Original: John Smith - settled on large tract of land (710 acres) Date Fr: Date To: 1809
1: Zacheus Biggs Date Fr 1: 1809 Date To 1:
2: *Thomas R. Biggs (Zacheus' son) Date Fr 2: 1854/5 Date To 2:
3: **House built before 1869 perhaps by 1854 Date Fr 3: Date To 3:
4: Thomas R. Biggs Estate Date Fr 4: 1880 Date To 4: 1885
5: James W. Sibley (deed recorded), lot 29 Date Fr 5: 1885 Date To 5:
6: Caroline Robinson (wife of John F. Robinson) (deed recorded) Date Fr 6: 1886 Date To 6:
7: John G. Robinson (son of John F. Robinson) Date Fr 7: Date To 7:
8: Leonora Smith Robinson (widow of John G. Robinson) Date Fr 8: Date To 8:
9: Joe & Kate Miller Date Fr 9: 1951/2 Date To 9: 1967/8
10: Flach & Angela F. Douglas Date Fr 10: 1968 Date To 10: 1987
11: S. Kay Callaghan Date Fr 11: 1987 Date To 11: 2006
12: Date Fr 12: Date To 12: 1975
Information from the book "Give 'em a John Robinson" with additions.
John Robinson from Aberdeen, Scotland, married Nancy Boyd.
These were the father and mother of the circus clan.
They had four known sons:
A. Boyd Robinson
B. James Robinson (1811-1908)
C. Alexander Robinson, also a circus owner.
1. John A. Robinson - killed in 1866 Crittenden KY.
D. John Robinson (1807-1888), known in circus circles as "Old John" or John I
Married Elizabeth Bloomer (1815-1878)
They had 5 sons and one daughter:
1. John F. Robinson (November 4, 1843-April 30, 1921 at Miami),
colloquially known as John II or "Govenor".
Married Caroline Heyward (April 2, 1845-August 6, 1889) in 1866.
This couple had one son and five daughters:
a. Blanche L. (1867-1868)
b. Maud V. (1869-1875)
c. John G. Robinson (1872-1935), referred to as John III,
and was the last Robinson operator of the Robinson Circus.
Married Leonora Smith (1872 or 4-1964), sister of Kessler at 906 Stanton
They had twin daughters and one son.
1. Leonora Robinson (1891-1929?). Born 6:00AM, 1st twin
Married Krehbiel and had one son
a. Gordon (1910-1955)
2. Ellanora (1891-1938). Born 6:15 AM, 2nd twin
Married Patterson and had one daughter
a. Ellanora Rose. (2 daughters: Deborah & Lee)
(605 N. Sierra Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210)
3. John Gilbert IV (1894-1954) an attorney
Married Judith Silcott and had a daughter Elizabeth.
d. Kate (1874-1902) married Crone
e. Pearl (28 November 1877 - 8 October 1918) married Lamkin, a circus man
f. Caroline (1882-1952) married Stevens
Married Maud Logan (1879-1920) in 1908. She was his nurse.
They had no children.
2. Gilbert N. Robinson (1845-1928), author of "Old Wagon Show Days"
Married Emma Lake, equestrienne with Buffalo Bill, billed as "Emma Hickok".
"Wild Bill Hickok" was Emma's mother's 2nd husband
3. Charles Robinson married twice. Both wives were equestriennes.
4. James Robinson (1847-1880)
5. Frank Robinson
6. Katie Robinson (1851-1874)
Information from a Village Views article by Stan Miller (not entirely accurate): "John F. Robinson started the whole business, perhaps around 1824 [actually 1842 - see Story 10] but even Gil Robinson, a brother to our John F., did not relate much of the early action in his book published in 1925. The whole shoot 'n shebang was moved here around 1857 after a purchase of a sufficient amount of space (winter quarters for the Robinson Circus) from Thomas R. Biggs, owner of many acres along the Little Miami at the time. I am suspicious that the original portion of the home was built by Mr. Biggs, however, the Robinson family added to and renovated the anti-bellum mansion until apparently 17 rooms were available to entertain their host of friends in and out of circus business."
