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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Around the Neighborhood: Columbia Tusculum

The Irish Heritage Center 
By Grace DeGregorio

This month we tour Columbia Tusculum, established in 1788 as Cincinnati’s ‘Oldest Neighborhood.’  First named “Columbia,” it was founded by Benjamin Stites and is steeped in history and community pride.

The Irish Heritage Center: (pictured above)
At the Irish Heritage Center (IHC), everyone is given a warm “Céad míle fáilte!” (welcome!).  The IHC’s mission is “to promote the Irish Culture through the study of customs, dance, education, film, genealogy, history, language, lectures, literature, music, mythology, poetry, social interaction, song, sport, theater and the visual arts.”

That’s a lot happening at this 501(c)(3) nonprofit, housed since 2009 in a renovated late 19th-20th century former school building.  Its multi-talented director, Maureen Kennedy, is behind the vitality and quality of programming.  The website notes “The IHC is dedicated to fostering Irish heritage, culture and traditions in our city and to providing a place to do so that is affordable, accessible and comfortable.”

Maureen and her husband Kent Covey are also the force behind the award-winning Irish American Theater, which performs at the IHC as well as internationally.  Performers from Ireland bring traditional Irish music and dance to the Center.  Lectures on a variety of Gaelic topics bring the fascinating culture of Ireland to Cincinnati.

In addition to formal programs, the Center has a fetching Irish pub where a variety of Irish potables are available in an informal setting. A library is open once a week, with IHC members able to borrow from the 3,000 selections in the collection and non-members welcome to use books on the premises.
Currently the facility has a theater/ballroom, tea room, social room, library, music room, dance room, and plans for a museum. There also are rooms for artist studios, meetings, clubs, events and concerts.  A Memorial Garden, dedicated to Our Lady of Knock is planned, as is an art gallery and potentially artists’ loft areas.

While the IHC is open year-round and hosts numerous events, it’s no surprise the highlight of the year is in March when St. Patrick’s Day brings out the Irish in all of us!  Special events and signature Irish food, drink and hospitality draw people of all backgrounds to celebrate.

Columbia Performance Center 
Columbia Performance Center:
A privately held company established in 1997, the Columbia Performance Center is housed in a former church space.  The original stained glass windows and wood trim bring charm to the building.

Carnegie Center

Carnegie Center:

This stately Beaux-Arts building was “a gift to the people of Cincinnati by Andrew Carnegie”, built in 1906 “to the specifications of the noted architectural firm of Samuel Hannaford & Sons”. It was used as a public library until sold for private use in 1959.

Recognizing the historic nature of the building, in 1993 neighborhood residents - with support from the City of Cincinnati, neighborhood organizations, foundations and individuals - worked to restore its standing in the community.  The Carnegie Center now is “a community oriented, non-profit facility offering meeting and event space for cultural enrichment, social interaction, and civic participation for the people of Columbia Tusculum and Greater Cincinnati.”

The most notable features of the building are its large arched windows, 22 foot ceilings, brass chandeliers and concentric patterned wood floors.  Against this beautiful backdrop, the large rooms, centered by a regal entry way, are available for rental.

Alms Park

Alms Park:
If you are looking for a spectacular view of the Ohio River (at the junction of the Little Miami with the bend of the Ohio) or to watch aerial activity at Lunken Airport, drive up the entry off Tusculum Avenue to Frederick H. Alms Park.

First known as ‘Bald Hill’ because, per, “local Native Americans cleared the trees to have an unobstructed view of early settlers of ‘Columbia’,” the property was owned at one time by renowned citizen Nicholas Longworth.  He produced Catawba wine in the years prior to the Civil War.  In 1916 Mrs. Alms gave the  94-acre park to the Park Board in memory of her husband. 
According to Wikipedia, “The landscaping was designed by the Cleveland landscape architect Albert Davis Taylor. The park's centerpiece, a pavilion in the Italian Renaissance style, was completed in 1929 by architects Stanley Matthews and Charles Wilkins Short, Jr.

“Alms Park is also home to the ‘Alms Park Badger’ one of a number of regional cryptids, the
most famous of which is the Loveland Frog. Badger ‘sightings’ have been reported since the early 1970s.”

In addition to the beautiful pavilion at the top of the hill where many events are held, a point of interest is the bronze statue of Stephen Foster, who wrote (among other pieces) My Old Kentucky Home.  Installed in 1937, it faces the Kentucky hills.

The wooded areas and trails in the park are perfect for hiking, and a playground awaits families bringing their children for a fun morning or afternoon as well as a picnic in the beautiful surroundings.

The Manor House at St. Ursula Villa

St. Ursula Villa:
Nestled at the top of Tusculum Avenue’s hill, St. Ursula Villa educates children from preschool through Grade Eight in the Ursuline Order tradition.

