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New Mayor Says Urbancrest Future Will Build on Rich History

The small village of Urbancrest in southwest Franklin County begins the new year with a new mayor. He won the office on a coin toss after a recount failed to change the vote of 66 to 66.Urbancrest is nestled in the southwest corner of Interstate 270 and State Routes 3 & 62 on the south side of Columbus. And the incoming mayor says his ideas for the future of this tiny, diverse community will build on the rich history of the area.

It's early evening, and a swim team is practicing at the YMCA, site of the Urbancrest Community Center on First Avenue. The center is open until 9 pm, and a few young men make use of the time shooting baskets.

In a room not far from the gym, the players' former coach, Joseph Barnes Senior, talks about young people. They are among his top priorities as he assumes the office of mayor. Census figures show 40 percent of Urbancrest's residents are under the age of 18. He says more after school programs are needed, "for those kids who don't make athletic teams [so] there's something else for them to do because when kids are happy, they do better in school."

Barnes is concerned about young people becoming involved with drug-related criminal activity. He has placed high on his wish list as mayor a Franklin County Sheriff's substation inside the community center.

Barnes is 51 years old. He moved to Urbancrest 25 years ago, served eight years on the village council and knows this village of 900 people faces many challenges.

Urbancrest has barely a handful of commercial and retail businesses. Barnes says light industry in the village provides some jobs, but most residents work outside the area. Residential lots are large but many are overgrown with weeds and brush. The streetlights do their job, but it appears that nearly as many people are walking as driving in Urbancrest. A lack of transportation is a major problem in a community with few jobs.

The new mayor will oversee a village with rapidly changing demographics. In recent years, the percentage of African-American residents has dropped from nearly 75 to 58 percent while the percentage of white and Asian residents has risen to nearly 40 percent.

2008 marks the 60th anniversary of Urbancrest's incorporation, and Joseph Barnes will be the 11th mayor. Three of his predecessors were women. In this community, women held seats on the village council at least as early as the mid-1950's. The first of Urbancrest's women chief executives was also the country's first Black woman to be elected mayor. Ellen Walker Craig-Jones held office in the early 1970's. An historical marker in her name credits Craig-Jones with overseeing the modernization of Urbancrest.

Craig-Jones' niece, Fannie Louise Quinichett Collins, remembers the early days of the village where she has lived for all of her 89 years. Her parents, Samuel and Ella Quinichett, were the first Black family in Urbancrest, arriving shortly after the community was laid out in 1890. One history of Urbancrest titled "1996 Homecoming" says inexpensive land attracted people to the area in the late 19th century coupled with the chance to own property despite racial discrimination elsewhere.

Born in 1918, Mrs. Collins describes the area of her childhood as a collection of farms. "They had pigs cows chickens and gardens," she says. Mrs. Collins says she and her husband built the house on Main Street where she lives today, but they didn't do it alone. "Most houses built out here back then, you had help because we didn't have much money," she says. "This house is concrete block. They were a nickel a block in 1944."

Mrs. Collins remembers liking school when students attended classes in a red, brick building in Urbancrest through 8th grade then went to Grove City High School. Today, Urbancrest is part of the Southwestern City School District. Her son-in-law Joseph Barnes wants the village to keep better track of how Urbancrest children are doing in school. "How many of the kids are being successful, suspended, graduation rates, grade point averages, attendance levels."

Barnes says he wants young people to grow and thrive in Urbancrest, then leave the area as young adults often do to find their futures. But he hopes a few will return to live in the village and help determine the future of this community where Barnes says he plans to stay.

"This community is very well blessed," says Barnes, a minister. "On all four corners pretty much of this community, there's a church. It's well blessed. It has an annointed blessing on it that keeps it here, keeps it striving, keeps it growing. That it does, and I'm pretty proud of that."