Explore North Columbus’ Glorious Ravine Neighborhoods
Local residents applaud their wooded lifestyle in the middle of the city.
When retired dentist Tom Skinner moved to the Overbrook Ravine neighborhood as an 8-year-old in the mid-1940s, he relished the wild landscape of steep terrain and heavily wooded acreage that flows into the Adena Brook. It was the perfect environment for any elementary school-age child.
“It was awesome…,” says Skinner, who played epic cowboy games in the woods near his home.
Other childhood memories include sledding from the edge of the now-shuttered Indian Springs Golf Course north of Cooke Road, across the then-quiet thoroughfare into Overbrook Ravine. “Now that was a wonderful ride,” he exclaims.
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Later, Skinner climbed the steep streets and trails in the late afternoons to deliver the former Columbus Citizen newspaper to 20 subscribers who lived on Lenappe and Canyon drives. “It was a special, special place,” he recalls.
Mary Rodgers, president of the Clintonville Historical Society, says the Overbrook Ravine area along Cooke between North High Street and Indianola Avenue attracted a few cabins in the late 1910s as “getaways” from the expanding city. “The rustic woods [were] so far north of the city, no one wanted to live there year-round,” she explains.
That would begin to change by 1926, when a businessman developed the Indian Springs Golf Club. While that par 71 course struggled, residential development continued to pick up in the area through the 1940s and 1950s. By that time, Columbus’ ravines had become attractive to many professionals—newspaper accounts named residents who included Ohio State University professors, doctors, at least one Battelle Memorial Institute executive and folks of more modest means who pined for a piece of the country as the city’s development pushed north.
There are at least four ravines in the area that stretches from Ohio State University’s main campus through Clintonville—and each offers a prime piece of real estate near the middle of a city that just keeps expanding. If you approach them from Downtown, you’ll first find Iuka Ravine, east of OSU’s campus. With some student rental properties, private homes along this area continue to be coveted by those who work nearby. Enter Iuka Avenue off of North Fourth Street, and cruise west through the ravine toward High Street.
A few miles north of Iuka, you’ll find Glen Echo Ravine. Located just north of Hudson Avenue, houses were never built in the ravine but neighboring streets have some access to its beautiful acreage. Glen Echo marked the transition between old North Columbus and what became Clintonville when it was platted in 1909. Surrounding streets were developed over the next 35 years, resulting in plenty of craftsman housing, American foursquares and other styles of the era.
Homes with views were built on neighboring streets that include Cliffside and Kensington Place East and West. A stump section of Olentangy Street also takes advantage of the park’s edge.
Going further north of Glen Echo on Indianola Avenue, just past Weber Road, Walhalla Road dives into the Walhalla Ravine. Travel west under Calumet Street before re-emerging into the daylight or streetlamps of North High. Numerous homes of various ages and styles grace Walhalla Road. Other streets in the area with ravine-focused homes include East California Street and Brynhild Road.
Driving further north a few miles is Skinner’s beloved Overbrook Ravine. In the midst of the ravine, the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department maintains roads along the Adena Brook, which meanders westward under High Street though the Columbus Park of Roses before emptying into the Olentangy River. The two sections of Overbrook Road have entrances off Indianola Avenue and High Street.
Guests who park to visit residents along much of Overbrook Drive may find only a patch of crushed stone to use as a space. Indeed, it feels like rural living in the middle of the city.
Skinner says trees downed by wind, ice or lightning purposely don’t get removed, unless the fallen timbers block a road. “It used to be well-groomed,” he says. “Now the city wants it to be more natural for the wildlife so it’s more parklike.”
Skinner moved out of his parents’ home in the mid-1950s and returned in late 1970 with his wife, Judy. They moved into another home overlooking the ravine, where they raised four children. Two years ago they moved to a nearby retirement community, followed this year by their friend and neighbor Ginger Haack.
Haack is another ravine fan, having lived as a child with her parents in her grandfather’s home in the Iuka neighborhood.
Later, for a while, she moved north to the Walhalla neighborhood. In late 1970, she and her husband, Larry, moved further north again, buying the house in Overbrook that her parents had built in the mid-1950s. “My parents were pretty partial to ravines,” she says.
