Curious Cbus: Was Colonial Hills Built For World War II Workers?
Colonial Hills is a suburban neighborhood in Worthington, just north of Columbus. It is a quiet, family-friendly place dotted with modest houses and two parks for kids to play in. While most suburban development boomed in the post-World War II period, Colonial Hills got its start during the war. That led one Curious Cbus reader to ask, “Was Colonial Hills developed for workers during World War II?”
A private development company first created the plans for Colonial Hills in 1927 but construction was delayed because of the financial crises of the Great Depression. A decade later when WWII began, housing demand swelled and Colonial Hills was created to provide a place for defense industry executives to live.
According to historian Doreen Uhaus Sauer, there were about 200 homes built around 1942.
Uhaus Sauer stressed that these homes were not for your average worker, soldier or veteran.
“These are for people working in military essential jobs on the executive level, probably about when Curtiss-Wright airplanes were being made and they needed housing desperately,” she said.
The Curtiss-Wright Corporation manufactured airplanes for the war effort in Columbus and other plants across the United States.
Air Force Plant No. 85 was located on a 420-acre plot of land near the Bexley neighborhood and was constructed in 1941. This plant employed 24,000 people and produced over 3,500 naval aircraft during WWII. This surge of people vying to fill the jobs at the plant caused a need for housing and prompted the building of many Columbus neighborhoods.
It’s important to note that the Colonial Hills neighborhood was exclusive in more ways than one. Not only was it developed for military industry executives rather than rank and file workers, but the neighborhood was restricted racially as well.
While WWII was the first war in which African Americans were permitted to hold high-ranking offices in the military, this neighborhood was not open to them. Uhaus Sauer said “(The neighborhood) was restricted to whites only by the 1938 deed put on by the original company, but never removed.”
This sort of restriction was not uncommon at the time in America but was unheard of in Worthington. The community had always been open to racial integration. African American children were taught in the same schools as the white children in Worthington prior to the Civil War.
The private contractors were following the norms of the time, however. Neighborhoods were often set aside for white owners often relegating the minority communities to urban living spaces. This practice of discrimination came to be known as “redlining.”
Redlining is a term derived from mortgage lenders. When making maps of cities and outlining the areas for granting homeowners’ loans, the neighborhoods occupied by minorities were outlined in red to mark them as high-risk neighborhoods.
The private company that built Colonial Hills was legally permitted to put the 1938 deed in place to prevent African American settlement in the neighborhood. This decision benefitted the military executives in two main ways. It increased the value of their homes and the likelihood of loan approval from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation.
Worthington responded to this infiltration of racism by starting the Worthington Human Relations Counsel. This counsel addressed race in the community and acted to preserve the open place that Worthington always had been.
One of the steps this organization took to preserve that cherished part of the community was to ask all residents of Worthington to sign a petition stating that neighbors of color would be welcomed in the city.
The deed of 1938 established in Colonial Hills was never removed, but when segregation was abolished by the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the deed was no longer in effect.
After the initial surge of new buildings in this neighborhood during the war, there were around 100 more homes built in the 1950s.
Today, Colonial Hills is a patchwork of houses built at different times for different reasons. It is a highly desirable neighborhood for its relatively affordable homes in the highly sought-after Worthington School District.
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