Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lost Lexington Subdivisions 1

Tonight, I am posting an article that I have been holding for a while. It demonstrates the ongoing situation around the UK campus

When I started this blog , I intended to recount some of the histories of various subdivisions and neighborhoods and over the past months I have been distracted by other development related topics. Today I wish to get back to one of my original topics, one which I will call Lost Lexington Subdivisions. These are platted areas or subdivisions which have been swallowed up by other institutions or public works projects and very little or no vestiges of the original area can be recognized. One of the first of these is an area I encountered as a ten or eleven year old visiting friends from school, Clifton Heights.

The beginnings of Clifton Heights predate me by a considerable margin. Consider this newspaper snippet below:
"Clifton Heights"
Lexington will have another boom on hand within a few days. A land company has been incorporated under the title of the Clifton Heights Land Company, and has purchased one hundred and six acres of land near the suburbs of the city and fronting on Rose Street.
Lexington Leader March, 5 1890
Right beside this was an advertisement of the incorporation of the development company and signed by the corporation president, Louis Straus. Straus was a well known businessman and civic leader, who with his brother Gus, had operated a clothing and tailoring business since the mid 1860’s. The land was belonged to Oliver P. Alford, a local horseman, a brother of R.F. Alford (a member of Morgan’s raiders) and uncle to Mitchell C. Alford, the Lieutenant Governor. O.P. and M.C. Alford were also incorporators. The rest of the incorporation signers were J.E. Keller, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Realtor (moved to Louisville in 1891), C.F. Simonds, owner of the Phoenix Hotel until he sold it to his son John, Watts Parker, an attorney who at times was City Attorney, Master Commissioner, County Judge, and Circuit Judge, and Charles Seelbach of the Louisville hotel family. About 2 weeks later the Lexington Leader had this to say
"In a flurry"
…Although but a short time has elapsed since the Clifton Heights Company made their large purchase of suburban property, there are many persons who want lots in that subdivision. …In the first place Rose Street will be widened ten feet from Maxwell Street to the intersection of the Nicholasville Pike. In the next place the first avenue, running parallel with Maxwell Street, will be one hundred feet wide
Lexington Leader March, 23 1890
The above appears to describe the Aylesford development more than the Clifton area in its reference to a street “one hundred feet wide”. That better describes Euclid Ave. than any other street paralleling Maxwell. Even so, there are not lots being platted or built upon at this time only desire and great interest in the subdivision as this excerpt from more than two years later shows:
Clifton Heights is to be the scene of extensive improvements. Brick and macadam streets are to be put down and handsome houses are to be erected this fall.
Lexington Leader August, 21 1892
These were heady days in the America of the 1890’s. Prosperity was around every corner or so the political leaders claimed, even though 1% of the people controlled more than the other 99%. There was a bump in the road coming called the Panic of 1893.
The 1880s had seen a period of remarkable economic expansion in the United States. In time, the expansion became driven by speculation, much like the "tech bubble" of the late 1990s, except that the preferred industry was railroads. Railroads were vastly over-built, and many companies tried to take over many others, seriously endangering their own stability so to do.... As concern of the state of the economy worsened, people rushed and caused bank runs. The credit crunch rippled through the economy.
Louis Straus took ill in 1898 and as his illness wore on the prospects of the new subdivision diminished with his health. The Clifton Heights lots were advertised for auction and sold in May of 1899 and the newspaper had this to say.
"To build at once"
The purchasers of lots in Clifton Heights have already commenced arrangements to build and today witnessed several loads of lumber and other building material hauled out there. Mr. J. W. Hendricks, the well known contractor and builder, was the first to begin work. He will put up a pretty cottage and others will follow suit at once.
Lexington Leader May, 16 1899
Clifton Heights was set, as its name implies, up the hill of Rose St. from Euclid Ave. and had a fine view of the campus of the State College of Kentucky and its agricultural farm. The first plat was recorded in May of 1899 and encompassed 45 acres or so bounded on the west by Rose St., the east by Woodland Av., the south by the Ag farm and the north by the un-platted portion of the former Alford farm (soon to be the Aylesford Subdivision). Three interior streets and a network of alleyways served the 130 parcels so that no lot required a break in the curb to access the property. Roughly half of the development was in the City proper which in that day was described by a circle, I mile in radius, centered on the county court house.

