Covington’s Devou Park & the Circus Town of Ludlow

Devou Park is a gorgeous 700+ acre tract of land that began as the William P. & Sarah Ogden Devou family farm more than a century ago. Their children donated the property to the City of Covington in the early 1900s, though they continued to live in the old farmhouse until their deaths many years later. 

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The old farmhouse is now the renovated Behringer-Crawford Museum, a regional culture and heritage center. 

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Inside, they have a collection of artifacts and relics from life on the farm and important events in Northern Kentucky and Ohio Valley history. 

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The museum first opened in 1950, functioning as a natural history museum and compendium of William Behringer’s findings throughout his world travels.  

You can still see many of his fossils, stones, bones, and random oddities, but now it contains display kitchens, classic cars, art, streetcars, farm equipment, technological advances, and inventions of previous generations.

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The Rivers Gallery exhibit celebrates the Ohio and Licking Rivers, the development of river transport and commerce, and ships of the Civil War. Children seem to love this Wake Robin Riverboat play area. 

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My favourite exhibit was the massive Ray Faragher Garden Railway display.

Faragher started building this miniature fictional Northern Kentucky city with famous landmarks of Ludlow, Covington, and Cincinnati, combined with symbols of his childhood, people he loves, and other elements of his ideal imaginary town.

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The docent pointed out that Faragher loved White Castle so much that he installed a burner in the base of his model, acquired some used hamburger grease from White Castle, and melted it underneath for added realism.

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He also melted chocolate under the mini rendition of his beloved neighbourhood bakery so it could waft through the tiny city as well. 

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According to the docent, Faragher’s hobby eventually became too large to be contained in his basement, so he donated it to the museum, and has added bits and pieces to it over time.  

Various levers allow visitors to change the scene from day to night, play sounds of diners chatting, kids playing in parks, the street car rolling across tracks and blasting its horn, street traffic, and other sounds Faragher enjoyed. 

Visitors can also press buttons to set the streetcar and other automobiles into motion, flash lights, and activate the scents.

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Beyond the Behringer-Crawford Museum, Devou Park is also the home of a restaurant/bar, several picnic shelters, playgrounds, paved and natural trails, a fishing lake, an amphitheater, the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky, Drees Pavilion at the Devou Memorial Overlook, and the 18-hole Devou Park Golf Course

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There are loads of pretty homes in and around Devou Park also.

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Surrounding Devou Park to the northwest is the historic Ludlow neighbourhood, incorporated officially in 1864. Like Devou Park, Ludlow got its humble beginnings as a tract of land given to someone as a gift.

The recipient, General Sandford, traded this land (now Fort Mitchell) to a man named Thomas Carneal, who sold it to William Bullock, who eventually sold it to Israel Ludlow in 1846.

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Bullock bought all the land that is modern Ludlow with dreams to move many of his fellow Londoners onto American soil and start their own Utopia named Hygeia. It failed, and Bullock went bankrupt, but they did some really cool things in the meantime. 

The Railroad was Ludlow’s first industry, which brought basic infrastructure and commerce, but it is known today for being a Circus Town. Check out this site for a large collection of photos from Ludlow’s early days. 

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Ludlow native Paul Miller, a former circus clown of both Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Brothers fame as well as an actor in multiple soap operas and a movie, is also a circus historian. He is the owner and an educator at both Circus Mojo and Bircus Brewing Company.

Miller talks often of Ludlow’s rich history of The Weird; from circus origins, oddities, freak shows, hobo clubs, and Catfish Ranches, to being a leader in organizing touring performances out of it all.

Ludlow is FAMOUS in the circus scene for having so many deep connections to creating and facilitating the Great American Circus, entertainment culture, and showcasing the strange and unusual.

Ludlow is a mecca for those looking to join the circus, learn performance skills, or show theirs off in front of an adoring crowd. 

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Miller started his circus arts training program, Circus Mojo, at the historic Ludlow Theatre in 2009. A few years later he began selling beer at the theatre, which led to starting the Bircus Brewing Company in 2016.

Bircus was the first crowd-funded brewery in the USA. The venue has hosted circus performers from over 40 countries since then, and has expanded to another location in Covington.

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Miller says that William Bullock (mentioned above) was one of the richest people in the world, and that he was first to show rare artifacts and oddities, after doing so in London and Liverpool abroad. P. T. Barnum even credited Bullock for inspiring him to create the American Museum after the success of Bullock’s Egyptian Hall exhibit. 

A group of investors, including Bullock, that put their money into the streetcar system also tossed some bills into creating the Ludlow Lagoon Amusement Park. The Ludlow Lagoon was created in part to bolster usage and to generate income from their street car system. The investors wanted to give the public and tourists exciting places to go using the street car.

The most popular activities at the Ludlow Lagoon in the late 1890s were drinking Bavarian-brand beer, watching circus performances, and seeing motorcycle races, but re-enacted naval battles on motorboats, a musical carousel, and hot air balloon rides were a hit too.

Ludlow Lagoon was the second largest amusement park in the world, after Coney Island, and was in operation from 1895 to 1917 when most industrial resources and talents were redirected into the war effort. 

Watch this video to hear Miller’s full scoop:

Here is another (very slow-moving) video with loads of info and photos of the Ludlow Lagoon:

Around town, Ludlow Coffee is the place to get your sweet treats and a caffeine boost from Deeper Roots Coffee Roasters, which has a handful of locations nearby in Cincinnati. 

 

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Second Sight Spirits is a craft distillery that offers tours, tastings, seances, and drag/burlesque shows.

Owners Rick Couch and Carus Waggoner also have ties to the Circus arts, having co-created the stunning and world-renowned performance ensemble, Cirque du Soleil. They are also the brains behind Cirque du Soleil’s resident show called Viva Elvis!, both of which began in Las Vegas.

Learn about their special brews here

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Ludlow Tavern, Dollhouse Tattoo Studio, the Ludlow-Bromely Yacht Club with its own beach, the Ludlow Skatepark, and Jeff & John Winkle Studio are just a few more cool places I passed during my short visit.

Ludlow continues to revel as a Circus Town, and more artistic businesses of all types keep popping up around the main blocks. I look forward to revisiting on a weekend when some more of these places are open!

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For an extra shot of weird, be sure to visit the Futuro House, also known as the Spaceship House, at 224 Wright Street. A man named Matti Suuronen designed this in the late 1960s as a portable ski chalet. I did not realise this was a thing back then, but this anthropomorphic, nostalgic chunk of tin continues to draw people from all over the world into obsession. 

Keep a respectful distance, but admire it thoroughly. 

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In the area for a while? Follow me to Newport on the Levee or Covington’s Mutter Gottes and Mainstrasse neighbourhoods or the Licking-Riverside Historic District

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3 thoughts on “Covington’s Devou Park & the Circus Town of Ludlow

  1. Pingback: Covington’s Mutter Gottes & the Historic Linden Grove Cemetery | Fernweh

  2. Pingback: Newport, Kentucky & its Famous Levee | Fernweh

  3. Pingback: Mainstrasse Village; Tracing German Heritage in Covington’s Old West Side | Fernweh

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