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Friday, May 22, 2020

Around the Neighborhood: Columbia Tusculum, O'Bryonville and East Walnut Hills

Around the Neighborhood: Columbia Tusculum, O'Bryonville and East Walnut Hills.
(East Walnut Hills Firehouse)

By Grace DeGregorio

Note: This month we tour Columbia Tusculum - Cincinnati’s ‘oldest neighborhood.’ Then we swing down Madison Road to explore O’Bryonville and East Walnut Hills - Cincinnati’s ‘first suburb.’ These two borders of our readership area are filled with history. Research from community and landmark websites and Wikipedia

Columbia Tusculum

Established in 1788 as Cincinnati’s ‘Oldest Neighborhood’ and first named “Columbia,” the neighborhood was founded by Benjamin Stites and is steeped in history and community pride.

The Irish Heritage Center

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.” (

There’s much activity at this nonprofit, housed since 2009 in a renovated late 19th/early-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 the founders of the award-winning Irish American Theater, which performs at the IHC and internationally. Performers from Ireland bring traditional Irish music and dance, while lectures on a variety of Gaelic topics bring the rich culture of Ireland. The Center has a fetching pub where patrons may enjoy a variety of Irish beverages in an informal setting.. Looking to the future, 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 hosting numerous events, the highlight of the year is St. Patrick’s Day. Special events and signature Irish food, drink and hospitality draw people of all backgrounds to celebrate.

The Irish Heritage 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.

Columbia Performance 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.

Due to 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 grandeur. The most notable features are its large arched windows, 22 foot ceilings, brass chandeliers, concentric patterned wood floors and a regal entry.

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.”

Carnegie Center 
Alms Park

If you are looking for a spectacular view of the junction of the Little Miami with the bend of the Ohio River; or to catch activity at Lunken Airport, visit Frederick H. Alms Park - first known as ‘Bald Hill’ because “local Native Americans cleared the trees to have an unobstructed view of early settlers of ‘Columbia’.” (

The property once was owned by Nicholas Longworth, who produced Catawba wine 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 pavilion at the top of the hill, where many events are held, a point of interest is the bronze statue, installed in 1937, of Stephen Foster, composer of My Old Kentucky Home. The wooded areas and trails are perfect for hiking, and a playground awaits families wanting some fun or maybe a picnic.

Alms Park

St. Ursula Villa

(Details from

Nestled at the top of Tusculum Avenue hill (in Mt. Lookout, but overlooking Columbia Tusculum), 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, which had been willed to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. They had taught girls at what is now St. Ursula Academy and a co-educational elementary school. The property was blessed in 1961 by Archbishop Paul F. Leibold, and the next day middle school-age students began classes at 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.

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. Over the years, the buildings and grounds of the 20-acre estate have been modified to meet changing needs of the school community.

The Manor House at St. Ursula Villa

St. Stephen’s Church
(Details from saintstephenchurch.)

The history of St. Stephen’s 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’s - named after the first Christian 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.

A fire on January 23, 1922 brought tragedy, with the building completely destroyed. Construction of a new church moved quickly, with the dedication of the current 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.

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!”


AND - please print the photo with the article using the caption St. Stephen’s Catholic Church

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.” (from

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

During the year programming open to the public, as well as JLC fundraising events, are sponsored by the organization.

Columbia Center - home to the Junior League of Cincinnati

Painted Ladies

No visit to Columbia Tusculum is complete without seeing the iconic “Painted Ladies” scattered along streets and hillsides. Pfrimarily Victorian architecture, these beauties are 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.

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


In the 1830s, the O’Bryons - an Irish farming family - purchased 72 acres north of what was then Madisonville Pike. Unlike their neighbors in East Walnut Hills, which was covered with large estates creating an “exclusive neighborhood,” the O’Bryons tilled the soil. Other families with similar backgrounds arrived from Ireland, and soon their community was named “O’Bryonville.”

In 1865, a court judgment forced land on the southern side of Madisonville Pike to be subdivided into city plots. O’Bryonville quickly developed into a busy residential and business community.

