There is something about growing up and living in a city where four generations of your family have resided. Each house and business sparks a memory or a story told by the older generations. The familiarity of place is both comforting and uplifting. Anyone who knows me understands that I am unabashedly a Ludlow, Kentucky booster—it is in my DNA. I grew up hearing my father, Ed Schroeder, talking about the city. Dad lived for 85 years in Ludlow and served as mayor for nearly a dozen years, and to some residents we are considered newcomers.


Like many Northern Kentucky cities, Ludlow has had its ups and downs. I have witnessed both. Lately, I have been astonished with the town’s reinvigoration. This trend began a little over two decades ago and has been building steam ever since. In the year 2000, a group of enthusiastic residents decided to run for city council—all six won. Their energy was contagious and that continues with their successors. With hard work and help from county and state officials, Southbank Partners and the Catalytic Fund of Northern Kentucky, their efforts have been rewarded. Ludlow is making a comeback.


What I appreciate most about Ludlow’s recent success is that it is built on the city’s history. Ludlow was originally established as a rural estate by Thomas D. Carneal who built Elmwood Hall between 1818 and 1820, surrounded by a thousand-acre tract of land. William Bullock, an English gentleman who owned the Egyptian Museum in London’s Piccadilly Circus, purchased the Hall and adjacent property in 1828. His plan was to build a model city called Hygeia. Bullock’s plans never materialized, and he sold the estate to the Israel Ludlow Jr. family in 1830. It was the Ludlow family who eventually developed the town that bears their name. Elmwood Hall still stands today on Forest Avenue. In September of this year, a Kentucky Historic Marker was dedicated in front of the stunningly well-preserved home.


Elmwood Hall was followed by a number of other pre-Civil War homes including Somerset Hall, built around 1847 by the Kenner family. The beautiful structure still stands on Somerset Street. The Bentley House, now Ronald B. Jones Funeral Home, was built around 1850. The Ritchie family, immigrants from Switzerland, built their stately home around 1860 at the corner of Elm and Locust streets (the house has since been demolished). Around these early beautiful residences, the first city plat was developed in 1846 with incorporation occurring in 1864.


Radical change came in the 1870s with the arrival of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. Many residences, churches, schools and businesses followed. The sleepy, well-to-do rural suburb quickly began filling with fine storefronts and homes in various architectural styles of the period. A street railroad connection to Covington and Cincinnati was built in 1894 and Ludlow’s golden age was in full swing.


Ludlow’s population increased from 817 in 1870 to 2,469 in 1890. Many of these newcomers were immigrants and, in 1870, half of the adult citizens were foreign-born. As the Ludlow Reporter recorded in 1875, “Our town is fast filling up with the sons of toil, representing the various nationalities of the earth. First are those ‘natives’ and the manor born from the Scotia’s Isles … from merry England, from Erin’s Isle, from the vine covered hills of France, from sunny Italy, and from chivalrous Germany. And with all of this, we have yet some 2,000 lots unoccupied.”


Ludlow continued to develop throughout the 1920s. Many new bungalows and four-square homes were built west of Adela Street. Like many older cities, suburban development following World War II had a negative impact on Ludlow. Residents began moving to larger homes in the newer cities to the south. Ludlow’s population began to decline in the 1960s.


In 2001, Fischer Homes announced the construction of the River’s Breeze community on Pigeon Point. This hilltop condominium complex offered sweeping views of downtown Cincinnati and the Ohio River valley. It was also a physical reminder that Ludlow was on the rise.


In 2009, the old Ludlow Theater and adjacent building on Elm Street were purchased by Paul and Renee Miller. Over time, these two structures have been transformed into a circus performing arts venue and craft brewery. Many of the beers are named after former Ludlow residents and performers at the old Ludlow Lagoon Amusement Park, which closed over 100 years ago (we Ludlowites have long memories). This summer, the old marquee was reconstructed and placed on the 1946 Art Deco theater’s façade. In August of this year, the marquee was lit for the first time and all seemed right again on Elm Street!


Other businesses followed, including Second Sights Spirits, founded by former Cirque Du Soleil designers Rick Couch and Carus Waggoner in Ludlow’s old Kroger Grocery at Elm and Kenner Streets; Folk School Coffee Parlor; the Ludlow Tavern, offering a large selection of drinks and great food; the Jeff & John Winkle Gallery; Riverside Marketplace, a full service grocery; My Mother’s Daughter, which provides custom-made and refinished furniture and home decorations; Leeta Ruth Boutique, a women’s apparel shop; and Buck’s BBQ, which many in town fondly remember as the old Dairy Cheer. These businesses and others have brought a new vitality to the city. Their efforts to spruce up their buildings has resulted in a ripple effect with many homeowners following suit.


Many long-standing businesses in Ludlow have been part of the community’s fabric for decades. Some of these include the Ronald B. Jones Funeral Home located in the antebellum Bentley House on Elm Street; Tom Gaither’s Art Studio in the old masonic hall; Middendorf-Bullock Funeral Home; Hater’s, one of the few remaining dry goods stores in the region; Ideal Supply and Reeves Fruit Market, both of which have been in business for more than a century; and, of course, the Buffalo Bar and the Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club.


Ludlow has maintained a wonderful public school system that boasts the lowest tax rates of any independent school district in Northern Kentucky. The school consistently rates high in academics and compares favorably to the nearby suburban districts. It is known for its close-knit community spirit and caring faculty and staff.


Building on its past, Ludlow is looking toward the future with optimism and new energy. New and returning families, the restoration of historic homes and the creation of new businesses are making Ludlow a city that can no longer be ignored.