Roebling Point was Covington’s original business district, and the most distinctive part of the city’s 1815 plat. The public square, which extended from Greenup and Scott streets, east to west, and from 3rd and 4th streets, north to south, was, and still is, an area divided into four square parts. Today’s Court Street, which bisects the square, was originally known as the city’s commercial center.
In August 1831, the Board of Trustees for the city of Covington, Kentucky authorized the construction of a market house here. Soon thereafter, merchants and entrepreneurs opened up shops, warehouses, and business offices nearby to be close to their customer base. It was here in 1835 that the Northern Bank of Kentucky built its Covington branch at Third and Scott Streets.
In its early years, most of the commerce in Covington was connected with the rivers that formed the northern and eastern boundaries of the city. Located next to the public market was the Covington Landing, where packet boats docked to buy and sell goods on the Ohio River steamboat trade.
The steamboat and ferry industries contributed a lot to the city’s commercial growth, but because the Kentucky side of the Ohio River was relatively shallow compared to the Ohio side of the river, Cincinnati became the de facto location for shipping freight. Covington’s riverfront never really became a viable public landing for boats and steamships. It instead became a thoroughfare for goods ferried across the river to Cincinnati where steamboats were parked to load and unload goods.
Covington’s antebellum ties were strongly connected to the South. Goods which flowed into Covington were often transported by ferry across the river to Cincinnati. They were then sent downriver to southern ports such as St. Louis, Vicksburg and New Orleans.
Because ferries were often shutdown by poor weather conditions, such as flooding and ice, plans for a bridge across the Ohio River were drawn up as early as 1846 to battle the elements. In August 1855, the Covington and Cincinnati Bridge Company board of directors, Henry Bruce Jr., chose German immigrant, John Augustus Roebling, to be the architect of the bridge.
The bridge would take a decade to build. It was often hampered by delays, such as the harsh winter of 1856, then the Economic Panic of 1857, and finally the American Civil War. Many of its investors felt like it would never be built, but that all would change in late summer of 1862.
When the Confederate army approached the Northern Kentucky region after the Battle of Richmond (KY) of August 29 and 30, 1862, General Lew Wallace took charge of local defenses and declared martial law as he attempted to fortify the existing defenses in the hills of Northern Kentucky, south of Covington and Newport. One problem he quickly discovered was in trying to get soldiers from Ohio across the Ohio River into these fortifications.
At that time, boats were available to serve as troop transports, but they were unreliable. Wallace decided to hire Cincinnati architect, Wesley Cameron, to take charge of constructing a pontoon bridge across the Ohio River. Cameron would use empty coal barges lashed side by side and anchored securely onto both shores to accomplish the project. Thousands of men were marched across the bridge. Its success led many city and military officials to call for the completion of the suspension bridge. The Confederate Invasion of Kentucky had made it apparent that a permanent bridge was needed to facilitate Union troop movements in preparation for the possibility of another invasion.
On December 1, 1866, almost four years after work recommenced under the supervision of Roebling’s son Washington Augustus Roebling, and new bridge director, Amos Shinkle, the Covington/Cincinnati Suspension Bridge was open to traffic.
As work was completed on the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge (now known as the John Roebling Suspension Bridge) by the late 1860’s, the financial and commercial interest of the city had moved further south to be near the new train terminals at Washington and Pike Streets, forming a more advantageous hub in the area now called Downtown.
Madison and Pike Streets became the new commercial and residential focus of the city. The public square was no longer the center of business in Covington, and so it soon became home to the courthouse crowd. Many prominent Covington lawyers, judges, and politicians resided nearby or had law offices located at the square.
John White Stevenson (1812-1886) was the 25th governor of Kentucky and represented the state in both houses of the U.S. Congress. His home still stands at 4th and Garrard Streets. A historical marker stands nearby. Today, it remains a private residence.
The Boone Block is an historic 3 story brick building located on the eastside of Scott, between 4th and 5th Streets, and represents an era when Northern Kentucky politicians held highly influential positions in state and national politics. Stevenson, John G. Carlisle, and William Goebel all had offices in the building, and for many years it served as the Headquarters of the Kenton County Democratic Party.
A series of city halls remained at the public square until 1969. The first permanent city hall was constructed here in Covington in 1843-44. The original structure was demolished in May 1899 to make way for a new building known as the 1899-1902 courthouse. By the early 1960s, this structure could no longer house the many government offices for the city. Architect Carl Bankemper was chosen to design a new city/county building to accommodate the city’s growth. The ten-story jail and city/county building still stands, but is no longer used for City of Covington business.
During the first 2 decades of the 20th century, Covington was the commercial center for all of Northern Kentucky. Several buildings were constructed near the old public square. The Kentucky Times-Star Building in the 500 block of Scott, the Edward Pieck pharmacy building (later the Greyhound bus station building) at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and Madison Avenue, and the Traction Building, headquarters for the streetcar which frequented the streets of Covington, still stands today across from the old courthouse.
Today, the Roebling Point district is going through extensive changes. It is still home to many law firms and county businesses, but it also features several bars and restaurants such as Molly Malone’s, Blinkers, and Keystone Tavern.
The Point is the home of the Ascent at Roebling’s Bridge, Covington’s newest iconic structure designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. The Northern Kentucky Police Memorial, located at the foot of the Suspension Bridge, is dedicated to the men and women of the Northern Kentucky region that have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their communities. Each year the Northern Kentucky Police Chiefs Association holds a Memorial Service in May to honor the fallen.
The annual RoeblingFest, held every June/July, focuses on Roebling Bridge History with tours, exhibits and character portrayals and performances. Local music, an arts and crafts fair, silent auction, raffle, local food and drinks, fireworks, and the Hands Across the Bridge Challenge are local family favorites.
In 1987, Roebling Point was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Greenup Street extension to the Ohio River Historic District.