By 1925, 45 businesses of all types lined several blocks of what now was called Madison Road, serving the needs of the residents. That tradition continues to this day, with an eclectic array of retail shops, galleries, restaurants and other commercial outlets bringing people to O’Bryonville. Also important to the community are the following places:

Springer School and Center - Springer was established in 1887 as the Cathedral School for the Archdiocese. Philanthropist Reuben Runyan Springer donated the funds to create the school, which served children with special needs, The original school programming was for the deaf and hearing impaired.

In 1968, based on a community needs assessment conducted by the University of Cincinnati, Springer became a school for children with learning disabilities. It continued as an archdiocesan school until 1971, then became an independent elementary school for children with learning disabilities.

After several moves, since 1981 Springer has been housed in the former St. Mary High School. Since 1992, Springer has been accredited through the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. The Center, which opened in January 1999, provides information, referral services and programs for students, teachers and parents.

Springer School and Center

St. Margaret Hall

In the heart of O’Bryonville is a home providing compassionate, skilled care to its older adult residents. In 1962, Most Rev. Karl Alter blessed St. Margaret Hall, which is administered by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The sisters who remain at the home come from a long tradition started by Venerable Mary Angeline Teresa McCrory who, with six other sisters, founded the order with the guidance and assistance of Patrick Cardinal Hayes of New York.

Today St. Margaret Hall serves 99 skilled long- and short-term residents and can accommodate 35 in its assisted living area.

St. Margaret Hall

East Walnut Hills

East Walnut Hills traditionally has been considered “Cincinnati’s first suburb.” It started as a small German Catholic community, increasing in scope through the building of a number of rural estates owned by local businessmen. Blending the two groups, in 1849 St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church was founded and became key to the community. Its founders - Henry Westjohn, Francis Fortman and Joseph Kleine - were large property owners in the area. The church building was dedicated in 1850, and its beautiful Gothic edifice was dedicated in 1879. Now a local national historic landmark, it houses the largest swinging bell cast in the United States. St. Francis de Sales School, founded in 1877, today serves over 200 students Pre-K through Grade 8.

St. Francis de Sales Church
In 1866, the Village of Woodburn - later to become East Walnut Hills - was incorporated. It was annexed into the City of Cincinnati in 1873. The area prospered, with both single- and multi-family homes built on the older streets in the early 20th century. New, smaller lanes from the larger estates also opened. The neighborhood, which retains its early 20th century charm - is distinguished by the following:

Madison and Woodburn Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 with 19 contributing buildings. Along the streets are numerous historic residences - most built between 1880 and 1930 - with multi-acre plots of land a large depth from the property line - unusual in an urban setting. The architecture is varied - Tudor and Colonial Revival, Italiante, Gothic and Queen Anne Victorian.

The East Walnut Hills Firehouse, constructed in 1886 and housing Fire Company No. 23 and Ladder Company No. 9. It is a national historic landmark, having been listed in the National Register in 1983 as a registered historic building.

East Walnut Hills Firehouse

The Doherty Campus of The Seven Hills School is on Johnstone Place. In 1906, Mary Harlan Doherty founded the College Preparatory School. Ten years later, Helen Lotspeich founded the Clifton Open-Air School to foster natural curiosity and the joy of learning in children around Cincinnati. In 1928, community leaders founded the Hillsdale School as an alternative private education. In 1974, the College Preparatory School and the Hillsdale-Lotspeich School merged to form The Seven Hills School.

The Doherty Campus is one of Seven Hills’ two Lower School divisions. The five-acre campus is designed for students age 2 through grade 5, away from older grades.

Purcell Marian High School Purcell High School began in 1928 as an Archdiocesan High School for young men. The site was purchased in 1924 for the parish of St. Francis de Sales. In 1928, the Most Reverend John T. McNicholas decided to locate the school on Hackberry Street and gave it the name Purcell, in honor of the first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, John Baptist Purcell.