The property had two bodies of water just outside the City limit which may have been natural and, strangely located at just about the highest point for several hundred feet around. These water bodies became features of the primary residential street which bore the name of the development, Clifton Ave. Seventy seven of the 130 lots faced or had a good view of these ponds and were most likely the prime lots of the entire subdivision. Clifton Ave ran east from Rose to Woodland and paralleled the other residential street, Columbia Ave. Connecting these two main avenues and proceeding north from the larger of the ponds, across Columbia and then toward the Alford property was Linden Ave.

Approximately 5 years later, when the Aylesford subdivision was platted, there was no connection to the existing Linden Ave. and any hope of extension was dashed by naming the only possible candidate, for the new subdivision. To be fair, it can be said that there is a steep incline and the existence of a considerable stream along the property line dividing the two developments. Due to this disconnect the name of Linden Ave was changed to Pennsylvania Ave. sometime after 1904.

As noted before, alleyways served all lots from the rear. Two of these alleys ran adjacent to the north and south property lines and , in the case of the northern one, proved to be less than successful in that it was parallel to the creek and along the toe of the hill making it quite inefficient for lot access. I believe that for this reason, portions of 17 of the 22 lots on the north side of Columbia making use (or trying to) of this alley were further subdivided into Dixie Court, in 1923, (see image at left) and Pennsylvania Court sometime later. Dixie Ct. plat labels this alley as “unused”.

The 1907 Sanborn Insurance map shows that 8 houses had been built on the north side of Columbia while more than 2/3s of the south side built up and a clear majority of all lots on Clifton occupied with housing. Commercial uses are also creeping into the area to serve the residents. The 1934 version shows some lot consolidations and all but a few built out with no increase in commercial intrusion, still the lots on the north of Columbia Ave show little use and further aides their need to re-subdivide.

It is not surprising that the owners of homes in Clifton Heights soon began to let rooms to college students who had come to Lexington to go to school. In 1902, one such student unfortunately died of undisclosed causes at the home of J.H. Hendricks of 432 Clifton Ave. The State College had been admitting women since 1880, but there were no dormitories for women at the time. J.H. Hendricks was the father of John W. and Thomas A. Hendricks, two well known contractors, noted for building both the Union Station downtown and the Queen & Crescent station on S. Broadway. J.H. and his wife Bettie were in their 70’s and would have been prime candidates for housing out of town co-eds.

In the early years the residents of Clifton Heights probably mirrored any other new subdivision, with the up and coming and the regular working class families. Some were inventive, such as Robert C. Hall , who was granted a patent on a fibre breaking machine, and Peter Geiser, who installed at State College one of the Geiser combination smoke consumers, which he invented and patented, By 1912, Geiser claimed more than half a dozen patents to his name. There were the well known and the little known, the entrepreneurs and the salesmen, the academic and the manual laborers all mixed in the residential structure of the area.

I noted before about the ponds, or as some called them “lakes”, it appears that someone did not take kindly to the beauty of the water features and in the early hours of a May weekend of 1906 some person, or persons, used dynamite and shovels to cut a number of trenches through the embankment, thus permitting the body of water to escape until there is not enough left to dignify it with even the name of a pond. We do know that the damage was repaired from later press reports and it was not until 1947 that it was finally drained for good. The year 1913 had many comments about the ponds, or at least the larger one, as February brought very cold weather and the ice skating was said to be the best in town. March of that year a reflective piece about the hidden beauty of the pond that would be the memories of a future time, was printed by the Lexington Leader. And October, the news brought a tale of what has been a State College (and then University ) staple for decades, the tug of war contest over the pond.
At the close of a three minutes struggle, the doughty Sophomores of State University overpowered the Freshmen students Tuesday afternoon, drawing many of the lower classmen and the large steel cable through the Clifton Heights pond. Many of the Freshies who were not pulled through the water bravely plunged in the cold water and swam safely to the opposite shore.
Lexington Leader October, 15 1913
Even after the pond was drained the University students, especially the fraternities and sororities had “mud bowl” flag football games and tug o wars in the grassy field that was the bottom of the pond.

