1 Circus PlaceOld Version
Stories:Story_1: Ohio Historic Inventory - 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 intact. This house stands on what was originally the Round Bottom Farm in the Thomas Biggs subdivision. Lot #29 was sold to John and Caroline Robinson in 1886 by James Sibley but it is believed that the house was already there, built by T. R. Biggs. Robinson owned a circus and the area around the house was used as winter quarters for the animals. He also owned and operated an opera house in downtown Cincinnati, built in 1872, razed in 1936. Robinson died in 1921.
Story_2: According to records at Spring Grove Cemetery Thomas R. Biggs was born in Clermont County in 1821 and died in 1876 of pneumonia.
Story_3: Zacheus Biggs in 1808 married Elizabeth Wilson who died in 1865, aged 85 years. They had 7 children. Their son, *Thomas R. Biggs was born in 1821 at Round Bottom Mills and died in 1876. With his first wife Catherine he had an only child, Mary who was born in 1847 and who on Christmas Day 1865 married Charles R. Burns at Round Bottom Farm. Thomas R. Biggs' 2nd marriage was in 1851 at Soule Chapel in Cincinnati to Mary Elizabeth Lizzie Langdon who was born in Cincinnati in 1828. They had 5 children. (1) Kate was born in 1852 and died in 1889. She was unmarried and died of cerebral typhoid fever. In 1854 the family repaired to Round Bottom Farm. (2) William Torrence was born in 1855 at Round Bottom Farm and died in 1856. (3) Margaretta was born in 1857 at Round Bottom Farm and in 1882 married Charles H. Miller. Their son was Stuart Reid Miller who was born in 1884. Charles died in 1919 at the age of 65 and Margaretta died in 1921. The other two Biggs children were (4)Sally Laws (1860-1869) and( 5) Fanny who was unmarried. The Homestead was listed in Thomas' Estate (Mary E. Biggs, wife, administrix). Thomas Biggs died in 1876, aged 55 years. Mary Elizabeth Biggs died in 1900.
Story_4: James W. Sibley, deed recorded 1885, lot 29, estate c. 18 acres. Caroline Robinson, wife of John F. Robinson, deed in her name recorded 1886.
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)
Story_6: The 1930 Census (see above) shows the Corwins living in the house. They were still there in the 1940 Census. Hume & Velma Corwin must have moved soon after the Census was taken to 733 Indian Hill Road since it was built in 1940. Caroline Burger in Story 15 tells us the Corwins lived there as caretakers after the Robinsons left but did not sell the house and grounds.Marian Corwin Kotte was born in October 1928 in the Cook's home (603 Wooster Pike - see story 3). The Corwins moved from there to the Circus House. Tom Proctor says that Hume Corwin's father, Richard F. Corwin, (born 1861 and died 5 February 1929, buried in Section 16 of Greenlawn Cemetery, Milford OH, C. T. Johnson Funeral Home) built the wagons used in the Robinson Circus - some built by , family wagon maker. (see also 733 Indian Hill Road)
Story_7: Originally Cincinnati Art Museum had one of Tillie's feet. Millard Rogers gave it to the Historical Society. The Museum of Natural History has an elephant foot from the Robinson Circus but we don't know if it was Tillie's. Tillie's legs were cut off - after the children had left the funeral (Robert Muchmore). Feet were make into humidors or umbrella stands.
Story_8: Iron work at Stepping Stones is not from the Robinson House. The iron work was probably given rather than sold to someone on Indian Hill by Joseph E. Miller.
Story_9: Information from a 1986 letter from W. Ray Luce to Everett Walters: Evidently the Robinson Circus House was included in the 1960 Historic Sites and Buildings Survey of Hamilton County. In 1986 it was being considered for designation as a National Historic Landmark by the U. S. Department of the Interior. This nomination was based on the property's association with the John Robinson Circus and the circus entertainment industry.
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.