In 1908 Cincinnati’s first co-educational parish school opened. Named St. Mary’s, the high school was located at St. Mary Parish in Hyde Park and shared space with the elementary school.. A new St. Mary High School was built in 1923, becoming in 1928 a diocesan regional high school for girls. Boys were transferred to the new Purcell High School. In 1963, a new Marian High School was administered by the Sisters of Charity.

In 1980 a decision was made to merge both schools at the Purcell site, taking place at the start of the 1981-82 academic year. The school became Purcell Marian High School, which follows the Marianist tradition of education.

Purcell Marian High School 

St. Ursula Academy was founded in 1810 by the Ursulines of Cincinnati, whose educational tradition follows the teachings of their founder Sr. Angela Merici. The school started with 63 students in grades K-12. It made its permanent residence on East McMillan in 1911.

Maria Longworth Storer, founder of Rockwood Pottery, assisted with the building of the chapel and the west wing addition, which opened in 1916. Further expansion took place.

In 1962 the elementary students (grades K-6) moved to St. Ursula Villa. SUA today continues as a college-preparatory secondary school for young women.

St. Ursula Academy 

DeSales Corner, the commercial heart of the neighborhood and, historically, the city’s second most prominent business district,, has enjoyed a revival with businesses, restaurants, cafés and residences booming.

Up Madison Road Annwood Park was donated to the City of Cincinnati in 1966 by neighbors of the property in an effort to save the beautiful trees and landscaped grounds. In 1969, a gift was made by Mrs. John Colville Taylor in memory of her husband who was a Park Board Commissioner. These gifts stipulated that the property be used only as a "sit-in" park with no playground, recreational or picnic facilities and never be re-sold.

The Board chose to call it ‘Annwood Park’ after Annwood Street, named in honor of Mrs. Ann Wood, mother-in-law of Judge Timothy Walker who had lived with her daughter Ellen and the Judge on the Wold estate. Donations from the Judge’s neighbors allowed the addition of a flagpole and plaque placed in the park in 1968 in memory of James Von Hamm Dale who was killed in action in Korea. The park also contains a grotto waterfall feature renovated by the Park Board from donations in memory of Geoff Harden, a former Park Board horticulturalist.

Annwood Park

Nearby Owl’s Nest Park began with a gift in 1905 of a tract of land by Charles E. and Edward C. Perkins in memory of their parents who once owned the original homestead, “Owl’s Nest.” Their father was the Fire Commissioner, and their home was one of the oldest in East Walnut Hills. Later gifts in the 1920s resulted in expansion.

The park entrance on Madison and Fairfax is graced with bronzed doors, and 16 brick entryway columns were once part of the estate as the support for an ornamental wrought iron fence which was dismantled and melted down during World War II as scrap for the war effort. The columns and wrought iron fence features were originally copied from those near the Charles River Bridge at Harvard University.

Owl’s Nest Park

On the other side of East Walnut Hills, St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church was founded by parishioners coming to Cincinnati in the late 19th/early 20th centuries from the Middle East, fleeing Ottoman persecutions and World War I.

The Maronite Church is among a communion of six Catholic traditions practicing a common faith and looking to the Pope for direction. Records show St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church, was established in late 1910, with the first service held in a former church on West Third Street near a Pennsylvania depot. Rev. Beshara Kayata served as the church’s first pastor in a building on Third and Broadway.

The parish was served by Maronite priests until 1939, then by archdiocesan priests until 1948, when the late Msgr. Joseph Abood became pastor following his arrival from Lebanon. He served the church for the next 40 years. (1948-1987). Under his leadership the parish grew.

In 1955, Msgr. Abood led the purchase of a building on Victory Parkway built as a Jewish synagogue in 1915. While it was being renovated, liturgies were held for about a year in the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains.

Subsequently several houses adjacent to the church were purchased for a rectory and parking. In 1981, a Maronite Center named after Msgr. Abood was dedicated.

Echoing the escape of the church’s founders, recent parishioners have fled the civil war in Lebanon and the Middle East. In 2010 the parish celebrated its centennial, and was visited in 2016 by the Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai.

St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church

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