Along with people, services came to the new subdivision. In July 1907 a new florist shop was announced and September brought the establishment of a branch of the Library in someone’s home and just two weeks later a second location in another’s home. Clearly the residents wished to be well read. I did find one curious news excerpt from 1908;
"New park"
Mayor Skain and Superintendent W. M. Bateman drove out to Clifton Heights, on South Rose Street, Monday morning, to take a look at that section of the city and consider its capabilities for a driving park. The result of their inspection was that they came away thoroughly convinced that Clifton Heights will make a fine resort for those who go driving.
Lexington Leader June, 16, 1908
I am unaware of just what a “driving park” is, or of what it consists, but I do feel that in the early years of the automotive age, when few families could possess an automobile, it may have had more to do with horses and carriages than autos.

Other services were being requested by the residents, an extension of the streetcar line from its southeastern most point, at Maxwell and Woodland, southward to serve Aylesford, Clifton Heights and the Chautauqua Woods/Columbia Heights areas. Over one hundred residents met to discuss and request this service but the extension was never done. The mayor did propose and recommend some improvements as shown here;
Plans for extensive street improvements in the Clifton addition, beyond Aylesford, were discussed and ordered advertised for by the Board of Public Works upon the recommendation of Mayor Skain Tuesday morning. These include new streets, sidewalks and sewers out Woodland to Columbia Avenue, along Columbia Avenue to Rose street and down Rose to Euclid avenue in Aylesford.
Lexington Leader September, 14 1909
This may have meant the repaving of the streets and sidewalks or the paving for the first time, as referenced here.
"'Worst street'"
As the result of a message from residents of Columbia avenue, requesting that their street be taken into consideration as being among those most thickly laden with mud and the least improved, an inspection visit was made Saturday afternoon by a Leader representative.
Lexington Leader March, 3 1907
I don’t know.

Recreational services for the children were promised in 1916 and land deeded to the City in the summer that included the Clifton Pond. A playground opened in 1919, in the depression created by draining the smaller pond, with some fanfare. Two years later a 14 year-old local youth drown in the pond and it appears that there was some effort to close the park, since a petition of the neighbors was circulated an given to the City. The park stayed open. In August of 1930 the park played host to a circus, arranged by the Lexington Civic League, as the big event to close out their final week of operating the playgrounds in the city. It was well attended as approximately 6,000 people were estimated to be there and, as with any circus, there was a parade through town.

