Newport, Kentucky & its Famous Levee

Newport was the largest city in Kentucky by the early 1900s, though it is often grouped together with Covington and Cincinnati as far as attractions and resources, since all three cities stretch along the Ohio and the Licking Rivers.

Newport is in both the Upland South and Bluegrass geographic regions of the US, though widely accepted as part of the greater Midwest.

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White settlers first laid claim to Newport in 1791, and the town was officially established in 1795. It was named after the commander of the first ship to dock in Jamestown, Virginia, named Christopher Newport.

In the 1880s, a huge population of German immigrants moved in and started making their home in Newport. The region of land between Newport, Covington, and Cincinnati has one of the largest and most prominent German populations in the United States.

Seeking out German influence in this region, and moreso in Cincinnati/Dayton, has always been a special interest of mine.

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I also really love unique old bridges, and this is a good place to see them. The Taylor Southgate Bridge was built in 1995 and stretches 1,850 feet across the river.

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The Purple People Bridge is another notorious Newport bridge, situated between the Taylor Southgate Bridge and the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge. This one is for pedestrians and bicycle traffic only, no motor vehicles allowed.

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The historic Purple People Bridge was built in 1872 and stretches half a mile, connecting Newport to Covington, Cincinnati, and various parks with ease. You can also rent it for special events.

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Lovely as they are, some of these bridges stand as a sort of memorial for some darker times in Newport history.

During the late 1930s when the United States was struggling to survive the Great Depression, a separate tragedy hit the Ohio Valley. Nearly 12 inches of rain fell between 13-25 January of 1937, the worst of it being on the 18th.

On that day, the river rose to around six inches PER HOUR. The Ohio River rose to almost 80 feet high, nearly 30 feet over its existing flood line. To make things worse, it began snowing, and several inches of snow and ice covered any surface that was not underwater.

Bridges were the only route in or out of the city, and floodwaters had closed off three of the four functioning bridges at that time, leaving only the Roebling Suspension Bridge closest to Covington. People were stranded on rooftops out in the freezing temperatures.

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Across the river, a streetcar exploded and the fire spread rapidly due to the amount of gasoline floating on the surface of the floodwater. More than 100 entire city blocks and 2,500 homes were submerged under water, people were dying of exposure and pneumonia, and now the city was on fire.

When the fire was finally controlled and the heavy rain ceased, receding flood water began to reveal a horrific scene. More than half of Newport’s infrastructure had been destroyed by water or fire and its residents had no place to live.

The Great Depression left scarce options for obtaining resources and funds for rebuilding were not available. Because of this, it was almost eleven years later before the Newport Levee was finished.

Check out this NKY Tribune article for more info about the trials and tribulations of Newport’s struggle to rebuild.

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Like most American cities in that era, Newport was full of speakeasies, gambling dens, strip clubs, and brothels, heavily ran by gangsters including the likes of Ed Levinson.

It was not until the 1980s that great measures were made to clean it up and transition it into a safer, more family-friendly type of tourist attraction. You can take the Newport Gangster Tour to learn more about the town’s shady mob history.

Today, Newport is well-known for its Aquarium (above) and the Newport on the Levee entertainment complex. The Newport Aquarium opened in 1999, and the Newport on the Levee complex was built in 2000.

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Newport on the Levee has been voted the premier dining and entertainment destination in all of Northern Kentucky. Annual festivals, concerts, markets, and other events are held out on the levee, on the pedestrian bridges, and in open plazas.

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Shops like Colonel de Gourmet, Native, Bluegrass & Sass, Pizzazz, and Trade have everything from home décor and kitchen goods, to clothing and souvenirs.

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Bon Mi Street, Brio, Little Spoon Bakery & Café, Brothers Bar & Grill, Rotolo, the new Amador, and other restaurants offer up the area’s best seafood, Italian, Cuban, pizza, ice cream, pastries, and local specialties.

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The famous Hofbräuhaus has a location here, for fellow Germans/Teutophiles, or anyone that just loves a good beer garden.

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Wooden Cask Brewing, West Sixth Brewing, Blackmarket Saloon, 16 Lots Brewing, Beeline, and The Buzz are great spots for afternoon lunches or an evening out.

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For more socializing and adult bevvies, the Bridgeview West Sixth Box Park comes alive at night. It is part of Newport on the Levee, but is a more adult-friendly area defined by canopies, strung lights, astro turf, and drinking games set up between bars and cabanas.

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The box park is made of shipping crates and the businesses that occupy them, with shared seating that looks out across the river and the Cincinnati Skyline.

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While you are hanging out on the Levee, be sure to visit the Newport History Museum in the communal parking lot behind Hofbräuhaus.

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Beyond Newport on the Levee, most of the fun stuff in Newport is along the river over to 3rd and 4th Streets, or along York and Monmouth Streets. All of these streets intersect near the riverfront and the traffic circle leading to the Taylor Southgate Bridge. 

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Carabello Coffee was a highly enjoyable stop on this tour. I typically avoid religious places but they are low-key and cozy. Staff and patrons also had alternative looks, so I did not feel like any bibles or condemnations would be cast my way.

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One of the ways the Carabello family gives back to the community is through with a project called Mercy Kids. Having worked and volunteered with disabled individuals for more than half my life, I can get with that mission.

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The quirky décor, welcoming staff, and several diversely decorated seating areas to choose from was really cool.

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I also want to mention that they have a walk-up window where you can order and pick up your drinks and food from the sidewalk/street, and that is extra brilliant because there is hardly any parking anywhere nearby.

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The World Peace Bell & Exhibit Center (no official website) on York Street is another site you should not miss while in Newport. Originally, a structure called the Millennium Tower was designed for the adjacent lot in 1997, but it never happened.

Instead, the World Peace Bell was created to commemorate the first International Day of Peace in 2000. It is engraved with excerpts from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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This bell is the world’s largest free-swinging bell, coming in at more than 66,000 pounds, and standing 12-feet tall.

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Check out the Northern Kentucky Firefighter’s Memorial directly in front of it.

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Southgate House Revival is definitely one of the coolest places in all of Newport; a historic church converted into a concert venue, and a haven for countless circus punk and other genre-defying bands I know and/or have toured with.

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Inside, there are three separate performance spaces that are used for anything from vaudeville shows, bluegrass jams, comedy, film nights, special events, and more. There are not many historic (former) churches still standing in Newport, so this is a rare treat to see.

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Stroll around the East Row Historic District, the second largest historic district in Kentucky, slightly east of  Roebling Point and Historic Licking Districts. This district showcases tons of beautiful antique homes and buildings, a community garden, dog park, and hosts Victorian-era themed events and tours throughout the year.

Newport Pizza Company is a neighbourhood favourite, inside yet another one of Newport’s awesome historic buildings.

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In the area for a while? Follow me over to Covington’s Mainstrasse, Mutter Gottes, Devou Park, and the Licking-Riverside Historic District.

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5 thoughts on “Newport, Kentucky & its Famous Levee

  1. Pingback: Covington’s Devou Park & the Circus Town of Ludlow | Fernweh

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

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

  4. Pingback: Covington’s Famous Murals, the Licking-Riverside Historic District, & Roebling Point | Fernweh

  5. Pingback: Seeing Stars in Cincinnati; A City of Firsts & Its Dazzling Street Art | Fernweh

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