26 Jan 2011, Posted by admin in Stories, No Comments.

Communities in Transition: Indian Hill


“Honey, everything around here stays the same.”

Story by Madison Galster/NMB

“Transition? Honey, everything around here stays the same,” said Helen Verkamp, office administrator at the Buckingham Lodge in Indian Hill, Ohio, as she gathered files and notes in preparation for the Indian Hill Historical Society Board meeting on Feb. 10.

While other neighborhoods in Cincinnati have tailored their commercial areas to best suit changing demographic and economic demands, the Village of Indian Hill has lived by a different standard. The most change that residents like Verkamp have witnessed is in the seasonal transformations of nearly 800 acres of the Village’s land that is preserved as green space. Indian Hill, a neighborhood in which the median family income was nearly $180,000 according to the 1999 U.S. Census Bureau, encompasses nearly 20 square miles northeast of the City of Cincinnati. But although it is true that the strictly zoned, single-family residential area leaves no opportunity for commercial development, it has changed.

It is no surprise that the Indian Hill Historical Society (IHHS) office is based out of a restored farmhouse, given that farmers founded the village in 1795. Buckingham Lodge, at 8650 Camargo Rd., and the surrounding 13 acres of land were bequeathed to the IHHS in the 1960s. The lodge is a typical farmhouse from the Civil War Era, according to Lindsay McLean, IHHS historian.

“[Indian Hill] was basically an agricultural community throughout the 19th century,” McLean said. “Then in the 1920s, what we call the Estate Era, that’s when all the people from East Walnut Hills and downtown Cincinnati started moving out here. They had very attractive homes, mansions and farms. I mean huge 100-acre parcels. They were all into riding and the Camargo Hunt and they wanted to establish a place where they could have a rural lifestyle.”

Slideshow by Kevin Doyle/NMB

These original estates can still be found throughout the Village, although all but about 100 acres of the neighborhood has been acquired by new residents, according to assistant city manager Dave Couch. This is not to suggest that every square inch is occupied, however. In fact, the Village has a zoning plan that limits the smallest purchasable lot size to at least one acre. The other zoning districts have three- and five-acre minimums, which gives the Village a wide-open, rural feel.

Along Indian Hill roads, addresses spike not by single digits but by 10s, 15s and even 40s in some areas – a precaution that the town has taken with regards to potential future development. “We prepare for the future,” Couch said. “When you’re following these sequences and you see it jump addresses, that’s because there’s a building lot there. We’re going to have the oddest street address if someone says, ‘well I want to split my lot and create another building parcel next door to me here,’ which they can do. So when we look at these properties we have to say, ‘well, there’s potential for another or two building lots here.’ So if that’s the case, when we issue those addresses, we’ll make sure we’ve provided for future development.”

Opening a restaurant, boutique or car dealership in one of the nation’s wealthiest communities would seem to be a logical move for entrepreneurs but it’s not allowed by the Village’s strict zoning regulations. Not even people who own land in the neighborhood can turn their acres into any entity deemed undesirable by the Charter, such as a subdivision. “It’s a totally different world when you want to develop in Indian Hill,” Couch said. “You’re not just gonna come off the street and say, ‘oh, we want to subdivide this 50-acre parcel we have here. Mom and Dad died and we want to turn it into a subdivision.’ There’s a conceptual plan they have to go through, a preliminary plan, a final plan and then there’s utilities, resource protection, you have to meet all of our construction standards. I usually handle all that and I can tell you, it’s not an easy process.”

What has been an easy process is the development of a truly unified sense of community, one embodied by the majority of Village residents as they pile into church on Sunday. Founded in the 1940s and built in the 50s, the Indian Hill Church, at 6000 Drake Rd., is one of the few successful dual-denomination churches in the nation. Interim Rector, Episcopal Rev. Anne Wrider can see the differences when Dr. David Hawley serves the church’s Presbyterian members during Sunday’s rotation of Episcopalian and Presbyterian services, but she said the congregation’s nearly 500 families can’t see a difference. “The way that it’s worked out is we have a congregation that doesn’t make a distinction,” she said. “People in the congregation don’t know which denomination each other are, and nobody cares.”

Unlike Indian Hill’s private Camargo Club, where only members are allowed to enter, the Indian Hill Church allows parishioners from throughout the Greater Cincinnati region to take their places on individually hand-sewn kneelers every Sunday. Wrider said the Church has become very popular with members of other communities because of the congregation’s involvement with public outreach; a legacy started by Paul Long, Indian Hill Church’s first Presbyterian pastor.

“We house the Interfaith Hospital Network and it involves some real, honest-to-goodness work with some people that they would not normally see or know,” Wrider said. “When those sign-up sheets go up, they usually get filled within the first week. When I was at the [Christ Church] Cathedral [318 E. 4th St.] it was like pulling teeth to get volunteers for IHN. So it’s a wonderful congregation that way.”

As with the Indian Hill Church’s dual denomination, the Village serves home to two different types of educational systems: the Indian Hill Exempted Village School District serves the community publicly while the Cincinnati Country Day School system offers a private education option.

Both the public and private school systems were developed as up-to-date, efficient means for educating local students. Still, fourth-graders of both facilities take part in a lesson that incorporates local history into modern curriculum. The students attend an annual one-room schoolhouse experience at the historic Little Red Schoolhouse, 8100 Given Rd. There, they learn firsthand about the community’s past. The combination of past and present reflects the sentiment in which the neighborhood was founded. McLean quotes the Charter, set into place when the Village was incorporated in 1941, from Hither and Yon on Indian Hill: “The intent of the people in Indian Hill was to maintain, without change, the character and uses of the area and that it should continue a rural neighborhood of homes and farms.”

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