Saturday, March 10, 2001

West-side township reeling

Growing area still close-knit

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIAMI TOWNSHIP — Out in the countryside of western Hamilton County, where the term rolling hills is meant literally, Miami Township is blending the Symmes Purchase and the subdivision purchase.

        Across the old township, new subdivisions — with homes ranging from $190,000 to $300,000 — pop up in unlikely locations — sometimes near mobile homes and tiny 1940s houses.

        Yet the community remains decidedly rural. Public safety is still in the hands of volunteer and part-time firefighters, and when things go badly, people take it personally.

        This week, the township experienced two tragic fires. Richard “Ricky” Joyce Jr., 12, and his brother, Zachary, 9, died Tuesday, trapped inside their mobile home on East Miami River Road. On Thursday, firefighter Bill Ellison fell about 10 feet into the basement of a burning house on Jordan Road and suffered burns to more than 50 percent of his body.

        “It's not been a good week,” said Cindy Oser, the Miami Township clerk. “These people (firefighters) risk their lives, and when something like this happens, everybody gets upset.”

        Until the community entered the news this week, probably many people in Greater Cincinnati had heard little of Miami Township and, if they had, didn't know which county it is in.

        It is, in fact, near the Ohio River, a place where old is new. In the township hall, a fancy wood and glass case holds a painting of John Cleves Symmes, an Easterner who in the late 1700s bought 1 million acres in southern Ohio and set himself up as a land speculator.

        He founded North Bend, another township town, in 1789, and died broke. Were he alive today, he'd make some money.

        Only in the last few years has the township caught the distracted attention of suburban migrants who seek the flavor of the country with the proximity of the shopping mall.

        “It's unbelievable how big this township is growing,” said Lonnie Thompson, a resident who works at Tommy's Drive-Thru and Deli in Cleves, Miami Township's largest community.

        “The history gets lost,” he said. “My grandfather died at 96. His house started out as a flatboat that came down the Ohio River. Later, it became a school, then his house.”

        Many of the township's modern houses started as sawdust — particle board. Subdivisions are sprouting across the hills and valleys like spring grass. In the township's three towns (Cleves, North Bend, Addyston), the buildings are usually older — Victorian to 1960s ranches.

        “I never dreamed that the farms I played on as a kid would turn into houses,” Mr. Thompson said. “Everything is changing.”

        In 1990, the township boasted 7,605 residents. By 1998, the population had edged up to 8,036. Today, of Miami Township's estimated 14,000 people, about 6,000 live in the three changing communities. Even Cleves has attracted two new subdivisions.

        “We have growth potential for the next five years,” said Clerk Linda Bolton. “We've added hundreds of houses. We'll get 120 next year when another subdivision starts.”

        She said township residents are proud of their past, marked by such fixtures as President William Henry Harrison's tomb in North Bend and the Cincinnati-Whitewater Canal tunnel in Cleves.

        The canal, which connected downtown Cincinnati to eastern Indiana, featured a tunnel that was 1,782 feet long and 24 feet wide at the waterline. Last summer, the state erected a historical marker at the site, now only about 1,400 feet long.

        As past greets present, even old North Bend has entered the development action. A part of the upscale Aston Oaks subdivision and golf course lies inside the village, said Clerk Maureen Glacken.

        “The area is moving forward,” said Pat Green, owner of Classico!, a gift shop that opened in Cleves in November.

        “We're trying to bring more business into town,” she said. “We're adding ballfields and soccer fields. We're changing along with everything else.”

        But one thing's not changing. This community hurts as one when tragedy strikes. And this week, there's a lot of pain.


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