Bromley: 130 years of Community Development

 Bromley: 130 years of Community Development

Wally Doss with the Bromley Welcome Sign in 1979. Kenton County Public Library

Northern Kentucky is full of many small communities that often get overlooked. The city of Bromley is one of them.

Bromley can be traced back to a 2,000-acre land grant given by the United States government in the late 1700s to a man by the name of Prettyman Merry– I kid you not. Mr. Merry built a home soon after on the property. The home, known locally as the landmark, still stands today at the foot of Shelby Street. Constructed of native fieldstone, the building is one of the oldest residential structures in Northern Kentucky.

Over time, Merry began selling off portions of his property and a small village developed. By the 1840s, residents of the little hamlet and nearby Ludlow began discussions concerning a turnpike that would link the two towns to Covington in the east. In 1846, George Anderson held a meeting in his home to discuss the project with area residents. The result was the construction of the Dry Creek and Covington Turnpike (now simply known as Route 8 and Pike Street in Bromley). A corporation was established to provide the necessary funds for construction. A bridge was built across the Pleasant Run Creek between Ludlow and Bromley that included a toll gate. All tolls collected went to reimburse the investors.

The new connection to Ludlow and Covington brought a building boom to Bromley. In 1848, Charles Collins purchased a portion of the original Merry estate running along the Pleasant Run Creek and laid out a small town. Residential structures and small buildings were soon built, especially along the turnpike. Collins named the city Bromley after Bromley, England, his hometown.

By the 1860s, the population of the area had grown enough to support a school.

The population of Bromley grew slowly but steadily, and by 1890 the residents decided to seek incorporation as an official city from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This endeavor was rewarded on May 23, 1890.

A short-lived fire department was established in 1895 when the Highhouse and Hilker Grocery was destroyed. The men of the town, however, soon lost interest. In 1900, another major fire resulted in the establishment of the Bromley Volunteer Fire Department, which lasted for more than a century and became a central focus of the community.

Churches also played an important role in the development of the city. In 1892, the Bromley Christian Church was established on Kenton Street. In 1926, the original church was replaced by a two-story church and classroom building. The new building was dedicated on Easter Sunday 1928. More recently, the congregation built a new façade on the building and renovated the interior.

In 1894, a group of 30 residents met and formed the Immanuel German Reformed Church on Boone Street. A frame church was built and dedicated in 1894. During the First World War, Immanuel dropped the use of the German language and eventually became a member of the United Church of Christ in 1957. A new brick church and classroom building was constructed on the original site between 1952 and 1959. Another wing was added in 1983.

The last church to be established in the city was the Pleasant View Baptist Church, which was originally organized in Constance, west of the city on River Road. The congregation moved to Pike Street in Bromley in the early 1980s. In 1999 the congregation established a private school that serves the community today.

For many years, Bromley Elementary School was a hub of activity for the community. In 1893 a two-room schoolhouse was constructed on Shelby Street. Later, a second floor was added. A small belfry completed the building and provided an official look to the structure.

For most of its existence, Bromley Independent School District did not provide a high school program. Instead, the city paid tuition for children to attended nearby Ludlow High School. In 1936, the Commonwealth of Kentucky mandated that every district provide a full school program, grades 1-12. Bromley simply could not afford to operate a high school program. School and city officials approached Ludlow with the request to merge the two districts and cities into one. While Bromley residents supported the proposal, Ludlow residents did not. That year, Bromley Independent School District ceased to exist and became part of the Kenton County School District.

Bromley Elementary School continued to thrive and grow. In 1950, the Kenton County School District built a new elementary school in Bromley on Boone Street. An addition was completed in 1960 due to the growing number of students in the district living in Villa Hills. As the number of children in Villa Hills grew, the need for a larger school with sufficient playgrounds and facilities became apparent. The residents of Villa Hills began a movement to have the Bromley School replaced by a new building in their community. Several public meetings to discuss the situation became contentious, pitting the wealthier residents of Villa Hills against the more working-class parents of Bromley. Eventually, the Kenton County School board made the decision to build a new school that would serve both communities in Villa Hills. This new school was named River Ridge and opened in 1992. The old Bromley School was transformed into apartments.

Floods have been a continuous problem for the city. The 1937 flood proved the most disastrous. At the height of the flood, 600 city residents (more than half the population) had to flee their homes. Many moved in with neighbors on high ground and a significant number, especially children, were taken in by the Benedictine Sisters at Villa Madonna Academy. The churches were full of residents’ belongings and the city hall was transformed into a Red Cross Relief Shelter. Highwater Road to Villa Hills was built after the flood to ensure the city residents would have a way out in the future. Floods in 1964 and 1997 were not as large but resulted in significant damage in the city.

Bromley, like many of the river cities in Northern Kentucky, lost population in the years following World War II. The population peaked in 1990 with 1,137 residents and has been declining ever since. Current estimates total 797. The neighboring city of Ludlow now provides fire and ambulance service to the city and Park Hills provides police coverage. Despite these changes, the city of Bromley remains close knit and centered on its churches and small businesses.