Clifton Heights figured in the controversy of being annexed into the City in that not all of the property was originally included, as detailed above. Below we see how it affected the area.
City limits extension bill goes into effect June 13th, extending limits of Lexington ½ mile in each direction.
Lexington Herald March, 13 1906
The residents of Woodland, Chautauqua Woods, Columbia Heights, Clifton Heights and some other smaller subdivisions found themselves in danger of being annexed into a city, in which they had no say as to representation. Woodland was the most vocal as they had the greater number of wealthy, influential inhabitants and they explored the idea of creating their own city government.
"Initial steps taken"
Resident of that portion of Woodland, beyond the city limits who have had under consideration the advisability of organizing a new township of the sixth class for the purpose of avoiding annexation to the city of Lexington, in accordance with the city extension bill, recently passed by the Legislature, mention of which was made in Sunday's Leader, held a meeting Tuesday night at which decided action was taken toward carrying out the proposed project.
Lexington Leader March, 14 1906
Due to their population they would have been a city of the sixth class but the area would be booming in the next few years. Chautauqua Woods, with its smaller, denser cottage style housing, would be platted and built in the next three years. Columbia Heights, Current Addition, L. B. Shouse Addition and others in the few years after that.
Taxation without representation"
Taxation without Representation. That is the trick sought to be turned by those who are shuffling the political cards at the expense of the thousands of good citizens who live and own property in the suburbs that are to be annexed to Lexington by an extension of the city limits. The Leader has learned from several sources that a scheme is on foot to postpone the extension of the city limits until after Tuesday November 6, next, when it is proposed to nominate State and municipal officers on the same day as the Congressional election, in which event all of the residents of the section to be annexed will be shut out of the city primary election . . .
Lexington Leader May, 27 1906
City leadership sought to increase revenue while denying responsibility at the ballot box to a large population of influential citizens.
"Official survey"
By the middle of next week the official survey of the Woodland district will be complete and an ordinance providing for its annexation to the city of Lexington, as an integral part of the municipal corporation will be introduced before the General Council at the first regular meeting in July. Matters in connection with the first step towards territorial extension, that expansion which is hoped will induce the "Greater Lexington" so universally sought, have reached that stage where decisive action is in sight.
Lexington Leader June, 24 1906
The surveys progressed through the next weeks with negotiations and lawsuits (Pepper Distillery on Versailles Rd) to the point that the expansion was not a true ½ mile in all directions but an irregular shape. I have not found a map of the exact annexation yet though I am still looking. By the end of August the deed had been done and in the words of the Commissioners, a greater Lexington accomplished.
"'Greater Lexington'"
"Greater Lexington" is now a fact. When the residents of the outlying districts awakened from their slumbers Friday morning they were full-fledged citizens of the city of Lexington for all purposes under the law. Retiring Thursday night they went in sleep in Fayette county, but awakened in the city of Lexington, in that the General Council met Thursday night in special session and by unanimous vote adopted the annexation ordinance.
Lexington Leader August, 31 1906
Then the troubles began. The easy part was finished and the hard part lay ahead
"Hogs must be removed"
One of the unpleasant circumstances attending the extension of the city limits by the recent annexation ordinance is that many of those brought in will be compelled to abandon the custom of keeping hogs on their premises. To carry out this rule, Dr. Simmons, the health officer, served notice upon two of the new residents Saturday, that they will not be permitted to keep hogs in the city limits at any time, a practice to which they have long been accustomed and were following when the limits were extended. As a result, they must now immediate sale, or by removal to the country beyond the half-mile limit.
Lexington Leader September, 2 1906
"Extended limits"
The recent extension of the city limits has brought a world of trouble, worry, doubt and confusion to some of the city officials, but so much to the City Assessor and the principals of the several schools, that each of them is demanding block maps showing the annexed territory.
Lexington Leader September, 4 1906

"Suburban districts"
Unless Mayor Combs and the General Council come to the rescue and order a sufficient appropriation for putting up street signs and house numbers in Arlington Heights, Columbia Heights, Forest Hill and Herr Park addition, which are included in the territory recently added to the city by the annexation ordinance, these residence suburbs are likely to lose the free delivery service which Uncle Sam has generously provided for them. By order of the postal department two new carriers were, beginning September 1, added to the free delivery department and assigned to these districts, greatly to the delight to the citizens of these outlying residence sections who for some time have been clamoring for free delivery.
Lexington Leader September, 9 1906

"Mrs. Faulconer's home cut out of the city"
The Joint Ways and Means Committee of the General Council, and Joint Improvement committee, met Wednesday night in the office of the Mayor. One of the matters coming before the Ways and Means Committee was the effect of the annexation ordinance upon Mrs. Nannie G. Faulconer, superintendent of County Schools. Under the law she is required to maintain her residence in the county, and at the time of her nomination, election and qualification, she was a resident of the county. The recent annexation ordinance brought her home within the corporate limits of the city and special provisions were necessary in her case.
Lexington Leader September, 13 1906

