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  • Writer's pictureTim Burke

Samuel Hannaford: The Man Who Built Cincinnati

Updated: Mar 6

Samuel Hannaford

An important part of Cincinnati’s revitalization is the large stock of beautiful 19th century buildings that can still be found across the downtown basin. Fortunately for Cincinnati, past urban renewal efforts and private developers have not wiped out the city’s architectural heritage, leaving a soulless generic built landscape of concrete, steel and glass that characterize much of America’s cities. A large number of the surviving historic structures were surprisingly designed by one man, Samuel Hannaford and the architectural firm he started with his sons. A local architect, Hannaford designed more than 300 buildings between the 1850s and his death in 1911. The list of his work is so impressive I would argue he deserves the title “The Man Who Built Cincinnati “. If you are familiar with Cincinnati consider this partial list: City Hall, Music Hall, The Phoenix (Cincinnati Club), The Cincinnatian Hotel, The Cuvier Press Club, the Hooper Building, Nast Trinity United Methodist Church, the Lombardy Apartment building and Our Lady of Mercy High School(Currently it is occupied by the Job Corps on Western Avenue).

Please understand this is just a partial accounting of his work. All are located in downtown Cincinnati today and found on the US Register of National Historic places. Missing from this list are building that did not survive to the present -some of his most impressive works, and structures built outside of the downtown core.

Not only was he personally responsible for designing so much of Cincinnati’s built landscape, Hannaford also played a major role in developing the profession of architecture in this city as one of the founding members of Cincinnati’s chapter of the American Institute of Architecture and later serving as its president, teaching architecture at the Ohio Mechanical Institute and editing The Western Architect and Builder, a regional journal.


The best point to begin Hannaford’s story is 1844 when at the age of nine he immigrated with his family to the United States from England. His father bought land in Cheviot, then a small agricultural town on the outskirts of Cincinnati’s west side and settled into the life of a yeoman farmer. Young Samuel it seemed, was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps with an education focused on farming. However, at the age of 17 Hannaford left home when he clashed with his father over religion inadvertently setting him on the trajectory to become an architect. Throughout the rest of Hannaford’s life religion was a major influence. Over the course of his career he worked on more than a dozen churches and chapels across the Greater Cincinnati area, a variety of Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopalian churches, though he was devoted member of the Methodist-Episcopalian denomination. His churches can still be seen today in the downtown basin in the form of the sprawling St. Xavier Catholic Church and Nast United Methodist across from Washington Park.

Nast Trinity Church (2019)

Nast-Trinity was designed by Hannaford in 1881 for a German United Methodist congregation. Named after Thomas Nast the founder of the congregation, it was built with gray granite cut and laid in an ashlar style, giving it a rustic look like many Hannaford designed churches.


After leaving home Hannaford began an apprenticeship with John Hamilton, a respected Cincinnati architect. It was a decision it seems, driven more by the need to put a roof over his head and food on the table than anything else. He spent the next three years learning the basics of his newly found profession as a young apprentice. In Hamilton, Hannaford was learning from an experienced architect trained in England. Hamilton would design a number of landmark projects s including the original Woodward High School that later became The School of Creating and Performing Arts in OTR and is now a condominium complex. There is no indication Hannaford had ever expressed any interest in architecture prior to this, leaving him with the three years of training under Hamilton’s supervision. In 1854 Hannaford confidently started his own architecture firm, though it was less than successful forcing him join the office an older accomplished architect named William Tinsley and his partner Edwin Anderson. Tinsley also an immigrant, learned his trade in Ireland before coming to America and settling in Cincinnati. Tinsley did work on a number of college campuses including the University of Wisconsin, Ohio Wesleyan, Kenyon and Wabash colleges along with churches from across the region. So early on Samuel Hannaford was working with European trained architects designing the kinds of public institutions with which he would become identified during the Victorian era when neo-gothic architecture was all the rage in the British Isles.

Though Hannaford became one Cincinnati’s most successful architects, his life was full of personal challenges and tragedies including the loss of his first two wives . Both his first wife Phoebe and second wife Anna Belle died tragically young. Throughout the 1850’s he found it necessary to work a second job before meeting with success in the 1860’s. Even after he established himself as an architect, Hannaford alternated between working independently and joining partnerships with several different architects while raising the 10 children his three marriages produced.

Through the early 1860’s his partnership with Edwin Anderson seemed to provide steady work along with several substantial projects including a rail depot and the Cincinnati Workhouse. The local jail or the Workhouse as it was known received national attention. Built between 1867 and 1869 at the request of the City of Cincinnati the six acre facility housed more than 1500 prisoners by 1870 (demolished in 1991). Designed by Hannaford and Anderson it was hailed as a progressive effort to rehabilitate those convicted of less serious crimes like public drunkenness and disorderly conduct not just punish them. Convicts were engaged in a variety of productive endeavors ranging from making shoes to cooking and sewing to provide them with skills and work habits that would contribute to their rehabilitation. In addition to raising his profile the Workhouse project also brought financial stability and a large enough commission to send Hannaford on a tour of Europe.

