Located in a northern pocket of the University District lies Glen Echo, a neighborhood with architectural, cultural and natural significance.
On a blue-sky autumn afternoon, with the sun peeking through the lush, yet-to-turn leaves of decades-old trees, Glen Echo takes on a secret-garden feel. Though there are no gates or enclosures shielding the small neighborhood from outsiders-and despite the commotion from nearby Interstate 71 and a train chugging along tracks behind homes on North Fourth Street-it's a secluded, peaceful place. The streets are dotted with an eclectic mix of colorful homes featuring wide, welcoming front porches. Deep-green ivy climbs the side of one home, while a gorgeous shrub of antique hydrangeas enjoys its final bloom next door. To live in Glen Echo, residents say, is special.
Nina and Jake Thomson moved to Glen Echo near the end of 2009. After finishing graduate school at Ohio State-she for architecture, he for urban planning-the one-time Pittsburgh residents decided to put down roots in Columbus. When it came time to house hunt, the couple's list of must-haves included walkability, proximity to public transport and Ohio State-where Jake now teaches-and some charm. Living next door to a ravine wasn't on their list, but it's become a major plus.
"We found Glen Echo totally by accident," Nina says while giving a tour of the neighborhood this fall.
The Thomsons found-and fell for-a modest-yet-lovely 2-story home on North Fourth Street. They live just a stone's throw from the entrance to Glen Echo Ravine, a spot Nina now enjoys almost daily with their two young daughters. Located at the northern end of the neighborhood, the wooded, craggy slopes of the ravine offer shade from the noise and hustle above. It's like no other place in the city. The neighborhood's developers were banking on this.On the Line
In 1909, optimistic a new streetcar subdivision would appeal to those eager for homes away from Downtown, the Columbus Real Estate and Improvement Co. platted 47 acres for a subdivision advertised as "at the end of the trolley line." The first planned subdivision outside city limits, the project was named Indianola Park View; the name was inspired by a portion of the neighborhood the company designated as park space, located within Glen Echo Ravine.
Even today, it's Glen Echo's striking natural characteristics that distinguish it from its University District neighbors. After a 1909 advertisement in The Columbus Dispatch encouraged the public to visit "beautiful Glen Echo Park, which is to become a permanent park for the residents of Indianola Park View," residents flocked to purchase homes near and along the ravine.
It's not solely topography that's given Glen Echo such an appealing reputation, of course. The homes are noteworthy, too. One of the first things you'll notice while strolling the streets of the neighborhood is its heterogeneous character. An assortment of grand homes, modest 2-story builds and divided-up rentals keeps you on your toes as you wander from one side of the neighborhood to another. Though the subdivision was planned at once, the homes were built between 1909 and the mid-1940s; Tudor revivals sit on plots adjacent to Colonial revivals, nearly neon homes next to houses with traditional brown siding. Homeowners take full advantage of small lawns with well-tended, often outstanding gardens, while thoroughfares such as Glenmawr Avenue boast central islands wide enough for flower beds, trees and space for kids to play.
Matt Prokopchak, executive chef at Trattoria Roma in Grandview, purchased his home on Glenmawr in 2008 after plans for a home near Iuka Ravine fell through. "We liked Iuka because it's like a cut-away from the city. And that's what Glen Echo's like, too," Prokopchak says of his house hunt with wife Mecca Dubena-Prokopchak. "When the trees are in full bloom, you can't really see any houses. It feels so far away from it all. It's secluded, but you're in the middle of everything.
"We just love it," he continues. "We even got married down in the ravine! Not many people can say they got married right outside their home."A Neighborhood Engaged
Martha Buckalew moved into her bungalow-which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2014-more than 40 years ago. In the years she's called the ravine-facing abode home, she's become known as the neighborhood's historian.
"I have always been very involved in the community," Buckalew says when asked about the many hats she wears, which also include pianist (you're greeted by a piano immediately upon entering her home) and gardener. "I moved here in 1974 and first got involved when some developer wanted to build a big-box store and fill in the ravine. Well, I live on that ravine! We managed to defeat that at the ballot, which is why there are apartments on that property now, not a business."
Buckalew, who shared the home with her late husband, Louis, until he passed away, lives in one of the neighborhood's grandest homes on Cliffside, a name that wasn't always so. "In the early 1900s, a lot of real estate had been marketed under the name Indianola. It was like a magic buzzword," she says. "But it got too confusing, so about the 1920s they changed the name to Cliffside." Her home is like many in the area-grand front porch, small yard, incredible garden-but inside, it's all Buckalew. There's art nearly everywhere-most impressively lining the walls of the wide stairwell that leads to a sleeping porch-and magnificent tapestry rugs warm the floors. Though it's not too fancy, it's cozy and eclectic. Just like Glen Echo. To Buckalew, it's a special home.
"My mother came to see me just after I moved here, and she said, 'Oh, you bought such an extraordinary house. I hope you take care of it,' " Buckalew says with a laugh. "It took me a bit to realize it's actually a very special neighborhood."
Buckalew has dedicated much of her time to the neighborhood and the ravine. She was a founding member of Friends of the Ravines, the group responsible for the Glen Echo Ravine cleanup and restoration project that began in 1999.
"In the 1960s, I-71 was built, which started bringing pollution into the ravine," Buckalew says. With her inspiration and partly under her leadership, a group of residents and ravine-protection groups teamed up to clean the pollution and litter and restore the damaged slopes to their previous state.
"Unmonitored foot traffic, sledding … it was just abused for so many years," Buckalew says of the ravine's slopes. Today, you won't find much litter, impressive for an urban park. Fish swim in the stream again.
Buckalew also helped form the neighborhood association (Glen Echo Neighbors Civic Association, of which Nina Thomson is president), which has given residents a voice to take neighborhood questions and ideas to the city.
In 2009, concerned Columbus didn't pay Glen Echo enough attention, a group of residents attempted to break from the University Area Commission and join the Clintonville Area Commission. They were unsuccessful-too political, too logistically difficult.
"We thought Clintonville might be more in tune with us," Buckalew says. "But now we have two representatives on the commission.
"There are always a few people who work hard to represent the whole," she continues. "We have to be aware, because we're in an urban area that's highly desirable for development. And we want to maintain our small-neighborhood identity."
"It's such an active neighborhood," Nina adds. "Nearly everyone's engaged."
They are so engaged, in fact, residents successfully petitioned in 1997 for a 6-block portion of the neighborhood's eastern edge to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Buckalew's home is on one of those blocks.
"This house," she says, "has good karma. You can just feel it."