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OKI Wanna Know: What's with all the stained glass windows in some neighborhoods?

Jolene Almandarez
Newport is one of several neighborhoods in the area where stained glass windows aren't hard to find.

OKI Wanna Know is our feature that seeks answers to questions that may not be hugely important, but still nag at you. This week, we start in Newport with a translucent query.

My coworkers have been on me about getting their questions answered, too. Jolene Almendarez says one has been bugging her since she moved to Northern Kentucky. Why do so many homes in Newport's East Row have stained glass windows?

"They look really old and really beautiful at night," she says. "It just made me wonder that there must have been an old glass maker in Newport or Cincinnati that supplied all of these windows. I'd like to know more about that."

Jolene Almandarez
"They look really old and really beautiful at night," says Jolene Almandarez.

There was a large stained glass manufacturer nearby, but it wasn't in Newport. The Riordan Company was the biggest in 19th century Cincinnati. It's now in Middletown and known as BeauVerre Riordan Studios. Linda Moorman and her husband Jay run the show.

"It was Coulter and Finagin in 1838, this young Irish immigrant by the name of G.C. Riordan came to the United States to become a painter and sculptor. He worked for them until 1892 and then he bought the firm out and it became the G.C. Riordan firm," Linda Moorman says.

Moorman says Riordan lived in Newport and walked to work at 5th and Pike, in Cincinnati.

"Around the holidays, they did a tour of homes, stained glass homes, in the Newport area. It was really cool because they called and asked us to be a part of it, (and) most of them were Riordan windows. They were signed or people knew they were Riordan windows."

Many of those homes were built during the Victorian period. Cincinnati's former urban conservator, Beth Johnson, says from the mid-19th century to the beginning of the 20th, there was a renewed interest in art and architecture.

"Stained glass was also a symbol of wealth so that's why you're going to see them a lot in maybe some of the more prominent or wealthy neighborhoods from that time period," Johnson says. "East Row in Newport, Walnut Hills in Cincinnati, Licking Riverside in Covington are all neighborhoods that would have a lot of those."

Jolene Almandarez
Many, if not most of the stained glass windows in Newport's East Row were made at the same studio in Cincinnati.

Johnson says you can trace the growth of a city by looking at which neighborhoods have homes with stained glass. It wasn't cheap, and it was wealthy families who would often be the first to move out of city centers.

"There's some later stained glass over in Westwood. There's more leaded glass but still of the stained glass family in Westwood with a lot of the Tudors up there," she says. "That was a little bit later, toward the 1920s and 1930s, and that was kind of the end of what they call the period of stained glass."

Having stained glass was a status symbol, Johnson says. Those who had it wanted to show it off.

"You wanted it to be in places where people would see it. You'll see them often in transom windows, often in foyers. You'll see it at the first landing of the stair step, in dining rooms, mostly on the first floor."

Today, Linda Moorman says BeauVerre Riordan does a lot of restoration work. That's because over time, the the sun heats up a window.

"So all those windows are put together with metal, that's lead. Lead's soft so it can move. And it just starts stretching and stretching and stretching. Once it stretches, it doesn't go back."

But people are still ordering new stained glass windows for their homes, and sometimes it's over the door, or as an accent along a staircase, just like the old days.

"We do a lot of bathrooms," Moorman says. "They put these huge bathroom windows in, clear glass. People walk in and the first thing they do is 'I need something to cover me. I don't want people to see me,' so we put a lot of stained glass in bathrooms."

Moorman says much of their business over the last two years came as people fixed up their homes during the pandemic. The number one staple for the studio is still restoring the big stained glass windows in churches.

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