Hilltop history

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By Josephine Birdsell
Staff Writer

Jennie Kepler stood at the front of the Westgate Lodge ballroom, alongside a neatly laid line of papers, each detailing a historic political figure from the Hilltop.

“People underestimate the power of the Hilltop,” Kepler said, “and not just politically, but as far as our ability to see one another’s humanity.”

On Aug. 10, Kepler gave a presentation on the history of politics in the Hilltop from the 1920s to the 1960s. It was one of a larger series of workshops and presentations Kepler is hosting on the history of the area.

“The Hilltop used to be very politically powerful. Although, for those of us who live here now, we don’t think of it that way,” Kepler said.

For an hour, she traced the political history of the Hilltop back to its roots. Beginning in the 1920s, the Hilltop had political influence throughout the city of Columbus.

“Newspapers actually wrote about the Hilltop like it was a separate political entity,” she said.

Then, as politicians began moving from the east to west side of Hague Avenue, certain parts of the Hilltop lost political influence. Redlining, the practice of denying loans or insurance to people living in poorer areas, marked certain areas of the community as more desirable than others, further shifting the regions of political influence within the community.

Eventually, political influence was lost throughout the majority of the Hilltop. Kepler doesn’t have enough information to speculate as to how or why the influence was lost, but she wants to look into it, she said.

She walked through what she referred to as the “ebbs and flows of political energy” within the Hilltop, all while retelling anecdotes about the beloved mayors of Columbus from the Hilltop and the political rivals who lived on the same street as one another.

The goal of this history workshop, and the others Kepler gives, was to give residents a reason to be proud of the Hilltop.

“Everyone deserves to feel rooted in the community where they live,” she said.

The history workshops are the newest part of Kepler’s long-standing love of Hilltop history. She grew up studying the history of the Hilltop with her mother, who was a member of the Hilltop Historical Society. And for the last nine years, she’s run a Facebook page, “Hilltop USA Memories,” to collect and share historical artifacts significant to the Hilltop.

She plans to continue sharing Hilltop’s history as long as she can.

“I could do this all day, everyday, seven days a week,” she said, “I’m so passionate about it.”

Kepler’s next history workshop will be a “home history” workshop, where she will teach people how to research the history of their own houses. It will be held on Sept. 14 at 11:30 a.m. at the Westgate Lodge.

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