company. Just seven years later, Coppins needed a larger store, so they moved up the street to 538 Madison Avenue to a four-story building. In 1906, Coppins once again ran out of space. Coppin purchased the lot on the corner of Madison and 7th and built a seven-story concrete skyscraper, the first in Covington. The building was designed by Cincinnati architect James Gilmore, who apprenticed under James McGlaughlin. With the new building also came a name change. Instead of California Dry Goods, the firm was officially called the John R. Coppin Company. John Coppin was president, his brother William was vice president, and John’s sons John Jr. and Charles C. Coppin were also involved in the company. In 1910, the store was finally open for business, becoming the region’s largest high-end department store.
John R. Coppin was born and raised in Cincinnati. He was married to Lizzie R. Egolf, and they had four children. They lived on 28th Street in Latonia, between Indiana and Birch Streets, and east to Rodgers Street, extending south to 30th Street. John Coppin was an avid gardener, and the grounds were grand, reflecting his mansion. John Coppin died on December 21, 1913; he was 64 years old. In 1966, Coppins was acquired by Gambles Department Stores, and by the 1970s, Madison’s once-busy shopping district had declined due to shopping malls. Coppins closed in 1988, and the city purchased the building for its city hall. In 2016, the building was renovated into one of Northern Kentucky’s best hotels, along with their restaurant and one of my favorite bars in the Cincinnati area.
Madison and Pike Street came into existence even before white settlers settled here. In the 1700s, buffalo herds marked the general direction of Pike Street on their way to Latonia Springs. During the early 1800s, drovers would drive their cattle and hogs up Madison and Pike to swim across the Ohio River over to Cincinnati. By the 1850s, the railroad came in, attracting retail and commercial business. Pike Street was dotted with its dry goods stores, barbershops, saloons, cigar and liquor shops. John McKay had a dry goods store on Pike between Madison and Pike. John H. Perkins had a saddle and harness shop. Jacob Lehman had a tobacco shop on Madison at 5th Street. There was an inn at the corner of Madison and 6th Street called the Virginia Inn. The Madison House Inn was across the street. Another inn called the Magnolia House was on the east side of Madison between Pike and 7th, and a Drovers Hotel called the Day House. Michael C. Match started his jewelry store in 1857. He moved his store to the northwest corner of Pike and Madison in 1871, and he even installed a beautiful street clock that is still there today. The building on the southwest corner of Pike and Madison was built in 1919 and was the Covington Industrial Club. There were a number of businesses, including Dow’s Drug Store. Today, it’s the Hannaford Bar. On the southeast corner of Pike and Madison was, for a long time, a bank. In 1913, the YMCA Building was built there. A large-tiled swimming pool used to be on the property. Today, where the pool was, is an event space for Hotel Covington. Their bar pays homage to the swimming pool with a tile bar and back bar, and a glass floor cutout in the floor for a peek into the original pool.
At 7th and Madison, across from Coppin’s, on the southeast corner, was Woolworth’s Five and Dime. It boasted a big lunch counter as well. Today, it’s Madison Event Center. Another notable business on the southwest corner was Rich’s Jewelers. It’s now home to Riches Proper. They have awesome food and a great bourbon selection. On Seventh Street between Madison and Washington, there was the 7th Street Market House. The parking lot now sits there. Heringer Butcher, Hoerlein Meats, the George W. Hill Grocery, Sears & Roebuck, Mergard’s Bowling Alley, and the Broadway Theater were all located on this block as well.
In 1900, R. J. Dibowski owned a saloon. R. J. also ran the clubhouse and restaurant at the Latonia racetrack. R. J. closed his saloon at Prohibition, and the storefront became a fur store called Casse Frocks. Casse also had a location in Cincinnati on Main Street at 12th, next to Japp’s Hair Store. Orene Parker was a rectifier in Covington. He also ran a highly successful vaudeville theater for years and introduced the new medium of motion pictures into his offerings. Parker first appeared in the whiskey trade during the early 1870s as the co-owner of a distillery located in Gethsemane, Kentucky, with a man named Francis M. Head. Located on Pottinger Creek, in 1883, Parker sold his interests in this distillery to Minor Case Beam, and about 1885, he joined the Boone Brothers, Charles and Nicholas, in acquiring a distillery located on the farm of R. B. Hayden, two miles southeast of Bardstown, Kentucky. Hayden made a bourbon called Old Grand Dad.
