Newport is a city of contrasts. It is both a small Kentucky town, yet it’s part of the Greater Cincinnati urban core. You can find yourself walking some of its quiet, tree-lined streets, but then turn a corner and be facing the Cincinnati skyline. Newport is both urban and provincial, sometimes simultaneously. It is this eclectic spirit that made so many of its residents fall in love and make it their home.
Founded at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers in 1791, Newport grew from a small frontier outpost to a vibrant streetcar suburb of Cincinnati in the early 20th century. Things began to change with the enactment of prohibition in 1920 bringing loss of employment at the Wiedemann Brewery and Newport’s Distilleries. In 1921, long and violent strikes at the Andrews Steel Mill and the Newport Rolling Mill Company put 2,000 employees out of work. After these events, Newport began “a long period of poor government and lax law enforcement” that led to a boom in bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution and sealing Newport’s reputation as “Sin City.”
During the 1930s, Newport was home to 44 gambling clubs or other criminal establishments. As organized crime took increasing control of Newport, committed residents recognized that its status as a center for gambling, vice and political corruption would only end with the clear opposition of ordinary residents. There were many efforts for reform, but it wasn’t until the late 1950s that Newport started to change.
Christian Seifried, a local postman, had seen enough of the damage that vice and violence was doing to Newport. Mr. Seifried led the creation of the Social Action Committee, a group of residents that took up the challenge of breaking the Mob’s grip over Newport. Over several years and through many colorful trials, illegal gambling was waning by the 1960s.
The end of gambling in Newport didn’t lead to a renaissance. Many of the former casinos were converted to strip clubs and adult entertainment establishments. In the 1980s, Newport’s economy was again in severe decline with the closing of the Weidemann Brewery and Interlake Steel. Despite the efforts of the 1960s, corruption at Newport City Hall persisted. A former mayor was sent to federal prison, a city commissioner pled guilty to bribery, a public works director was sentenced to two years for extortion and the chief of police was indicted on six counts of forgery and theft. Residents and business people again came together and formed the Newport Political Action Committee (NEWPAC) to endorse, finance, and support reform candidates in the 1981 election. In a celebrated victory, all of the NEWPAC candidates won. After the election, the new city government worked to eliminate the strip clubs and X-rated cinemas in the city, and started to chart a course for economic revitalization.
The history of efforts like the Social Action Committee and NEWPAC show that when the residents of Newport work together they can accomplish the impossible. There are many smaller stories of residents working together to improve Newport, for no better reason than their love of home. ReNewport continues this tradition to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities for a new century.