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OKI Wanna Know... What Is Botany Hills?

Bill Rinehart
A sign marks Botany Hills' eastern boundary on KY 8 at Western Avenue.

OKI Wanna Know is our regular feature where we try to uncover the truth and history of things that are often overlooked. This week, WVXU's Bill Rinehart visits one Northern Kentucky neighborhood to find out what's in a name?

Updated: 7-1-21  

Laura Kinney of Edgewood wants to know why West Covington now has an unfamiliar name. "I lived there in childhood and I heard that they're calling it Botany Hills instead of West Covington. I had never heard of that name before."

West Covington and Botany Hills are just two of the names in the neighborhood's history.

"Believe it or not, Botany Hills is the fifth name in that particular area," says Laurie Risch, executive director of the Behringer Crawford Museum, which is close to the neighborhood in question.

"Botany Hills is that area west of I-75. (It) borders north with the Ohio River, south with Devou Park, and east with the city of Ludlow," she says.

In the late 1830s, the land was owned by Israel Ludlow, one of the founders of Losantiville, better known today as Cincinnati. His Kentucky holdings soon became known as Forrest Hill, named for Edwin Forrest.

Forrest was an actor from Philadelphia, who made his name playing Shakespeare in the U.S. and in England. (Forrest is also tied to the Astor Place Riot of 1849, where 22 people were killed in New York. But that's a different story.)

Forrest fell in love with Northern Kentucky early in his career and made several trips. On one of those visits he played cards with Israel Ludlow and won, according to Karl Lietzenmayer, vice president of the Kenton County Historical Society.

"Ludlow didn't want to quit playing. Forrest said 'That's enough.' (Ludlow said) 'Okay, sit down once more and I'll wager my land.' So 48 acres was put on the table and Forrest won that too," Lietzenmayer says.

Forrest built a house at 309 Wright Street. It still stands today, according to Lietzenmayer.

"This area on the plat maps is known as the Forrest Subdivision. There's also a Forest Street, but they dropped an 'r.' It doesn't mean anything about trees. It refers to Mr. Forrest," says Lietzenmayer.

The Forrest Subdivision, or Forrest Hill, soon encompassed another community at the bottom of the hill. Around 1846, people started calling it Economy "because it was a cheap place to live," Lietzenmayer says. "That's all I've ever found out. I don't think that name lasted very long."

Economy started growing and then incorporated as West Covington in 1858. It wasn't long after that, Laurie Risch says, Covington started the first of several annexation attempts.

"Finally, by 1916 it did become annexed by the city of Covington. By that point most of the development of the area, the highway avenue was being built, so it was all coming in. The people who lived there agreed to the annex by Covington because of the professional services the city could offer them," she says.

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
In addition to the rich history, Botany Hills has a Futuro House, a prefabricated home first designed in 1968 as a portable ski chalet.

There's still some question about when the name Botany Hills came into existence. Karl Lietzenmayer says it first appeared soon after Edwin Forrest left the area.

"I have no evidence as to why, or whether that is a name that Mr. Forrest put to it. I'm not sure," he says.

It might have something to do with nearby Devou Park. That's Risch's theory.

"There are unusual plants or wildflowers and other things that are here that you can't find, or can't find easily anywhere else," she says. "I know there's a lot of plant enthusiasts who live in that area and I think they were probably the ones who encouraged the name change."

The Covington Neighborhood Collaborative's website says it was Edwin Forrest who first used the name Botany Hills, and after he left people started calling it Forrest Hill. The Collaborative says it was only recently residents brought the Botany Hills name back "to reflect its history, natural beauty, and unique identity."

So there are the five names: Botany Hills, Forrest Hill, Economy, West Covington, and Covington. There was another name that almost came to be, according to Lietzenmayer. An Englishman named William Bullock bought some land in the area.

"He wanted to develop an idealistic community called Hygeia, the Greek word for cleanliness. It never came about but there is a plat."

When that didn't work out, Lietzenmayer says, Bullock sold his land to Israel Ludlow in 1831 and 1836. Some of that land now makes up the community of Ludlow.

This story has been updated to correct the address of Edwin Forrest's home.

If you have a question where no one else seems to know the answer,ask OKI I Wanna Know by filling out the form below.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.