Few houses in Cincinnati can boast a history as rich and colorful as 1 Circus Place. While most of the grand, Gilded Age residences of Cincinnati were razed long ago, this property, known as The Robinson Circus House, has graced the lovely hilltop overlooking the Little Miami River Valley for more than 150 years.
The Biggs Years
In 1855, T.R. Biggs built the house on the highest point of Round Bottom Farm—his family’s property—which stretched to the banks of the Little Miami River. When a large Union Army camp was established just a few miles away in Camp Dennison during the Civil War, Biggs got the contract to supply the soldiers with beef, earning him a fortune. He used those riches to further enlarge the house before his death in 1870.
Welcome To The Circus
That year, John F. Robinson purchased the house and surrounding acreage as winter quarters for his world famous John Robinson Circus. At that time, his show was one of the most famous touring attractions in the country, netting him millions and making him something of a 19th century celebrity. Robinson immediately set about transforming the home into an Italianate Victorian showplace inspired by the grand, antebellum residences he saw while taking the circus through the American South.
Robinson added elaborate, two-story wrought iron porches built in New Orleans, imported marble fire surrounds from Europe, and enlarged the home until it was suitable to entertain lavishly and house his large family in comfort and style. For nearly 50 years the Robinsons toured the country from spring until fall, returning to Terrace Park every winter with the entire menagerie. The rolling fields surrounding the beautiful family home were filled with stables, practice rings, lion cages, acrobatic arenas, costume shops, aviaries, and animal dens.
Terrace Park Village Lore
Stories of the circus performers and animals in Terrace Park are an ingrained part of village lore. One May afternoon around the turn of the century, a large crowd turned out to watch the handlers load the menagerie onto the circus train. Two elephants that were chained together got spooked and bolted without warning. They tore away from the line and barreled down the tracks. The chain between them hit a telegraph pole and snapped it in two like a toothpick. This sparked a stampede.
Lewis Gatch, who witnessed it as a child, said there were men who served in France in WWI who would always say the most exciting event of their lives was being chased up the Terrace Park cut by the escaped animals from Robinson’s circus.
The Robinson Family
Stories of the Robinson family are equally as colorful. Mr. Robinson was known to hop in a chariot pulled by a zebra to run up to Iuen’s Tavern on Wooster Pike for a newspaper. In the summer of 1876, Wild Bill Hickok spent two weeks honeymooning in this house before he was shot and killed in Deadwood during that infamous poker game.
The End Of An Era
In 1916, the Robinsons sold the circus to the Ringling Brothers but kept a few favorite elephants at the farm in Terrace Park. During the 1920s and 1930s, it was common to see an elephant pulling a plow in a village garden or taking a leisurely bath in the Little Miami River. In 1932, Tillie, the family’s favorite elephant died at the reported age of 120. Her funeral was a civic event. School was dismissed, the Cincinnati Enquirer sent a reporter and photographer, the surviving elephants performed their routines, and a plane flying overhead dropped flowers on the old elephant barn at the bottom of Elm Avenue.
Today, her tombstone sits in the front of the home, a wonderful reminder of a past as loud and colorful as the circus itself.
Reconciling The Old & The New
During the 20th century the house had a series of owners and underwent dramatic changes. The current owners have done more than any other owner to restore and preserve the home’s historical integrity and irreplaceable detail while updating the spaces to the finest in luxury and comfort for today’s family.
Some of the renovations/updates have included the kitchen, master bathroom, outdoor patio space, third-floor den area, and more. Even more impressive is how they’ve tracked down old Robinson Circus posters and newspaper clippings with which to decorate the house.
But don’t take our word for it, head to the gallery above to tour this one-of-a-kind charmer.
- - -
1 Circus Place is a 5-bedroom, 4.1-bathroom house located in Terrace Park. It’s on the market for $1,189,000 and listed by Sibcy Cline realtor Steven Early who can be reached by email or phone (513-382-1218) for those who are interested in learning more.