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Our Rich History: Celebrating the whys and hows of our special heritage — and then there’s goetta

(This is the first in a regular series especially for the NKyTribune on local history by three distinguished historians, Paul Tenkotte of NKU, James Claypool, NKU professor emeritus of history, and David Schroeder of Kenton County Public Library. They are co-authors of the new “Gateway City,” a 450-page history of Covington, marking its 200th birthday.)

By Paul Tenkotte
Special to NKyTribune

As one of the 2.1 million residents of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, you already know lots about our area. Some you learned by observation, in school, or by trial and error. Like most people, you have a healthy mix of truths and myths sparking the synapses of your brain on a daily basis.

If you’ve moved here from someplace else, perhaps your brain cells have connected with your taste buds and your olfactory system to acquire a taste for goetta or Cincinnati chili, or maybe even several of the awesome beer flavors coming from a plethora of microbreweries. Maybe your sinuses or joints have ached as the temperature plummeted 50 degrees in a 24-hour period, and rain turned to sleet and four feet of snow nearly overnight.

Perhaps you’ve wondered why natives say “please” so much, and why if you travel just a few miles down I71/75, you’ll start to hear the genteel sound of a Bluegrass accent.

Paul Tenkotte

Paul Tenkotte

You’ve crossed the Ohio River numerous times, admired its beauty, and tried to understand why sometimes it seems more like a gulf rather than a bridge between cultures.

The answers will all be offered to you, for free, in a series of exciting articles about the history of our region, starting with this one.

This year, we’ll focus principally on the city of Covington, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Basically, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are Gateway cities. They have always been. And we stress “always” — all the way back to geological times!

This region was on the edge of some of the world’s coldest climates and the glaciers. Glaciers function like giant ice bulldozers, pushing everything in front of them and scouring the landscape as flat as a pancake.

Notice how you drive north of Cincinnati on the expressways, and Ohio becomes flat, the consequence of glacial action. When glaciers melt, the meltwater forms fertile, alluvial plains, like you see in downtown Cincinnati and Covington, with their sandy wind-swept soils. The glaciers even pushed the ancient Deep Stage Ohio River southward, forming the present course of the Ohio River between Lunken Airport and Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Meanwhile, the ancient Licking River was also pushed southward. Ever wonder why the Mill Creek Valley seems so wide for such a small stream to have carved? Well, it was once part of the ancient Deep Stage Licking River.

Then, there’s the matter of climate. You know, your aching joints as the temperatures plummet, and your thrice-daily obsession to check the weather app. You probably heard the expression that “if you don’t like the weather in Cincinnati, wait five minutes.”


Well, that’s because this region lies between two major climate systems. If you’re in Dayton or Columbus, Ohio, well you’re in what’s called Humid Continental climate. If you’re in Lexington, it’s Humid Subtropical climate. In Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, we’re a transition zone between these two major climates. Depending upon what the major air masses over the North American continent are busy doing (or not doing), and the prevailing winds that generally stem from the west in this area, the weather here can vary considerably on a daily basis.

Ask your European friends who have visited or moved here—there’s nothing like such variable weather in Europe in such a small space of time. That’s partly because Europe’s major mountain system runs from west to east, while in North America there’s nothing between us and a frigid polar wind—as Dakotans say — except some barbed wire fences.

By the way, ask your German-born friends if they ever ate goetta when they lived in Germany. You’ll be surprised by the answer. More next week about goetta and other local foods.


Paul A. Tenkotte is a professor of history and Director of the Center for Public History at NKU. With other well-known local historians, James C. Claypool, and David E. Schroeder are co-editors of the new 450-page Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015, now available at your local booksellers, the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington and online sellers. Join the 27 authors of Gateway City at a book signing on Saturday, May 16, 2015, from 1-3 pm at the Kenton County Public Library in Covington. For more information, please visit www.kentonlibrary.org.

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