Twenty Mile’s Last Stand

Twenty Mile House, Cincinnati, OhioThe first time I entered the Twenty Mile House it was smaller and younger and so was I. I was in my twenties so perhaps could even be considered young in absolute terms. Not so the building. The part on the right was built in 1822. Some or all of a building that stood here in 1804 might even be included in there somewhere. The road was smaller then too. It was small enough that cars parked between it and the building where those shrubs are now. The main entrance was through a street facing door that has long been locked and sealed. Some details of the first time I stepped through that door remain clear. The bar was against the far wall. I’m not entirely sure what was to my left; Probably some tables and chairs. I don’t recall the huge fireplace that I now know fills the east wall so am guessing that it was covered at the time. To my right was a jukebox and a hardwood dance floor that sat on top of the “normal” floor. Les Paul & Mary Ford’s version of How High the Moon was playing. That recording is almost as old as me.

Twenty Mile House, Cincinnati, OhioThe building started out as an inn and stagecoach stop some twenty miles from the center of Cincinnati. It seems to have been successful in that role. And it must have been somewhat successful as some sort of road side stop as the stage route became Montgomery Road and Ohio Route 3 and the 3C Highway and US Route 22. I don’t really know whether the outside of the building changed much during its first century and a half. I do know it hasn’t changed in any material way in the many years since. The inside, however, has changed considerably and additions have been made until the structure I remember from the early 1970s makes up maybe a third of the total. A recent sales flyer includes a diagram of the building in which I believe the area labeled “Bar & Lounge” is the original structure. Perhaps there is a version of the “Peter Principle” that applies to restaurants. Something like: “A successful eating establishment will expand to a size just beyond what the customer base can support.” This was an extremely successful restaurant and night spot through the seventies and eighties. That’s when the additions were made and every occupant since then has had that huge capacity — and overhead — to deal with.

Twenty Mile House, Cincinnati, OhioIn my mind, the sprawling additions have been a factor in the failure of various restaurants to make a go of it but it’s hard to say just how big a factor. The most recent tenant may have actually found all that space attractive. That was a business called Red Rock Tavern and it advertised itself more as a music venue than as a restaurant. It didn’t last long but it left its mark. They painted the building red. Some previous tenant had mounted a scrolling electric sign board on the corner of the building. It’s still there in the picture in the real estate flyer. The Red Rock folks painted around it so that removing it left a scar like stripe. Rumor has it that the kitchen was pretty much stripped at the same time.

The red paint and the grey “scar” provide an ugly building to go along with an ugly situation. Speedway, the gas station chain, found the location, if not the building, attractive. They want to demolish the building and put in a gas station and convenience store. An offer was made but there was a hitch. The property is at the corner of Columbia Road and US 22. There is an entrance on both roads but Speedway stated that it needed an entrance from Columbia much closer to the corner than the existing one. That would be a violation of Warren County access management regulations. The existing entrance is, in fact, closer than current regulations permit but was grandfathered in. This is truly a safety concern in the minds of many and the county engineer has refused to grant an exception.

Beyond this it gets pretty muddled. Apparently the county commissioners and possibly even the Deerfield Township commissioners have the power to overrule the engineer. They haven’t done so and have become the target of a lawsuit by Jeff Black, the building’s owner. They have also become the target of many local residents who feel they should buy the building to preserve it or somehow otherwise firmly block the development. I have no idea how all this fits with the fact that, late last year, Speedway submitted plans that omitted the entrance change.

I’ve come to the game embarrassingly and frighteningly late. I heard of the situation months ago but did nothing other than sign an electronic petition. I marked my calendar for a zoning committee meeting a couple of weeks ago but blew it off for something else. On Tuesday I did attend a township commissioner meeting but it was almost immediately apparent that the meeting was rather meaningless in regards to the fate of the Twenty Mile House. It was a chance for residents to relate how much they liked the old building and tell how its destruction would be a great loss but the commissioners had already come out firmly against buying the property which seemed to be the only method available to them to actually prevent the proposed demolition. For the record, I am not a resident of the county or township involved. I live at the edge of Hamilton County. Warren County and Deerfield Township are two streets and 300 yards from my front door.

