Wallace Woods and Lavassor Park
In the early 19th century, the city limits of Covington extended south from the Ohio River to Sixth Street, while farmland and large estates were scattered all over the southern landscape of the Northern Kentucky region. The city gradually developed southward into the Licking River valley, and eventually up onto the hills surrounding the city.
Immediately south of the Austinburg neighborhood, annexed in 1851, were the three large estates owned by Robert Wallace Jr., Daniel Henry Holmes Sr., and Eugene Levassor, all of whom were successful merchants from Cincinnati, Ohio. These three farms, located on ridges divided by the ravines of creeks that met and emptied into the Licking River were first developed in the 1830s.
In 1828, Robert Wallace Jr.(1789-1863), purchased 80 acres of land from Oneras Powell, and built his home known as Longwood. Bounded by the Licking River on the east, and the Old Banklick Pike on the west, the farm’s northern boundary was once the southern city limit of Covington.
Eugene Levassor (1789-1880) was a French immigrant who was once a large landowner in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia (now West Virginia). He was a man who made himself wealthy by selling his property to coal companies for profit. In 1833, he purchased 61 acres of land just south of Covington, to build his home known today as Levassor Park.
Daniel Henry Holmes Sr. (1816-1898) began to buy property next to the home of his friend Eugene Levassor in the 1850’s. Holmes, a successful businessman, developed the D.H. Holmes department store business in New Orleans in 1842; opening the store in 1849. It was the largest department store located in the South, with more than 700 employees. By the 1860’s, Holmes was running his business from his residence in Covington.
Prior to the American Civil War, these three estates served as a getaway from the busy, and often dirty urban core of Cincinnati, Ohio, where they held several business interests. By 1854, facing personal financial hardships, Wallace began selling lots on his property to the public. The completion of the Covington and Lexington Railroad west of the Banklick turnpike provided Wallace with an opportunity for creating a new subdivision, south of the city of Covington. However, due to a poor national economy and lack of interest, the plan failed, and much of Wallace’s land remained undeveloped when he died of dysentery in 1863. The estate passed into the hands of Wallace’s wife, Jane Eliza Sterrett Wallace.
During the war, parts of these estates were used for military defense. Today’s Meinken Field, was utilized as part of a Union Army recruitment camp from 1862-1865. Known as Camp King, the 10th and 23rd Kentucky Infantry Regiments and the 72nd and 117th U.S. Colored Infantry were just a few notable units organized here. By the end of the war, it became a refugee camp for freed slaves.
The Larz Anderson Battery, or Tunnel Battery, located directly above a railroad tunnel, still in use today, was constructed as part of an eight mile defensive perimeter, from Ludlow to present-day Fort Thomas, Kentucky, to protect against Confederate Invasion. It was named for Larz Anderson II, a Cincinnati businessman and brother to Brevet Major General Robert Anderson.
The Wallace family continued to live in Longwood in the period after the Civil War. By the 1870’s, horse-drawn street railways had been pushed to within a few blocks of the farm. After Jane Sterett Wallace died in 1883, the Longwood estate passed to her son C. G. Wallace and orphaned granddaughter, Jennie. By this time, much of the land surrounding the property was incorporated as Central Covington. The 60-acre Wallace farm became a popular community picnic ground known as Wallace’s Woods to urban dwellers, who like Robert, found the wooded beech grove a welcoming break from the congested and often polluted city.
Back in 1867, on 17 acres that he had acquired next to the Wallace and Levassor estates, Daniel Henry Holmes Sr. constructed a 32-room redbrick English-Gothic “castle,” which was called Holmesdale. After Holmes died and his family left for New Orleans, they sold the mansion and 13 acres to the Covington Board of Education in 1915. The mansion served as the Covington High School until 1936, when the structure was razed and a new high school was constructed. This building and five others now occupy the former estate grounds as part of the Holmes High School campus.
By the 1890s, the Wallace and Levassor estates, on either side of Holmesdale were developed, creating upscale neighborhoods at the end of the Greenline Streetcar System. Originally once a part of the city of Central Covington, the residents of Wallace Woods, Holmesdale, and Levassor Place were annexed with that community, to the city of Covington in 1906. By the 1920’s, these new Covington neighborhoods were thriving.
Through these years, the Levassor family became known to the Covington community for their love of music, and performed locally in concert halls and venues such as the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Covington. Two of the most notable of these musicians were Eugene’s grandsons, Charles and Louis Levassor.
Charles (1850-1875) was a local flutist and organist who once performed with the likes of Marie de los Angelos Jose Tosso, sometimes known as Joe Tasso (1802- 1886 or 1887), a Mexican born (of Italian parents) concert violinist, teacher and composer who lived in Covington. Louis (1846-1930) was a nationally recognized accomplished organist, who performed in the nation’s Centennial Celebration held in Philadelphia in 1876. Louis Levassor died in his home at Greenup and Levassor Place in 1930. His passing marked the death of the last direct descendant of the Eugene Levassor family. Today, the Levassor estate is a part of the Wallace Wood neighborhood.
Many stately homes were built here from 1890 to 1925 by prominent Covington residents. These people would hire professional architects to design custom houses. This explains why historic homes located within the neighborhood include a variety of architectural styles in the Victorian Vernacular, Dutch Colonial, Arts and Crafts foursquare, and bungalows. This array of architectural characteristics, contributes to the city of Covington’s uniqueness, beauty, and diversity.
Today, the Wallace Woods Neighborhood Association helps to maintain the communities historical integrity. The group has remained an active force, both politically and socially in the area for more than 30 years. The neighborhood’s social activities which include historic house tours, a neighborhood-wide yard sale, a pie and cake auction, bluegrass concert, corn roast, and progressive dinner, help make the community a safe and inviting place to visit. The Wallace Woods Area Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.