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Bellevue at 150: On Down the Line: the City and the Railroad

The City of Bellevue turns 150 years old in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its sesquicentennial celebrations have been postponed for a year. In the meantime, local writer and attorney James Dady is writing some pieces about the city and they will be published at The River City News. This is one in a series.

From nearly the time of its incorporation in 1870, Bellevue has been bisected by a rail line, and the town has used the irregular lots thus created with considerable ingenuity.

Bellevue had its own freight and passenger depot on the line, which began life as property of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and since been absorbed into the vast CSX system.

A park and community garden has been brought life in recent years on city land between Foote and Ward avenues just south of the line. The work of several dozen volunteers, the project includes a driftwood object d’art created by Kirk Mayhew, a sculptor and art educator who lives in the neighborhood. The project also features a pergola built by volunteers, rain barrels to irrigate the raised. vegetable beds, and the means to produce compost to feed the soil. The garden is a grand example of the imaginative use of random space, of collaborative vision, and of small-scale urban agriculture that has come to be called Blossom Alley.

Also along the line is Swope Park, built in 1995 and also bounded by, Covert Run Pike, and Taylor Avenue. Swope Park is a place to fulfill what may be young Kentuckians’ genetic predisposition for basketball, and is a popular spot for young mothers to bring their children to use the playground equipment. The park is dedicated to the memory of Bellevue stalwarts Stan and Ethel Swope.

Just north of the line on the east side of Taylor is Nagel Park, where flower gardens cultivated by volunteers are dedicated to the memory of Virginia “Ginny” Baker by the Bellevue Neighborhood Association. 

A pocket park and miniature playground just north of the line on Washington Avenue is dedicated to the memory of E. James Brun, who volunteered with the Boy Scouts for 45 years. Like much about Bellevue, a smll city of modest scale, the park is not large but big enough to be well-suited to its intended use.

In late July, a park at Ward and Center was dedicated in honor of Diane Witte, an indefatigable volunteer in the case of the beautification of Bellevue for decades.

The Callahan Community Center behind the city building just north of the line is the regular meeting place for city boards and commissions, the city council, and community events. The Callahan Center sits beside the footbridge connecting the two sections of Van Voast Avenue. Just over the bridge to the east is O’Fallon Park, and behind it is land promoters hope will soon become the Bellevue Dog Park.

On Grandview Avenue just north of the line is Kent Lofts, an adaptive re-use of the site of an old factory into a 66-unit apartment house, the most ambitious residential development in the town in at least a generation.

There are walking paths official and unofficial along the line between Berry Avenue and the end of Cleveland Avenue, and between Taylor and the upper section of Grandview Avenue.

The rail line is spanned in the town by bridges on Washington, Foote, Ward, and O’Fallon avenues originally built in 1888. They were replaced in the mid-1990s with state money procured in part through the good offices of State Rep. Bill Donnermeyer of Bellevue, for whom Donnermeyer Drive is named.

Photos by Michael Monks for RCN