Cincinnati Museum Center: 90 Years & Still Going Strong

Cincinnati Museum Center: 90 Years & Still Going Strong

Union Terminal is turning 90 years old, and Cincinnati Museum Center plans to commemorate the milestone with a yearlong celebration that connects the iconic building with the Cincinnati community.

Opened in 1933, Union Terminal originally served as the intercity hub for Cincinnati’s five train stations, providing service for all passenger and freight lines entering the city. Built to accommodate up to 17,000 people and 216 trains a day, Union Terminal enjoyed great success throughout the 1930s and 1940s. As automobiles and air transportation gained popularity post-World War II, however, the number of trains steadily declined. By 1972, the last train service to Union Terminal ended, and the building — known for its art deco style, designed by New York-based architects Alfred Fellheimer and Stewart Wagner — sat dormant for several years.

By the mid-1980s, two Cincinnati institutions — the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and the Cincinnati Historical Society — collaborated with the city and the state of Ohio to convert Union Terminal into a museum. Union Terminal now houses the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History & Science, the Cincinnati History Museum, the Cincinnati History Library and Archives, the Children’s Museum, the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center and the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX Theater.

“It’s amazing to think about how many lives Union Terminal has lived,” says Cody Hefner, vice president of marketing and communications at Cincinnati Museum Center. “Generationally, it falls into two categories — the older generation remembers it as a train station, and the younger generation knows it as a museum.”

Throughout 2023, the museum will leverage its digital presence to recognize and celebrate Union Terminal through photographs, historical newsreels and videos. Beyond that, CMC plans to tell stories about Union Terminal and asks folks to share their memories, photographs and anecdotes.

“Union Terminal means so much to so many people,” Hefner says, “Everyone has a story, and we want to capture those stories and create an oral history.”

CMC visitors are encouraged to submit their stories via email. Or, they may be asked to say a few words while visiting the museum.

“We’re a history organization. We’re a collecting institution,” Hefner says. “We want to collect these stories so we can have them, we can observe them, and we can showcase them.”

Union Terminal is a national historic landmark. In 2016, CMC kicked off a $228 million restoration project that addressed decades of structural deterioration and water damage. Repairs included making the building watertight and upgrading all the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. It was the first complete structural restoration in the building’s 85-year history.

“We were working with officials from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, making sure updates to the structure maintained the integrity of the building,” Hefner says. “Several of the officers remarked that it seemed as though the building was always meant to be a museum.”

Hefner notes that there is a lot of serendipity in the building that is hard to replicate. For example, OMNIMAX films are not shown in Union Terminal’s iconic dome. The theater is behind the dome, but it mimics the outside of the building so well the illusion is seamless. The fossils embedded in the rotunda walls were not CMC’s doing either, though guests often comment on how clever the museum was to include them.

“Those fossils were there long before the museum was a glimmer in Union Terminal’s eye,” Hefner says.

Union Terminal’s official anniversary is March 31, and CMC plans to host a community-focused event to celebrate the momentous occasion.

“It’s hard to imagine Cincinnati without Union Terminal,” Hefner says. “If you ask 20 people why they love the building, you’ll hear 20 different stories. We often say Union Terminal is the museum’s greatest artifact.”

Do you have a favorite memory of Union Terminal? Visit to learn more about the building’s 90th-anniversary celebration.

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