The History Behind the Dixie Terminal

The History Behind the Dixie Terminal

The Dixie Terminal is one of Cincinnati’s best-kept secrets. Learn all about this landmark here — the architecture, the artwork, and of course, the history.

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If you live in or near to Cincinnati — or if you’re planning to visit—then you should definitely check out the Dixie Terminal when you have the chance. Some locals are well aware of this building’s existence, but for many, it’s one of Cincinnati’s best-kept secrets. On the outside, it can come across as an unassuming building nestled in among office buildings and skyscrapers. But inside, you’ll find incredible architecture and beautiful artwork. This place is truly a masterpiece, full of stunning sights that are definitely worth a look. It’s got a long, fascinating history. Let’s take a peek at the Dixie Terminal’s origins so that we can appreciate it even more.

The Dixie Terminal sits at 49 East Fourth Street in downtown Cincinnati. This historic building was designed by architects from Frederick W. Garber’s Garber & Woodward firm. This same company also designed several of the buildings on the University of Cincinnati campus.

Dixie Terminal

There are actually two buildings that make up the Dixie Terminal, both built-in 1921. The structures are made of reinforced concrete and outside, you can see brick, granite and Bedford limestone on the facades. One of the buildings, the four-story south building, handled traffic. That’s where streetcars and bus lines would pass through. The second building, which is the one that most people visit today, housed ticket sales, offices, shops and more. For many years, Dixie Terminal served as the public transportation epicenter of Cincinnati with streetcar traffic going in and out of the terminal continually.

Later on in the 1950s, as streetcar usage faded away and buses became more prominent, it turned into a bus terminal. In the 1960s, the Green Lines bus company had buses going in and out of the terminal from Northern Kentucky. To make the trip between Kentucky and Ohio, the buses would cross over the Roebling Suspension Bridge, which is another interesting historical landmark within the city. Bus service through Dixie Terminal lasted quite a long time, too, all the way up through 1998. The only reason why the building went out of service as a bus terminal in 1998 was because two ramps from the Roebling Suspension bridge that led to the terminal — originally constructed at the same time as the terminal — were demolished, which meant transit had to move elsewhere.

Fireworks over Cincinnati Roebling Suspension Bridge

Early plans for the terminal featured underground passages that were intended to serve as transit routes, complete with underground pedestrian passages. However, these plans were never realized, so while there may be rumors about such things, today, no underground passages are leading to Dixie Terminal.

When it was first built, the Dixie Terminal was among the largest buildings in Cincinnati with more square footage than any building that had yet been constructed in the downtown. Transportation hubs bring to mind trains or subways — and that’s sort of the purpose that the Dixie Terminal served. That’s how it started, anyway, as a terminal for the streetcars that moved in and out of Cincinnati.

While the buildings are named for the terminal, the office space is also historically significant. That’s because it included the Cincinnati Stock Exchange, which operated there in the same capacity until 1976 when the CSE became an electronic stock exchange. The trading floor within Dixie Terminal closed that year, but even after the conversion to electronic stock trading, the CSE continued to operate offices within Dixie Terminal all up until 1995. Today, CSE is now known as the National Stock Exchange with new headquarters in New Jersey.

Dixie Terminal

The most striking thing about the Dixie Terminal is the artwork you’ll find throughout. Much of it is done in the Art Deco style, with lots of blues and golds throughout to compliment the pale stone interior. The front doors are the first hint of the grandeur inside this building. On the outside, they’re trimmed in gorgeous Rookwood tiles, which were made by the local Rookwood Pottery Company. These are interesting because not only are they colorful, but the construction method used to produce them is quite involved. They’re a type of tin-glazed pottery with colorful, intricate designs cast over earthenware plates.

Go through those doors, and you’ll be treated to the arcade, which is a two-story lobby with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. All over the ceiling, amid beautiful frescoes, you’ll see sculpted tiles showing children riding various animals. Elsewhere, marble adorns walls, floors, and staircases, and you’ll see plenty of ornate gilded balusters. It is believed, though unconfirmed, that Joseph Francis Beller is the man who designed the tiles featuring frolicking children, and that he did the gold leafing throughout the building. This historic space is truly beautiful, featuring lots of breathtaking designs in a sweeping space that puts you in the mind of a cathedral.

One of the best parts about Dixie Terminal is that the building has been meticulously maintained over the years. Today, the interior looks just as amazing as it did when it was first built. Over the years, every effort has been made to preserve the Dixie Terminal. As recently as 2017, restoration experts went in and cleaned the tiles and frescoes lining the arcade’s ceiling to keep them colorful and beautifully preserved for the future.

Dixie Terminal

Another interesting historical tidbit about this building was that it featured in a major motion picture! In the late 1980s, the Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman film Rain Man, which won four Oscar awards, was shot in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. One scene, in particular, the bank scene, was filmed in the Dixie Terminal arcade.

These days, the Great American Insurance Company calls this building home, and more than 1,400 employees work there. Visitors are free to come in on weekdays to admire the two-story arcade and all the artwork inside. It’s such a beautiful old building that if you ever happen to be in the area while it’s open for viewing, you should stop by and take a look! The Dixie Terminal is one of Cincinnati’s most precious gems.


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