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Our Rich History: Covington started as a subdivision of lots — the early years of homebuilding

Subdivision plan

This circa 1846 map of Covington shows the hundreds of lots subdivided by the Western Baptist Theological Institute

by Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to the NKyTribune

Today, when we wish to own a brand new home, we have a number of options to pursue. Many of us buy market and model homes in subdivisions, some of us buy lots in subdivisions and then have the developer build our homes from an array of available plans, and still others build custom homes.

In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the homebuilding process was quite different than modern times. Individuals, companies, or even non-profit organizations would “subdivide” small, medium and large tracts of land into “subdivision” lots. They, in turn, would sell lots to individuals, some of whom bought in order to build their own homes, and others for investment and resale. Individual lot buyers would then either build their own homes, or contract with others to build them. The subdivision owners did not build homes—they merely sold the lots.

Essentially, that’s the way Covington started—as a subdivision of lots by a partnership called the Covington Company, composed of Thomas D. Carneal, John Stites Gano, Richard M. Gano, and James Bryson. In August 1815, they officially filed the plat for Covington, comprised of 150 acres located at the Point, where the Licking and Ohio Rivers met (see last week’s article).

Covington continued to develop bit by bit. A rather large subdivision, comprising much of the city’s current central and west sides, was platted by and named for the Western Baptist Theological Institute. It was an ingenious arrangement, whereby this Baptist seminary planned to use the income derived from the sale of nearly 700 lots for its own building and operational costs.

Other Covington subdivisions likewise bore the names of their subdividers: Austinburg (named for Seneca Austin), Holmesdale (for Daniel Holmes), Levassor Park (named for Eugene Levassor), and Wallace Woods (developed by Robert Wallace Jr. and his wife, Jane Eliza Sterrett).

These early subdivisions generally had few deed restrictions. That explains why some houses were rather small and others large, some built back from the street and others abutting the sidewalk. Later, more and more deed restrictions, especially in fancier subdivisions, required lot owners to build at a certain setback from the street or to restrict the keeping of livestock. Some deed restrictions were racist as well.

In more upscale subdivisions, such as Wallace Woods, lot buyers would hire professional architects to design custom homes. Hence, this and other neighborhoods of Covington feature an array of architectural styles, contributing to the city’s uniqueness and beauty.

Paul A. Tenkotte (tenkottep@nku.edu) is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History at NKU. With other well-known regional historians, James C. Claypool and David E. Schroeder, he is a co-editor of the new 450-page Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015, now available at your local booksellers, the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington and online sellers.

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  1. Hailey Renee says:

    That is awesome that sub-division homes are able to provide more space in a smaller section. That is interesting that sub-division home owners mostly have built their homes and not sold them. Thank you for sharing your advice on building sub-division homes.

    • Kevin says:

      The concept of splitting land is so ingrained in some countries history. In Ireland this concept is lost and denies the people the opportunity to create space and wealth

  2. Do all these original lots, that were created in the late 1800’s / early 1900’s, still exist? or have they been further subdivided into smaller lots? I presume there would be different zonings or densities now to allow high rise development. Interesting how subdivision of land first started and where it is now.

  3. Paul Tenkotte says:

    Hi Dion, You are indeed correct. Many of the original lots have homes still standing. On others, lots have been combined for larger complexes, such as those in downtown Covington and in the Licking-Riverside districts. If you’re looking for a particular property, the courthouse is a valuable resource. I have a short video explaining how-to-do courthouse research, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZyIVhWsdgw&feature=youtu.be

    Paul Tenkotte

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