"The home was occupied by the Robinsons until 1916, when the circus was sold, but still remained with a caretaker until purchased by Joe and Kathryn Miller after the demise of the last three elephants in 1941." "Joseph E. Miller died June 15, 1966. He was a plumbing contractor and bought the property 10 years ago and it was to be auctioned off Saturday but postponed because of his death."
"I think it is interesting to note that after John G. III's passing, the property was left to Leonora S. Robinson, his widow. She was the sister of Kessler Smith, long a resident and the only one at the lower end of Stanton Avenue. Kess told me his father was once mayor of Cincinnati. Leonora resided at the Gibson Hotel and even in my time as clerk, she asked if she would be able to contribute a flag or benches to the Village Green, which was gratefully received. John G. III did not quite make it for the 100th anniversary of Robinson Circus." (Stan Miller)
"All Robinson's posters and other printing were done by The Enquirer job department until the plant was burned along with Pike's Opera House in 1866. He then organized his own printing company whose descendents include the United States Printing Co., and the United States Playing Card Co."
More information is available in this article concerning the circus and especially the Robinson Circus in Terrace Park. Perhaps more research should be done about the Robinson family and their circus since some of the information in this article does not totally match with other information above.
(See also an elephant story at 101 Miami.)
Elephant Stories off the Internet
Records about from Bob Cline
My records indicate the John Robinson Circus had one elephant from 1872 to 1875. It was a Male Asian called Emperor. In 1876 they acquired three more elephants named Mary, Princess and Chief. They had been on a show called the American Racing Association. I believe it was owned by Andrew Haight, George DeHaven and R.E.J. Miles. Princess has been mentioned as an Asian before, but I believe I've found more mention that she was an African female instead. So, 1876 gave John Robinson two Asian males, Emperor and Chief, one Asian female, Mary, and one African female, Princess. 1877 remained the same then in 1878 they added another African male called Bismarck. (I have found two elephants mentioned in 1878 as Caliph and Woodah. Both were male Asians. Were these actually different elephants or nicknames for two they had, I don't know.) 1879 remained the same then in 1880 they added another Asian male named Cinci. In 1881 they added another Asian female named Tillie which now made 7 elephants on the show. The herd remained the same until 1886 when they added another Asian female named Queen. This herd remained the same through 1890
Bob Cline, circus history message board, 24 Feb 2009
I once had an experience at Ashland, Kentucky, with the old John Robinson circus, which made me wonder if it is not rather because an elephant does not wish to leave his place than because he is not clever enough to free himself, that we find him patiently in one spot fastened only by a chain thrown around a stake. I came into the menagerie a short time after the parade and found Tillie, the largest member of the herd, at a considerable distance from her place, quietly feeding on the rich, succulent grass with which the lot was covered. She very readily went back with me and I took a half-hitch about the stake. In less than five minutes I saw she was loose again. Thinking I had not fastened her securely, I brought her back and this time took extra care in chaining her. I then went out to lunch. When I returned, she was once more grazing. As I was bringing her back for the third time, the superintendent of the menagerie came in and said: �You might as well let her go; she wants to eat grass and it will not do any harm. When the people are in, she�ll stay in her place.� I then watched her. She took hold of her chain, but did not pull a steady pull, instead shaking and wriggling until she had lifted it up off the stake.
Like most animals, elephants are fond of rubbing against a tree, pole, or other object. But for such great beasts to rub against the menagerie center poles means disarranged lamps or even more serious damage, so they are commanded to stand by the poles and yet not to touch them. The latter part of the command is, of course, sometimes forgotten, and yet one is often obliged to marvel at their almost perfect memory and obedience. The following incident illustrates the intelligence and keen comprehension of this interesting mammal:
As the elephant walks beside its keeper, it lowers its pillar-like legs deliberately as though conscious of the crushing force of their descending weight. Although the author has walked around the circus ring for hours with elephants in order to exercise them, he does not recall that one ever came into contact with his foot, and such an experience would indeed be unforgettable.
One evening in the South I was pacing up and down in front of the Robinson herd. The night was cold and I was trying to keep warm. Tom, a small bull with very long tusks, began rubbing against a center pole. The lamps at once commenced to swing as in a crazy dance. I shouted, �Tom, that pole!� He started to get away, but he was very slow and deliberate in all his movements, especially in doing things you asked him to do. Queen, a big cow who stood by him, put her head against his flank and gave him a push that landed him well away from the pole. She was not very obedient herself, but she knew what I wanted him to do and saw that he did it.
