Located 10 miles east of downtown Cincinnati along U.S. Route 50, Mariemont (pronounced “Marry-mont”) is a picturesque community with an interesting history.
Thomas J. Emery, a successful Cincinnati businessman who made his fortune in real estate and housing developments, and his wife, Mary Muhlenberg Emery, lived at Edgecliffe, a 31-room stone mansion in East Walnut Hills that was designed by Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford in 1881. Sadly, it is no more.
The Emerys summered at Mariemont, their 60-acre estate in Middletown, Rhode Island, near that favorite haunt of mine, Newport. Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt in 1871, the home featured gardens planned by the Olmsted Brothers firm. Mariemont combined two French words, “Marie” to honor Mrs. Emery and “mont” for the hill on the estate.
Soon after Mr. Emery died in 1906, his wife decided to memorialize him by creating a well-planned, self-sufficient village that would provide modestly priced, quality rental apartments and town houses, architect-designed homes, schools, and an array of conveniently located buildings for commercial and recreational amenities for working people. She decided to call it Mariemont, after her summer home.
In 1910, Mrs. Emery asked Charles J. Livingood, a Harvard classmate and friend of her son, Sheldon, to create this community. She hoped it would set an example that could be replicated in other places in the country.
Livingood spent three years studying and traveling to planned communities throughout Europe. In Letchworth, England, he found his ideal: houses with steeply pitched roofs built on curving streets in neighborhoods both abundant with parks and gardens and close to necessities.
A 253-acre site on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad was selected for Mrs. Emery’s project. In 1913, clandestine land acquisition began. In 1920, Mrs. Emery retained John Nolan, a pre-eminent town planner with Cambridge, Massachusetts to his credit, to design the overall plan for the village.
Nolen’s plan for Mariemont featured an octagonal-shaped town center and village green, with seven roads radiating from the town center. It was a “National Exemplar” of American garden city planning.
The final parcel of land was purchased in April 1922. On April 23, 1923, Mrs. Emery broke ground for Mariemont at this site pictured at right. The town’s first residents arrived in 1924. Because of the Great Depression, however, many of the buildings that were planned were never built.
While Nolan took care of the landscape design, he selected 26 well-known architectural firms from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Cincinnati to design Mariemont’s residential and commercial buildings. To recreate the look of an English village, these architects incorporated half-timber and stucco and wooden-trimmed red brick into their plans.
The Mariemont Inn, a large V-shaped Tudor Revival building, is the dominant feature of the town square. Shops, a bank, a movie theater, and a Graeter’s Ice Cream parlor are also located there. The inn is also home to the National Exemplar restaurant, where I always order a Reuben, like I did for lunch last Friday. Next door, there’s the Top Drawer, a needlepoint store that sells a painted canvas to create a needlepoint belt of Mariemont landmarks that is delightful to stitch.
At the town square, you’ll also find a fountain that was designed by Mariemont resident Karen Monzel in 1991 for the 50th anniversary celebration of the village’s incorporation. The Mariemont Garden Club adopted the daffodil as the village’s official flower, so bunches of daffodils decorate the fountain’s base and pedestal. The bowls are formed by leaves and the fountain is topped by a budding daffodil. Cozy two-story Georgian-style red brick apartments with shuttered windows line the streets radiating diagonally from the town square. Closer to Mariemont’s entrance, three-story apartment buildings have Tudor Revival half-timbering and stuccoed walls. Equally charming private residences line the streets.
Mariemont’s interdenominational community church has a roof covered with 14th-century lichen-covered stones that were imported from England. Antique wrought-iron lanterns and hardware adorn the doorways of the Norman-style stone church, while diamond-shaped panes of antique glass were used to simulate those used in English country churches in the 1300s.
A Lich-Gate sits at the foot of the path leading to the cemetery. Named for the Anglo-Saxon word for corpse, “lic,” the open-ended structure with a roof supported by timber posts on stone walls traditionally offered shelter to pallbearers waiting for graveside services. In Mariemont, it’s used as a decorative community landmark.
An Italian Renaissance Revival building of red brick, stucco, a stone-pillared arcade, a tile roof and a campanile was designed to house recreational activities, including a gymnasium, bowling alleys, tennis courts and a rifle range. In 1931, the Junior League of America held its annual meeting there. Today, it is the parish center of the Mariemont Community Church. In a park at the corner of Wooster Pike and Plainville Road, you’ll find The Family Group, a sculpture depicting three generations of a family that was made by the French artist Lucien Alliot in the early 1920s. Zoning and building codes require all architecture, especially in the town center, to conform to the Tudor Revival style. Recent buildings like the Mariemont Strand, constructed next to the Mariemont Inn in 1992, also display a steeply pitched roof and half-timber and stucco walls.
Now, this National Historic Landmark has been placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The Ohio Department of Transportation has proposed a project that threatens Mariemont. In addition to a possible elevated highway that would disrupt the village’s southern border, the proposed project would also impact natural and cultural resources, including the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Little Miami River valley, a freshwater aquifer and Native American archaeological sites.
To read more about Mariemont, check out Mariemont: A Pictorial History of a Model Town and John Nolen & Mariemont: Building a New Town in Ohio, both by Millard F. Rogers, Jr.; The Mariemont Story: A National Exemplar in Town Planning, by Warren Wright Parks; and Mariemont: A Brief Chronicle of Its Origin and Development, by P.M. Sexton. Neighbors & Neighborhoods: Elements of Successful Community Design, by Sidney Brower, includes a chapter on Mariemont.