Twenty Mile House, Cincinnati, OhioI can’t even guess at what might happen next. I only know that I’ll be watching. I suppose that part of the reason for making this post is the hope that it might get a few more people watching, too. Several articles here offer glimpses of what has already transpired and the post and replies here offer glimpses of what once was. The petition I mentioned is here though, like almost all online petitions, it has no legal standing. I am aware of two Facebook connections. One is a fan page which may signal its attitude in its title, Save 20 Mile House – Boycott Speedway. The fact that there has so far been only something to be against and nothing to be for can be seen in the name. The other is a group whose name, Friends of 20 mile house, is less abrasive. Fans of the page and members of the group overlap heavily. Hopefully someone will come up with a better plan than lying down in front of bulldozers. On the other hand, I attended that commission meeting with a sixty year old Deerfield Township resident whose mother, knowing his feelings on the matter, cautioned him to “not get arrested”. It could happen.

UPDATE: 27-Mar-2012 – As reported here, Speedway has withdrawn its offer to purchase the 20 Mile House. That is merely a short reprieve as the historic building is still for sale and financial pressures on the current owner have not gone away. Taking advantage of the breather, the previously mentioned Friends of 20 mile house Facebook group has formed a non-profit corporation using the name Friends of The Twenty Mile House. This will allow fund  raising and provide focus for locating and assisting preservation minded purchasers.

UPDATE: 1-May-2013 – Time ran out for the Twenty Mile House. The property was sold in March, a demolition permit issued, remaining fixtures were sold in an online auction, and, on April 16, the building was leveled. A blog entry on the demolition was posted here the next day. The order for destruction came from Henkle Schueler & Associates who plan to build a Big Mike’s Gas n Go at the location. In justifying the unpopular action, the company has used silly phrases like “its historical significance can be measured in the physical location, not in its structure” and referred to the gas station as “a place for those traveling through the area to refuel and gather provisions” and called this a continuation of past use. I think they may have invented the phrase “functionally demolished” to describe a building with furniture and fixtures removed. The idea that Henkle Schueler thinks people who cared about the place believe this is insulting. The idea that they may actually believe it themselves is frightening.

21 thoughts on “Twenty Mile’s Last Stand

  1. I feel your pain. It’s very much a matter of perception, I think. The sales flyer demonstrates that. Whereas folks like me (and you, I’m sure) are seeing the structure through the eyes of somewhat sentimental history buffs, the others are clearly seeing it as a great spot in the middle of a commercial “strip”. I mean, who cares about the beauty, history, and pedigree of a building when you could have a prime hunk of real estate right next to a Sonic and across the street from a CVS? Not to mention a totally awesome parking lot! Ugh, makes me kinda sick.

    Please keep us informed. . .

    • Good comment. I read it several times and I think a different phrase caught my ear each time (although “awesome parking lot” consistently tugged a little:). First it was “matter of perception” then it was “prime hunk of real estate” or “commercial ‘strip’”. That commercial strip wasn’t there in 1970 and that corner was definitely not prime real estate. The people who spoke at the meeting last Tuesday as well as most locals I know personally have lived in the area quite awhile and think of it as it was in 1970 or long before. Consciously they (and I) know it really is a commercial strip (and many are appalled by that) but emotionally the place is still farm land and softball fields. And that isn’t at all the way the current owner and potential buyer perceive things.

  2. Well said, Denny!

    ONLY A MEMORY?
    In and around Deerfield Township a citizen action group called Friends of Twenty Mile House is working to save the historic landmark from demolition. A petition circulated by the group has collected 2,070 signatures from people who support the preservation of the building. Many of them consider the building to be the heart of Deerfield Township. Speedway wants to replace the Twenty Mile House with a gas station/convenience store.
    Located at Columbia Road and U.S. 22/Ohio 3, the Twenty Mile House has been a stagecoach stop and a restaurant. At Twenty Mile Stand, so named because it is twenty miles outside of Cincinnati, the building was constructed in 1822 and parts of it might date back to 1804. [The property is not now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.]
    A former township trustee said, “I believe the township needs a historical society to assist in buying and developing sights such as 20 Mile House and the Kings Mills property and Mansion. With Kings Island drawing a huge amount of tourists, the township might have a [revenue generating] bonanza of historical sites if they were developed.”
    Dr. Ralph Lotshaw moved to 20 Mile Stand in 1929, “Today my town really does not exist, with only the original school building (no longer used as a school), the stagecoach stop building, a few of the residences and the crossroad existing…. My town exists only in my memory.” Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/departments/my-kind-of-town/your-kind-of-town/Twenty-Mile-Stand-Ohio.html#ixzz1lYdamv1t