With the Robinson show we had a small female known as Queenie. Tillie, the star performer of the herd, was very much attached to Queenie, and if the latter made any noise while the elephant act was in progress, Tillie would break away and race back to the menagerie, with the whole herd at her heels. At Cumminsville, a suburb of Cincinnati, we had such a stampede, and the people lost their heads and rushed down on to the hippodrome track. The whole herd went through the crowd on the double quick without hurting a single individual, illustrating the exceeding carefulness of this, the largest of the world�s land mammals. Some big strong man with a tent stake always had to be set to guard Queenie and make all sorts of dire threats as to what he would do to her if she dared open her mouth.
We fed the herd a mash of bran and oats once or twice a day, placing a pile of this food between each pair of elephants. Tillie and Queen, the two largest members of the herd, stood together. Almost invariably Tillie would divide the pile, quite equally and fairly, pulling her share over closer to her. But when Queen was looking the other way, she did. not scruple to reach over and take a handful (or trunkful) off Queen�s pile.
Most of the elephants with the Robinson circus were trained animals and I have seen them in the winter quarters at Terrace Park, Ohio, going through their acts without any human assistance, apparently for the mere pleasure of the exercise or to relieve the monotony of life in the building. The elephant house was built against a low hill; the windows on that side were high on the wall. I have seen them get up on their hind feet to look out of these windows.
When an elephant exerts his strength, even brick walls yield to his pressure. In a combat between two elephants housed in the Wallace winter quarters, one pushed the other through a solid brick wall fourteen inches thick.
W. Henry Sheak, The Elephant in Captivity, Natural History, September-October 1922
At its zenith, Robinsons Great Combination Show had the largest herd in the captive world, but a bank panic in 1916 forced him to sell out to Ringling Brothers most of his equipment and animals, but Robinson kept four of his oldest elephants: Clara, Tillie, Tony and Old Pitt on his Terrace Park, Ohio, property, which had always served as their winter quarters.
1929: (Elephant boss: Lawrence "Larry" Davis) 12 Asian elephant cows.
Records about from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at http://www.bucklesw.blogspot.com/
The Robinson Show bought four punks from the Hagenbeck Zoo "Tommy", "Tony", "Clara" and "Petite" (Pitt).
They were trained by Tim Buckley. After the show was sold the last three were retained along with old "Tillie".
Buckles Woodcock, Buckles Weblog 15 oct 2005
John G. Robinson died 1921, but his widow also kept the elephants for some years. One by one they died, and in the end, the last one, Old Pitt, was sold to Cole brothers circus.
Sources, among others
- W. Henry Sheak, The Elephant in Captivity, Natural History
Elmwood Cemetery: King, John (1880)
"Erected by the Members of the Robinson Circus. In memory of John King. Killed at Charlotte, NC, Sept 28, 1880 by the elephant CHIEF" Elmwood Cemetery, Charlotte, NC. The elephant Chief subsequently killed two more people at the Cincinnati Zoo. Chief was a male Asian elephant.
From the Charlotte Observer - September 28, 1880: Killed the boss animal man at John Robinson show, John King, at Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after being unloaded in Charlotte, The Chief, a circus elephant, turns on his keeper and crushes him to death against a rail car. "The man sank down without a groan," reports The Charlotte Observer, "and the elephant turned and started up the railroad track, the excited crowd fleeing in every direction. The loose elephant got into the main streets of the city, and a crowd was being formed to hunt him down and shoot him when it was learned that the circus people were after the truant beast. "They took the other two elephants, Mary and The Boy, and, driving them rapidly through the streets, overtook The Chief, chained him to the others and finally got him back to the circus grounds." John King will be buried in Charlotte's Elmwood Cemetery beneath a five-foot monument donated by his fellow circus workers. On it is carved the image of an elephant and a palm tree.
With a tip of the hat to "ratsal adsand",
"Roast Loin of Elephant
From the Hotel Mail, Dec. 27.
