Winter Vacation in Cincinnati

Cincinnati is a short five hour drive from Chicago and its museums are the sweet dessert to Chicago’s meaty main course of ones such as the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry. The best sites to see in the winter time are the museums in Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, William Howard Taft National Historic Site, the American Sign Museum, and EnterTRAINment Junction. Although the holidays have passed, a special winter trip to Cincinnati may be just what us Chicagoans need especially since the traveling exhibit, the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times is open until April 14th this year and the scrolls rarely leave Israel.

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1. Cincinnati Museum Center – Union Terminal 

1301 Western Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio

Admission: Varies from an all inclusive package to individual museums and temporary exhibits. Click here for full details

Hours: 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Monday-Saturday and 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.

Website

A grand train station turned museum is the Cincinnati Union Terminal which holds the Cincinnati History Museum, the Cincinnati Children’s Museum, and the Cincinnati Natural Science Museum. Although, Union Terminal is the size of the Museum of Science and Industry with three museums instead of one this site is not to be missed. The History Museum, Omni-max show and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times took most of the day. This museum center would need at least two days to see the entire site.

The Cincinnati History Museum boasts a rather large train layout when the visitor first enters the museum. The layout is HO scale and features the Union Terminal and downtown Cincinnati. The second exhibit is Cincinnati in World War II. This informative and nostalgic exhibit explains the role that Union Terminal played in World War II. The life size dioramas are exceptionally interesting. The best piece of history lies beneath the train display in the basement, the paddle boat. The Queen of the West sits in water and has all the unique trappings of a true steam boat; even has some passengers! Make sure to visit the town and feel free to experience a quick trip down the Ohio River to the Mississippi.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times exhibit is enlightening as it is emotional. Before witnessing the over 2,000 year old scrolls. A guide sets the atmosphere of historical biblical times when the scrolls were created. Continuing through the exhibit, religion, state, and home issues are brought to life to give the visitor a thorough understanding of the past.

When the visitor finally reaches the scrolls patience is a must. The scrolls are placed in an air tight circular table and will approximately take twenty to thirty minutes to see all of them. The scrolls are not traditional scrolls any longer. Bits and pieces are all that are left, but the scrolls’ interpretation is phenomenal. The scrolls are translated with the text on the page and what is missing from the text along with the history behind the text. What is exceptional in these scrolls is the fact that most are biblical including passages from Genesis and Psalms, but some face the social issues of the day such as community laws and death bed speeches called Aramaic Levi.

Questions such as why were the scrolls left and never reclaimed, why did the writers choose this spot, and was there a community at the site of scrolls? These questions are answered, but leave the visitor with more. The scrolls are mythical and absolute all at the same time. History is truly remarkable.

2. William Howard Taft Historical Site

2038 Auburn Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio

Hours: 8:00 A.M. to 4:oo P.M. Everyday and tours given every 30 minutes

Admission: Free

Website

Born on September 15, 1857 William Howard Taft made his debut in Cincinnati to the parents of Alphonso and Louise Taft. He is the only person to serve as both President and Chief Justice of the United States. As well as the Auburn Avenue house is the only monument to the 27th President of the United States. This site will take between an hour to an hour and a half. The tour is a half an hour long given by a very knowledgeable Park Service Ranger.

Taft grew up in the Auburn Avenue historic house site and moved out when he graduated from Yale to eventually marry and live with his wife, Nellie Taft. The house was sold by the Tafts in 1899 and renovated into apartments. Purchased in 1969 by the government, the house was then restored to its appearance to when the Tafts resided there. The furniture is from the period and most likely similar to Tafts. All that is left of the Tafts are the books from the Library and family portraits.

The guides give a general history of the house and its occupants featuring William Howard Taft later in his life touching on his personal accomplishments rather than focusing on his not so grand career of president. The upstairs is an exhibit focusing on the enigmatic and jovial man taking you through his careers and friendships. The exhibit upstairs is quite interesting and not to be missed!

For a man who accomplished so much the house itself could be a better representation than just a birth place, although CMB found the man much more interesting than his presidency. This historic site is a quick side trip that should be included in the itinerary. You never know, what you may discover about William Howard Taft. CMB was certainly surprised!

3. American Sign Museum

1330 Monmouth Street Cincinnati, Ohio

Hours: 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Wednesday-Saturday (Free Guided Tours at 11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M.) and 12:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. Sunday (Free Guided Tours at 2:00 P.M.)

Admission:  Adult: $15, Children under 12: Free, Seniors, Student (ID), and Active Military Duty $10

Website

Opening in it’s new home in June 2012, the American Sign Museum features a permanent exhibit space that celebrates early signage from the turn of the century through the age of neon to today. Many of the signs’ original homes were Chicago especially in the recreated main street town of 1950s America. The neon signs take some visitors back to a life that once was and for younger audience allows a glimpse to the majesty of the age of neon signage.

The museum takes 45 minutes to one hour depending on your interest and a tour is given twice a day lasting for one hour.

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4. EnterTRAINment Junction

7379 Squire Court West Chester, Ohio

Hours: 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Monday-Saturday and 12:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Sunday

Admission: Adult: $12.95, Seniors: $11.50, Child (3-12): $9.95, Children under 2: Free

Website

EnterTRAINment is in the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester about a twenty minute drive north of the city off of I-75. When pulling up to the building be careful of strollers and young children. This center boasts the world’s largest indoor model train layout, but do not be fooled the trains are O scale as in the size of Lionel trains.

While this site is very family and young boys will especially love this place, for a couple looking for a Valentine’s weekend getaway CMB does not recommend stopping.

The replica trains begin in the 1850s and end in the diesel era. The train layouts are rolling hills to downtown main street city centers. CMB found the trolley car near the Arthur Murray Dance Studio to be the most fascinating. In the middle of the layout, near the back portion is an indoor playground for children and heading into the diesel era is a small train exhibit which is very informative. The overall experience as a family could take up two hours, but train foamers everywhere will love this train layout whether children be under foot or not! Everyone can enjoy a good choo choo and wooo wooo every now and again!

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