About 1886, Parker also founded a wholesale liquor business in Covington, Kentucky. The offices were located at 25 Pike Street. In 1902, the Orene Parker Co. moved permanently to 12-14 Pike Street. The Boone Brothers distillery provided the raw product for a series of brands issued by Parker’s liquor business. They included “1884 Rye”, “Boone Co.”, “Defiance”, “Mayfield”, “Old Griffin”, and “Old Petoskey.” The company’s flagship brand was “Old Maid Whiskey.”
Like the showman he was, Parker strongly merchandised his Old Maid label. By 1903, Parker appears to have re-entered the distillery trade. Internal Revenue records show him operating a distillery, RD#47 in the 5th District of Nelson County. Under the recently enacted Bottled-in-Bond Act, he made a number of transactions, both storing and withdrawing whiskey from his federally supervised warehouses.
While engaged in the whiskey trade, Parker was also a major figure in Covington show business. He owned the Colonial Theatre, a vaudeville house, on Madison Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Such theaters displayed live acts, lasting between five to ten minutes each. Because the shows cost only a nickel or dime to get into, they became the dominant form of mass entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many “respectable people,” however, refused to enter such premises. Parker oversaw a constant flow of new entertainers each week to make sure that the crowds came back regularly. He apparently ran a tight, and possibly stingy, ship. The story was told that when his manager, one L.B. Wilson, a former vaudeville actor, asked for a raise, Orene refused, and Wilson promptly quit the Colonial Theater and opened his own Covington shop selling cigars.
Parker was one of the first theater owners to recognize the possibilities of film as a popular medium. Early in the 1900s, a few canny impresarios, such as Parker, began to intersperse short films among the live acts, seeing the potential for drawing in larger audiences, including people who would not enter a vaudeville house. Parker became an early member of the Motion Picture Exhibitors of America, and in 1914, he was elected National Treasurer of that organization.
But trouble was on the horizon. The same dry National Prohibition. He was forced to close down his liquor business and distillery in 1920. Moreover, about a year later, his Colonial Theater burned to the ground. Ironically, the vacant lot later was purchased by L. B. Watson, Parker’s former manager. Watson built a new theater on the site, one dedicated entirely to the motion picture.
L.B. Wilson owned the Liberty Theater in the 1920s and ‘30s. He also owned the Rialto, Strand, Hippodrome, and Madison Theaters. L.B. was also the president of Peoples-Liberty Bank, which was adjacent to the Liberty Theater. L.B. Wilson was named with the initials of his mother, Lyda Beall Miles, who died from complications of his birth. Being short in stature, it was often joked that “L.B.” stood for “little boy.” He and his brother, Hansford, were vaudeville actors as youths growing up in Covington. They traveled across Europe with a vaudeville company in their late teens. Hansford would go on to become an actor on Broadway.
In 1911, L.B. got a job working for Orene Parker as manager of the Colonial Theater, a vaudeville house. He left due to feeling underpaid. A couple of years later, Parker invited Wilson to his office at Madison and Pike to offer him a new contract. Wilson refused the offer, saying he was making more money selling cigars (he owned a cigar shop). As he was leaving Parker’s office, he remarked that someday he would build the nicest theater Covington ever had at Madison and Pike. Almost 10 years later, Parker’s building burned down, and L.B., along with department store owner Frank Thorpe, purchased the lot. The bank and theater began construction in 1922, and the theater opened on July 21, 1923.
Another amazing gem in Covington is Revival, located at 5 E 8th St, Covington, KY 41011, owned by Brad Bonds and Covington lawyer Shannon Smith. Revival is a vintage spirits shop and tasting room where you can buy and taste vintage spirits from pre-Prohibition all the way to today! It’s really cool, and Brad is a wealth of information about every bottle in the shop! It’s a must-see in Covington! Stay tuned for more in Covington next month! There is just so much!
By: Molly Wellmann