Story_12: The Miller children were Ronald Joseph, Nancy Jo, Melanie Kay, Kathryn Matilda & Melissa Ann. Melanie and Kathy said (2004) their parents must have bought the house in 1951/2c. They came from Madisonville and bought 19.6 acres including the house and many other circus outbuildings where Wrenwood and Robinwood are now. They sold it in 1967/8 after their father's death in 1966. Joe Miller's company was Tri State Sanitation. (For more information see Melanie & Kathy Miller's 2004 Oral History.)
Story_13: All the articles quoted from above are in the TPHS Building Survey or House notebook. Also there are historic pictures of the house including one with Pearl Robinson and 2 dogs.
Story_14: More information both in the House notebook and in the Robinson Circus file. Also pictures of moving Tillie's tomb stone to new location in front of 1 Circus Place. Melanie & Kathy Miller said (2004) they remember when Tillie's burial stone was moved from near the Elephant House to in front of their house.
Story_15: This home of Michael and Kay Callaghan was on the 1990 December 16 Homes for the Holidays TP Garden Club House Tour. It was a Sunday, homes were open from 2-5 PM and tickets were $5. Proceeds were used for village beautification.
Story_16: Caroline Burger says the Stumpf family lived in the house as caretakers after the Robinsons. See732 Miami. Also Hume & Velma Corwin and other of his family members lived there as caretakers.
Story_17: There is a framed 3D plan of the Robinson Circus Site on the wall at the Terrace Park Historical Society (2004). It was done by Bill Graver (at Cincinnati Museum Center with maps) who is the father-in-law of John Maggard (102 Marian Lane). John is a 2nd cousin of Will Hillenbrand (808 Lexington). The latter two are Terrace Park artists. Bill Graver went to school (Withrow HS) with Al Nelson (735 & 700 Franklin) & worked with Al McAllister (835 Douglas).
Story_18: The Robinsons bought what is now known as the Circus House in 1886, well after the Civil War, which is no doubt when Terrace Park became the winter quarters of the Robinson Circus. Tillie died January 17, 1932 and the school children were let out of school to attend the funeral. Elephants Tony, Pit and Clara remained here several years longer.It is not known for sure where Tillie is buried but one reliable source is Bob Critchell, son of Virginia Critchell, who claims to have seen her buried. He says she is buried near the steps from the big field to Wooster Pike, where she in life gave rides to the children. Three Elm Lane houses are in that former field now.
Story_19: Probably in 1967-8 Bill Stevens put an ad in the paper for West Shell to try to sell the Circus House, then listed as #4 Circus Place. 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. View lot - Mariemont Schools. Asking $17,900 but expect to spend $20-$30,000 more to create a truly gracious home. At the same time just below that ad is another by Bill Stevens for West Shell, Building Contract. We are now planning 4 new homes for Circus Place off Robinwood Drive. Your plans or ours can put you in your dream home by Spring. These View lots close to the swim club are best suited for $36-$42,000 homes and we can guarantee the sale of your existing home if it qualifies In fact just 3 new ones were built on Circus Place.
Story_20: See e-mail from a relative, Pamela Carter (or Ward), in the archives.
Story_21: Did Ken Clarke conduct a belated service at Spring Grove Cemetery for John G. Robinson IV (died 1935)? Was the planned service conducted by Rev. Maxwell Long & Rev. Wllm. Dern as planned?
Story_22: Flach Douglas has told us that T. R. Biggs had a slaughter house (behind 141 Wrenwood) near the main house, possibly in the area where John Robinson put his elephant barn and other out buildings. Biggs furnished meat to Camp Dennison during the Civil War. Gary Knepe is an authority on Camp Dennison and might know more about this. Flach also says that one of his daughters found the name Lizzie scratched in one of the windows. The only Lizzie we know of is Lizzie Langdon, T. R. Biggs' 2nd wife. Unfortunately there's no documentation for all this but it may well be true.
Story_23: Angela Fossitt Douglas was born 26 March 1932 and died 22 February 1985, aged 52 years, buried in St. Thomas Church Columbarium, Section 6, Niche 175. Flack Dougistorical Society.
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.)