My Soapbox: Mt. Healthy, Cincinnati's Hidden Gem

Evening falls and children’s laughter is still ringing in the playground. Folks are walking back from the Dairy Bar on the town’s main street to set up chairs for tonight’s free concert in the park.

Welcome to Mt. Healthy, a 200-year-old community bursting with small-town feel. Its quiet streets and network of back alleys are ideal for walking and bicycling. A 15-minute walk takes you clear across town, yet a 20-minute drive allows access to all of greater Cincinnati.

Tree planting is run by volunteers. Students help with a fall planting on Maple Street.Rich in history, Mt. Healthy prides itself on a green and healthy lifestyle while offering plenty of interesting surprises to explore.

Among the assets is a walkable business district that other communities would envy. Stop for an ice cream at Mt. Healthy Dairy Bar, grab a pastry at 100-year-old Little Dutch Bakery or pop into Covered Bridge Antique Mall to discover a treasure. Hungry? You’ve got choices: ribs fresh out of the smoker from Goodie’s, Greek specialties at Three Dogs Kouzina, Chinese noodles at Fortune Express, crispy crust pizza from Angilo’s or the daily special at Brotherton’s.

A Cincinnati Public library branch on the main strip programs a full calendar for all ages. Mt. Healthy’s home to four dance studios, one of which is in its 53rd year.  Students at the local Taekwondo Academy regularly can be spotted in their white uniforms walking to class. There’s weekly bluegrass and the occasional jazz trio at Pit to Plate, and monthly New Orleans jazz at the downstairs Coachlight Room. Want to move your body?  Join the local soccer league, or try morning yoga or Tai Chi at Tikkun Farm.

Thirty-somethings who’ve had their day in faster-paced urban neighborhoods are drawn in by this quiet city that’s close to everything, but with a bucolic town feel and well-priced housing stock spanning every style from 1830s to 1970s.

The Pryor Barnes family is an example.  Brothers Seth and Taylor commute to OTR to run Harvest Pizza, while Seth’s wife Shannon, a professional photographer, homeschools 6-year-old Coen.  

Aquatics & Exotics in Mt. HealthyHome schooling has been a draw for many young families and a secular homeschooling co-op has helped the city build a reputation as a great place to live.  Up to 70 children are registered for low-cost, fun sessions with names like “Star Wars Science”.  In summer, the co-op group can be found on a weekly walking tour to community destinations: a tour of Running Creek Farm with farmer Jim Lowenburg; a lesson in donut making at Little Dutch from third generation baker Chris Girmann; or an outing to the 17,000-gallon tank at Aquatics and Exotics, to watch the shark feeding.

Any morning you might spot homeschool co-op leader Sara Danks jogging behind a stroller as she logs training miles for her next marathon. Sara and her family are in Mt. Healthy for the long term, their community connection strengthened by the opportunity to build relationships with other millennial families of similar interests.

Spring calls residents to bring out the garden tools, and recalls Mt. Healthy’s roots as a  surrounded by farms. There are backyard gardens around town, a junior gardening club for the kids of the co-op, and a growing number of households raising chickens. A clan of Bhutanese-Nepali immigrants cultivates an amazing garden at Tikkun Farm. Tucked at the end of a residential street are Running Creek Farm’s four acres, where Farmer Jim Lowenburg taps maple trees and raises veggies destined for Northside and Hyde Park Farm Markets. Hickman Homestead, the author’s urban homestead, provides market crops and honey from the backyard hives to Cincinnati chefs.

Walkability, agriculture, home schooling – Mt. Healthy is building a lively future while remaining connected to a storied past. Mayor James Wolf, is a descendant of an old Mt. Healthy family and teaches at the local high school. His father and grandfather before him served as mayors and his great great grandparents operated the mill that provided Pride of the Valley flour to Cincinnati bakeries.

Currently campaigning for County Commissioner, Mayor Wolf relaxes in rare off-moments at Mt. Healthy’s microbrewery, Fibonacci. Owners and Mt. Healthy newcomers Bob and Betty Bollas are living their dream of running a brewery close to home, where  customers walk or bicycle in, some making a daily stop on their dog walk.  

There’s monthly family potluck at the brewery, and kids play under the big trees next door in the yard that is soon to become a beer garden. Betty plans to turn the acre of land surrounding the brewery into an urban farm and envisions growing some brewing ingredients on site. Meanwhile there are beehives out back and stacks of logs sprout shiitake and oyster mushrooms.  

Tikkun Farm is another small oasis, a non-profit place for healing and connection, located on the acreage of a former dairy farm at the north end of the city. Here alpacas and guinea hens, chickens and ducks welcome visitors. A pair of local boys who’ve adopted the farm visit daily to help and tend the animals. Neighbors stop by for a dozen eggs or to tend a garden, and at solstice folks watch glowing sparks rise from the bonfire around which they’ve gathered.

Built in 1905, the Independent German Benevolent Association Hall is now home to Vince’s Other Place.Is Mt. Healthy perfect?  Not quite but we’re working on it.  As folks are drawn here by Mt. Healthy’s residential charm and good value in housing, renewal of the business district won’t be far behind.  There’s demand for a good quality coffeeshop. Buildings already have been beautifully renovated by local investors, but more need a touchup or two, and entrepreneur to fill the storefronts.

The historic Main Theater has just been placed on the National Historic Register. Now plans are being developed for its renovation. The local non-profit Mt. Healthy Renaissance Project has teamed up with the city on this and other initiatives to revitalize and build community.

We’ve partnered with the local planning and real estate experts at Urban Fast Forward to work on future steps to strengthen our community and guarantee us a lively place in the 21st century.

But if a strong future is built on stable past and a promising present, then Mt. Healthy is well positioned to be among our region’s most interesting and productive communities for many years to come.
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Read more articles by Karen Arnett.

Karen Arnett is President of the Mt. Healthy Renaissance Project, a non-profit community development group of neighbors working together for the love of Mt. Healthy.