Cincinnati’s best kept secret: Paddock Hills

The year was 1965, and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act had brought the Civil Rights Movement to a peak. Kathleen Christmon and her husband, Henry, were looking to move from the home they built in Lincoln Heights to a neighborhood with a good school system where they could raise their growing family.

Kathleen’s cousin was a realtor who worked for the agency owned by the late Donald Spencer, one of the first African American realtors in Cincinnati and a lifelong activist for civil rights.

She showed the Christmons a house in the tiny Cincinnati neighborhood of Paddock Hills. “I had never been to Paddock Hills,” Kathleen says. “We fell in love with the house and we decided to buy it.”

That decision made the Christmons the first black family to move into the neighborhood and created the momentum that made Paddock Hills the first successfully integrated middle-class neighborhood in the city.

The Christmons and their neighbors celebrated the 100th anniversary of Paddock Hills this year with a community-wide block party that was held last week, as well as with other events, including a mayoral proclamation that declared June 1 to be Paddock Hills Day in Cincinnati.

It could be the most publicity this neighborhood, which calls itself “Cincinnati’s Best Kept Secret,” has ever received. The community holds fewer than 300 homes and fewer than a thousand people, making it one of Cincinnati’s smallest official neighborhoods.

It’s fair to say that the community is under the radar for most. However, if you’ve ever eaten breakfast or lunch at the popular Sugar n’ Spice on Reading Road, or played golf at Avon Fields, you’ve been to Paddock Hills.

The neighborhood is bounded roughly by Tennessee Avenue to the north, Reading Road to the east, the golf course to the south, with Paddock Road bisecting it north to south. Avon Fields, a municipal course, takes up nearly half of the neighborhood’s territory.

It’s a neighborhood built on cul-de-sacs with handsome, solid Tudor Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival homes, some of which are going on 90 years old.

But it’s the people who live in those homes that make Paddock Hills noteworthy.

It is considered the first Cincinnati neighborhood to successfully integrate and has maintained a racial balance since the mid 70s. Its residents are a mix of blue collar and white collar workers, doctors, lawyers, professors, young couples, and Jewish folks whose families first settled there after World War II.

The pioneering Christmons — who lived on Perth Lane for 53 years and raised four boys there — were soon followed by another black couple who moved to a home on Westminster Lane. The neighborhood began to be viewed as a place where integration was intentionally supported.

That’s not to say that everything was roses at this time of the turbulent mid 60s.

There were a few people, of course, who moved right away,” recalls Kathleen Christmon. “But the neighbors all around us were very supportive and very friendly.”

Dr. Fritz Casey-Leininger has studied race and housing in Cincinnati for decades, first as a graduate student and then as a professor of urban history at the University of Cincinnati. After World War II, he says, blacks in Cincinnati were essentially segregated in three neighborhoods: West End, Avondale, and Walnut Hills, with more than half living in the West End. Realtors, lenders and the government used tactics to keep neighborhoods segregated until a fair housing law passed in Ohio in 1965 made some of those practices illegal, he says.

At the same time, the Civil Rights Movement began to change some people’s attitudes about race. “Some middle-class whites came to the conclusion that black neighbors were not a threat,” he says. “Paddock Hills made the decision that it wanted to be racially integrated and stably middle class.”

Other neighborhoods that were forward thinking at that time included Kennedy Heights and Paddock Hills’ next-door neighbor, North Avondale.

Casey-Leininger lived in Paddock Hills for a time in the late ’70s when he came to Cincinnati for school and lived with his brother and sister-in-law. Like others in the community, he says, “They made a specific choice to find a racially integrated neighborhood.”

Lynne Stone and her husband moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago from Silverton. They live in a rock-front Tudor on Westminster.

“It’s very kid-friendly and diverse,” she says. “The community was so healthy and safe. The streets were cul-de-sacs and they could ride their bikes and play basketball at the end of the street.”

The 100th anniversary dates to the first residential development in the neighborhood at Paddock Hills Avenue and Paddock Lane in 1919. In 1924, the neighborhood started growing when developer John Spilker purchased 60 acres and laid out plots for Paddock Hills Lane, Avon Drive, Westminster Drive, Bristol Lane, and Perth Lane. He built English Tudor homes and planted a poplar tree and a pin oak in every yard. Some of those oak trees still shade the streets and sidewalks.

Architect Abram Dombar, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed some of the homes that were built around the 1950s.

The community continues to attract people who are looking for a diverse, middle-class neighborhood within the city limits. Emma Kitzmiller grew up on Avon Drive, and she moved back to the neighborhood with her husband in 2008. They now have two young children.

“I loved growing up in the neighborhood,” she says. “We had a ton of friends.”

Moving back, she says, “There were a lot of people we knew because people don’t really leave once they’re there.” Their kids attend magnet school North Avondale Montessori. (The neighborhood school is Bond Hill Elementary.)

In 2008, they paid $135,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath Colonial built in 1921. As the family has grown, they’ve talked about buying a bigger home in another neighborhood, but are considering expand their current home, maybe finishing a room in the attic for a fourth bedroom.

“We don’t want to go anywhere,” she says. “We love where we are, so we’re going to try and make it work for us.”

That was also true for the Christmons who, after more than a half-century on Perth Lane, decided to downsize to a one-level home, and stayed in the neighborhood on Springmeadow Lane.

“I was looking for a ranch,” says Kathleen, “but I didn’t want to move out of Paddock Hills.”
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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.