On the bill of fare of the Palace, Cincinnati, one day last week there appeared the rather unusual dainty, "loin of elephant." It was, in fact, a part of Chief, the vicious elephant who was shot in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, and was not bad eating, as some of the force of this office can testify. It was without exception the best roast elephant that any of us had ever tasted."
The New York Times
Published: January 4, 1891
Some clarification based partly on information from Richard E. Conover's book "Give 'em a John Robinson": The Robinson Circus did NOT start in 1824. That was a myth started much later to make the operation seem older. The correct date is 1842. Performances lasted through the 1911 season but the assets were not sold until 1916. However, 1842 to 1911 "holds the record by a wide margin for the longest single-family management in American circus history.
June 2011 listing of this house.
4 full bathrooms (the Master Bath is crazy beautiful!)
1 half bathroom
great living spaces on first floor - kitchen, living room , family room, dining room, study
2nd floor laundry
3rd floor spacious playroom
Open porch and screened in porch
4 working fireplaces (9 total in the house!)
Amazing neighborhood, lots of children!
Featured in Traditional Home Magazine
Robinson Circus House history put together from the above for a group of realtors when the house was for sale in 2014.
I'm sure you all know that Terrace Park has a very wide variety of houses, both in style and in when they were built. This so called Circus House is one of the early ones and one of the finest. It was built on what was in the early 1800s part of John Smith's original Round Bottom Farm. In 1809 part of that land was bought by Zaccheus Biggs and eventually passed to his son, Thomas, in 1845. We don't know exactly when this house was built, but it may have been by Thomas Biggs, perhaps in the 1850s at the time of his 2nd marriage. (1854? But at least before 1864.) As with his father, Thomas Biggs' Round Bottom Farm was sold at auction to settle debts after his death. An advertisement for the Tuesday September 28, 1880 administrator's sale listed:
Property of the late T. R. Biggs ... comprising Fine Residence, Barn, Outbuildings, Ice House
Ice House, Orchard, Garden, Corn lands, Wood lands, on the best and most available
Gravel Bed near Cincinnati.
That's the best description we have of the original house and lands.
The Ohio Historic Inventory (perhaps 1960?) tells us: This building originally consisted of one large central block with a one story high porch across the west facade. Wings were added to create a U-shape floor plan and other porches were also added. The front porch has been removed. Much of the original integrity of the building has been lost. The original bracketed cornice and some of the original shutters are still in tact."
In 1986 the house was being considered "for designation as a National Historic Landmark by the U. S. Department of the Interior." - "based on the property's association with the Jon Robinson Circus and the circus entertainment industry."
The most colorful era here started in 1886, when Caroline Robinson, wife of John F. Robinson, bought the house and lands from James W. Sibley, an early developer of large parts of what is now Terrace Park. John F. Robinson owned a circus and needed land out in the country where many of his animals could winter. He also wintered some animals in downtown Cincinnati where he owned at lest on building.
The Robinsons have claimed that their circus started in 1824. That was to make it seem older. The actual date was 1842. Performances lasted through the 1911 season but the assets were not sold until 1916, when the circus was sold, but this house still remained with a caretaker until purchased in 1951 by Joe and Kathryn Miller after the demise of the last three elephants in 1941. Joseph E. Miller was a plumbing contractor, Tri State Sanitation, and kept much of his plumbing equipment spread out all over the now Circus Place and Robinwood area. The 1842 to 1911 span of circus ownership "holds the record by a wide margin for the longest single-family management in American circus history."
Around 1967 Bill Stevens put an ad in the paper for West Shell to try to sell the Circus House. The ad states: All brick - 107 yrs. old. Historical French Manor. 13 ft. ceilings, ornate molds. 3 marble & 3 carved fireplaces. 44 ft. center hall. Living room 14x36 - Dining room 14x26, Library, family room, study. 5 bedrooms & 3 baths. Asking $17,900 but expect to spend $20-30,000 more to create a truly gracious home. Around the same time Bill told Flach and Angela Douglas they were going to tear down the Circus House and use it for a building lot. That was 1968 when the Douglases bought it. They should be credited with saving the Circus House.
(Also showed pictures of the house and grounds, and told a few circus stories mainly from Ellis Rawnsley's book A Place Called Terrace Park.)