Spring Awakening

Winton Place -- ahem, Spring Grove Village -- is not the kind of place you probably think it is.

Winton Place — ahem, Spring Grove Village — is not the kind of place you probably think it is.

The Cincinnati neighborhood on the east side of Spring Grove Cemetery recently changed its name, partially to shake loose a reputation of being a place riddled with crime.

Certainly Winton Place has crime, along with a slew of other problems that many neighborhoods and suburbs are trying to deal with. Mostly, though, Winton Place — I have a hard time calling it by its new name — is a working-class area filled with people who have an unusually strong love for their neighborhood.

You can see it in the way they work hard to make it a desirable place to live, meeting regularly to find new ways to keep their neighborhood diverse, safe and appealing. Stuff like forming an improvement association that buys old houses, fixes them up and sells them instead of letting them fall so far into disrepair they become blighted.

But you probably wouldn't know any of that if you passed by the proud enclave at the bottom of Winton Road where it ends at Spring Grove Avenue. It's easy to miss or dismiss the neighborhood as you zip by on the four-lane road.

If you're old — like 120 or so years old — you might remember when the Mill Creek Township Farm was a destination that had a Coney Island-esque amusement park and horse track that were a pleasant refuge for city folk needing to catch their breath from the hustle, bustle and ickiness of the city down south. In fact, that's partially why members of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society founded Spring Grove Cemetery where it is; they wanted to be away from the city, but not too far, and have picturesque, park-like surroundings.

If you've been to Spring Grove, currently 733 acres, you know they succeeded.

The farm was later renamed Winton Place after settler Matthew Winton, who had a penchant for breaking the law, mainly by selling bootleg whiskey.

With such an illustrious past, it's great news for the neighborhood to announce some much-needed improvement. A group is nearing completion on a proposal to turn the nearby Gray Road landfill into an 80-acre industrial park that could create more than 3,000 jobs and include neighborhood-friendly stuff like hike and bike trails — a great complement to the beautiful cemetery on the other side of Gray Road.

For years the landfill was a source of major frustration for people living in Winton Place and adjacent neighborhoods. A nearly continuous barrage of trucks hauling garbage and construction debris came up and down Winton and Gray roads, leaving an awful covering of dust and filling the air with the clunking of machines.

Many neighborhood residents tried to have the eyesore shut down but were unsuccessful until a consent decree between the city and the landfill's owners halted operations at the end of 2007.

"Some things are happening as we speak," says Gary Robbins, an activist and long-time neighborhood resident, now retired from the telecommunications industry. He and others lobbied the Cincinnati Planning Commission to pass new zoning for the landfill that would allow the industrial park.

"There are now plans for capping (the landfill) following EPA guidelines," Robbins says. "It's a huge opportunity for the (landfill) owners and the community to seize some opportunities for development."

A marketing study is nearing completion and will be released soon, Robbins says.

I grew up in Colerain Township, but thanks to a childhood friendship sparked by chance at a YMCA day camp I spent a great deal of my more fun teenage years learning what it was like to live in the city. My friend grew up in Winton Place.

From Frank's Hair Design, where I got my hair cut for years, to the saintly Father Jim, the pastor at St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church, the neighborhood has so much to be proud of. I know I don't need to tell them that. They already know.

Now, if the Gray Road landfill turns into a prime piece of developable real estate, it will be one more feather in the cap for this often overlooked Cincinnati gem.

Contact Joe Wessels: [email protected]

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