Columbus’ Hilltop neighborhood: a wealthy historical past

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The history of the Hilltop neighborhood on the west side of Columbus is rich but can be overlooked by the recent violence and poverty in the area.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The history of the Hilltop neighborhood on the west side of Columbus is rich but can be overlooked by the recent violence and poverty in the area.

The larger Hilltop neighborhood was separate for years and consisted of smaller parishes in the region.

10TV spoke to several people who grew up in Hilltop’s Black Community about what they remember from another time and what they would like to see in the future.

“There was a booming neighborhood of families with employees in this neighborhood. Everything, ”said Wes Redd. “It was just a pleasure to live up here back then.”

Redd, a 1974 graduate of West High School and the father of former professional basketball player Michael Redd, spent 45 years on the hill.

Much of Wes Redd’s time in the neighborhood was spent at the former Oakley Full Gospel Baptist Church site (https://oakleyfullgospel.org/) and at the J. Ashburn Jr. Youth Center, now part of the Central Boys and Girls Club. Ohio heard.

“Everyone came there after school,” said Redd. “To learn the arts and basketball, we had thousands of kids migrating right there, and we stayed there from about 3pm to 9pm to play basketball and everything else.”

Byron L. Potts was born into a third generation Hilltop family, and told 10TV that his family was one of the first black families in the neighborhood, settling on Oakley Avenue in Dry Rock, Virginia in 1913.

“It was a very close family up on the hill,” said Potts. “I speak of family – not just blood relatives – but we all knew each other. It was a very close neighborhood. “

Potts is now an attorney and remembers the pivotal role Oakley and the youth center played in his childhood.

“We have to come back to that. The neighbors know the neighbors and do the things we have to do to have a family atmosphere, ”he said.

Often times, that neighborhood feeling doesn’t make the headlines that typically focus on the violence often associated with the hilltop neighborhood.

To understand how the hill got to where it is now, one has to look back.

The hill is known as the terrain for Camp Chase.

Camp Chase was founded in 1861 and established as a union training camp for the Civil War and later as the Union POW camp.

Spared by its namesake, the Great flood of 1913 devastated surrounding areas such as Franklinton, sending many people further west up the hill and bringing new businesses with them.

During this migration up the hill, a social rift took place across the country, including Columbus, Ohio.

“It was separated on the hill for years,” explained Potts. “And that’s what led the separation to bring us together as a family.”

What is often overlooked are the big names that emerged from the hill, such as: Nancy Wilson, three-time Grammy Award winner and West High School graduate.

Four-time Olympic gold medalist and track star, Jesse Owens lived in South Oakley while making history at Ohio State University.

And living legend Bea Murphy became known over the years as a talented poet and historian of the West Side.

“You hear a lot of negative things, but the west side is really beautiful,” Murphy told 10TV, sharing memories of her history and love for the community.

But when the Westland Mall closed and the brand new mall in Tuttle Crossing in the north could not be reached, the neighborhood lost much of its appeal.

Losing businesses like Western Electric, General Motors, and Westland Mall is an issue that Redd believes has created some problems in the neighborhood.

“People feel forgotten and the thing is when people feel forgotten they get angry,” he said.

For Potts, a major problem in the region is the lack of landlords, he said.

“When you have low-income people and economic problems, you have problems with people fighting for money and that leads to violence and things like that,” Potts said.

One solution that Potts believes could improve the area is to convert vacant lots and strictly rented houses into rental properties for the people who live there.

“Watch how the crime will decrease, how the neighborhood will look better and it will be more of a neighborhood than just people living next to each other,” he said.

In recent years, the city of Columbus has made fresh efforts to revitalize the Hilltop neighborhood with a new one Hilltop Land Use Plan.

and Imagine Hilltop, a community plan that addresses housing, retail and small business, education and labor, and neighborhood health and safety issues.

“Don’t copy the hill,” said Potts. “The Hilltop is resilient and I believe if there is a fair opportunity there will be a tremendous comeback.”