    As co-leader of Friends of Twenty Mile House, in a message sent to township trustees I put it this way, “As I stated publicly at the last meeting, I believe township leadership should be promoting improvements. Replacing this building with a gas station is just the opposite of improvement. “

    Kroger has said it would be adding a service station just up the street at its Landen store. That would provide the public with a third gas station, including BP and UDF, within a one mile stretch of Rt. 22 Montgomery Road. Those who oppose Speedway’s destruction of the landmark edifice see no reason to have four service stations in the area, but their principal concern is the historic and cultural value to the community that Twenty Mile House represents. Many believe that the most likely scenario for keeping the landmark building intact is for a new buyer or lessee to step forward with other uses in mind, e.g. law or medical offices, police or fire facility, pawn shop, art galleries, pre-school, dance studios, double restaurants like pizza and ice cream shops, QSR [Quick Serve Restaurants] chains, cultural center, gym, recording studios, etc. But owner Jeff Black has engaged a real estate company that specializes in medium to large retail buyers which may explain why Speedway is the #1 prospect.
    Action group leader, Kim Grant, told the township trustees, “We are asking the Deerfield Township Trustees to purchase the Twenty Mile House to preserve this critically important historic landmark. The character of the Twenty Mile House adds immeasurably to our area and ties us to the history of the region in an irreplaceable way. We understand that government officials have a responsibility to be prudent stewards of taxpayer money and we noted in a recent newspaper article that fiscal officer John Wahle inferred the township is sitting on [several millions of dollars of] TIF [Tax Increment Financing] funds. Why not put some of those funds to use to purchase, protect and renovate one of the most significant buildings in our community the 20 Mile House? Many communities see the value in preserving historic buildings. We hope our Trustees will take this opportunity to preserve this landmark and the identity of our community [at] Twenty Mile Stand! We believe if the township does not want to utilize this building, it can be sold for a more appropriate use once it is protected.”

    The current owner of the controversial property is Jeff Black of Lebanon. Mr. Black would prefer that the building remain standing, but does not want to keep losing a chunk of his investment every month while the former bar and restaurant sits vacant. He has a demolition permit and could reduce his taxes just by razing it, even without a buyer. Black has said he would cooperate and will work with any proposals that are reasonable and have promise. But the Speedway offer is on the table and must be honored. He is willing to sell or lease the property to reverse the negative cash flow and even suggested that an investment group be formed to obtain the property or lease the space from him. However, the property is now under contract. We are moving forward with the exploration of a few creative ideas to preserve the Twenty Mile House. I am not convinced we can expect an average $400 from a public pool of donors to add up to the $800k purchase price, but we are considering all options at this time.

    Regarding the R-Turn lane issue: The intersection is of a State Route and a County Road, so Deerfield Township has little if any say on traffic safety issues. The county is now in court to answer a suit based on their insistence that Speedway or the seller pay apprx $200k+ to add a R-Turn lane on Columbia Rd (Warren County). Until we know if they are willing to spend that kind of additional money, we won’t know if Speedway can move forward with the purchase. If we cannot stop Speedway, we want them to make room for the Twenty Mile House on the plot. If we can stop Speedway (by somehow convincing them to rescind their offer) or they walk away due to cost, the owner is still “holding the bag” and our historic landmark will still need legal protection from the owner’s bulldozer. Then we would need someone to come in and make the owner whole. Tricky business in any case.

