Imagine a community of neat Cape Cod homes, front porches, green lawns, several churches, and a locally owned corner store where children can walk or ride a bike. That was Hanford Village, a Columbus, Ohio, suburb developed in 1946 to meet the needs of returning World War II soldiers. Marketed by the developer as “Homes for Negro families,” the community was especially attractive to the state’s cadre of Tuskegee Airmen.
(An existing portion of Hanford Park, eventually known as the “old” village, was already populated by people who had arrived two decades earlier during the “Great Migration” of Black people leaving the rural South for urban places farther north.)
Today, Hanford Village no longer has a police department, fire station or post office. Many family homes were long ago torn down and the only park, once within walking distance along neighborhood streets, is now accessible only by car.
According to the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, the State of Ohio, as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act, chose Hanford Village as the place to locate a “path for Interstate 70 and the Alum Creek Drive Interchange. This created a physical barrier between the new and old parts of the community, separated the church from Carver Addition, destroyed key streets, numerous homes.”
Now 73 and retired from Lucent Technologies, Shirley Smith Mixon belongs to one of the handful of original families that remain in Hanford Village. At one time, “Ms. Shirley” had several generations of her family in the community. After a deep sigh that opened the curtains to her memory like a picture window, she shared her reflections of life in Hanford Village before and after the highway.
AARP: What was Hanford Village like before the highway?
Shirley Smith Mixon: I was born into this neighborhood and was in my early teens, about 15 or 16 years old, when they started the highway. Before the highway, this community felt like a family. Every family knew one another. Families would visit one another on front porches or by speaking across the fence. We took care of each other.
Divided Without Division
In 2009, the advanced placement U.S. History class at Centennial High School and the Ohio Historical Society honored Hanford Village with a historical marker. It states, in part: "Although the highway divides us, our memories are never lost." Four years later, Hanford Village was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
Some of the best memories I have are of Hanford Village Park. Mr. Herb Holliman would coach baseball and coach us kids for competition against other recreation centers. Sometimes while at the park, we would visit the snack shack to get candy, soda and other treats.
I loved when the community held dances and parties for the kids at the VFW. The VFW building was in the park as well. We’d have dance contests, holiday parties, Easter egg hunts and so many other gatherings.
A special memory I have is about school being out for the summer. One of the church mothers would head outside and stand at the top of the block by the church. She would start singing a children’s hymn, and as she walked past the houses, we, the kids, would file out of our houses and sing with her all the way back up the street as we marched to vacation bible school.
I can even remember the fire department riding through the neighborhood at Christmastime. They would give each child an apple, an orange and a huge candy cane. This was such a caring, connected community.
AARP: In the late '60s, the decision was made to build a major east-west highway. The new freeway was diverted around Bexley, a predominantly white community, and went straight through Hanford Village. What was the personal, family impact of the highway cutting through your neighborhood?
Mixon: That was in about 1966 or ‘67, and I was about 18. The neighborhood felt like we were cut off from one another. We lost a lot of homes, so family friends moved away. It felt like the community was ripped apart. Over time, the neighborhood store closed. The Village police department and fire station closed. Many of the remaining homes were now scattered around the base of the highway, isolated from the heart of the community.
AARP: What was life in Hanford Village like after the highway was completed?
Mixon: Even though Hanford Village was still here, it didn’t feel the same. We still cared for one another, still took care of each other, but it just wasn’t the same. They tried to take our sense of community and it almost worked. But we were strong, and we continued to hold onto what community we had.
A Resident's Recollection
"The greatest negative impact of the destruction on Hanford Village was on the older residents. Many of the families in the 'old' village had moved there in the early 1920s. You had multi-generational families — living in separate households — on the same street. Families were split. Lifetime friends were moving to various parts of Columbus. And remember the 'new' village — the homes built for returning servicemen and their families — they had only been in those houses for less than a generation and they were being torn down. They had endured discrimination in the service, fought for their country, and now they were being displaced."
— George Holliman, a former resident who served on a committee advocating for adding Hanford Village to the National Register of Historic Places, in a 2021 interview with, the Defense Logistics Agency.
AARP: Some say that the highway enabled Columbus to become a major city, with a modern highway system for goods and services. From the community’s perspective, did any positives come from having the highway?
Mixon: If there were, I can’t think of any. I certainly don’t remember any. It may have been faster to have the highway for travel. But that did not have any positive impact on our community.
Even with all that had gone on, my family chose to stay. There were about four households of my family in the neighborhood. So, in 1976, I bought a house. The sad part was that, eventually, all the people my age moved away, so my children didn’t have many playmates. Previously, as the original mothers and fathers passed away, the homes would pass on to the children and grandchildren. A few are still here.
One recent bright spot is from the last few years because the park was redone. The VFW was torn down. But there is a new park.
AARP: Given all that has happened due to the highway displacing much of the neighborhood, what would be a desired change for today?
Mixon: Part of that has happened. We are a historic community. We need to continue to empower ourselves to uphold the history of our community. We need to continue to rebuild homes that have fallen into disrepair. We need to continue to take pride in the fact that we stayed together and continued to love one another. We continued to maintain a family community over the decades through children and grandchildren. We are still here. We are still a family.
Reina Sims is the associate state director of education and outreach for AARP Ohio.
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