The home became a good place to raise a son and daughter. Meanwhile Haack, a Northwestern University-trained instrumental music teacher, joined her schoolteacher husband in selling real estate. “He got so busy in real estate,” she recalls. “He needed help.” Haack’s daughter, Christy Ricca, now makes the bulk of real estate deals.
Overbrook has become even more desirable in recent decades as veteran residents have moved on, making way for ravine newcomers. For any of the ravines, amenities aren’t far away, including retail and restaurants on High Street and various events and activities of the University District. Whetstone Park, a branch of Columbus Public Library and the Park of Roses are all a short walk from Overbrook Drive.
Business coach Michelle Beckman is among the most recent buyers in the Overbrook area. She moved into a 1942 stone cottage in February not far from the entrance off Indianola. A former Bexley resident, she found the setting to be what she needed. “I wanted a more quiet setting with a woods, away from city things,” she says. Beckman, who is recently divorced, didn’t know about the ravine neighborhoods until she started looking for property.
Now her home has a wooded view of the ravine below. “It’s wild because you feel like you’re in a different world,” says Beckman, who works from an addition to her house that has floor-to-ceiling windows. “Animals will just walk by while I’m working,” she says. “It just doesn’t feel like Columbus with the hills and woods.”
But getting to the house can be a little difficult, especially in the winter. The challenge of driving is getting up the hills, she learned during her first winter on the site.
Ken Hewes, a retail strategy consultant, wanted a smaller place near Clintonville where he had lived since 1992. He found a two-bedroom ranch on Canyon Road Northeast that needed a little work but suited his immediate need for housing. “It was a small thing: a unique, midcentury ranch,” says Hewes, who was divorced at the time. “It was just a bachelor pad.”
Hewes renovated the kitchen and then built an owner’s suite. As the years rolled by, he remarried and the house became more of a home, a place to entertain and to enjoy life. “In the summer, we like to entertain friends out on the deck,” he says. The trees and brush are so thick “you can’t see the neighbors. In the winter, it’s gorgeous with the bright sun shining through the trees.”
The Overbrook Ravine area is well built up, but some new housing has been constructed in more recent years. In the mid-1980s, friends Paul Love, Stephen Galli and David Keister built five homes off Overbrook close to the southern edge of Cooke Road on what’s now Overbrook Place, selling off two other lots to finance the minidevelopment. Keister and Galli still live on the private road.
Coldwell Banker real estate agent Molly Brown Davis and husband, Larry, lived on Wynding Road in Overbrook several years before moving into a larger Hilliard home as their kids grew up. About seven years later they yearned to return. “There were no squirrels,” she recalls of Hilliard, lamenting leaving a place with large trees for an open, suburban neighborhood governed by a homeowners’ association.
When looking at a house on the market close to High Street, the couple discovered that it sat on a double lot. “We walked the vacant lot and found enough room to build,” she says. They were careful not to crowd the neighbors. “We adapted our plans to the lot,” she says. “We didn’t force it.”
Daughter Katie, who partners with her mother at the real estate brokerage, says Overbrook’s proximity to amenities on High Street and Indianola makes selling homes a quick process. “It’s one of Clintonville’s secret gardens, [like] a park,” she says.
Haack expresses sorrow about having to move and misses having the Skinners nearby. “It was a great place to live,” she says. “We enjoyed having friends over for a picnic and entertaining on our deck.” She recalls her husband enjoyed gardening and tending the yard. Keeping up the landscaping, however, became difficult for the widow. “I just couldn’t do it all anymore,” she says.
Another longtime friend of the Skinners and Haack, Agnes Benedict, 90, remains in her home. She and her late husband bought the place in 1960 and raised their children there. Benedict’s house is one of a number of ravine homes that have tiny libraries on poles outdoors offering books to passersby. It also has a walk-through she-shed with a back deck that overlooks the property, which dips toward Overbrook Ravine and the creek below.
“I love it here,” she says. “I’m not leaving.”
This story is from the September 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.