The Workhouse (early 20th c.)

The castle like Workhouse designed by Hannaford, was orginally built for the City of Cincinnati. It was operated Hamilton County from 1981 until it was closed in 1985 followed by its demolition in 1991 despite preservation efforts in the mid 1980's.


In 1869 Hannaford traveled home to England. In addition to visiting family he toured London where found the gothic architecture of Westminster Abby “extremely interesting”, calling it one “one of the few places that have come fully up to my expectations”, before moving on to Belgium. During visits to Brussels and Antwerp, he singled out Brussel’s gothic town hall built in the 1440’s as “one of the most notable buildings of Belgium” and “one of its kind in Europe”. From Brussels he went on to Cologne where the cathedral of St. Paul (Gothic 1200-mid 1400) clearly captivated him ( Built between 1200 and the mid 1400’s it is considered the largest gothic church in Northern Europe). Hannaford also toured Berlin which he found generally disappointing though he singled out the “new” Jewish synagogue as pleasing. He found Dresden far more pleasing than Berlin singling out the stone mansions as the finest he had seen however he described the two cathedrals he visited as “bare and devoid of monuments and paintings”. He was however impressed with the Dresden Gallery of Paintings which contained the works of numerous masters. He passed through Prague on the way to Vienna which he found “thoroughly foreign” finding the architectural diversity of the city to be like no other he had visited -Turkish, Bohemian and German which of course matched the sprawling diversity of the ancient Hapsburg empire. In Vienna he was intrigued by the neo-classical design of the Opera House, St. Stephen’s Cathedral another gothic & Romanesque church and the medieval -Italian arsenal as among the most impressive buildings in the city before moving on to Venice by train. Touring the city by gondola, he visited the dodge’s palace, the Rialto, and the cathedral before departing for Florence and Rome where he declared the church of St. Maria of Maggiore (Romanesque) the finest he had ever seen along with the chapel of the Borghese, the catacombs, St. Sebastian , the Coliseum , and St. Peter’s. His return to England took him north through Florence where he toured the cathedral and baptistery before traveling on to Milan. He loved the architecture of Milan singling its gothic Cathedral and declaring the Victor Emmanuel Arcade as the finest in Europe.


After three months abroad Hannaford returned home and once more struck off on his own, this time however, with a substantial amount of experience and visibility that came with the opening of the Work House. A series of lucrative projects followed; St. George Church (Romanesque), the Cincinnati Observatory ( Greek Revival), and McMicken College Neo-Georgian )among them. Though this was a period of great professional success Hannaford suffered a terrible personal loss in 1871. His wife of 14 years, Phoebe, died from typhoid fever, a bacterial infection spread largely by contaminated drinking water. Typhoid periodically struck Cincinnati with a vengeance, spread by the city’s dependence on the river for drinking water.


By 1874 Hannaford once again entered into a partnership, this time with Edwin Proctor. It was a partnership that produced a number of important buildings, the most iconic being Music Hall. Completed in 1878 it truly made Hannaford a recognizable figure in the world of architecture. Originally intended as an exhibition and concert hall, its design reflected the Victorian era rebirth of Gothic architecture as one of several revivalist styles Hannaford turned to when designing institutional or public buildings that became his best-known works. In Europe he was clearly drawn to Gothic and Romanesque churches and public buildings often identifying these as his favorites. Music Hall as it came to be known was a multi-use facility consisting of three large halls serving as venues for everything from the Republican Party’s 1876 National Convention, to industrial expositions, art shows and the home of the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Orchestra. His partnership with Proctor yielded a half dozen contracts before Hannaford again struck off on his own.

Music Hall 2019

Alms & Doepke Building (2019)

The first stage (far left)of this four building department store complex was designed by Hannaford and Edwin Proctor in 1878, with the second stage designed by Hannaford, the third by Hannaford & Sons, with the final edition by the renowned Chicago firm of D. Burnham & Co.(far right). It is currently owned by Hamilton County and serves as the offices of the Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services Departments.


Over the next nine years (1878 – 1887) he designed dozens of buildings while also supervising the construction of two massive federal projects in downtown Cincinnati, the Post Office and Custom’s buildings . During these years he capitalized on the attention Music Hall had earned him, working for some the city’s richest and most powerful citizens. Among his patrons was the Emery family who repeatedly hired Hannaford over the next two decades. It was an important relationship for Hannaford and later his sons Harvey and Charles who joined him in creating Hannaford & Sons. The Emery family who owned real estate throughout the downtown basin, hired Hannaford no less than seven times to design everything from apartment buildings to hotels across downtown Cincinnati as well as significant projects in Walnut Hills and Covington. After Samuel Hannaford’s death in 1911 his sons and grandsons continued working with the Emery family in the design of important projects like the Ohio Mechanics institute and Emery Auditorium.