    Black’s real estate agent, Anchor Associates, has said, “The building is not in good shape and the owner does not have the money to improve the space so the best situation for [Mr. Black] would be to sell the land and take down the obsolete improvements. The property is still under contract [to Speedway] at this time.”
    So far Speedway and Black have fought a battle to appeal the decision of the Warren County Engineer to disallow the Speedway plans for traffic flow in and out of a service station on such a busy and dangerous intersection. County Commissioner Pat South said, “I just think that safety is the key factor here and that it’s all ready bad traffic. It will only worsen by moving the entrance any closer to the intersection.”
    Commissioner South also stated in a response to Friends of Twenty Mile House, “Please know however that if Speedway can get an alternate plan approved by the County Engineer’s office that meets their Access Management Plan, Speedway may very well ask to withdraw their appeal and proceed with their construction plans. We recognize how busy and backed up the Columbia Rd./Montgomery Rd-22-3 intersection is the majority of time and especially when school busses are running. Public safety is our chief concern. As for the historic 20 Mile House, many of you expressed concerns over that building being demolished. The reality is that regardless of my or anyone else’s personal preferences, demolition is a legal right belonging to whoever owns the property.”
    Warren County Historian John Zimkus stated, “Regardless of the lack of being on the Register of historic buildings, it is a value to the community and should be preserved for the betterment of our community.”
    Friends of Twenty Mile House want the township or county to find a way to prevent what is seen by many as a careless trending for development trumping public safety while, too often, eliminating historic treasures.

    According to another organizer of the preservation group, Dick Higgins, intervention is necessary and justified because, “…Twenty Mile House is historically the very heart of Deerfield Township and once it is gone, it is gone forever.”
    The petition can be viewed and signed by accessing http://signon.org/sign/save-the-twenty-mile?source=c.em.mt&r_by=1731740

    We are now seeking legal, accounting and historical preservation experts to support our move toward privatization.
    Contacts are:
    Kim Grant, 583-5829
    Dick Higgins, 884-6900
    Steve Link, 518-3242
    Friends of Twenty Mile House

    • Thanks for stopping by, Steve, and thanks for the information. The additional facts and current status are appreciated. As I said in the blog entry’s last paragraph, I “hope that it might get a few more people watching”. I have no illusions about the blog’s reach but if one or two new Friends of Twenty Mile House come from stumbling across it I’d be thrilled.

  3. My husband’s parents owned that place back in the 60’s. It was a bar & eatery. Think they called it “Phil & Rachel’s 20 Mile Stand”. Somewhere buried on a computer in my room that needs repaired is a photo of a very old stained glass window that they took when they sold the place. It is a shame that the building has changed so much. It probably was considered historic until the renovations were made.

    • I don’t remember the name Phil & Rachel’s or a stained glass window but that might have been just a bit before my first visit which was, I believe, in the early 1970s. Many of the changes have been additions but some have been alterations and some of those, I’ve heard, are what has kept it off of the National Registry.

      • From What my Mom and her friend Delores Ashburn who lived just down the street from the building it was called Julia’s and Julia’s son and daughter in law lived behind the building in a trailer. Does this sound right?

        • Hubby remembered the name “Julia’ & I think that was after they moved. There are 2 “blacked out” plywood squares up on each side if a chimney of the building, they used to hold the stained glass Windows. I wish I could find a photo as it could show some if the history of that building.

      • It is a shame that the building could not be saved. Steve, I emailed you a picture of the stained glass window from the old building. It was from the late 1800’s Grand Army of the Republic

  4. We’re forming a 501c(3) non-profit corporation called Friends of The Twenty Mile House. What we need from our supporters at this time is LEADS TO BUYERS who would agree to conditions of sale that protect the building. Everyone should know that the lot is 1.5 acres and only one-twentieth of that parcel is the historic building’s footprint. IT IS A COMMERCIALLY ZONED BARGAIN AT $750,000! Our non-profit will raise funds to assist with painting, landscaping, restoration and legal fees. If the property is subdivided, the taxes for the new owner will be lower. It is an ideal location Location LOCATION. Spread the word. The building is small and the lot is huge.

  5. Pingback: Twenty-Mile House | Nudged to Write

  6. Pingback: Cleveland Air Show | Denny G's Road Trips Blog

  7. Pingback: 2012 in the Rear View | Denny G's Road Trips Blog

  8. Pingback: Roadhouse Down | Denny G's Road Trips Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>