Site of Crawford Old Men’s Home
Once a Stop on the Underground Railroad and Elder Care Facility for Black Men
In 1853, John T. Crawford (1813-1880) purchased a farm on what is now the border between the City of North College Hill and the Cincinnati neighborhood of College Hill. By this point, the community of College Hill had a well-earned progressive and abolitionist reputation, with multiple safe houses and neighbors serving as Underground Railroad conductors. 1853 was also the year of the famous Escape of the 28, a well-documented journey of freedom seekers who received assistance in the community.
Presumably Crawford was drawn to College Hill due to this reputation, as his own home became a stop on the Underground Railroad, complete with a trapdoor in the floor, leading to a hiding place.
During the Civil War, Crawford served as a Union soldier and reportedly a spy. He was captured by Confederate forces and detained in Libby Prison in Richmond, VA. Crawford escaped, and his journey back to his College Hill farm was aided by the assistance of Black laborers and enslaved people.
His gratitude for this aid was evident in his will. Crawford wished for the bulk of his estate to endow “an Asylum for aged and indigent worthy colored men – preference given to those who have suffered the miseries of American slavery.” He named Robert Gordon as an executor. Gordon was a prominent Black businessman and, along with his wife Eliza, had become active in the Freedmen’s Aid Society. His successful real estate dealings had also established Walnut Hills as a thriving suburb for Cincinnati's Black middle class, and the couple's philanthropic work was well known.
The Crawford Old Men’s Home opened in 1888 on what had been the 18 1/2-acre farm. The facility housed 12 men, with a $150 admission fee that would entitle them "to support and care during the remainder of their natural lives, including food, clothing, and necessary attention when sick and at death [...] decent burial."
After Robert Gordon’s passing, his son-in-law George Jackson became a trustee in the endeavor, and the facility was eventually moved to Walnut Hills. The trusteeship became a who's who of prominent local African American leaders, including Dr. Francis Johnson, businessman Horace Sudduth, lawyer William Parkham, newspaper editor Wendell Dabney, and Ambassador Jesse D. Locker.
Meanwhile, the 1944-45 Survey of School-Building Needs of Cincinnati, Ohio, had anticipated annexations of areas north and east of College Hill and predicted the need for additional schools nearby. In 1947, the Board of Education purchased almost 14 acres of Crawford's original farm at a cost of $20,000 for future use as a school.
Pleasant Hill Elementary School was designed by Glaser & Myers & Associates and completed in 1965. Sharing the original land acquisition and fronting North Bend Rd. at Lantana Ave., the Northern Hills Branch Library (now the College Hill Branch Library), designed by L. P. Cotter & Associates, opened in 1966. The two architectural firms employed by the Board and by the Library cooperated so that the buildings would be visually compatible.
In 1970, Crawford's home, now in Walnut Hills, merged with the Lincoln Avenue Home for Aged Women to become the Lincoln Avenue and Crawford's Home for the Aged. Now called the Lincoln Crawford Care Center, it is located at 1346 Lincoln Ave. in Walnut Hills, close to that neighborhood's borders with East Walnut Hills and Evanston.
The site of the farm and original elder care facility at 1400 West North Bend Rd. received a historic marker in 2013, thanks to the support of the College Hill Historical Society, Wesley Services: Lincoln Crawford Home and the Ohio Historical Society.