Supporters say Newport's historic west side is region's next diamond in the rough

Restoration of city's East Row set an example
Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-24 07:00:50-04

NEWPORT, Ky. -- You had to have a vision in the late 1980s when you looked at homes in what is now Newport’s East Row.

Mansions had been divided into apartments, houses were in total disrepair, trees were non-existent. But Micky McElwain and other brave buyers saw the Victorian charm behind the then-falling-down neighborhood.

Today, it’s the second-largest historic district in Kentucky and one of the most desirable places to live in Greater Cincinnati, with its revitalized single-family homes, small neighborhood businesses and shady streets.

Now, McElwain is helping to bring Newport’s west side back to its former glory. He and others in the city envision another historic district that attracts young professionals who want to live five minutes from their Downtown office yet want a house, yard (albeit tiny) and view of the city.

The first step is an inventory of more than 1,000 homes that kicks off Sept. 17.

That inventory, according to Newport’s Historic Preservation Officer Scott Clark, will not only look at who has lived in each home but the architecture and relationship to other homes and businesses.

“The west side of Newport is a gem just waiting to get discovered,” said Ed Davis, a York Street resident. “We’re actually closer to Downtown than anyone living in Cincinnati.”

The inventory is the first step in preparing for an application to become a neighborhood on the National Historic Register. That designation will give homeowners and contractors access to federal and state tax credits, which can help repair and restore homes, Clark said. It’s not to be confused with a local historic district, which can limit what changes can be made on the outside of a home. East Row and Mansion Hill have a national demarcation as well as a local one.

OK, keep in mind that it doesn’t look like East Row yet. There’s a good block here and there, and there are boarded-up structures mixed in. There’s only 34 percent home ownership (meaning lots of rentals) and many tree-desolate streets. And, while there are homes for sale, there’s not a lot of inventory.

The prediction is that change will come quickly, likely taking five to 10 years, say McElwain and Clark. The success of the East Row will serve as a guide to success on the west side, said Clark.

A driving force is the completion of Kentucky Route 9 on the west side of the city and what is anticipated as a target location for businesses. Already, New Riff Distillery will be expanding its warehouse located there with a potential restaurant and bar.

A central part of the home inventory and potential historic district is the Buena Vista neighborhood, platted in 1948 by Newport’s founder James Taylor. The general area is from Brighton Street east to just before York Street (already a historic district), and Eighth Street south to 12th.

It’s the first step, said McElwain, who lives on West 10th. “After that, neighbors can decide if they want a local district as well.”

Volunteers are going to do the research, but Clark said there are some things they expect to find when the inventory is complete next spring:

  • The home of the first mayor of Newport, August Helmbold.
  • Homes built for employees of the steel mill and possibly other industries. Newport also had a lumber mill and Weidemann’s brewery on the west side.
  • Homes built in or shortly after the Civil War.
  • Homes of prominent residents of Newport.

The inventory will cost $33,000, funded by a Certified Local Government matching grant and the Kentucky Heritage Council.

Davis and McElwain expect most residents to be OK with at least the National Registry designation, as it’s a step to improving the neighborhood.

“They will embrace the fact that people are trying to make it a nice place,” McElwain said. “If you spend any time here, and talk to anyone who lives here, you’ll find it’s a very vibrant neighborhood.”

For Davis, who said he works to keep his house looking good, “I want people to come here to see what we have. (In a few years) it will shine as bright as anything in the city.”