"Complex problems"
Some rather serious complications have arisen in regard to the recent annexation of new territory to the City of Lexington, the principal among which are the acquisition of common school property and the necessity of changes being made in the location of certain voting places in the county precincts affected by the change.
Lexington Leader September, 16 1906

"Voting status obscure"
Are the three thousand voters residing in the newly annexed territory to the city of Lexington to be denied the right or privilege of participation in the next city Democratic primary, or, in other words to be disfranchised to that extent? is a question even the county authorities seem unable to answer.
Lexington Leader September, 30 1906

"Express company"
People who live in the recently annexed territory of the city may protest in vain against the refusal of the express companies to deliver their parcels free of charge. As a result of their refusal to deliver parcels free during the Christmas rush, many of the citizens of the newest portions of Lexington entered a vigorous kick with Mayor Combs on the grounds that they were no longer "out of the city," and requested His Honor to ascertain why they did not have as much right to free delivery of express as any one else in town.

Lexington Leader January, 14 1907

"Will resist taxation"
Since the holding of the County Democratic Convention Saturday has developed the fact that residents of the newly annexed territory of the city are in Sixty-first (county of Fayette) instead of the Sixty-second (city of Lexington) legislative district, and as such are not entitled to have a voice in the election of representatives from this city, they will resist the collection of the city taxes this year.
Lexington Leader June, 9 1908
Everything from “You can’t keep your animals”, “We don’t know where you are”, “We can’t deliver to you for free”, “You can’t keep your job and live where you do” and ”You can’t vote”, all the way to “We won’t pay any taxes”. All of these would seem to be quickly solved but the voting one. It wasn’t that they weren’t allow to vote, it was just in which district and for whom. The City could move a municipal boundary, but the State legislature would have to wait for the 1910 Census results to apportion their new State district lines. The residents could vote, but they could not vote for the City candidate , they would have to vote for the county representative even though they lived in the City.

Eventually it all worked out and the City slowly set in place a procedure for annexing newer developed areas into the corporate boundary and by tweaking and trying, the process lasted until merger.

The growing pains out of the way, Clifton Heights settled into a period stability. People moved out and people moved in. Slowly, almost inexorably, the University moved into and started to take over the quiet little area. First the sororities bought the little frame houses facing Rose St, then along Columbia, and with a church sandwiched in, created a “greek” enclave which the guys matched on campus, on the south side of Clifton and the lots facing on Woodland Ave.. Between 1950 and 1956 they had taken roughly 1/5 of the original Clifton Heights plat for college related uses.

The University took over some of the housing that had been built along Pennsylvania Avenue and two other sororities joined in on Columbia Ave. Then the Baptist Student Center came along and the future of Columbia Ave was sealed. Meanwhile the University took the south side, set the Faculty Club on the corner and just kept adding parking. The Mines and Minerals Building connected the Faculty Club to the structured parking and phone center and the roadway of Clifton Ave had to go.

In 1992, the University announced that they were going to build a new library, hired a design firm, then settled on a location. Right in the middle of Clifton Heights. Right in the middle of the two former ponds. The design called for acquiring the rest of the block. Eminent domain and State money meant that there was no hope, although some fought it, but they soon gave up. The building occupied by the University Church of Christ, built in 1952, was swapped for a new building on Columbia and all that was left, was a few frame houses.

Those houses on Pennsylvania Ct and one, lone, two story on Woodland Ave look like they won’t last much longer. The University surrounds these houses and has bought up about half of the blocks between Rose La. and Euclid, so it won’t be long.

So there we have it, 100 years, one century from farmland to redevelopment, one subdivision come and gone, and this is not the only one.

As this series continues, I hope that it evolves into something useful.

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