John M. Southgate, a wealthy land baron, acquired the nucleus of Briarcliff from the estate of E. L. Southgate, circa 1868, and in September, 1890, he and his wife, Mary, conveyed these 96 acres to the Highland Park Land Company. In August, 1909, this undeveloped tract was again transferred by the aforesaid corporation, through Miles T. Watts, its president, to a new Kentucky corporation named the Highlands Development Company. This enterprise was owned by two young architects, C. C. (Christian Clay) Weber, and his politically inclined sibling, Edward A. (Carnation Eddie, a fresh one every day) Weber. C. C. Weber apprenticed in Cincinnati and founded the architectural firm of Weber, Werner and Adkins in 1907 with offices in the Ingalls Building. These Cincinnati offices were moved to the Schulkers Pharmacy building in Fort Thomas after World War II.
It was under C. C.’s direction that Briarcliff became Fort Thomas’ first model subdivision, although other areas of the District of Highlands were settled at that time. The city of Fort Thomas was created out of this district in 1914. Not only did C. C. Weber develop the area of Briarcliff, but he also designed and built most of the homes in the subdivision.
This man was incredible! A contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, C. C. Weber’s design credits include the old Highlands High School, Johnson and Woodfill Schools, Christ Evangelical and First Baptist Churches, Highlands Theatre, Newport National Bank, and many hotels, office buildings and banks throughout Ohio and Kentucky. Perhaps the crème de la crème of his architectural ability was the Governor’s mansion in Frankfort, built during the term of Gov. James B. McCreary in 1914. This French Renaissance masterpiece was built for $75,000 and, unfortunately, the plans were lost. The bulk of development and building Briarcliff was done between 1909 and 1915. Prior to that time, the present [all references to “present” herein are circa 1980] James McGinnis home at 35 Sunset Avenue was the only residence there, having been built in the late 1890’s. While the development was unfolding, C. C. lived in the present day Paterson Roth home and Republican representative Eddie lived next door in the Weathers home on Carolina Avenue in central Fort Thomas.
It was in 1909 that “Doc,” as some people called C. C. Weber, became president of the District of Highlands. Jane Ellison, the daughter of C. C., said that the first home built in that tract was the present Borden home at 172 Riverside Parkway, and that it was constructed for the Tabb family. Mr. and Mrs. Tabb or any other homebuilders in this Briarcliff area could not make any bathtub gin during these prohibition days because the Weber brothers had included a restrictive covenant against the production of fermented or distilled spirits in deeds for the lots sold in the subdivision.
C. C. Weber soon established a home at 50 Oak Ridge, and Edward’s mailing address became 103 Riverside Parkway, now the home of Mary Ann and Edward Blau. But C. C. was not satisfied for long because he soon transferred his family to 279 Riverside. Years passed and this stately mansion left the family’s ownership. However, through an unusual turn of events, Nicholas Ellison, C. C.’s grandson, learned that the property was for sale several years ago and bought the family homestead. Mrs. Foertmeyer, the Bellevue physician’s widow from whom Ellison made the purchase, was delighted to have the home return to its original lineage. Ellison said that the ridge upon which his home is built does not have any virgin timber because steamboat companies would contract with landowners on the Ohio River to buy the trees. The timber would then be hauled to the riverbanks and used as fuel for the craft’s boilers.
This elite section of Fort Thomas was where prominent businessmen and professional people were to settle. The list of attorneys who lived or presently live there reads like a “Who’s Who” of the local bar association: Benton, Scott, Root, Kaufmann, Johnson, Blau, Leudeke, Herfel, and Naisch. The medical profession includes: Pythian, Stine, Foertmeyer, Grover, Garrett, and Faulkner. The county’s largest employer, Frank Andrews of Andrews Steel (later Interlake, Inc.) built his home on the opposite ridge from the Ellison home at 274 Riverside Parkway. In 1925, a young politician bought lot number 54 and established a residence there with his wife, Ida B. They didn’t spend much time there because his occupation as U. S. Representative from this district required him to be in Washington, D. C. most of the time. His name became as large a Fort Thomas itself: Brent Spence. Mrs. Thomas Huckaby, who lives in this home a 136 Riverside Parkway, lamented that they may live there for 99 years but the home would always be the Spence home.
As Newport became a gambling empire, the racketeers very quietly took up residence in what has been described as the Grosse Pointe area of Fort Thomas. Sleepout Louis Levinson, a notable from Chicago, first lived at 115 Riverside and then moved next door to 119, where John and Barbara Sherman have just restored the house to its original elegance. Pete Schmidt, a local casino operator in Newport lived at 53 Oak Ridge. This home was built on the foundation of the Bill Youman house after it blew up from a gas explosion.
C. C. Weber subscribed to the architectural theory that the roof of a residential structure was a focal point. A characteristic of most of these Briarcliff homes is a tremendously pitched roof with crimped red roofing tile supplied by C. C.’s friend, T. H. Winston, whose company is still conducting business in Cincinnati. One home in particular reflects the occupation of its original owner, Frank Michaels, or art bronze fame, graced his porch at 247 Riverside Parkway with bronze railings of flying ducks. The front door of this house, now owned by the Walter Wilhelm family, is cast of the same distinctive metal, and cornices, decorative shelves, and drapery rods inside the home are of intricately designed bronze. Miami Parkway and Burnett Ridge were settled much later. Lester Lane, an appendage of Burnet Ridge, used to be Hartweg Road, and the Hartweg home was right at the base of it. This was a portion of Washington Road which ran through Alexandria into Fort Thomas, down Millers Lane to Hartweg and crossed the Ohio River at Perry’s Ferry to historic Columbia in Cincinnati.
Today the Briarcliff area of Fort Thomas remains the capsuled, classic, well-kept subdivision which its originator, Christian Clay Weber, intended it to be.
By Kurt Meier, From the October, 1980 issue of Fort Thomas Living.