The Cincinnatian Hotel (2019)

Designed by Hannaford in 1882 for the Emery family as a luxury hotel called The Palace . At the time of its construction the eight story Palace was the tallest building in Cincinnati. A massive renovation in the late 1980's turned this grand old dame into one of the city's preimer hotels and is now operated by Hilton in the heart of downtown.

The Emery Building (2019).

Designed by Hannaford & Sons, it was completed in 1911. The Emery Building was the home of the Ohio Mechanics Institute an early version of an applied engineering program, it however became best known for the exceptional acoustics of its auditorium later named the Emery Theater. The sound quality was so good it became the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1912- 1936.

The Phoenix Building (2019)

Designed by Hannaford in 1893 as the home of the first private Jewish men's club in Cincinnati. In 1911 it became part of the neighboring Cincinnati Club until it was sold in the early 1980's. It currently operates as a banquet and events facility.

The Cincinnati Club (2019)

The Cincinnati Club was designed by Hannaford & Sons as a men's business club in 1911. At 10 stories it was a classic early 20th century club with a gymnasium, dinning rooms, a billard room, library and living quarters. The building was sold in the early 1980's and is currently operated as a banquet and events center.

The Job Corps (2019)

Designed by Hannaford & Sons in 1897, this building housed Our Lady of Mercy High School. It has been the home of the Job Corps since 1970.


One of the first buildings efforts by the new partnership of Hannaford & Sons was a new city hall for Cincinnati. Started in 1887 it was completed in 1893, one of many projects Hannaford completed for Cincinnati’s city government now firmly under the control of George Barnesdale Cox. The new city hall simply added to Hannaford’s reputation as the best architect in the city and among the most prolific in the country. Like his other iconic public buildings, it was designed in a revivalist style, in this case Romanesque with its thick stone frame packed with narrow windows but influenced by the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, a contemporary of Hannaford and of the nation’s greatest 19th century architects. Richardson’s interpretation of the Romanesque architecture was copied across the nation and can be seen in Hannaford’s City Hall with its use of exposed rough hewn stone, massive tower, rounded edges and intricate detail including a hipped roof, lined with multiple gables along its sides . In Cox, Hannaford found another powerful patron. Cox headed the committee that selected him to build City Hall, just one of many local government buildings Hannaford would design.

Elected to city council in 1877, the last time he held political office, “Boss” Cox ran local government behind the scenes from a series of unelected offices. In 1880 he resigned his city council position to become a member of the Board of Equalization which set property values for the tax purposes, later becoming the Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. Having won the confidence of Ohio’s highest-ranking Republicans as the county party chair, Cox was appointed to Cincinnati’s Board of Public Affairs , a new body created in 1886 by the Ohio General Assembly to centralize Republican control over local patronage jobs. Once appointed to the Board, Cox controlled more 2,000 such jobs giving him unprecedented control and influence in governing Cincinnati. His influence extended into the school board , the public water works and county government as well. Though nothing exists explicitly stating Hannaford was given special consideration, relationships and loyalty carried a tremendous amount of weight in the age of political machines. Nothing in Cincinnati happened without the approval of Cox or his lieutenants. A steady stream of contracts went Hannaford’s way: the Eighteenth District Public School ( 1882), Elisnore Castle ( 1883- waterworks), Eden Park Pumping Station (1889), Eden Park Water Tower (1894), University of Cincinnati’s McMicken Hall (1895), Van Wormer Library University of Cincinnati ( 1901), Cincinnati Police Station # 5 (1896) in addition to City Hall and designing Cox’s home own stately mansion in 1895.

City Hall 2019

Memorial Hall (2019)

Memorial Hall was designed by Hannaford & Sons in 1908 for The Grand Army of The Republic, a huge social and advocacy group of Civil War veterans akin to the VFW today. The organization built halls across the nation. Today the Cincinnati Memrial Hall is owned by Hamilton County and operates as entertainment venue. A 2012 renovation of the 550 seat theater only a few doors down from Music Hall has resotred the luster to this gem making it a vibrant part OTR's entertainment offerings.


Though Hannaford retired in 1904 at the age of 70 he continued to write for The Western Architect and Builder and teach classes at the Ohio Mechanical Institute in downtown Cincinnati. In 1911 at age 76 Hannaford passed away. Samuel Hannaford left behind an incredible number of buildings spread across Greater Cincinnati and beyond, but his influence on the downtown basin is truly stunning. While no one architectural style predominates among his work, his surviving large public and commercial buildings lend downtown Cincinnati a kind of stately gravitas missing in cities of a similar size adding old world charm to the city. Even after his death, Hannaford & Sons, continued adding to the city’s built landscape with such significant additions as the Post Times Star Building until the firm was dissolved in the 1960’s. Though it could be argued he is one of the most important people in shaping Cincinnati’s past, sadly today he is largely an unknown figure outside of architecture circles.

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Jul 30, 2023

Samuel was my Great Great Grandfather. My Grandmother was Margaret Hannaford ❤️


dain wahl
dain wahl
Jul 04, 2023

Hello. Can you tell me where the information about Hannaford's trip to Europe including the quotes came from?


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