Monday, May 7, 2012

A Secret Passageway in Mt. Adams


I'm sure I'm not the only one who looked for secret passages in their house as a kid, only to be disappointed that such things didn't exist (at least in the suburban homes that six year old me wandered). While what I stumbled upon isn't really the kind of "secret passage" you'd find when pulling the right book off the shelf, it does provide a relatively unknown route up the ritzy neighborhood hillside of Mt. Adams.


I read the sign out front as "welcome, come check this out." I had passed by the break in the stone wall countless times. I knew it lead to steps, one of the city's 400 sets that dot the hillsides and link various neighborhoods. While many are still in use and have become gritty icons of the Queen City; numerous sets are abandoned, simply sealed off with "Steps Closed" signs. Some are apparent and in view, others hidden from ordinary site. I was out looking for a new angle in order to make a frame for the 224Cincy series. I figured the steps might have an interesting look of the skyline nearby or at the very least could be an interesting adventure. I grabbed the camera and entered the stone passageway.

- Snake territory or ancient ruins?

My concern was not my blatant disregard of the "no trespassing" sign, but of snakes. I hate snakes. Sure, they have a right to exist, but that doesn't mean I need to hang out with them. Behind the stone wall, the steps were overgrown, damp, grimy and covered in dirt. Seemed like perfect snake territory to me. I ran up the first flight as fast as I could, nearly jumping out of my shoes when a tree branch (for a split second thought to be a snake attack) rubbed my neck. My nerves calmed when I realized there were no serpent threats about.


With caution (and one eye always looking at the ground) I proceeded up the steps. I'm not sure when this section of steps had closed, but nature had slowly been reclaiming the concrete walkway for some time.


Nature had been at it so long in fact, that a tree had grown between the metal fixtures of a collapsed railing.

- A tree that had grown between the collapsed bannister rails.

The ascent was steep, with the steps plateauing ever so often before continuing upwards. I quickly realized that this wouldn't be making a good angle for 224Cincy. The same trees that obscured this area from roadside view obscured the sight of the downtown skyline from me. Regardless, the climb of this urban passageway had to be further investigated.





The style of handrails seen above is common on Cincinnati's hillside steps. It was even used on the stairs to the abandoned Race St. subway station platforms.

- Jurassic Park like plants growing nearby.
- The steps and a collapsed railing.

At the summit, a push through the thick brush revealed a parking lot near the art museum. If there ever was once a sidewalk at the top, it's long gone now.

Off the nearly 400 sets of hillside steps in the city, many are modern gateways that link neighborhoods and destinations. Others, like the one seen here, have become abandoned and disused, falling into the landscape. In a sense, they've become urban "secret passages." Currently, a volunteer group is working to reclaim and revive some of the city's abandoned hillside thoroughfares. Check out Spring in Our Steps for more info.

If you want to know more about Cincinnati's hillside steps, check out this article by the legendary Casey P. Coston.



  1. I've always wanted to check that little cubby out. Nice work!

  2. Thanks for the link to Spring in our steps. I always wondered if anyone was doing anything to take care of the steps.

  3. I'm doing it. Thanks for pointing it out.

  4. Cool stuff! Some nice pictures.

  5. Dude, no way - 400 sets of steps?????? Crazy.

    1. I thought the number high myself, but I'm encouraged if we can reclaim them in some way to create pockets of urban wonder in our city again.