Lincoln Heights was denied resources for decades. Now is the time for a resurgence, officials say
Lincoln Heights is celebrating 75 years since officially incorporating as a village. Despite seven decades of declining resources, officials are working toward a resurgence.
This mostly Black community would have reached its Diamond Jubilee seven years earlier if Hamilton County approved the original request for incorporation.
Historian Carl Westmoreland grew up in Lincoln Heights, the son of one of the community's founders, Guy Westmoreland. He says the county's denial in 1939 cost the community more than just time.
"It was never the size that it was when they applied for incorporation," Westmoreland said. "They got less than half the land they requested — land on which they'd been living and working."
When incorporation was approved in 1946, it included mostly residential areas — and not the aeronautics plant where many Lincoln Heights residents worked, now GE Aviation.
County officials reportedly told the new village leaders they could annex the plant down the road, but then denied each attempt to do so.
"They never had it for one second," Westmoreland said.
That meant Lincoln Heights started out with a fraction of the tax base it should have had — revenue that eventually went to neighboring majority white communities.
"It was on life support from the very beginning," Westmoreland said. "And it was on life support with dignity."
Decisions from 75 years ago 'have implications today'
Four years after Lincoln Heights incorporated, a group of farmers got together to incorporate as the Village of Evendale, with just 289 residents and the aeronautics plant. Lincoln Heights tried to block the incorporation in 1950, with a lawsuit it filed along with Reading and Lockland.
The lawsuit said Evendale would become the richest incorporated village in the U.S., without even any roads to maintain because it would contain all state and county roads. The complaint estimated a tax value of $19.5 million, with a startling difference in per capita valuation:
- Evendale: $60,000 per capita
- Reading: $1,145 per capita
- Lockland: $3,762 per capita
- Lincoln Heights: $400 per capita
A Cincinnati Enquirer article in September 1950 reported on the first testimony in the lawsuit: "The defendants pointed out that residents of the Evendale district opposed all previous efforts to have the land annexed to other municipalities; then voted to set up their own village."
A judge ultimately decided in Evendale's favor in December 1950, and the tax situation never improved.
A 1967 article included a photo captioned, "Lincoln Heights looks longingly at GE's tax producing golden goose."
Silverton Village Manager Tom Carroll is working with Lincoln Heights officials to tell the history of the village and attract new investment. Carroll says the consequences of a tiny tax base are especially obvious today.
"There's a huge disparity - a 30 times disparity - between the amount of money a village like Evendale collects versus Lincoln Heights," Carroll said. "And so those decisions 70 and 75 years ago have implications for public policy today."
Carroll says Lincoln Heights collected about $618,000 in tax revenue in 2019. That same year, Evendale made more than that just on the interest of its tax revenue.
'We can't do anything about the past'
Lincoln Heights Mayor Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey says it's difficult to lead a community resurgence after decades with declining revenue. But, that's the goal.
"We know that we cannot do anything about the past," Kinsey-Mumphrey said. "But we can do something about the present. And we can move forward for the future for our next generation of children."
The village needs more residents to generate more tax revenue – but better roads, local businesses and recreation are likely needed to attract those residents.
Village Manager Joyce Powdrill says one solution to this paradox is to find partners in local nonprofits and major corporations. She's looking for grants, loans, volunteers, business investments — and any other creative ideas.
"I think we're getting to a point where the leadership of GE is confident of the leadership in Lincoln Heights where they can feel like the investment in Lincoln Heights is going to bring a return on their investment," Powdrill said.
Powdrill says she and Tom Carroll have been making the rounds, pitching Lincoln Heights as a community worth investing in. She's confident the next 75 years will look much different than the first 75.
Recent victories include a county grant to install public WiFi; an agreement with The Port to develop 100 lots into housing and retail space; an initial grant and long-term plan to remodel Memorial Field, where the once-unbeatable high school football team played, and where community teams now practice and compete.
Carroll says there's a lot of opportunity in two former school sites right next to Memorial Field. One is owned by the village and one is privately owned; Carroll says they're ideal for mixed-use redevelopment.
"Now ultimately, that's going to be up to the village council to determine what the land use is going to be," Carroll said. "But it's exciting because it could become somewhat of a central business district for the village in a way that I don't think it's had in many years, if ever."
Carl Westmoreland is less optimistic. He believes there's no political will to make up for past injustices.
"I admire the young people who are attempting to put it back together, but nobody wants to help them do something about dealing with the issue of the land distribution, or creating a fund that provides a cash flow that makes up, frankly, for theft," Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland, who worked for years in housing and other development, says real estate speculators are already eying the land to buy when, as he believes, the village ultimately dissolves.
When asked if that's where thinks Lincoln Heights is headed, Westmoreland says, "I know it is … because they won't have enough dollars."
Westmoreland speaks from experience. This isn't the first time village leaders have poured heart and soul into the community.
A 1967 Enquirer article outlines several denials for federal urban renewal funds for the then-city of Lincoln Heights (Guy Westmoreland was city auditor at the time).
"City fathers of this 20-year-old city ... have reached a state of frustration," the article says. "They have enumerated a list of efforts to improve the city. But the story has often been the same: 'request denied.' "
But Powdrill and other local leaders aren't backing down.
"I hope that they can see that the residents are excited about their future; I hope that they see that there is opportunity in Lincoln Heights," Powdrill said. "I hope that they get a sense that we're taking our future in our own hands. There is unmistakable momentum in Lincoln Heights."