In 1960, the Ursuline sisters purchased the R.K. LeBlond estate (in Mt. Lookout, overlooking Columbia Tusculum).  Prior to that time, the sisters had been teaching girls at what is now St. Ursula Academy and a co-educational elementary school.  The LeBlond estate had been willed to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The day after the property was blessed by Archbishop Paul F. Leibold, on January 2, 1961, middle school-age students began classes at the new location in the Manor House.  Sister Mary Lawrence Hartmann was the first principal.

In 1962 a multipurpose building was constructed and, with enrollment steadily increasing, additional classroom space was built in 1971.

The buildings and grounds of the 20-acre estate have subsequently been modified to meet changing needs of the school community.  Currently the property consists of preschool and kindergarten classrooms, a multipurpose room, science labs, a library, a gym, athletic fields, extensive lawn and wooded areas and well-equipped playgrounds.

The Primary building addition opened in August 1999 to accommodate Grades 1 to 3 in six classrooms and a gym. In 2009, construction on the Villa Way was completed, with outdoor education and playspaces.  2014 ushered in the opening of a new Early Childhood wing to serve students ages 3-5, and a Toddler program. In 2015 a new Junior High addition became part of the landscape, as well as relocation and modification of Main School classrooms.

Not only has the physical property expanded, but with increased enrollment faculty has been added to offer quality programs in art, music, foreign language and physical education. Learning Enrichment teachers, an Outdoor Education coordinator, Technology Coordinator, Library Science instructor, speech pathologist, counselor and learning and remedial specialists also have brought new areas of expertise to the Villa.

Outside the classroom, the Villa offers numerous clubs, athletic opportunities, scouting, summer camps, community service projects and more to enrich the students’ learning experience and character development.

In the early 1990s, with support of both the Ursuline sisters and the students’ parents, the school governance was transferred to an independent Board of Trustees.

St. Stephen Church:
The history of St. Stephen Church goes back almost 153 years to March 3, 1867 when Catholic families of the Little Miami Valley formed a committee to start a parish and build a church in what was then called Columbia.  On November 3 of that year, St. Stephen Church - named after the first martyr - was completed and blessed by Archbishop John Purcell.

In 1868 a combined school/pastor’s residence opened, and the first resident pastor - Reverend Klawitter, was assigned on June 1 of the following year.

With growth of the neighborhood and the parish, plans were drawn in 1908 for a new church building.  In 1913 the old school moved to its present location and a newer. larger school building was completed in 1913.

Tragedy hit on January 23, 1922 when a fire completely destroyed the building, necessitating the decision to construct a new church.  The process moved swiftly, with the dedication of the new St. Stephen’s by Archbishop Henry K. Moeller on May 18, 1924.  Between 1944 and 1946, with the retirement of church debt, the mural and stained glass windows in the church were renovated.
With great joy the parish celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1967.  However, a decrease in student numbers resulted five years later in the closing of St. Stephen School.

Since then, the church has celebrated its 125th and 150th anniversaries, in 1992 and 2017 respectively.  Today the parish strives to meet its mission statement of being “A laity-led Catholic parish, with a canonical pastor, bringing forth Christ’s presence in and through community!”

Columbia Center/Junior League of Cincinnati:
The Columbia Center is a historic location currently serving as a unique event space. Its main occupant is the Junior League of Cincinnati (JLC), “an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.”

Founded in 1920 - and celebrating its 100th anniversary this year -  the JLC is part of a network of more than 292 Junior League Organizations internationally. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, it “commits financial and volunteer resources to community projects that further its focus area, Strengthening Childhood Environments.”

Among its projects are the Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, which works with local social service agencies to provide diapers to low-income families.  By increasing awareness of the need for diapers, it is a goal of the project to eliminate the dramatic need for diapers in the community.  The JLC also is part of a state-wide Public Affairs Committee whose task is  “to monitor the legislative process and laws in Ohio and to address issues and concerns in our collective state community.” in a non-partisan way.

Since its founding in 1963, the JLC Choral Group - the organization’s oldest ongoing project - has brightened the days of residents of senior care and retirement homes.  Comprised of both JLC and community members, the group performs at more than 25 special care facilities throughout the area.
In addition, during the course of the year programming open to the public as well as JLC fundraising events are sponsored by the organization.

Painted Ladies along the Columbia Tusculum hillside - a truly beautiful sight! (Photo from WVXU Home Tour) 

Painted Ladies:

No visit to Columbia Tusculum is complete without seeing the iconic “Painted Ladies” scattered along streets and up its hillsides.  These primarily Victorian architectural beauties are each painted in up to five  different bright colors and trim: pink, peach, purple, gold, blue,  rust - no matter what the combination, these homes catch your eye!

Per Wikipedia, other U.S. cities enjoying Painted Ladies include Baltimore (Charles Village neighborhood), St. Louis (Lafayette Square), the greater San Francisco and New Orleans areas, Toledo (Old West End), Springfield, Massachusetts (McNight and Forest Park neighborhoods), and Cape May, New Jersey.

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